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Jan 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 20, 2019 – Mark 3:1-6; John 3:1-13


We Cannot Do God’s Part

The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against [Jesus], how to destroy him. Mark 3:6
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night . . . . John 3:1-2

Intro: Do you remember learning to ride a bicycle?

There is no way to learn without getting on a bike and trying
– that’s because our brains have to adapt to a new experience, that of balancing while on a bike
• new connections have to made between brain cells
◦ these connections have to be integrated in different areas of the brain
• balancing on a bike cannot be learned in a class or from a book or instructor
◦ to ask, “Please tell me how to do this” is a waste of time
◦ you have to keep trying until your body learns it–until it feels balance
• once you learn, your body never forgets
– this is how I see the story of Nicodemus
• he wants Jesus to teach him how to ride a bike
◦ but he wants to learn while sitting in a room alone with Jesus
• the Lord tells him, “Just get on the bike, Nick!”
◦ but Nicodemus keeps saying, “Yes, Jesus, but then how do I ride it?”
◦ this illustrates a central problem the Pharisees had with Jesus

In Mark chapter 3, we find two misconceptions of Jesus

Both misconceptions are degrading
– Jesus’ family thought he had lost his mind
– the scribes claimed Jesus was empowered by a demon
• his family misunderstood his devotion to others (Mk. 3:20-21)
• the scribes misunderstood who he was (Mk. 3:22)

We have seen that John’s gospel is like a spiritual commentary on the Synoptics
– John fills in the blanks that the Synoptics leave
• these mostly have to do with misunderstandings of Jesus and his teaching
• today, John will take us to the core of the Pharisees’ misunderstanding of Jesus

The Pharisees play a central role in the Synoptic gospels

They were Jesus’ primary antagonists in Matthew, Mark and Luke
– in Jesus’ time, there were several different categories of religious groups:
• the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes (not mentioned in scripture)
◦ people who served institutional religion included scribes, priests, and legal experts
• Pharisees were the “Fundamentalists,” and not that far from Jesus theologically
(the Sadducees were the “Liberals”–naturalists who did not believe in resurrection, angels or spirits; Acts 23:8)
– in the Synoptic gospels, the Pharisees are mostly “stock characters”
• rarely do we encounter a Pharisee with a distinct personality
◦ no Pharisee is ever named in Matthew, Mark or Luke
◦ most references to them are plural
(there is no use of the singular, “Pharisee” in Mark’s gospel)

The Pharisees first appeared between the time of Ezra and Christ
– to them, Israel’s only hope was absolute adherence to the law of Moses
• like our constitutional law, the Mosaic law required interpretation and application
• in some instances, they followed it down to minute details

Hebrew biblical scholar and professor, David Flusser observed, “… by Jesus’ time [the Pharisees] had become recognized as the teachers of the masses, consciously identifying themselves with popular faith.”

– in some respects, they embodied “Religion, Inc.”
• their main short-coming according to Jesus was hypocrisy
• in Matthew 23, Jesus pronounced several “woes” on the Pharisees
◦  for example:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of God in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in (Mt. 23:13-14)

The Pharisees had reduced religion to rules
– people use rules to manage righteousness
• with their rules, they felt they had religion all buttoned up
• there may be many rules, some that are harsh or even unpleasant
◦ but religious people often like strict rules
◦ they feel they are making sacrifices for God’s sake (and are therefore better than others)
– in reality, rule-keeping is no more difficult than doing our chores
• wash dishes, take out trash, do yard work
◦ we just do these things
◦ we don’t need good attitude while doing them, and our motive is irrelevant
◦ rules are not sensitive to how we feel about others
• keeping all the rules, can make people feel good about themselves

Jesus did not criticize Pharisees for their rule-keeping

He simply pointed out that it was not enough – in fact, he told his disciples,

. . . unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:20)

– at first it sounds like he is laying down more rules, or stricter rules
• but he was actually presenting them with a different game board
• love goes further than rule-keeping, love does more than keep the rules
◦ and with love, attitude and motivation do matter
– so the Pharisees provide clear negative examples
• how not to be – what doesn’t work

What is missing in the Synoptics?

