Jesus Teaches Nicodemus About Second Birth

 Harmony of the Gospels

--AD 27--
Judea
(8) Teaches Nicodemus About Second Birth

(Numbers 21:8-9) John 3:1-21

 

 

The report of this event really began back in chapter two, so we will back up a couple of verses.

But Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of any man: for he knew what was in man.  There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  (John 2:24-3:1)

Jesus did not need for anyone to tell Him what men were like, because He knew men.  Who could know you better than the one who created you?  Jesus would not accept this crowd, because their faith was false, but this man Nicodemus was different.  Jesus saw that he was genuine and that he was honestly seeking to know the truth.  He was a Pharisee, and that meant that he was extremely religious.  The Pharisee was very important to the ministry of Jesus, so let’s pause to look closely at what the Pharisee was at this time and how they came into being.  (Most of the information pertaining to the Pharisee has come from the teaching tapes of Malcomb Smith.)  

I believe that if you took the Pharisee out of the Gospels, you could not have the Gospels.  Almost everything Jesus said (almost everything), He said it over against the Pharisees.  Almost everything Jesus did (almost everything), He did in some form of confrontation with the Pharisees.  Either they were confronting Him or He was confronting them.  In fact, there is more than one place in the Bible where He actually “baited” them.  There is a continual movement, backwards and forwards between them. 

Galatians 4:4 says, that Jesus came, “When the time had fully come.”  There was a movement of nations coming together.  It was exactly the right time nationally and internationally, when Jesus was born.  Even languages had to be developed.  They had to have the Greek language, in order for the Bible to be written as it was.  All these things came together, and at that moment when Jesus was born, everything just “dovetailed”.  In the fullness of time, I believe one thing that had to wait, was the development of “world religion”.  What I mean by world religion, is a religion that is born in this world?  It is born, in fact, of Satan himself.  It is a religion of self, yet it has the inspired word of God at its foundation.  Now that’s a trick.   I am not talking about Buddhism or Islam.  I am talking about something that has the word of God at its foundation, yet the whole thing rises, spawned of Satan.  It had to wait for that, yet when Jesus was born it had come to its fullness.  It had been born a few years before, but now it had arrived.  The day had come and there was never a day that religion was as strong.  And Jesus came to confront that religion, eyeball to eyeball.  He has to do it.  He has to show us what His Gospel is not.  It is not enough to show us what it is, He must show us what it is not.  And so Jesus couldn’t be born until the Pharisees had come to their height.  Then He stepped into the arena and took away the mask of religion and said, “I haven’t come to give you this.”

Who were the Pharisees?  I want to be fair to them.  The word Pharisee has come into our language to mean hypocrite.  In fact if you look into a regular dictionary, it will say that Pharisee means hypocrite.   That is very unfortunate.  In fact, if you check a dictionary, it will probably give hypocrite as one of the meanings for Pharisee.  But I disagree.  Pharisee was a word that originally meant, “A man of great sincerity and faith.”  Let’s go back 600 years before Jesus was born, a time when the nation of Israel had collapsed.  The nation had gone into captivity, because they had turned to idols and had forsaken their God.  While they are in captivity, they rediscover the books of the Law; the first five books of the Old Testament.  In Hebrew, it is called the Torah.  That was, to them, their Bible.  They also had the historical books and the prophets, but the Law was their Bible.  Now, they begin to read it.  It had been a long time since they had read it, because they had been so immersed in idolatry.  As they begin to read it, they begin to understand why they had been forced into captivity.  They saw that God had turned them over to their enemies, because of their idolatry.  So among all the captives scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire, they begin to turn back to God, and they turn to the Bible.  They begin to study the scriptures and to be devoted to it. The word “Scribe” came into existence.  A Scribe was a man who studied the scripture and wrote it out for others.  One of the leaders of that movement, while they were in captivity was a man called Ezra.  He would be the one to write much of the scriptures, many of the Psalms and the book of Ezra.  The Scribes were one of the first people that began to pull people together and say, “Let’s study scripture.”  The people had not done that before.  Then there came the time of the return to Israel, under the Persian king, Cyrus.  They came back into the land of Israel, and they carried the scrolls of the Law with them.  This was their precious book.  Every command that it contained must be obeyed.  Never again, must they turn to idolatry.  They came back, led by Zerubabel, then by Ezra.  Then there began a great separation; they separated themselves from the heathen nations around them, because they believed that they were God’s separated people.  After a while things began to get lax, or should I say, the enthusiasm began to wear off.  So there arose a group within Israel that called themselves the “Hassidim.”  Hassidim means “the pious ones.”  Loosely translated, it means “the saints”.  It was a holy club.  They separated themselves from other people and said, we will return to devotion to God; we will return to God’s word and obey it.  A member of the Hassidim, it could have been Ezra wrote Psalm 119.  It is loaded with words like testimony and statute and it is speaking of the Torah.  This Psalm is filled with fanaticism.  But it is a good fanaticism.   It says, “I love your word, I delight in it more than treasure.”  This is the “Hassidim”; they loved the word of God.  A little bit later, Greek thought tried to invade Judaism.  They said, all this stuff about the Bible is old fashioned.  Let’s get with it and think like the Greeks.  It was the Hassidim that stood against that.  They said, “No! We stand for the word of God.”  Because of their stand, they endured a great deal of mental persecution.  You know what I mean-people laughed at them.  They were despised, called old fashioned and people told jokes about them.  Then a little bit later there came a man that can be likened to Hitler.  His name was “Antiocus”.  He was a Greek and he tried to exterminate Judaism.  At that time the Hassidim stood against him, so they were persecuted.  Some died for their faith.  They were tremendous people, the Hassidim, in their beautiful, fanatical devotion to God.  But some of them began to get involved in politics, and in BC 135, they split with the Hassidim.  Those that stayed in the Hassidim rededicated themselves to the word of God and swore to never depart from it.  They would be God’s people and they would show it by being obedient to Him.  They were nicknamed “The Separatists”, and that is the word “Pharisee”.  It means, “a separated one.”  They never called themselves Pharisees, which was a nickname that people gave them.  They really did separate themselves unto God and dedicated themselves to keeping the Law.  And they became fanatical.  They would keep every minute detail of the law of God, in their zeal.  They called themselves, “The Association.”  They said, “WE are associated with God’s word.  We are associated with those that love God’s word, and we have separated ourselves from all those who are not like us.”  Now it is beginning to get dangerous.  They have gone from being the devoted Hassidim to being more than fanatical; they are becoming “narrow.”  Now they are not only separated from others, but they have pulled their coat around them and separated themselves from their brother and sister Jews, and they say, “You are not good enough for us.  We are ‘The Association.”’

