Monthly Archives: October 2010

John 3:9–15 – Jesus Makes it Personal: Jesus and Being Born Again

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.

John 3:1–8 – Born Again

John 3:1–8 (ESV) — 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”



1) THE PROBLEM: STATE OF MIND – LIVING OUTSIDE IN

John 3:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Nicodemus, at this point was expressing the same belief as those from our lesson last week in John 2:23-25.
• His mind believed and approved but his heart was still depraved.
• And this type of living is what I call “Living Outside In”.
• The spiritual flow we learned about last week, heart-mind-action, is corrupt because of our dead hearts.
• Our experiences naturally override any objective truth found in a born again heart, therefore one can’t help but “Live Outside In”.

To address this condition, Jesus makes the following statement:
• 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.”
• And as we know, this is not the first time in John’s Gospel that the idea of a spiritual birth is mentioned.
o John 1:13 (ESV) — 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Last week we learned Jesus didn’t believe in men because of what he saw in their hearts.
• This week, Jesus identifies what is needed by a man for Him to believe in them.
• Yet to this radical insight, Nicodemus expresses a lack of understanding.

2) STATE OF CONFUSION

John 3:4 (ESV) — 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

And not only does he reveal a lack of understanding, but scholars think, that as a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, he would have been startled by Jesus’ claim.
• “All of his life he had diligently observed the law and the rituals of Judaism. He had joined the ultra-religious Pharisees, and even become a member of the Sanhedrin. Now Jesus called him to forsake all of that and start over; to abandon the entire system of works righteousness in which he had placed his hope; to realize that human effort was powerless to save” – John MacArthur.

And for whatever other reasons we give for Nicodemus’ confusion, it can’t be due to a silence of the Scriptures he knew so well.
• Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) — 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.
    o One can’t but help notice the heart-mind-action sequence we discussed last week.
    o This type of living described by Ezekiel is in direct opposition to the “Living Outside In” we have just discussed – it is “Living Inside Out”.

One thing Scripture also makes clear about one’s ability to grasp its truths which would have applied to Nicodemus at this point:
• 1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV) — 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

But nevertheless, his question, it seems to me, is a fair one.
• Given what we learn of Nicodemus later in Scripture, it may reveal the presence of a seeking heart.
• John 19:38–39 (ESV) — 38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.

POI – In John 3:2 of our text today, we see that Nicodemus came to Jesus under cover of darkness.
• One can suggest many reasons for this, not the least of which is that he didn’t want the rest of the Sanhedrin to know what he was doing (even though he was not alone – “we”).
• But in John 19, we see Nicodemus seemingly no longer concerned with being “found out”.
• He must of stood out somewhat carrying around so much stuff – even if he had help.

And so Jesus answers his question.

3) THE SOLUTION: STATE OF GRACE – LIVING INSIDE OUT

John 3:5–8 (ESV) — 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The theological definition of “born again”:
• “It is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us” – Wayne Grudem.
• And curiously, “Exactly what happens in regeneration is a mystery to us” – Wayne Grudem.
• But it is being born again that makes “Living Inside Out” possible, as alluded to earlier in Ezekiel.
     o Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) — 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.

We also play no role in this act:
• Notice that in both our text in John and in Ezekiel, it is God who “causes” and the Spirit who “births”.
• And not only that, Jesus tells Nicodemus “The wind blows where it wishes”.
• With these words, Jesus is referring to the will of the Holy Spirit not of man.
• Something already alluded to earlier by John.
    o John 1:12–13 (ESV) — 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
• And in our lesson on John 1:12-13, we learned John was drawing a parallel between:
    o The complete lack of life we had physically before Christ breathed life into us.
    o And the complete lack of life we had spiritually before God willed us to be born of Him.

This profound truth is expressed elsewhere:
• Titus 3:5 (ESV) — 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
• James 1:18 (ESV) — 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
• 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
• Acts 13:48 (ESV) — 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

And Christ affirmed this sentiment in the negative as well:
• John 10:25–27 (ESV) — 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
• 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.”

But doesn’t belief happen just by doing the following?
• John 1:12 (ESV) — 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
• Mark 1:15 (ESV) — 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
• Romans 10:9–10 (ESV) — 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
• Matthew 10:32 (ESV) — 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
• 1 John 4:15 (ESV) — 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

The answer is yes but we must dig deeper to be faithful to the truth of Scripture:
• Who receives Him?
• Who repents?
• Who believes?
• Who confesses?
• Who believes in their heart the truth of the resurrection?
• Who acknowledges or chooses Him before men?
• Who abides in Him?

In other words:
• How do these things happen?
• What initiates them?
• Are these the result of something we have done or are they the result of God’s work in us?

To answer these questions we need to allude back to the heart-mind-action relationship from last week:
• The flow is from heart to mind to action, spiritually speaking.
• A depraved heart produces “designs of the mind” and ultimately actions that are rooted in sin.
    o 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.
• But a saved heart produces “designs of the mind” and actions that produce righteous fruit.

Examples of this:
• Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) — 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.
• 1 John 2:29 (ESV) — 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
• 1 John 3:9 (ESV) — 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
• 1 John 5:18 (ESV) — 18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
• Matthew 7:21 (ESV) — 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

It seems to me that these verses make clear that all these things, receiving, repenting, believing, confessing, acknowledging, and abiding occur because we have been born again.
• They are the fruits of a new heart.
• They are the evidence that we are “Living Inside Out”.
• We are born of the Spirit and then we choose to do these things.
• If this is not the case, then it seems to me that the following is in jeopardy:
    o Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

We believe and do all the other things because, after being born again, we, for the first time in or spiritual lives, both desire to and are able to do them.
• Jonathan Edwards puts it like this, “Tis entirely in a man’s power to submit to Jesus Christ as a Savior, if he will; but the thing is, it never will be that he should will it, except God works it in him”.
• And this is why the TDNT defines belief as not just “an act” but “a state” – and in our context it is a state of being born again.
• A belief whose motivations rest in anything other than a born again heart is contrived, clinical and calculated and simply not a believing faith.
    o Matthew 7:22–23 (ESV) — 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Lesson For Us:
So we are back to the question from last week.
• Does Jesus believe in you?

Or using today’s lesson:
• Are you born again?
• Do you “Live Life Inside Out”?