Last time, I began an inductive study of the Biblical account of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, which was recorded in John 3:1-21 and a lot of things have begun to surface from the text. It is my hope that we have come to the realization that it is imperative to give more than a cursory glance to Scriptures, that is, if we ever hope to “draw out” all that God put in it for us to know about Himself.
In this part 2, I hope that I would be able to quickly bring the story to its conclusion without compromising the substance.
- Some have argued that Nicodemus, undoubtedly understood that Jesus was demanding some sort of radical transformation of an individual’s entire character, but could not possibly see how an old man, shaped by his heritage and set in his ways, could turn back the clock and start all over again. He therefore poses an equally metaphorical question to Jesus’ metaphorical challenge. But he unwittingly drives home a point that I am not sure even he realized at the time. For with his question he admits that man, by nature, has nothing in him to actualize this new birth. Of course the Greek word translated as “again” could also have been referring to “above” (That is “born from above”) Nicodemus clearly thought it meant born “again.”
- Jesus restates this challenge to Nicodemus in yet another way, drawing on the Scriptures (something Nicodemus clearly ought to have understood). Now while references to water and spirit are scattered all over the Old Testament verses, none so forcefully drive home the point like Ezekiel 36:25-27: “I WILL SPRINKLE CLEAN WATER ON YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE CLEAN FROM ALL YOUR UNCLEANNESSES, AND FROM ALL YOUR IDOLS I WILL CLEANSE YOU, AND I WILL GIVE YOU A NEW HEART, AND A NEW SPIRIT I WILL PUT WITHIN YOU. AND I WILL REMOVE THE HEART OF STONE FROM YOUR FLESH AND GIVE YOU A HEART OF FLESH. AND I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU, AND CAUSE YOU TO WALK IN MY STATUTES AND BE CAREFUL TO OBEY MY RULES.”
After stating this, Jesus, immediately corrects Nicodemus’ misconception about the new birth by taking it out of the realm of the human will or activity. “The wind (an allusion to the Spirit) blows wherever it wishes…” In spite of these clear allusions to the Old Testament, Nicodemus still didn’t understand and thus asks, “How can these things be?” exposing his ignorance in spite of his intimidating theological credentials. Now, for “The Teacher of Israel” this is saying a lot.
So, then Nicodemus has not only unwittingly admitted that this new birth, this birth from above, of which Jesus speaks is not in the nature if man to achieve, he also exposed his ignorance, further placing it out of the capacity of the natural human mind to even comprehend.
- Whilst Nicodemus had effectively shown that he could not cause the new birth because his nature and his inability to understand prevents him, Jesus shows that unlike Nicodemus, he is speaking of things “He has seen and heard” and since He is by nature, the Son of Man who “alone has come from heaven” He is eminently qualified to cause the new birth in men. He then indicts Nicodemus, not just that he is by nature unable, or in spite of his training ignorant, but that he does NOT receive Jesus’ testimony (Jesus would later reveal the real reason why Nicodemus (or any man for that matter) rejects his testimony. But before he gets there, there is one more thing Nicodemus had to understand.
- Jesus used a historical account of Israel’s wilderness wandering to further illustrate what he had been saying (found in Numbers 21: 4-9). As the foremost teacher in Israel, Nicodemus probably knew the story well, and what would likely have come to his mind would be the images of rebellion, judgment and redemption. So then, as those rebellious lot in the wilderness who were rightly judged by God, found grace when they believed Moses and looked at the brazen serpent, so also anyone (including Nicodemus) would find grace if they believe in the Son of Man. Wait a minute! Does that not make Nicodemus also rebellious, under judgment and in need of saving? Absolutely! But not only Nicodemus, but the whole world. The whole world is rebellious, the whole world is under judgment and thus like those who were bitten and looked up, anyone who “looks at the Savior” will not perish but have eternal life. This is why God’s love is SO AMAZING!!! Now, please imagine with me for instance that the story in Numbers 21 was slightly different, and It just happened that the Israelites were just minding their own business, when suddenly they were attacked by these venomous snakes and as they were dying, they cried out to God and God told Moses to make the brazen snake and that anyone who looked at it would be saved. Now, even if that was what happened, God’s love would still have been great. But think how much more magnificent God’s love is in that He rescued blasphemers who had just called manna which God graciously supplied, “this worthless thing!” In the same way, the Love of God is displayed in John 3:16 as exceedingly great because it is expressed towards wicked rebels; so wicked that we deserve eternal damnation. Yet God makes a way of escape in his Son whom he gave and grants ETERNAL LIFE to whosoever believes! So the most glorious thing about John 3:16 is the extent (not in size but intensity) of God’s love. So amazing is God’s love which is made even more amazing in light of the utter sinfulness of the world He loved
The beauty of God’s love is magnified in light of whom he loves,
It is magnified in whom He gave, and
It is magnified in what He saves us from what He saves us for.
- Furthermore, that illustration also reveals the manner by which Jesus would achieve this “granting of eternal life (Gk: zoe aionios – life of the age to come)”. Just as the serpent was lifted up, the Son of Man will also “be lifted up”. This “lifted up” undoubtedly has a double meaning for it combines the notions of being physically lifted up on a cross, and the notion of exaltation. The one who came from heaven will return to the glory which he shared with the Father by being lifted up on a cross.
- Like the men in the wilderness whose refusal to “look at the brazen serpent” sealed their fate, so also men who do not believe in the only begotten Son of God seal their own fate. They go on into the condemnation that was already pronounced on them by because of their rebellion. The Son of God didn’t come into the world to condemn it (the world was already effectively under condemnation – That is why He is SAVIOR) but TO SAVE IT and those who must be saved must not only believe him, but also BELIEVE IN HIM!
- The reason why Nicodemus (or anyone for that matter) did not and does not receive this testimony is finally exposed. It is not just about the fact that man is by nature unable to effect the new birth, or the inability of the natural mind to comprehend the truth of God but primarily because “men love their sins and therefore would not come to the light for the sin to be exposed”
There are many ways in which these texts apply to us. When it comes to matters of the Scriptures, it is first and foremost important that we rightly interpret the text; once we do seeing how it applies to our circumstances would be easy.
What immediately becomes obvious is that this is a model for evangelism, we must, like Jesus strip the sinner of any and every confidence in self and point them to where any confidence should be, that is, Christ who is the True Witness, the Perfect Mediator and the Savior.
Stepping back a little to consider other stories in light of what the Apostle points out in John 2:23-25, we are able to see the 3 classical responses to the presentation of the gospel.
- Some delay their decision but eventually believe the gospel, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. We see this in Nicodemus, of whom nothing was said again, but we see him in later verses described first as a secret follower, but then said to have openly anointed the body of Jesus, after his death, along with another disciple, called Joseph of Arimathaea (John 7:50; John 19:39)
- Some believe the gospel, repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ once it is presented to them. We see this in the woman at the well in Samaria and the people from her village ( See John 4 [especially 29-30 and 39-43])
- Some reject, outright, the gospel. We see this in the man at the pool of Bethesda (See John 5: 1-16; John 5:19- 6:71)
I hope this has somewhat encouraged you to “search the scriptures” and seek to “rightly divide the word.
Please if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me privately and if you live in Port Harcourt, endeavor to join us for Bible Study every Saturday between 11am and 1pm (contact me privately for details) where we seek to further explore these bible study methods.
In our next lesson, we will be looking at “Why Accurate Interpretation of the Scriptures Is Necessary”