To get into The Association, depending on many things, the initiation took from thirty days to a year.  During that time, you would study before taking your final vows.  They saw themselves as the godly among the ungodly.  Because of their obedience, they thought that they were the true people of God, and that everyone else was a phony.  They eagerly waited for the Messiah to come.  When they met each other on the street they would say, “Shalom neighbor”, not brother, because it says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.  But they said that what God really means is that you should love all members of The Association as yourself.  And so only the members of the Association are my neighbors.  I can hate everyone else, because they are not like us.  We are “The Neighbors.” 

Now, they had a problem.  They are really serious about keeping the Law of God, but how should they go about it?  They did it by bring in what is called “fences”.  Fences were rules and regulations to stop you from even getting close to breaking the Law of God.  They had an awful lot of fences and an awful lot of rules and regulations.  After awhile, they forgot what the command was, because they got so taken up with the fences.  They forgot that these fences that were intended to keep you from breaking the Law were man made, and they called them the Law of God also.  It’s getting very complicated now.  They are raising this massive thing of man made traditions. 

After their formation, they were bitterly persecuted.  However, there came a time when they became the most honored, most loved people in Israel.  They were held in awe.  People said, “If ever there was a saint, it is one of these people.”  People would greet them in the street and look at them with absolute marvel.  They would say, “Here’s a man of God.  If ever I walk with God, I want to be like him.”  The more complex his rules became, the more the people held the Pharisee in awe; that such a man would keep so many rules to walk with God.  Their influence was so great, that every synagogue in Israel was influenced by them.  The order of worship was sometimes changed according to Pharisee law.  They influenced Rabbis.  By the way, they were not professionals.  They were businessmen, mostly.  But they had such great power, that every family in Israel knew of their presence.  At the time of Christ there was only 6000 Pharisees in all of Israel, and yet they seemed to by omnipresent.  And you couldn’t miss him, because he made sure of that.  That was part of being a Pharisee.  He dressed a certain way.  He wore a blue robe.  Why not, the sky is blue, so if I wear blue, I am closer to God.  Of course, that has changed today; if you want to look holy, you wear black.  The blacker your clothes, the holier you are.  They had a little box on their forehead, tied around their head; it was called a phylactery.  Inside the box was a verse of scripture, and they would say, “See, I have scripture on my mind.  They also had another box on their wrist, tied in the prescribed fashion, seven times around their arm and three times around the hand.  They held it inward to be closer to their heart.  You couldn’t miss these fellows-blue robe, box on their head, box on their wrist.  They had a prayer shawl, and that was fine, because the Bible said you should.  The ends of the shawl had tassels.  God said, “When you see the ends of the tassels move, remember that I am your covenant God”.  It’s in the book of Numbers.  What they did, though, was to make their tassels very long, because they said, “We remember God more than anybody.”  And so, by their dress you couldn’t miss them.  But they also walked a certain way; they shuffled along, most of them, to show how holy they were.  At the prescribed time of prayer, they would be crossing a road, and they would stop and have their hour of prayer, while all the traffic backed up.  This was a Pharisee; an outward, external showoff kind of man.  However, we should be fair to them.  They are national heroes, because in their past they suffered marterdom.  These people believed that the Word of God was indeed the Word of God, God inspired.  They were adamant that the Word of God was God breathed.  They were fanatical students of scripture. There were none like them.  They observed every law of the Old Testament.  They loved to obey.  They even took commands that were meant only for the priests and they said, “We will take these too.”  They obeyed every possible law and they demanded that everybody be educated in the scriptures.  You can’t fault that.  They tithed on everything they had, right down to the mint in their garden.  Every tenth piece was given to God.  Every tenth sheep, every tenth cow, was given to God.  They tithed.  You can’t fault that.  And they eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah.  However Jesus said to them, “You are a bunch of snakes and vipers.  You take great care to be clean on the outside, and yet on the inside, you are going rotten with yesterday’s food.  You are a dirty corrupt pot.”  That’s pretty strong language.  Jesus doesn’t usually talk like that, so I want to know why. 