Jesus’ disciples still felt the influence of the Pharisees
– when Jesus corrected them in public (regarding dietary restrictions), the disciples asked Jesus,

“Do you know the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Mt. 15:12)

• they were still worried about the Pharisee’s opinion
– the main issue with the Pharisees is this:
• we can see that what the Pharisees were doing was wrong
• but where did they go wrong?
◦ it’s important to answer this question
◦ because where they went wrong in their idea and practice of religion,
is the same error that held them back from receiving Jesus

John takes us into a private interview to show us a Pharisee close up
– but communication does not go smoothly between Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus answered, “. . . unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3)

• Nicodemus responded as if he took Jesus literally

How can a man be born when he is old?

◦ this question is not the same as when a child asks, “Where do babies come from?”
◦ Nicodemus asked how he, a grown man, is supposed to experience a birth
• Jesus explains that it is something God’s Spirit does
◦ there is no “How,” as far as we’re concerned — not any more than with our first birth
◦ we cannot say how it happens, nor can we make it happen
– let’s step back and get a better look at their conversation
• Jesus uses “the kingdom of God” interchangeably with “eternal life”
◦ the life of the kingdom is eternal — they are not two completely separate experiences
◦ the Synoptics show the same flexibility with these terms, but emphasize the kingdom more (Mk. 10:17-25)

According to Andreas Kostenberger, John’s focus was “on the way in which Jesus’ first coming already introduced eternal benefits in the lives of those who put their trust in him in the here and now.”

• notice also, Jesus first says “cannot see the kingdom” then says “cannot enter the kingdom” (Jn. 3:3 & 5)
◦ there is no vision of the kingdom of the God unless someone has this experience
◦ whatever Jesus means by “born again,” it is a “must”

Nicodemus again wanted to know how such things could even be
– this time Jesus acts surprised that Nicodemus doesn’t understand
• here he was, “the teacher of Israel” and this information was foreign to him
• John is showing us how clearly Jesus made this point:
◦ Israel’s religious leaders were off the mark
◦ and it was because they were coming at it from the wrong direction
– first Jesus tells Nicodemus this is the Spirit’s work – flesh can’t produce it
• “flesh” refers to our mortal human existence – mind and body
◦ then Jesus explains that he’s presented this information in earthly terms
• what would happen if he spoke in heavenly terms?
◦ Nicodemus would have no hope of understanding or believing
◦ Jesus’ teaching comes from another layer of reality than what Nicodemus occupied

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard . . . . (Jn. 3:31)

Nicodemus’ dilemma resulted from taking Jesus literally
– he was trying to grasp what Jesus was saying rationally
• he wanted his part to be spelled out for him
◦ this was the rule-making mind set of the Pharisees
◦ regarding that mind set, Jesus was telling him, “You can’t get there from here”
• the Pharisees rejected Jesus, because he did not fit in their system
◦ and they were unable to make the jump to his
◦ how does a person make that jump? belief — faith — trust

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (Jn. 3:14-15)

What God does within us by his Spirit–
– that is, gracing us with eternal life,
• opening our eyes to his kingdom
• and opening his kingdom to us–
– is not a concept we are supposed to understand,
• nor an assignment we have to complete
• but his own work within us
◦ we don’t think it through or work it out in our heads
◦ we receive it into our hearts, our spirits

Conclusion: What can we do with this?

First, accept our limitations
– Jesus’ main concern was not to add to our religious knowledge
• it certainly wasn’t to give us more rules
◦ he brings us something new
◦ something from outside what we think we know
• in this instance, what we know and the ways we reason are useless
◦ we are not going to be able to master what Jesus tells us
◦ we can only receive it and let it unfold within us
– this is such a difficult challenge, that the best way to approach it may be as children
• even better would for us to be born into it
◦ entering this higher layer of reality similar to the way we came into this world
◦ and then discover it by experiencing it

As Christians in the world,
our lives are enmeshed in earthly things
while we are moving toward heavenly things
Jesus intersects earth and heaven
He is the entry point to a God-filled life
Jesus does not care if we have this all figured out logically
He only cares that we trust him enough to let the Spirit do his work

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