John 3 (NRSV)
Nicodemus Visits Jesus
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night
Our friend Nic is a Pharisee, which means he is zealous to keep the law of God. He is a leader, a member of the Sanhedrin. He came to Jesus when no one could see him, for he did not want to jeopardize his esteemed and influential position by being seen with an uneducated traveling preacher.
and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
J: “Nic, you’re a mess.”
4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
N: “Excuse me?”
5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’
To be born again is to be changed in such a way that it can be described only as rebirth and re-creation. The change comes when we love Jesus and allow him into our hearts. Then we are forgiven for the past and armed by the Spirit for the future; then we can truly accept the will of God. And then we become citizens of the kingdom; then we become sons of God; then we enter into eternal life, which is the very life of God.
8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
J: “Oh, you Pharisees! You know so much about God’s law, and so little about God’s love!”
11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
John goes back to a strange Old Testament story which is told in Numbers 21:4-9. On their journey through the wilderness the people of Israel murmured and complained and regretted that they had ever left Egypt. To punish them God sent a plague of deadly, fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make an image of a serpent and to hold it up in the midst of the camp; and those who looked upon the serpent were healed. That story much impressed the Israelites. They told how in later times that brazen serpent became an idol and in the days of Hezekiah had to be destroyed because people were worshipping it (2 Kings 18:4). The Jews themselves were always a little puzzled by this incident in view of the fact that they were absolutely forbidden to make graven images. The rabbis explained it this way: “It was not the serpent that gave life. So long as Moses lifted up the serpent, they believed on him who had commanded Moses to act thus. It was God who healed them.” The healing power lay not in the brazen serpent; it was only a symbol to turn their thoughts to God; and when they did that they were healed.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
God so loved that He gave. How much do you love? Do you love enough to give — this? To each of us there is a different “this,” but the question is the same and there can only be one answer: “Let Him take all.”
We may be put off from the joy of giving by the thought of the smallness of what we have to offer. But our Lord does not think anything love can give is too small to take. There is nothing small to God; even our little “this” matters to Him. When by His loving enabling we look up to Him and say, “Take all — take this,” then He comes near and makes peace in our borders and fills us with the finest of the wheat (Psalm 147:14). The very Bread of Life empowers us once again.
So now, today, let us so love that we give.
17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
J: “There’s hope for you, Nic!”
18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
You can never be too spiritual, or even spiritual enough, to erase your need for Jesus!
HERE is the old favorite, “God So Loved the World,” written by John Stainer in 1887, and performed by the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir, London.
Jesus and John the Baptist
22After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized 24—John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
25Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. 26They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John’s task had been to bring Israel and Jesus together; to arrange the marriage between Christ the bridegroom and Israel the bride. That task completed, he was happy to fade into obscurity for his work was done. It was not with envy that he said that Jesus must increase and he must decrease; it was with joy. It may be that sometimes we would do well to remember — it is not to ourselves we must try to attach people; it is to Jesus Christ. It is not for ourselves we seek the loyalty of men; it is for him.
The One Who Comes from Heaven
“From heav’n above to earth I come
To bear good news to ev’ry home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing:
“To you this night is born a child
Of Mary, chosen Virgin mild;
This little child, of lowly birth,
Shall be the joy of all the earth.“
Now let us all with gladsome cheer
Follow the shepherds and draw near
To see this wondrous gift of God,
Who hath His only Son bestowed.
Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What can we render, Lord, to Thee?
Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
It yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.
–Martin Luther, 1531
31The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.
We might say that John 3 is a “must read” chapter of the Bible.
There are four prominent “musts” in John 3.
- The Sinner’s must: you must be born again (John 3:7).
- The Savior’s must: so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14).
- The Sovereign’s must: He must increase (John 3:30).
- The Servant’s must: I must decrease (John 3:30).
1) Martin Luther said that John 3:16 is “the heart of the Bible — the Gospel in miniature.” How so?
2) There has been much speculation, over the centuries, about the character and motives of Nicodemus. He appears three times in John’s Gospel: here, in the first extensive dialogue of the Gospel; again, when the Temple police try to arrest Jesus (John 7:45-52); and finally at the tomb after Jesus is dead (John 19:39). What do you make of him? What do you think he was after? Do you see (a piece of) yourself in him?
3) How do these “must” statements above apply to you?
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.