We have been looking at the beginnings of the disciples’ relationship with Jesus. Jesus has invited them to “Come and see” and they have seen some extraordinary things even in this very initial phase. As a result they began to believe. But note the comment at the end of John 2.
John 2:23-24 23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
Some saw and believed but Jesus would not trust even those people. Jesus understood human nature. How do sinful people enter the Kingdom of God?
Read John 3:1-21
There has been a theme of seeing and believing. “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
We have seen the miracles therefore we believe. We believe you are a teacher from God.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
That was a little abrupt. Nicodemus had greeted him in an honouring, even flattering, way. He had confessed his belief in Jesus – at least as a teacher sent by God. And Jesus simply said, “You must be born again. You won’t even see the Kingdom of God unless you are born again.”
Maybe Jesus wasn’t interested in flattery. Or maybe Jesus knew that Nicodemus wanted to talk about salvation, so He cut to the chase. Or, maybe, Jesus was saying that Nicodemus believed that Jesus was a teacher from God but more was needed to enter the Kingdom of God.
Whatever Nicodemus’ attitude might have been, Jesus’ message is extremely clear: No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again. How do sinful people enter the Kingdom of God? The only way is by being born again.
What does that mean? Nicodemus didn’t know. It sounded impossible. He could understand being born once but he couldn’t understand being born twice. Was a grown man to enter again his mother’s womb?
Jesus reiterated this message: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
In v.7 Jesus said it a third time: You must be born again. Nicodemus should not be surprised by this.
Well actually, Nicodemus was completely surprised – and confused.
The phrase “you must be born again” can also mean “you must be born from above”. This is not a natural birth. This is a spiritual birth. This is something God does. That ties in with Jesus words “you must be born of the Spirit” and “the Spirit gives birth to spirit”. The disciples had seen certain things and they had come to some conclusions. But decisions are not enough. A decision is not the same as a new birth. Entering God’s Kingdom depends on a whole new spiritual birth.
If people think about their salvation; how they might enter God’s Kingdom, they might think, “I’ll start going to church” or “I’ll be a good person”, “I’ll serve in the community”. But Jesus says, “No. You must be born again.” That is a spiritual transaction that only God can do.
Have you been born again by the power of God? How can we know?
This chapter is going to tell us. Skip down to v.14: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.
Two things are necessary. Firstly, the Son of Man must be lifted up. The Kingdom of God, heaven, eternal life are all dependent on the Son of Man being lifted up. The Son of Man is Jesus’ favourite title for Himself. Being lifted up refers to His death on the Cross. For anybody to enter heaven, it was necessary for Jesus to die on the Cross.
Obviously, early in His ministry Jesus was conscious that His death was necessary for people to be saved.
The Son of Man must be lifted up. Without that there would be no eternal life. No one can save themselves. It could only be brought about by Jesus’ death.
The second necessity is belief in Him. The Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. That is v.15. It is repeated in v.16.
John 3:16 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Note the alternatives: perishing versus eternal life. Belief is re-repeated in v.18
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Again, notice the alternatives: condemned versus not condemned. And notice which one God wants for us. God so loved the world… enough to sacrifice His only and beloved Son. God wants us in His Kingdom. He wants it enough to have paid an unbelievable price for it.
Notice that we see God’s heart again in v.17: God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the word through Him.
Some people imagine God wants to condemn us. No, He wants to save us; He wants to embrace us.
God wants it. Jesus’ death makes it possible. All that is required is that we believe.
But didn’t Nicodemus believe? Isn’t that what he stated right at the beginning?
You have probably heard the story of the acrobat, Blondin. He several times crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope doing all sorts of stunts such as doing it blind-folded, and carrying stove and cooking an omelette halfway. The story says that one time he pushed a wheelbarrow containing a sack of potatoes across, to the delight and the rapturous cheers of the crowd. He then asked, “Who believes that I could push a man over this tightrope in a wheelbarrow?”
The crowd was really excited! Yes, yes, yes, they all believed he could do it, but when he asked who was willing to sit in the wheelbarrow, there was silence. That story may or may not be true but it still illustrates the point, and Blondin did one time carry his manager across on his back.
The crowd said they believed, but did they? They had seen his other stunts; they were persuaded. Or where they? The proof of real belief would have been climbing into that wheelbarrow. Can you imagine sitting in a wheelbarrow, on a swaying rope? You would have no control at all. You could do nothing. You would have to completely trust Blondin.
Nicodemus had seen some miracles; he had come to some conclusions, but Jesus said something more was needed. In the Bible, belief is more than simply being persuaded of the truth of some things. Belief is living, trusting the truth of those things. Belief is getting into the wheelbarrow with Jesus pushing.
Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and that your salvation depends entirely on His sacrifice, not on anything you do? Are you absolutely confident that Jesus has done all that is necessary and you cannot add anything to it? Or are you half trusting Jesus and half thinking you had better impress God yourself?
Do you trust God’s word and His promises enough to obey Him? Maybe it is not perfect obedience but are you increasingly living out what you read in the scriptures?
People might think that Christianity is simply about having certain knowledge or certain convictions. “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe He died for my sins” But biblical faith also involves action. “I trust Jesus, therefore I climb into the wheelbarrow.”
I grew up in a Christian family. I went to church and Sunday School virtually from birth. I knew lots of the Bible stories and I guess I believed Jesus really was the Son of God and had died on the Cross for the sins of the world. But it wasn’t until I was about 12 and I went to an Open Air Campaigner’s children’s programme that someone explained the gospel and challenged me to make a personal response. Something happened that day that had not happened before. I believe I was born again that day. I knew I was different from that day on. I wasn’t saved by my Sunday School attendance or my knowledge of Bible stories or even my belief that Jesus is the Saviour. I was born again when I personally responded and entrusted myself to Jesus. Living as a follower of Jesus has been a growing thing from then on, with some steps forward and some steps backwards – times of success and times of failure – but I have put my life in Jesus’ hands..
Faith always includes action. Read James 2:14-19
James then uses the example of Abraham. It was when Abraham raised the knife to kill his son, Isaac, that the angel said, “Now I know that you fear God.” It was the action that proved the attitude. Noah’s faith was seen in building the ark. Rahab’s faith caused her to welcome the spies. John the Baptist said to the Pharisees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” They wanted to escape God’s wrath, but John said, “Don’t just say you repent. Show me. Show me the changed life – the fruit of repentance.”
Jesus’ words were emphatic. No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.
Oh no, I have just remembered! We are meant to be following the journey of the apostles and they aren’t even mentioned in this story. Were they present when Nicodemus visited? Maybe. But even if not, John has included this story here for a reason – as part of the journey that he is also taking his readers on. The disciples are watching and coming to conclusions about Jesus but Jesus takes it further: would they live a life of faith and so be born again?
Do you know that you have been born again – that God has changed you – that you are a new person? God never turns away anyone who comes to Him. If you believe in Jesus – believe He is the Saviour and entrust yourself to Him, willing to live obediently for Him – God will give you the new birth. We start just as spiritual babies and we learn more and more of what it means to trust Jesus. We are not instantly great people of faith, but that birth is essential. We must born again. If you want to talk to someone about this or have someone pray with you, after the service, there are people here willing to do that.
Note the last verse in the chapter…
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
Everything depends on belief in Jesus.