ENTRANCE INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS ONLY BY THE NEW BIRTH:
– ACCOMPLISHED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
– APPROPRIATED BY FAITH
One preacher titled his sermon: Nic@Nite
This chapter contains the proper definition of the baptism of the Holy Spirit referred to in Chap. 1; that is why it is so important to study passages in the context of the entire book
Birth is a dramatic, climactic experience. No mistaking it.
I. (:1-3) EVEN THE MOST RELIGIOUS NEED TO BE BORN AGAIN
A. (:1-2) The Sincere Approach of Nicodemus
1. Impressive Inquirer
– Expert in the Law — “a man of the Pharisees”
– Privileged in terms of heritage — “named Nicodemus”
– Respected in the Community — “a ruler of the Jews”
Sometimes the people we think have no chance of responding to the gospel are the ones that surprise us; we just can’t make those determinations. You would have thought that Nicodemus would have been part of the opposition party.
Example of head knowledge vs heart knowledge
2. Stealthy Seeker – not taking any unnecessary chances; hedging his bets
“this man came to Him by night”
cf. what Jesus has to say later in the chapter about light and darkness
Driven by curiousity; no declaration of spiritual need at this point
3. Complimentary Commencement
– Granting Professional Respect — “Rabbi”
– Appreciating Authoritative Doctrine — “we know that You have come from God as a teacher”
– Recognizing Divine Power — “for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him”
Sincerity will not get you into the kingdom! Jesus was never about titles. What would He think about the title of “Reverend”? On the other hand, He was always a strong, authoritative leader.
B. (:3) The Absolute Imperative of the New Birth
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
1. The change required is more radical than you think
“unless one is born again”
Social gospel of just trying to meet people’s physical needs just won’t cut it.
2. You are not as close to the kingdom as you think
“he cannot see the kingdom of God”
Jesus never sugarcoated things. He wanted people to face up to the harsh realities.
II. (:4-8) OUR NATURAL PHYSICAL ORIENTATION MUST BE RADICALLY REPLACED BY A SPIRIT-PRODUCED NEW LIFE
A. (:4) The Question of a Confused Naturalist
1. Questioning the Concept
“How can a man be born when he is old?”
2. Questioning the Process
“He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
B. (:5) The Key to the Kingdom = New Birth by the Holy Spirit
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Possibilities for “born of water”:
– natural birth – unlikely that this phrase was used that way
– Word of God and its cleansing power (Eph. 5:26) – doesn’t fit the context
– water as symbolic of the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Ezek 36:25-27; Titus 3:5)
– Preferable: reference to water baptism being practiced by John the Baptist
– had connotation of repentance from sins
– had connotation of cleansing
– had connection with death and resurrection
– had symbolic connection with ministry of the Holy Spirit
Stedman: It is clear from the context that Jesus is talking about baptism. John’s baptism was the sensation of the nation at this time. Everyone was talking about it. The Pharisees had sent a delegation to John to ask him why he was baptizing. The meaning of John’s baptism was the central theological question of the day in which our Lord speaks. What Jesus means, then, is what baptism signifies. It is not the water that changes anybody. Many people superstitiously think that if they baptize their babies that will assure the children entrance into the kingdom of heaven; or if they themselves were to be baptized as adults that would guarantee them admittance into heaven. That is rank superstition. Water does not change anybody that way. It may make you a little cleaner, you might even smell better, but it does not make you any different in God’s eyes. What the baptism stands for is what is important. Do not, like the many in John’s gospel, miss the real meaning because of the symbol! The symbol behind baptism is repentance, an honest admission of need.
I have been preaching and teaching the Scriptures for almost fifty years, and I want to tell you that the one thing that keeps most people from being born again is that they do not want to admit their need. They do not want to admit that there is something basically wrong with them; they still cling to the idea that there is some good thing about them that God ought to accept, and if they do more good than bad he ought to let them into glory. I do not think anything has been more destructive in the whole realm of theology than that idea. No, repentance is necessary, an awareness that despite your best efforts you are not fulfilling God’s law. You are not able to do so. You desperately need a Savior. That is what baptism acknowledges.
C. (:6-8) The Explanation of Why the New Birth Depends on the Spirit
1. (:6) Simple Definition — Like Begets Like
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
2. (:7) Not Naturally Discerned — Don’t act so surprised
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”
3. (:8) Illustration from Nature — Powerful operation of the natural force of the wind
“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
III. (:9-13) SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE NOT NECESSARILY OVERCOME BY REVELATION FROM HEAVEN
A. (:9) Missing the Point – he just doesn’t get it
“Nicodemus answered and said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’”
B. (:10) Putting the Cart Ahead of the Horse – Religion does not equate to Spirituality
“Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?”
Understanding should precede teaching
C. (:11-13) Rejecting the Supreme Testimony of the Son of Man
1. (:11) Rejection Despite Expert Testimony
“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.”
2. (:12) Rejection of the Physical Implies Rejection of the Spiritual
“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?’
3. (:13) Rejection of the Uniquely Supreme Witness
“And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.”
IV. (:14-18) FAITH IN THE SON OF MAN IS THE ONLY REQUIREMENT
A. (:14-15) Simple OT Illustration of Faith
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”
Stedman: That is a reference to the cross. When the people of Israel were being bitten by hundreds of poisonous snakes which suddenly appeared in the camp in the wilderness, and were dying by the scores, Moses was told to take a pole and put on it a brass serpent. That serpent would itself do nothing whatsoever for the people — it was merely a symbol — but they were told if they would look at it (and thus make a personal application of its meaning to their own lives), they would find themselves healed from the serpents bite. Jesus says, “That is a picture of me. I will be made sin (that is what a serpent always stands for, sin), lifted up to die. When that happens, if you will look at me and believe that I am dying for you, in your place, God will forgive your sins and you will receive the life of God.”
B. (:16-17) Heart of the Gospel = Faith
1. (:16) Universal Opportunity for Salvation
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
– The danger we all face: perishing under the wrath of God because of our sin (3:36).
– The design of God to rescue us from this danger: his love which sends the Son to lay down his life (10:18; 15:13), and take away the sin of the world (1:29).
– The duty of man in response: believing on the Son of God.
– The destiny promised to all who believe: eternal life.
2. (:17) Divine Priority of Salvation over Judgment
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.”
C. (:18) Watershed of Eternal Destiny = Faith
“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Stedman: Verse 18 says that condemnation does not wait until the end of life. It is already going on. The Bible takes the position that mankind is living under the wrath of God all the time. Psalm 90:9 states it plainly. The wrath of God is the anger, the anguish and the agony we feel as a result of trying to do our own thing. We do not have to wait for wrath. If we do not choose to leave it we remain in it; we are “already condemned,” that is the point. If you are traveling on a wrong road and every so often you see a signpost that points the way to the right road, but you persist and go by all those signposts, refusing to take the way back to the right road, then you remain wrong. That is God’s view of life.
V. (:19-21) RESPONSE TO THE LIGHT (INTIMACY WITH JESUS) = BAROMETER OF SPIRITUAL CONDITION
(:19a) Judgment Centers Around Our Response to the Light
“And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world . . . ”
A. Spiritual Condition of Condemnation
1. Response of Loving Darkness
“and men loved the darkness rather than the light”
2. Reason: Practicing Evil
“for their deeds were evil”
B. Spiritual Condition of Eternal Life
1. Response of Coming to the Light
“comes to the light”
2. Reason: Practicing Righteousness
“But he who practices the truth … that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”