This passage contains the quintessential slogan, catchphrase or motto to what it means to be an evangelical Christian. These precious words of Jesus in the 16th verse contain the heart of the gospel: “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.” and also the controversy. This is a passage that tells us of ultimate love, yet is the focal point for contention and strife.
• Everyone should be familiar with the term “born again.” It has become very popular in American culture and is even a slang term or colloquialism to describe so many different kinds of events that have nothing to do with the way the New Testament uses it. I have seen it describe basketball or football teams, a renewal of a marriage, and revitalized in old town Pasadena a few years back. And put down a person in the media who has made a commitment to Christ!
• This term born again is the heart of God’s love for us. Yet, in so many ways people seek to cheapen it or use it as a by word to attack someone who has the Lord as their ruler of their own heart and will. People in general do not like anything taking the place of their will, they want to rule themselves their will is their own, It belongs to no one, not even God. After all this is a part of freedom of being an American as some people would say. Congress has in recent months used the term, being born again, to denounce some of President Bush’s appointments to the federal court because they are Christians and fear they would make decisions based on their faith and not from the court, or the sensational attacks last year from the media to bring down John Ascrfot the attorney general.
• We cannot reach verse 16 until we overcome the barriers we place over verses 4-15! There has to be a wakeup call, a light to be tuned on, a realization of who Christ is, this can be suddenly or it can take a lifetime.
SG 1: Groups: Read John 3:1-21 and make some observations:
Q: What are your thoughts about Nicodemus?
Q: What are the barriers that Nicodemus may have to overcome to accept who Christ is?
• Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the council of seventy men who ran the religious affairs of the Jewish nation and who had religious authority over any Jew anywhere in the world.
• We need to understand the mindset of the typical Pharisee. If ever there was a group, in church history who could be called religious fanatics, it was the Pharisees. They were a very select group just a few to as many as 6,000 of them. They would take a solemn vow that they would devote every moment of there entire life to obeying the Law of God, as a way of pleasing God. That part sounds good. The Pharisees took this very, very seriously. Now, this sounds even better now. The law includes the Ten Commandments, and how we come before God in worshipping the One true God.
• They were very zealous about not having idols, honoring your father and mother, refraining from lying, adultery, and combating the 600+ other various other sins. So far so good, they seem sincere heart seeking followers of God someone to hang out with and learn from, or were they? The Pharisees were also the Telabaum of their day demanding strict adherence of the Law down to every last conceivable detail, with the exception they were not terrorists nor were violet, however they ruled with an iron glove. What had happened is in their zeal they put so many rules and regulations over the Law and how to seek God that the true law and how to reach God was coved and blinded by traditions and made up rules and regulations. So the average Jew on the street was blinded from freely worshipping and seeking their God. Instead they had hundreds of laws to follow. These were the rules they confronted Jesus with.
• The Pharisee had the scribes transcribe their new laws called the Mishnah. The Jews still have this today and is one of their main commentaries. The other main book besides the Torah the Jews use is the Talmud, which is made up of commentaries on the Mishnah. For example in the Talmud there are 156 pages devoted just to the observing Sabbath as it applied to life! So the Jews placed traditions and rules on top of traditions and rules covering the original rule of God with their own roadblocks of reasoning and self proclaimed devotions. Many Christians do this too, we can place so much tradition we forget what it is and who it is we are to worship and do church for. We can see how serious the Pharisees were about keeping the Law. They wrote down all of the laws such as the Ten Commandments, then applied layers and layers of duties and commentaries over them, so the original meaning became lost over the centuries of doing this. Thus, when a rabbi wanted to speak on a topic or give a sermon they went to the Talmud as their first, and sometimes only prime source.
• We have a similar systems today. One of my favorites is called it case law. This is the set of court rulings over the past two hundred years that lawyers will use to argue and defend their positions in the courtroom and in arbitrations. The more case laws you can find to support and back up your position the more likely the judge will have no choice than to rule in your favor, less have their ruling overturned by a higher court. Which is a terrible thing to happen professionally as a judge. Yet in this country we have the constitution and the Bill of Rights and the various Amendments this is the definitive law of our country. Yet most law students will never actually read the original constitution or the bill of rights, they study the case laws that come from them period, and as a lawyer you cannot even bring up the constitution in most courtrooms, unless you want your case to be thrown out or be held in contempt. I’m not making this up just ask a lawyer as I did in preparing this illustration.
• This would be the same as if a pastor who went to seminary to only study the commentaries and what others have said about the Bible and never ventured for themselves into the Word of God. You might think, and rightly so, that this would be foolish, but many seminaries teach that way, the liberal ones nonetheless.
The point I’m trying to make here is each of these groups set up so many barriers and walls in front of the original source, that you couldn’t see the original source over all of those walls and barriers. This is the common practice in Law, most seminaries and even what Nicodemus the Pharisee thought and taught with.
SG 2: Small groups:
Q: The question we have to ask ourselves is what barriers do we place in the way of knowing Christ as our Lord?
