By Mike Ratliff
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:1-3 (NASB)
I shared the following on Facebook today:
After church yesterday I came home and ate a small lunch and rested. I taught our Bible Study class. We went through Acts 4. As usual I was exhausted when I was done. I think “drained” is a better word. I actually don’t remember Brian’s sermon in great detail, but it was pretty good because he emphasized much of the same things that we talked about in our lesson, like Peter and John boldly proclaiming the Gospel as the most important thing that we do while also continually remaining together as a church body because we need each other. After lunch I tried to rest, but couldn’t so I got on my walking/hiking gear and went to the park to do a fast 4 miles. That should relax me, right? At the end I was hot and sweaty. I got my water out of my pickup and went to the pavilion that is near the parking lot. There were two women in there talking. They had bicycles, but I didn’t pay any attention to them. I just enjoyed the shade and how fast I cooled off as I drank my ice cold water as the cool breeze swept over me as I sat at that picnic table. However, that’s not how it went. The older of the two women kept trying to get my attention. It was then that I noticed that they had name tags on their shirts. My brain immediately threw up a caution flag and it was correct. They were Mormon missionaries. She asked me if I knew what a missionary was. I took a long drink of water then said, “Yes, I know what a missionary is, and I am one.” That startled them. I got up and went over there and we talked awhile. She asked me if I had any questions about their religion. I told her no. She asked me what religion I was part of. I told her I was a Christian, born again, regenerated from the dead, saved by grace through faith. Both of them just stared at me. I asked if they had Bibles with them. They did. I asked them to read Ephesians 2:1-10. They tried, but they couldn’t understand it. I looked at the version they were reading. It must have been the 1611 version of the KJV. I mean, that was harder to read than my 1569 Geneva Bible. In any case, I realized that the only way I could give them the truth was through my testimony so I gave it to them. They simply could not comprehend how the Holy Spirit works in conjunction with the will of the Father to draw sinners to Christ. They just could not see it. When I finished my water I said goodbye and left. I was never abrupt with them. I did not get arrogant with them. I simply conversed with them and gave them the Gospel. Please pray for Brittany and Sarah who are Mormon missionaries currently working in Yukon, OK. May God use my poor effort yesterday in some way to reach them for Christ.
What bothered me about that was how ineffective my effort seemed to be in getting those two women to see the truth. I felt helpless. I did not have my Bible. My phone has the same Bible software on it that I use to write these posts, but the library had not been loaded and I needed to be on my wifi to do that. In any case, I quoted scripture to them and gave them the Gospel the best I could, but it was like skipping a rock off of frozen pond. It just did not seem to sink in at all. Why?
Closely read the passage I placed at the top of this post. Notice that Jesus answered a question that Nicodemus did not ask. Who was Nicodemus? He was Pharisee with a Greek name. His name means “victor over the people.” Not only was he a Pharisee, he was also a member of the Sanhedren. This was a group of men made up of Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees. Those on the counsel were called ‘rulers of the Jews.’ Nicodemus as a powerful man yet he came to see Jesus by night. He probably did this because he feared the implications of being associated with such an controversial person as Jesus. He knew that Jesus was unpopular with most of his fellow Pharisees. Nicodemus opens the conversation by saying, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Well, he was right, but he didn’t go far enough. I discern in this statement a desire to compliment Jesus so he could learn from him. He got much more than he bargained for.
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (NASB)
Jesus begins his response to Nicodemus by repeating a word twice for emphasis. That word in Greek is “ἀμήν” or “amēn.” The King James translates this as, “Verily, verily.” The NASB translates these words together as “Truly, truly.” This word, “ἀμήν,” is of Hebrew origin. It means, “firm, trustworthy, or surely (as an adverb). A good way to understand why Jesus began his dialogue this way is to rephrase it like this, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The word pair “born again” actually means “born from above.” What is our Lord saying here? Nicodemus did not even ask about this, but our Lord read his heart and addressed exactly what this man’s problem was. To be born from above is to be spiritually transformed. This is regeneration produced by the Holy Spirit. This is the New Birth, which is an act of God wherein eternal life is imparted to the believer (2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1,4,18).
What does it mean that this new birth is a requirement to be able to see the kingdom of God? Remember to whom our Lord is speaking. Nicodemus is a Pharisee. He eagerly awaited the resurrection and the coming of the messianic kingdom. He would have clearly understood Jesus’ meaning here. The Pharisees believed that their physical lineage and their keeping of religion externals qualified them for automatic entrance into this kingdom. Jesus tells him plainly that none of that matters at all. Only those whom God has transformed spiritually will see it and enter it. I believe we have a clear parallel here with those professing Christians whose religion is simply “Churchianity.”