The love that flowed through Jesus, the love that Jesus lived can only be understood fully over against this brittle, rigid, formal religion.  Only when I see what man has done, can I understand what Jesus came to do.  And it is shocking.  In Jesus, incarnate love is dropped down in the midst of an oppressive religion of ceremony and ritual.  And they smash each other, because the two can’t live together; it’s impossible.  You see, when Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly”, He needed this religion there, so He could say emphatically, “I am totally other than that.  That is not what I am talking about.  If fact, It is from the pit.  The abundant life is something totally other than that.”  Unless Jesus could say that, I know us; we would say that the abundant life was something that only operated within the religious system.  As far as the world is concerned this is what religion is.  As far as the world is concerned, I could not rise higher than piety.  But Jesus said, ”I am opposed to that.  I am other than that.  What I have, cannot coexist with that.”  If Jesus hadn’t said that, I know us, we would have taken His abundant life and tried to make it work inside religion.  Even after all He said, we still try to do that.  So what would we have done, if He did not try to teach us the truth?  The two cannot possibly live together.  Be prepared for a shock-there is a lot of Pharisee in all of us. 

What is wrong with a Pharisee?  If Jesus is so mad at them, what is it about them that brings out the anger of God.  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “I am not come to destroy the Law (the Torah), I am come to fulfill it.”  It is interesting that the Pharisees said the same thing.  But what the Pharisees meant was that they were going to obey every detail by rigid obedience, and show by their actions that they were worthy of God.  They believed that God chose them and that they were the true people of God.  They had missed the whole point.  What is it that had made the people of Israel the people of God?  It was that God revealed Himself to them in their history.  He told them His name, He told them whom He was, He unveiled His Heart to them, He entered into a covenant with them and said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”  “I will dwell in the midst of you.”  What made Israel special?  It was the presence of God.  It was the revelation that God gave himself to them.  And one of the things that God gave in His covenant was the Law.  But the great issue was Himself.  There was nothing special about Israel; it was God that made them special. 

The Pharisees took the Law, but God didn’t matter any more and the covenant didn’t matter any more.  What mattered was the Law, the beautiful Torah, with all of its marvelous commands that they could keep to show that they were worthy.  And so it was no longer, “We are God’s people, because of His presence among us.”  It is, “We are God’s people; look how we live and how we keep His commands.”  Jesus said, “You search the scripture, because in it you think you have eternal life.”  He was saying, “You don’t have it; you are great students, but you missed it.”  They had lost God in His word.  Isn’t that amazing.  They were back to idolatry again, but their idol was The Book. 

In New York City, there is the largest community of Pharisees.  They are real ones.  They are called the “Hassidic”, from the word “Hassidim”.  They still live and dress almost exactly like the Pharisees.  They will not even look at you, because they are the separated ones.  They have a custom that goes back to those days.  When a child is two years old, they take some honey and they put it on the pages of the Old Testament.  The child’s finger is then placed in the honey and then to his mouth.  He tastes the honey, and he is told, from two years on, that the Law (The Torah), is honey to you.  That will be what he studies for the rest of his life.  They have a convention, and at the convention, the leader takes the Torah, and he dances with it all night long, kissing and caressing it.  The Law, the Bible, has become his God. 

This was the Pharisee; his problem was that the Book was everything to him, and he lost God in the Book.  It was almost as though the Law had become a person.  And the Law watched over every detail of his life.  He could not wake up in the morning without thinking, what did the Law say.  The Law was the way to God.  His thinking was, “If I can only keep the Law, I can go to God.  When Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the Law, He did not mean that.”

Actually, when Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the Law, He had got to the heart of the matter.  He had come to get past the outward command and get to the “guts” of the thing.  What is the Law?  Thou shalt not kill; that’s not the Law.  That’s only the wrapper that it came in.  We need to dig around a bit to see what God is really saying and to see what is behind the commands.  Thou shalt not commit adultery-no, no, no; that’s only the wrapping paper.  What’s underneath that?  It’s one word-LOVE.  Because, if I love you, I will not kill you.  If I love you, I will not run away with your wife.  If I love you, I will not steal from you.  Love is the fulfillment of the Law.  And all the wrappings of “Thou shall not”, is only the wrapping paper.  The Pharisees had taken the wrapping paper off the candy, discarded the candy, and were now arguing about the wrapping paper.  Love is the piece of chocolate.  The Old Testament Torah was just the wrapping paper.  Jesus said that the whole law was summed up in this one word.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart and your neighbor as your self.”  That’s the whole thing-LOVE. 

The Pharisee said, “Thou shalt not kill, but I can hate you and I can lose my temper with you.”  But Jesus said, “Have the Law and you have just the command, have love and your whole life will be transformed."  There is a big difference there.  The Law says, “Thou shalt not kill”, so I can put my fingers around your throat, as long as I don’t kill you.  I can get within an inch of it, as long as I don’t kill you.  But love says, that if I lose my tamper, I must ask your forgiveness.  See the difference.  Jesus said, “I have come to fulfill it, to get to the heart of the matter.  Do you realize that many Christians are very close to where the Pharisees were?