• Barriers from knowing Christ?
• Barriers from growing in Christ?
• Barriers from following His will?
• We cannot make chapter 15 real and a lifestyle until we grow from 3:16!
Discussion: On the Barriers!
• Perhaps what happens is we get ourselves so comfortable in the life of the church we forget what the church is all about. Thinking I go to church, I serve on a committee, my kids are in Sunday school, what more could there be?
• Perhaps they were born into it, the church that is, grew up hearing all there is to know; yet it never sank in and transformed them.
• Perhaps, they got turned off from the pious frauds they may have observed on TV or in the walk of life, psuedo Christians who talk the talk but do not walk the walk.
• Perhaps they see the radical commitments of some of the born again Christians and think they are crazy
• Perhaps there is a fear of commitment or a fear of conversion, they do not want to be confected of sin, they do not want the lights turned on, because they do not want to see what is hidden in the dark.
But what about us here in this room? Do we yearn for the lights to stay off, do we just acknowledged Jesus as a great teacher and founder of a religion, not wanting to be bothered with Him outside of Sunday morning? What do you think that God expects? Do we do as the Pharisees, but really dilute it down to just being a good person? I lived a good life? That all we need to do is do our best to obey the Ten Commandments, to live life as best we can, to try hard to do what the Bible says, if we read it at all, hopping this will please God and be accepted by Him? Or you are a committed Christian, but that commitment only goes so far…
Q: Maybe this is not a problem, but what perceptions and presumptions do you have that keep you from growth in sanctification?
JN 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Q: What did it take for you to realize if you did, the reality of Christ in your daily life?
Jesus is telling us that a new birth is absolutely essential to enter the kingdom of God. It literally means in the Greek: again (anothen), which has three meanings associated with it: 1. To do it a second time; 2. To begin radically and completely new, or a new beginning; and 3. It also means from above, that God must do this. Thus, we are to understand this term to mean a radical a new beginning from God. It is God who gives us this gift of love and salvation, something we cannot earn for ourselves or inherit from someone else.
And this is the contention of debate and why Nicodemus had such a hard time with it, and why so many people have a hard time with it, and why those parents I had to deal with had such a hard time with it: Why? We do not earn it! The whole Pharisee system was about earning God’s approval through works contrary to Duet 6 where we are called to love God. This is also the principle in the minds of most people, perhaps the biggest and most successful lie Satan has ever come up with!
Support throughout Scripture. Such as:
1 Pet 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. And in Romans and Colossians Paul speaks not only of being new creatures in Christ but being a new creation; of passing from death unto life to a new radical start.
Jesus sensed in Nicodemus a deep hunger and emptiness. Q: Is there a hunger in you for more out of your relationship with Christ, if so what do you need to do to get there? If not what is holding you back?
This was John Wesley’s favorite text, which he preached throughout all of England, Wales and Scotland, and then here in the US, that God used to start the great English and American rivals of the 19th century. A simple message of truth, “You must be born again.” Someone once said to him, “Why do you preach so often on ‘you must be born again’?” Wesley’s answer was, “Because — you must be born again.” That is what Jesus is saying.
But Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus and immediately jumps to gynecology. He took the word again (anothen) to mean “a second time.” Hence his cynicism by saying: “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” How can I do that he says?”!
Q: How often do we see the simple things in life as absurd? Those parents did, the media does, and even congress does.
Mark Twain once said, “It is not what I don’t know about the Bible that troubles me, it is what I do know!” He was not doing what he knew. This is the real problem. Most people know what is right but they do not what to do what is right. The lights feel good when they are off and we can sleep through life content and comforted in our beliefs regardless of truth and conviction or faith. The reason they do not do what is right is because there is something wrong about who they are. You know, that is true of us all. It is called sin and that is our hardened will refusing to surrender over to God, we want to do and live our way with a who cares attitude, who care what anybody else thinks, including God!
I have been in pastoral ministry as a profession since 1982, and I can absurdly tell you that the one thing that keeps most people from accepting Christ as their Savior, to be born again, is that they do not want to admit their need. They do not want to admit that there is something basically wrong with them; they still cling to the idea that there is some good thing about them that God should accept, and if they do more good than bad He will have to let them into heaven. I do not think anything has been more destructive in the whole realm of theology and what is preached in a lot of our churches that we are OK as we are: No, repentance is necessary! Come one come all. But the Bible says we can’t come, He comes to us, Christ saves us, if only we acknowledge our need and accept Him as our Lord and Savior, yet so few will. Despite our best efforts we are not fulfilling God’s law. We are not able to do so. We desperately need a Savior!
So carefully conceder any barriers in your thinking that blocks you from the core truth and reality of life: 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.
GO OVER TRANSPARENCY
And what happened to our friend Nicodemus?
JN 7:50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”
39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
At some point those penetrating words of got across those barrios, Jesus got through to him. Has the Word of the Lord gotten though to you?