John 3:9–15 (ESV) — 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Since entering chapter 3, we have learned:
• (1) How Jesus sees us – as totally depraved with sin.
• (2) The Heart and Mind of belief – the desires of the heart lead to the designs of the mind which lead to action.
o Therefore, as goes the heart, so go the designs of the mind, and so go our actions.
o For example, a born again heart produces a born again mind which leads to born again actions – belief, repentance, confession, etc. – our new nature in Christ.
o A depraved heart leads to a depraved mind and actions.
*Philippians 3:19 (ESV) — 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
• (3) What it is to be Born Again – the Holy Spirit regenerating our heart.
In our text today Jesus makes His conversation with Nicodemus personal; He makes it about Himself.
• As a result, we learn what Jesus has to do with being Born Again.
We also see a change in tone and tactic with how Jesus had been dealing with Nicodemus inquiries.
• And it seems to me that Jesus had a specific, constructive reason for this.
• In my opinion, what we have from Jesus in our text today is a challenge from Jesus to Nicodemus to rethink what he always thought he knew about Truth of Scripture.
1) JESUS CHANGES HIS TONE AND TACTIC
There is no such thing as a dumb question?
John 3:9 (ESV) — 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
As we examined last week, even though Nicodemus was caught up in a works based salvation, the OT he would have known so well, contained the very truths about which Jesus spoke.
• Ezekiel 36:25–27 (ESV) — 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Yet even after Jesus alluded to Ezekiel as we discussed last week, Nicodemus remained unconvinced.
• He continued to question Jesus about this Born Again business.
• It seems that Nicodemus just couldn’t fathom that God could and would make a provision for the “heart of flesh” that Ezekiel taught about.
• And this provision from God was standing right before Nicodemus and he simply didn’t get it.
• In his mind, Jesus was simply “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2).
Jesus Changes His Tone and Tactic:
Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus’ was not an explanation, as it was in John 3:3 and John 3:5, but more of a condemnation.
• John 3:10 (ESV) — 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?
Jesus seems to be telling Nicodemus that he does not know Scripture as well as he ought or as well as he thinks he does.
• This is because from Jesus’ point of view, Scripture is clear on the issue.
And the idea of God creating in us a new heart was not just to be found in Ezekiel.
• Deuteronomy 10:16 (ESV) — 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
• Psalm 51:10 (ESV) — 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
• Psalm 73:1 (ESV) — 1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
• Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV) — 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
• Habakkuk 2:4 (ESV) — 4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.
So, Nicodemus was both unable to grasp AND not expecting such a work as the birth of a new heart.
• The Scripture he seemed to know so well on one level, he didn’t know at all at the level it really matters most.
• How can a man of Nicodemus’ stature and knowledge not understand what Scripture has been pointing to since the call of Abram?
In Isaiah, God asks a similar question:
• Isaiah 50:2 (ESV) — 2 Why, when I came, was there no man; why, when I called, was there no one to answer? Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a desert; their fish stink for lack of water and die of thirst.
o His answer to His question is that He is not to blame for man’s rebellion.
o His power to save is perfect.
o Or in NT language, God is not to blame that men don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear His provision.
So what is to blame for Nico’s fog?
• Why doesn’t Nico get it?
Possible reasons for Nicodemus’ inability to understand:
• John 3:3 (ESV) — 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
• John 6:65 (ESV) — 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
• 2 Corinthians 4:3–4 (ESV) — 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
• And let’s not forget a sprinkling of pharisaical, self-righteous pride.
No matter the reason for Nicodemus’ spiritual blindness, we will see in verses 11 and 12 that there are consequences for it.
Jesus holds Nicodemus responsible for not knowing these things:
Jesus’ criticism goes even further.
• John 3:11–12 (ESV) — 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
If Nicodemus can’t grasp the concept of the new birth (earthly thing) even when coupled with both the testimony of Jesus, His signs and wonders, AND the teaching of the OT, how could he possibly grasp the heavenly things into which the new birth provides entry?
What are the heavenly things?
• The ‘heavenly things’ are then the splendours of the consummated kingdom, and what it means to live under such glorious, ineffable rule – D.A. Carson.
• Some examples?
And so now, in hopes that Jesus might bring Nicodemus out of his spiritual haze, He makes it personal.
• He reveals what being born again has to do with Himself, Jesus.
2) JESUS MAKES IT PERSONAL
John 3:13 (ESV) — 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man
• Jesus refers to Himself in His favorite way, as the Son of Man.
First, in verse 13, he speaks of His authority.
• He declares that He is qualified to speak on the heavenly things that Nicodemus can’t comprehend because he is the Davidic Son of Man.
• For Jesus, “heaven was his home in the first place, and therefore he has ‘inherently the fullness of heavenly knowledge’” – D.A. Carson.
• And as the Gospels demonstrate, those who believe and follow Jesus, such as the disciples, have access to and the ability to enjoy and contemplate the heavenly things of our faith.
• The disciples’ access to Jesus at the wedding in Cana is an example of this principal – remember, Jesus is Deep.
Secondly, in verses 14 and 15, Jesus then makes a radical claim about Himself, the Son of Man, using the OT.
• John 3:14–15 (ESV) — 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
It is here that Jesus answers our question about what He has to do with the new birth.
To unpack this, let’s look at the source.
• Numbers 21:7–9 (ESV) — 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Jesus seems to be making at least two very important points here (D.A. Carson):
• God’s Provision
o As God in His grace provided relief for believers from the consequences of their sin with the serpent on a pole, He would also see to it to provide a way to replace our hearts of stone with new hearts.
o The serpent was the provision then; the Son of Man is the provision now!
• Lifted Up
o As the serpent was lifted up so that those who look upon it would live, the Son of Man must also be lifted up so that born again believers might look upon Him and live!
I can’t think of any clearer way for Jesus to teach Nicodemus that:
• God’s provision is not the works of the law but the Son of Man
• And one must believe in the Son of Man to have eternal life.
POI – This idea of the Son of Man being lifted up is an important part of John’s theology.
• John 8:28 (ESV) — 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.
• John 12:32 (ESV) — 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
• John 12:34 (ESV) — 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
So in making these 2 points, He is the Provision and He must be Lifted Up, Jesus was challenging Nicodemus:
• By making it personal, Jesus was confronting the authenticity of Nicodemus’ religious beliefs head on.
• “Nicodemus was being challenged to turn to Jesus for new birth in much the same way as the ancient Israelites were commanded to turn to the bronze snake for new life” – D.A. Carson.
o And as discussed last week, Nicodemus did witness the Son of Man being lifted up and apparently did “look” at Him in belief and “lived”.
And so what does Jesus have to do with the new birth?
• “Here then is the frankest answer to Nicodemus’ question. ‘How can this happen?’ (v. 9). The kingdom of God is seen or entered, new birth is experienced, and eternal life begins, through the saving cross-work of Christ, received by faith” – D.A. Carson.
• In other words, what is it that a born again heart believes?
o The provision of Christ and His work on the cross on our behalf!
Lesson for Us:
(1) Even as believers, we can’t get in the way of Jesus’ willingness to teach us of heavenly things.
• So, are we missing out on what Jesus is teaching?
• Like Nicodemus, are we being merely religious in our faith and not authentic?
(2) Why don’t we have the original NT documents, or the crossbeam to the cross Christ was crucified on?
• 2 Kings 18:4 (ESV) — 4 He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).
We must be careful and worship neither the cross nor the Scripture that brings us its truth.
• Jesus Christ the man/God is the giver of life.
• He alone is worthy of our worship!
Next week, John 3:16 – The scope of Jesus Work.