Islam has a book that they live by; it’s called the Koran.  Christians also say that they live by a book, the Bible.  But we don’t live by a book.  We are not under the rule of a book.  We are under the rule of a living Savior.  Do you see the difference?  It is possible to lose the Word of God, in the word of God.  The Bible is the word of God, and I believe that.  But THE Word of God is Jesus.  If I have only got the book, then I have lost THE WORD.  That is what the Pharisees did; sincere, starting out right, but they lost God in the book. 

Now the Pharisees have got a problem, because if they are going to keep the Law, they need help.  However, it is interesting that the Pharisees never said how could I keep the Law?  What they said is, How can I not break the Law?  There is a big difference; how to keep the law is simple-love your neighbor.  How not to break it; now that’s something else.  Well, they said, we have to have fences, because, heaven help us, if we even get close to breaking the command, we will break it.  So, they had to put up a lot of fences to make sure that they didn’t even get close enough to break the commands.

Here is an example of a fence.  The command is “Keep the Sabbath Day holy.”  Isn’t that simple?  The Sabbath Day was God’s gift, and it should be fun.  Remember when they were in the wilderness, they had to get up before dawn to gather the manna, but on the Sabbath day, God said, “Stay in bed, this one is on me.”  They didn’t have to get up early on the Sabbath.  It was a fun day.  They could stay at home with their wife and kids, get out the Bible and read it to the family.  If a Levite passed by, they could ask him in to share a meal and explain God’s word to them.  It was a fun day, and a simple day, if you kept the Law.  However, according to the Pharisees, you were not even to move out of your house on the Sabbath, except for a short period.  Do you know why?  Because they were focused on not breaking the Law, rather than on keeping the Law.  Now that’s a big problem.  For instance, what would be considered “working” on the Sabbath?  Plowing would be considered working on the Sabbath, but what is plowing?  They said that if you drag a chair across the floor, that divides the dust, so that is plowing.  Therefore, one of the fences that the Pharisees put up was, “You are not to drag a chair across the floor on the Sabbath.”  Here is another fence.  You know women, if they look into a mirror and spot a gray hair, they are going to pluck it out.  Now that is definitely working on the Sabbath.  The fence was, “Women cannot look into a mirror on the Sabbath.”  There were many, many more fences.  When Jesus was walking through a field of corn and he plucked an ear of corn, rubbed it between His hands, and blew the chaff away, the Pharisees pounced on Him.  You wouldn’t believe the number of rules that He broke when He did that.  He was harvesting on the Sabbath Day; He was grinding corn on the Sabbath Day.  There were fences for everything, but understand, the Pharisees were sincere.  They were saying, “If you don’t keep the fences on the Sabbath Day, you know what that will lead to.  We know that fences are not in the Bible, but they will keep you from doing things, that will lead to other things, and eventually lead you to breaking the command.” 

You know, there are some people who live with fences today.  Let me give you some examples:
• Do not go to movies-Who knows what you will see there.
• Don’t watch TV-It will corrupt your mind.
• Don’t wear jewelry-That will lead to pride.
• Don’t wear make up-That is another sign of pride.
• Do not get a permanent-Once again, this is pride.
• Do not go to the beach-You might discover that women are different than men.
• No dancing-You know what touching leads to.
• Women should not wear shorts or jeans-That will cause men to look and you know what that leads to.
• Do not eat in a restaurant, that serves beer-You know where that will lead.

My wife was raised in a family and a church that had all of these fences.  On Sunday, you couldn’t put gas in your car or cook a meal.  You couldn’t eat ice cream on Sunday.  All you could do was set at home and wish for Monday to get here.

Jesus openly scoffed at their fences.  He went out of His way to break their sacred laws, and He loved to do it.  For example, when He rubbed the ears of corn between His hands, He knew they were watching.  He stomped on their toes.  He said, “What you have, is not what I have.”  He said, “The whole law is summed up in one word-LOVE.”  That was the whole message-LOVE. 

The Pharisees despised everyone else.  That is easy to do when you say, “I am keeping the Law; I am living by the book.”  Then you can turn to those who are not and say, “You are second class.”  A Pharisee would not associate with a Samaritan.  If he happened to touch a Tax Collector on the street, he would go home and take a bath, then send his clothes to the laundry.  He despised the peasants that didn't understand the Law.  He would stand every day when he got out of bed and prayed this prayer; "I thank thee, O God, that I am not like other men, I thank thee, O God, that I am not a woman, I thank thee, O God, that I am not a dog.  I am a member of the Association.  I am better than the others, because I have the truth, and I have studied the scriptures."  When they asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, that was a very big question in those days.  The Pharisees said, “Only other Pharisees are my neighbor; everyone else I can hate.”  Jesus said that everyone is your neighbor, and that was like a breath of fresh air.  Remember that they wouldn’t touch a Tax Collector.  But Matthew was a Tax Collector.  They wouldn’t go into a Tax Collector’s house, because they said, I might get infected.”   They wouldn’t cross the threshold of a Tax Collector’s house, but Jesus made a Tax Collector one of His disciples and they had a feast in his house.  (Now you know what goes on at one of those things.)  It was the gossip for weeks, “He went to eat with Tax Collectors and sinners.”  Can you feel the shock of this?  No one in Israel would do that.  It was unheard of.  Jesus did the sort of stuff that shocked people back then, and it may even shock some today.  He went out of His way to do it and He let people see Him do it, because He said, “You have it all wrong.”  The Pharisees said, “How can you do it, they are sinners.”  But Jesus said, they are not.  Did you ever notice, Jesus never called anyone a sinner?  Pharisees did, but He didn’t.  He said, “They are lost sheep, lost coins and lost sons.  The Pharisees would say, “There is joy in heaven, when a sinner drops into hell.”  Jesus responded with a smile and said, “There is joy in heaven when one sinner repents.” 

