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Sep 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 23, 2012 – John 3:1-15

Why Did Jesus Say That?

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

INTRO: I have always assumed Nicodemus came to Jesus in a home
But it’s more likely, Jesus was staying on the Mt. of Olives
– sitting on rock or bundle of clothing, their faces illuminated by the campfire,
• these two teachers opposite each other in conversation
– John tells us they met at night – this is not a simple observation or insignificant detail
• G. Campbell Morgan, generously of Nicodemus, that he “wanted Jesus all to himself”
• but John uses time and place symbolically – e.g., 13:30 “and it was night”
○ he connects night with darkness and both with being lost and stumbling around (vv. 19-21)
But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him (Jn. 11:10)
○ at the very least, John indicates that Nicodemus was in the dark — unenlightened

Nicodemus begins the conversation:

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 (v. 2)

He acknowledges Jesus as a teacher
– two weeks ago when Philip called Jesus, “Rabbi,” we saw it as a clue–he wanted to become a disciple
– Nicodemus, “You may look like a rustic Galilean, Jesus, but we know You’ve come from God”
• a statement, not a question – but he leaves it hanging in the air
– the implied question: “Obviously You’re from God, so what is You’re message?”

Why did Jesus say, “. . .unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”?

We assume we know why – because born again is synonymous with Christian conversion
– but Jesus did not put entire weight of salvation on this term
• itinerant preachers, tent revivalists, and evangelists made it central the central vocabulary of salvation
• Jesus never said to the crowds, “You must be born again” – he said it to only one person, Nicodemus

We can’t see how we’ve let the air out of born again
– we’ve used it in ways Jesus never meant
• as a litmus test – “I’m a Christian” — “Yes, but are you born again?”
• we’ve dragged it into the media, politics, and ugly religion
Born again is a metaphor that Jesus used this one time
– he used many metaphors – he chose them according to the context
• for example, two times he offered people “living water” (i.e., the Holy Spirit), once by a well and once in temple on a feast day that involved purifications and perhaps pouring out jars of water in the temple courts
– if we’re going to recover the meaning of born again, we’ll have to rediscover its dynamic

Remember, we’re not looking for the theological answer to our question, but a personal answer
Why did Jesus say that?
– we want to look inside the Lord’s heart for the answer
• we’re using the question to get to know Jesus better

Jesus was baiting Nicodemus

This is a recurring pattern in John
– Jesus says something that confuses people – they question his statement – he clarifies it and in doing so reveals a truth

I think Jesus has several reasons for making this statement

  1. He wanted to keep the conversation going
    – he wants to draw Nicodemus deeper into the truth and the experience of God
  2. “Jesus knew what was in man” (2:25)
    – he knew that he faced a big challenge with Nicodemus
    • that his religion, and his education, and his status would get in the way
  3. He wanted Nicodemus to see the difference between religion as he knew it and the way God intended it
    – the Pharisees did religion by the book, but that did not produce new life
    – Jesus divided religion in two: human and divine, flesh and spirit, earth and heaven (v. 13)
    – he wanted Nicodemus to see where he was in relation to the two
    • and that he could not get there from here
  4. He wanted for Nicodemus to truly know God and have eternal life
    “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” Jn. 17:3
    – religion no longer had to be achievement of his own dead heart
    – a new life would be working in him that he’d recognize as the Holy Spirit
    • that this is exactly what his scriptures had been pointing to
    “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” Eze. 36:26-27
    – if Nicodemus would only be born again, everything would be new
    • even the tired old religion he had worn on his back for so long• the law would come alive to him
    ○ not as commandments engraved in breathless, cold stone
    ○ but as something living in his heart, a part of him, his own
    – this can happen to us, and when it does, we recognize it as the very thing we’ve been waiting for our whole lives
    • when we come alive, so do scriptures, songs, liturgy — even all the old stuff that seemed boring and tedious
  5. Jesus wanted Nicodemus

Nicodemus asked Jesus two “how” questions

The first was a reaction to taking Jesus’ words literally
– Jesus isn’t saying the Spirit is like the wind
• they took that for granted – they used same word for both wind and spirit
– he says everyone who is “born of the Spirit” is like the wind

I want to stress the words, “you do not know”
– we cannot map this out intellectually, can’t produce a method
• yet that’s exactly what a lot of evangelical pamphlets attempt to do
– but born again happens at a deeper level than our intellect
• I think Jesus was trying to shock Nicodemus out of his intellect
• not information you learn, like memorizing the 10 commandments
○ it’s something you experience

Remember the wealthy young man who came to Jesus
– he had always obeyed the commandments Jesus listed
– “You’re missing only one thing. You’ve got the form of a relationship with God, but not the life”

Nicodemus’ second “how question” – How can these things be?
– Jesus doesn’t say, “Keep patching up the leaks in your obedience,” “Keep throwing sandbags around your faith,” or “Use lots of elbow grease”
– he says, the Son of Man must be “lifted up” — the cross becomes the bridge to eternal life
– in a word, Jesus was dying for Nicodemus to experience the real deal
• then it would no longer about obeying rules and believing doctrines, but about believing “in Him”
• believing in him enough to trust him with his whole self; heart, mind, and soul, and with his rebirth, and all of his “how” questions

CONC: Why did Jesus say any of this? Or all of this?

Three words: know – life – Spirit

He wanted Nicodemus to know God and have the life of God through His Spirit
– in the Book of Acts, the indication someone has come into God, is we are told they receive the Spirit of God

Jesus knew that Nicodemus could have become hardened by his religion
– that it would be a shell around him resisting the Spirit
– it happens all the time

Helmut Thielicke, “Others reject it emphatically. They do not want anything that gets under their skin and goes to their heart. They want to remain masters of their own heart and regard God as a foreign-occupation power on their territory.”

– but religion that’s about you and up to you doesn’t get you to God
– new life doesn’t come through a religion that starts and ends with you

There has to be a surrender of our genius, our energy, our plan

We come to life in God by his Spirit
– and even if we have received the Spirit,
we need to receive him again
and again
and again, and again, and again

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