This blog series studies the word and actions of Jesus throughout the four gospels and applies them to us today. If you would like to start at the beginning, go here.
The Gospel – what is it? You hear this word tossed around a lot in Christian circles, but I don’t hear it defined very often. Today we will be doing just that as we study John 3:1-21. This is still early on in Jesus’ ministry, and so far Jesus has been under the radar with His specific message and teaching. Here we get the Gospel unfiltered, unadulterated.
Nicodemus was a pharisee and member of the ruling council. He comes to Jesus at night, either because he is embarrassed to be seen with Jesus or because he had to see Jesus immediately, right then. He confesses that he knows Jesus to come from God, but what Nicodemus is really wanting to know is how he can be saved. He doesn’t SAY this, but he THINKS it, and Jesus knows it. Once again, Jesus demonstrates His ability to reads thoughts and know our hearts.
Jesus answers his unasked question by saying, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” I’ve glossed over this text so many times without making that connection before. Isn’t that weird? Jesus answers his thought, not his question. If I asked you a question and you answered my truest unspoken desire instead, that would be shocking, wouldn’t it?
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. “Born of water and of the Spirit.” What does this mean? Nicodemus is humble enough to admit his own foolishness and pleads with Jesus for help and understanding several times. I must be this way too. The Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us it is the gift of life. That doesn’t mean I always see it clearly or live like it, but it means I must trust in Christ and constantly ask for His help, wisdom, guidance and illumination. This is how I must face the difficult and hard statements of Jesus.
You have got to understand – all of this terminology was new. Jesus coming on the scene teaching ideas and saying things no one had heard before. I used to think Nicodemus was a little slow, but how long did it take the disciples to “get it”? They spent all of 3 years with Him and still struggled to understand.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases ….” The regenerative work of the Holy Spirit is free; He is a free agent. His work has evident effects, but He does whatever pleases Him. Nicodemus gets more confused, and Jesus says that if these earthy things confuse him, the heavenly truths will confuse him more. However, Jesus says that He is the only one to come from heaven to Earth to save us, so He knows what He is talking about and therefore He is trustworthy. The point of this interaction is this – don’t give up. Don’t stop asking hard questions, don’t take easy answers, don’t give up on Jesus. Fight to understand and comprehend. Don’t walk away. Jesus is more than enough for your doubts.
This is all a bit of a roundabout way of answering Nicodemus’ question, right? Water, Spirit, wind, “born again …”? I can understand why Nicodemus is getting confused and frustrated. It’s a simple question! How do I get to heaven? Sometimes the “simple” truths are the most difficult to understand. Salvation is not simple, easy or one-dimensional. There is so much to salvation, and Jesus is showing Nicodemus that the Gospel is like a diamond with many faucets and angles. One diamond, but complex in its beauty. Also, remember that Jesus is still alive. He has not died for our sins or risen to be victorious over sin and death yet. But Jesus references His crucifixion, death and resurrection in verses 14-15 and verses 16-21. Nicodemus has no idea that Jesus is going to die for his sins, but Jesus does. You have to wonder if this conversation came to Nicodemus’ mind when Jesus was crucified.
Jesus can see this is wearing on him, so He takes away all the metaphors, analogies and stories and gives Nicodemus the straight truth – the Gospel in John 3:16-21. Jesus tells him something amazing – God loves us. He loves you and me and all of us, and He has always loved us. The only problem is that God is holy and we are not. God desires fellowship and closeness to us, but our rebellion and evil comes between us. We are separated from the greatest Good in the world because of our own wickedness.
However, God sent Jesus to us so that those who believe in Him will not be destroyed but will have everlasting life. Jesus is here to save us from ourselves, our sins, our failures. We are filled with sin and darkness, but Jesus came to save us from our sins. We cannot get past our own brokenness, corruption and disobedience, but Jesus is whole, pure and perfectly obedient to God and His laws. And Jesus is going to die. He will be lifted up and given by God for us. Jesus lived the perfect life we SHOULD have lived (but couldn’t because of our sins) and died the death we SHOULD have died (but didn’t because of Christ’s atoning work on the Cross). And after He dies He will rise again, victorious over sin and death. By believing in this and trusting Christ with our hearts, we can be forgiven of our sins. This is the Gospel, the Good news.
Man, in his sinful nature, loves to hide in darkness. We are born sinful; sin comes naturally, easy, to us, right? Isn’t it easier to be cynical than kind, angry rather than forgiving, impatient rather than gracious, mean rather than loving? These bad things come so easily to us because it is our nature. We hate the light because it shows us and others how wretched and evil we are. Light EXPOSES us for who and what we really are, not who I would lead you to believe I am.
What about me and you? Am I trying to hide because I am afraid of how wicked I am? Jesus says that if we live by the truth, then I will come close to the light and be exposed SO THAT I can then see clearly. God gives me light and vision where it was all darkness before.
Are you living in the light or in the darkness? Do you know and love Jesus, or are you just playing church? You know, deep down, the answers to these questions.
Nicodemus BELIEVED Jesus. The Gospel changed him. How do we know this? John 19:39 tells us that Nicodemus was one of the men (along with Joseph of Arimathea) to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. He was a devotee, a faithful follower of Christ. He stayed faithful to the end of Jesus’ life and then after His death.
What about you? What do you do with Jesus? To you, these teachings are no longer prophecies, riddles, metaphors, stories or “what ifs”. These are realities. Jesus really was alive, He really lived a perfect life, He really died, and He really rose again. And He can truly save you.
Who do you say that He is?