4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.” John 3:4-8 (NASB)
Nicodemus became confused. He did not understand what Jesus meant. Again our Lord replies with “I tell you the solemn truth…” He then plainly tells him the truth, “, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “What does it mean to be born of water and the Spirit? Nicodemus would not have missed the truth about the water since he intimately familiar with the Mosaic Law. The reference to water is to spiritual cleansing or renewal (Numbers 19:17; Psalm 51:9,10; Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:3-5; Isaiah 55:1-3; Jeremiah 2:13; Joel 2:28:,29). This cleansing our Lord is referring to is the spiritual purification of the soul done by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5). This is why the preaching of the Gospel must be done Biblically. It must not be tampered with, modernized, neutered, or modified in any way. If it is then what is being preached is not the gospel.
Our Lord then says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.” My brethren, this succinct description of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation is amazing. It is imperative that we understand it. The work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of one who is being saved is not something we can control in any way. It would be as if we could observe and control the wind if we could control what the Holy Spirit does. However, just as we can see the affects of the wind, the work of the Holy Spirit produces clear, undeniable, unmistakable evidence that regeneration has taken place. This is so much more than some religious assent on one’s part that they believe. Our Lord is describing a work of God Himself that must take place before a believer can enter the Kingdom of God.
9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. John 3:9-15 (NASB)
Nicodemus is still nonplused. Our Lord then refers to him as “the teacher of Israel.” This man was obviously a renowned master-teacher who enjoyed a high standing among his brethren. However, he came to Jesus at night revealing a troubled heart. He was obviously drawn to our Lord.
44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (NASB)
However, Nicodemus’ confusion is a mark of spiritual bankruptcy. Of course, the whole nation of Israel at this time was in the same boat. Never forget, our Lord did not simply invent on the spot what He was teaching. It was all drawn from the Old Testament, which Nicodemus taught and believed. However, he did not recognize what our Lord was telling him. Do you see my brethren how spiritually blind the unregenerate are? The unregenerate are blind because they are in unbelief. Look at vv11-12,“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? This is a very succinct description of the nature of unbelief. Jesus spoke the truth to Nicodemus and the nation of Israel and bore witness to that truth, but those in unbelief did not receive His testimony. Those in unbelief cannot grasp spiritual truth.
Then our Lord tells Him spiritual truth, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” No matter who claims to have ascended into Heaven then returned with special revelation, DO NOT believe them. Our Lord tells us that only He has come to Earth from Heaven. Then He parallels His crucifixion with the serpent in the wilderness that was lifted up my Moses. This is referring to Numbers 21:5-9. Poisonous serpents were tormenting the Israelites in the wilderness because of their disobedience and unbelief. God instructed Moses to erect a bronze serpent on a pole in the midst of the camp. If a serpent bit anyone they had to look at the bronze serpent in order to live. All they had to do was look upon it in obedience. If they did not look upon it then they died. Jesus compares His coming crucifixion to that bronze serpent on a pole. The Israelites were healed physically when they looked unto the lifted up serpent. All who look to Christ, who was lifted up on the cross for the sins of the world, will live spiritually and have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 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. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21 (NASB)
Who does not perish because they have eternal life? It is all who believe in Christ. All who believe in Him are those regenerated by the Holy Spirit. He first drew them to Christ then regenerated them. From this new birth faith is born followed by repentance and belief (Ephesians 2:1-10). All who believe were chosen before the foundation of the world then drawn to Christ according to the will of the Father (Ephesians 1:4; John 6:44). However, all who do not believe are condemned already. Belief is the product of the work of the Holy Spirit. Without belief no one is saved. Therefore, it is the work of God in the heart that causes people to believe and be saved. What is our part? We are commanded to go into the entire world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We must preach the Gospel, the real Gospel as we are instructed in scripture. We preach the law and the gospel for without repentance there is no salvation (Luke 13:3,5; 2 Corinthians 7:10). We must offer the gospel freely to all counseling all who are drawn to the light to believe and repent as they plead with God for their souls. Then the evidence of their new birth reveals that they are born from above and have eternal life.
Yes, I was frustrated yesterday evening with what happened with those two Mormon missionaries. They simply could not believe. However, from this study isn’t it obvious that the only ones who can come to belief are those quickend by the Holy Spirit? Let us obey our Lord’s command to share our faith and make disciples, but do not become weary when some refuse to believe.
Soli Deo Gloria