Are there any Pharisees around today?  Do you think that there may be some spirit filled people around today who think that Baptists are second class citizens?  There was a time in my life when I believed that a Catholic could not be saved, unless he joined my church. 

Jesus came to that Pharisee community and He said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  That was not an invitation to sinners, as we often make it.  It was an invitation to people who were sick and tired of religion.  It is such a weary thing to constantly be obeying rules and wondering, can I do it?  Don’t make being a Christian a burden that is heavy and hard to carry.  Don’t make pleasing God a burden.  Recognize that God loves you with an unconditional love.  Recognizing that it is who He is and not what we have done, that is the key to peace with God.

Now let’s continue with John’s account of Jesus encounter with Niodemus.

The only thing that we are told about Nocodemus is that he was an important Pharisee.  But that alone tells us a great deal about him.  The following conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is remarkable.  Jesus in a patient, compassionate manner leads him from a selfish, religious piety to “saving faith”, when He presented the Gospel, but never was the Gospel presented in more detail and in greater clarity and with greater power and authority.  We are not told at this time that Nicodemus believed, but I think that he did.  He gave evidence of his conversion at the trial of Jesus, by defending Him.  Then after He was crucified, he went with Joseph of Aremethia, to claim His body for burial.  These were courageous acts that may have cost him his standing in the community, and much worse.  Now let’s unfold this great work of Christ.

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou dost, except God be with him. (John 3:2)

He chose to meet with Jesus at night.  He came as a representative of the Pharisees, because he says, “we know that thou art a teacher come from God…..”  He is also paying Jesus a compliment, because he addresses Him as “Rabbi”, which is the name for a teacher.  He says, “we know you came from God”, and, “no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”  He acknowledges the miracles, because they saw them.  They couldn’t deny them.  I believe that Nicodemus came to talk about the Kingdom.  The Pharisees wanted out from under the yoke of Rome, and their hope for freedom was that the Messiah would come and establish the Kingdom.  They hoped for something, which even today, is in the future.  I think that the Pharisees hoped to hitch themselves to His rising star.  He was popular with the people and they wanted to take advantage of that, by aligning themselves with Him.

He came at night, to sound Him out.  The Pharisees needed to know where He stood on certain issues and if He would cooperate.  They met at night, because the Pharisees did not want anyone to know that they were interested in a union with Jesus, until the time was right.  That would only be when they could control Him and use Him for their advantage.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.  (John 3:3)

This is why I think that he came to talk about the Kingdom of God, and why Jesus so abruptly brought up the subject.  But when Jesus said, “no man can see the Kingdom of God, unless he is born again”, there was a detour in the conversation.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?  (John 3:4)

Jesus said that he must be born again.  He is talking about a spiritual birth, about a birth that comes from above.  Nicodemus can’t comprehend this concept, because all he is familiar with is the birth of a baby.  At this point, he lacks the capacity to understand what Jesus is saying.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.  (John 3:5)

Now what does it mean to be born of water and of the Spirit?  There are some that believe that being born of water refers to water baptism.  This would be a strange expression if that is what it meant.  Some people believe that the reference is to the physical birth, since the baby is surrounded by water while in the womb.  I don’t believe that Jesus is talking about the difference between physical and spiritual birth, but that He is talking about being born “from above” or being “born again”.

Water, as used in scripture, is symbolic of the Word of God.  Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”  (John 17:17)  The word of God has power to both cleanse and sanctify.  In John 15:3 Jesus said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”  The word of God is likened to water again and again.  I believe that “born of water and of the Spirit,” means that a person must be born again by the Holy Spirit using the word of God.  No man is born again without the word of God, applied by the Spirit of God.  Everyone today, is born from above by the Holy Spirit making the word of God real to our heart. 

There are many examples in the Bible of men being converted.  There is Cornealius, the Ethiopian eunuch and the 3000 added to the church when Peter preached the first sermon of the New Testament, just to name a few.  Every conversion has three things in common.  The Holy Spirit is there and He prepares the heart, and makes it fertile ground to receive the word of God, delivered by the lips of a man of God.  The Lord is telling Nicodemus, that for him to enter the Kingdom of God, that he must be born again, by the Spirit of God using the word of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  (John 3:6)

“That which is born of the flesh, “ is the old nature.  The old nature is at war with God.  “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8)  God has no program for our old nature, to improve it, to change it, to save it or to develop it.  The old nature will go right down into the grave with us.  But if the lord comes, before we die, we will get rid of that old nature in the twinkling of an eye.  It can never be made obedient to God.  “That which is flesh, is flesh.”  God does not intend to save the old nature, when we are born again.

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou Hearst the sound there of, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.  (John 3:7-8)

I can’t explain to you the spiritual birth.  There are those who claim to understand it, and to be able to explain it, but I don’t.  However, I accept it, because Jesus said, “Ye must be born again.”  This is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith.  Jesus compares it to the wind.  I am like Nicodemus, because I don’t understand what causes it, or where it comes from, or where it goes.  But I know when it is blowing, because I can feel it, and I can see the trees bend under its force.  I can’t tell you how the Spirit operates, but I can tell you when it is moving in the hearts of men and women.  That is what the Lord is saying here.

Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?  (John 3:9)

I believe that Jesus has completely disarmed Nicodemus.  This man, who is a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, is in awe of Him.  Never has any man spoke, like Jesus spoke.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?  (John3:10)

Jesus appears to apply a little sarcasm here.  In other words, He is saying, “I would think that anyone that was a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, would know these things.

Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.  If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?  And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.  (John 3:11-13)

This is a tremendous statement that Jesus has made.  In John 16:28 Jesus said, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”  And now He says, “No man hath ascended up to heaven.”  What Jesus is saying, is that up to this point, no man has been to heaven.  Elijah, Enoch, Adam, Moses, David, Samuel or any other saint of God is not in heaven.  So where are they?  Well, when an Old Testament saint died, he went to a place called Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise.  Our Lord called it that, “And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom…..” (Luke 16:22)  It was not until after the Lord died and ascended to heaven and led captivity captive, that He took those that were in Paradise into the presence of God, in heaven.  Since then, for the child of God, “We are confident, I say, and willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)  But when Jesus was here, no other man had ascended to heaven.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

Jesus is reminding Nicodemus of that time when God’s judgement was hard against the people of Israel, because of their sin.  Thousands were killed by the bite of poisonous snakes.  However, Moses had a brass serpent fashioned and placed on a pole.  When someone that was bitten, looked upon the brass serpent, they were healed.  The serpent on the pole represented their sin.  And Christ was made sin for us, when He hung on the cross, because He bore our sins there.  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  (John 3:16)

I feel inadequate as I look at this verse, and I doubt that my explanation will do it justice.

God loves the world, because He created it.  When He finished creating, He said, “It is good.”  That included man.  However, man sinned and that began a downward spiral that ended up with men whose righteousness was like “filthy rags.”  Only God, Himself, could save man and He took the initiative by sending His Son to the cross.  There, at the cross, your sin and my sin was placed on the Son of God.  We are sinners, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  Because of our sin, we deserve nothing but death, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  The gift of God is the “Only Begotten Son”.  Salvation and eternal life come by belief in Him.

God loves us, but His love never saved us.  It doesn’t say that God’s loved saved the world.  God saves by grace!  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; not of works: lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  We trust Him as the one who bore the penalty for our sins.  That is a personal thing.  We must believe that He died in our place.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  He that believeth on him is not condemned:  but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

When Jesus came the first time it was to save mankind.  The next time He comes it will be to judge mankind.  But now He says that God did not send Him into the world to condemn the world; but that the world might be saved by faith in Him.

Remember that He is talking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and the Pharisees believed that the Messiah, when He came, would be a judge.  The Old Testament presented two aspects of the coming of the Messiah.  One was that He was coming as a Savior, to die, and to pay a penalty; the other was His coming as a judge.  They were looking for a judge, because the Old Testament presented that aspect is Psalms 2:9, “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron…..”  Daniel speaks of Him as judge of the whole world, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)  Psalm 45 talks about Him ruling the world in righteousness and Isaiah 42 speaks of His judgement in righteousness.  Jesus is making it clear to Nicodemus, that God did not send His Son, this time, to condemn the world, but to save the world.

In Christ there is no condemnation.  However, those who do not believe in Him are already condemned.  There are those who believe that the world is on trial today, but it is not.  The world is lost.  Our problem is something like a man in prison.  He is not on trial, he is condemned.  His only hope is for a pardon, and that is what the Gospel is.  The point is, will you accept that pardon?  How wonderful it is!  The purpose of the Gospel is to save those that are lost.

  And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.  For every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)

We love our sin, and that is the problem with men today. They refuse to believe in Jesus, because that would bring light to bear on their sin.  Men are condemned because they reject Christ, not because they are sinners.  Some men are pardoned, because they receive Christ as their personal Savior.  I believe that Nicodemus was saved, because he had “saving faith” as the result of this encounter with the Lord.

The report of this event really began back in chapter two, so we will back up a couple of verses.

But Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of any man: for he knew what was in man.  There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  (John 2:24-3:1)

Jesus did not need for anyone to tell Him what men were like, because He knew men.  Who could know you better than the one who created you?  Jesus would not accept this crowd, because their faith was false, but this man Nicodemus was different.  Jesus saw that he was genuine and that he was honestly seeking to know the truth.  He was a Pharisee, and that meant that he was extremely religious.  The Pharisee was very important to the ministry of Jesus, so let’s pause to look closely at what the Pharisee was at this time and how they came into being.  (Most of the information pertaining to the Pharisee has come from the teaching tapes of Malcomb Smith.)  

I believe that if you took the Pharisee out of the Gospels, you could not have the Gospels.  Almost everything Jesus said (almost everything), He said it over against the Pharisees.  Almost everything Jesus did (almost everything), He did in some form of confrontation with the Pharisees.  Either they were confronting Him or He was confronting them.  In fact, there is more than one place in the Bible where He actually “baited” them.  There is a continual movement, backwards and forwards between them. 

Galatians 4:4 says, that Jesus came, “When the time had fully come.”  There was a movement of nations coming together.  It was exactly the right time nationally and internationally, when Jesus was born.  Even languages had to be developed.  They had to have the Greek language, in order for the Bible to be written as it was.  All these things came together, and at that moment when Jesus was born, everything just “dovetailed”.  In the fullness of time, I believe one thing that had to wait, was the development of “world religion”.  What I mean by world religion, is a religion that is born in this world?  It is born, in fact, of Satan himself.  It is a religion of self, yet it has the inspired word of God at its foundation.  Now that’s a trick.   I am not talking about Buddhism or Islam.  I am talking about something that has the word of God at its foundation, yet the whole thing rises, spawned of Satan.  It had to wait for that, yet when Jesus was born it had come to its fullness.  It had been born a few years before, but now it had arrived.  The day had come and there was never a day that religion was as strong.  And Jesus came to confront that religion, eyeball to eyeball.  He has to do it.  He has to show us what His Gospel is not.  It is not enough to show us what it is, He must show us what it is not.  And so Jesus couldn’t be born until the Pharisees had come to their height.  Then He stepped into the arena and took away the mask of religion and said, “I haven’t come to give you this.”

Who were the Pharisees?  I want to be fair to them.  The word Pharisee has come into our language to mean hypocrite.  In fact if you look into a regular dictionary, it will say that Pharisee means hypocrite.   That is very unfortunate.  In fact, if you check a dictionary, it will probably give hypocrite as one of the meanings for Pharisee.  But I disagree.  Pharisee was a word that originally meant, “A man of great sincerity and faith.”  Let’s go back 600 years before Jesus was born, a time when the nation of Israel had collapsed.  The nation had gone into captivity, because they had turned to idols and had forsaken their God.  While they are in captivity, they rediscover the books of the Law; the first five books of the Old Testament.  In Hebrew, it is called the Torah.  That was, to them, their Bible.  They also had the historical books and the prophets, but the Law was their Bible.  Now, they begin to read it.  It had been a long time since they had read it, because they had been so immersed in idolatry.  As they begin to read it, they begin to understand why they had been forced into captivity.  They saw that God had turned them over to their enemies, because of their idolatry.  So among all the captives scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire, they begin to turn back to God, and they turn to the Bible.  They begin to study the scriptures and to be devoted to it. The word “Scribe” came into existence.  A Scribe was a man who studied the scripture and wrote it out for others.  One of the leaders of that movement, while they were in captivity was a man called Ezra.  He would be the one to write much of the scriptures, many of the Psalms and the book of Ezra.  The Scribes were one of the first people that began to pull people together and say, “Let’s study scripture.”  The people had not done that before.  Then there came the time of the return to Israel, under the Persian king, Cyrus.  They came back into the land of Israel, and they carried the scrolls of the Law with them.  This was their precious book.  Every command that it contained must be obeyed.  Never again, must they turn to idolatry.  They came back, led by Zerubabel, then by Ezra.  Then there began a great separation; they separated themselves from the heathen nations around them, because they believed that they were God’s separated people.  After a while things began to get lax, or should I say, the enthusiasm began to wear off.  So there arose a group within Israel that called themselves the “Hassidim.”  Hassidim means “the pious ones.”  Loosely translated, it means “the saints”.  It was a holy club.  They separated themselves from other people and said, we will return to devotion to God; we will return to God’s word and obey it.  A member of the Hassidim, it could have been Ezra wrote Psalm 119.  It is loaded with words like testimony and statute and it is speaking of the Torah.  This Psalm is filled with fanaticism.  But it is a good fanaticism.   It says, “I love your word, I delight in it more than treasure.”  This is the “Hassidim”; they loved the word of God.  A little bit later, Greek thought tried to invade Judaism.  They said, all this stuff about the Bible is old fashioned.  Let’s get with it and think like the Greeks.  It was the Hassidim that stood against that.  They said, “No! We stand for the word of God.”  Because of their stand, they endured a great deal of mental persecution.  You know what I mean-people laughed at them.  They were despised, called old fashioned and people told jokes about them.  Then a little bit later there came a man that can be likened to Hitler.  His name was “Antiocus”.  He was a Greek and he tried to exterminate Judaism.  At that time the Hassidim stood against him, so they were persecuted.  Some died for their faith.  They were tremendous people, the Hassidim, in their beautiful, fanatical devotion to God.  But some of them began to get involved in politics, and in BC 135, they split with the Hassidim.  Those that stayed in the Hassidim rededicated themselves to the word of God and swore to never depart from it.  They would be God’s people and they would show it by being obedient to Him.  They were nicknamed “The Separatists”, and that is the word “Pharisee”.  It means, “a separated one.”  They never called themselves Pharisees, which was a nickname that people gave them.  They really did separate themselves unto God and dedicated themselves to keeping the Law.  And they became fanatical.  They would keep every minute detail of the law of God, in their zeal.  They called themselves, “The Association.”  They said, “WE are associated with God’s word.  We are associated with those that love God’s word, and we have separated ourselves from all those who are not like us.”  Now it is beginning to get dangerous.  They have gone from being the devoted Hassidim to being more than fanatical; they are becoming “narrow.”  Now they are not only separated from others, but they have pulled their coat around them and separated themselves from their brother and sister Jews, and they say, “You are not good enough for us.  We are ‘The Association.”’

To get into The Association, depending on many things, the initiation took from thirty days to a year.  During that time, you would study before taking your final vows.  They saw themselves as the godly among the ungodly.  Because of their obedience, they thought that they were the true people of God, and that everyone else was a phony.  They eagerly waited for the Messiah to come.  When they met each other on the street they would say, “Shalom neighbor”, not brother, because it says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.  But they said that what God really means is that you should love all members of The Association as yourself.  And so only the members of the Association are my neighbors.  I can hate everyone else, because they are not like us.  We are “The Neighbors.” 

Now, they had a problem.  They are really serious about keeping the Law of God, but how should they go about it?  They did it by bring in what is called “fences”.  Fences were rules and regulations to stop you from even getting close to breaking the Law of God.  They had an awful lot of fences and an awful lot of rules and regulations.  After awhile, they forgot what the command was, because they got so taken up with the fences.  They forgot that these fences that were intended to keep you from breaking the Law were man made, and they called them the Law of God also.  It’s getting very complicated now.  They are raising this massive thing of man made traditions. 

After their formation, they were bitterly persecuted.  However, there came a time when they became the most honored, most loved people in Israel.  They were held in awe.  People said, “If ever there was a saint, it is one of these people.”  People would greet them in the street and look at them with absolute marvel.  They would say, “Here’s a man of God.  If ever I walk with God, I want to be like him.”  The more complex his rules became, the more the people held the Pharisee in awe; that such a man would keep so many rules to walk with God.  Their influence was so great, that every synagogue in Israel was influenced by them.  The order of worship was sometimes changed according to Pharisee law.  They influenced Rabbis.  By the way, they were not professionals.  They were businessmen, mostly.  But they had such great power, that every family in Israel knew of their presence.  At the time of Christ there was only 6000 Pharisees in all of Israel, and yet they seemed to by omnipresent.  And you couldn’t miss him, because he made sure of that.  That was part of being a Pharisee.  He dressed a certain way.  He wore a blue robe.  Why not, the sky is blue, so if I wear blue, I am closer to God.  Of course, that has changed today; if you want to look holy, you wear black.  The blacker your clothes, the holier you are.  They had a little box on their forehead, tied around their head; it was called a phylactery.  Inside the box was a verse of scripture, and they would say, “See, I have scripture on my mind.  They also had another box on their wrist, tied in the prescribed fashion, seven times around their arm and three times around the hand.  They held it inward to be closer to their heart.  You couldn’t miss these fellows-blue robe, box on their head, box on their wrist.  They had a prayer shawl, and that was fine, because the Bible said you should.  The ends of the shawl had tassels.  Gad said, “When you see the ends of the tassels move, remember that I am your covenant God”.  It’s in the book of Numbers.  What they did, though, was to make their tassels very long, because they said, “We remember God more than anybody.”  And so, by their dress you couldn’t miss them.  But they also walked a certain way; they shuffled along, most of them, to show how holy they were.  At the prescribed time of prayer, they would be crossing a road, and they would stop and have their hour of prayer, while all the traffic backed up.  This was a Pharisee; an outward, external showoff kind of man.  However, we should be fair to them.  They are national heroes, because in their past they suffered marterdom.  These people believed that the Word of God was indeed the Word of God, God inspired.  They were adamant that the Word of God was God breathed.  They were fanatical students of scripture. There were none like them.  They observed every law of the Old Testament.  They loved to obey.  They even took commands that were meant only for the priests and they said, “We will take these too.”  They obeyed every possible law and they demanded that everybody be educated in the scriptures.  You can’t fault that.  They tithed on everything they had, right down to the mint in their garden.  Every tenth piece was given to God.  Every tenth sheep, every tenth cow, was given to God.  They tithed.  You can’t fault that.  And they eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah.  However Jesus said to them, “You are a bunch of snakes and vipers.  You take great care to be clean on the outside, and yet on the inside, you are going rotten with yesterday’s food.  You are a dirty corrupt pot.”  That’s pretty strong language.  Jesus doesn’t usually talk like that, so I want to know why. 

The love that flowed through Jesus, the love that Jesus lived can only be understood fully over against this brittle, rigid, formal religion.  Only when I see what man has done, can I understand what Jesus came to do.  And it is shocking.  In Jesus, incarnate love is dropped down in the midst of an oppressive religion of ceremony and ritual.  And they smash each other, because the two can’t live together; it’s impossible.  You see, when Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly”, He needed this religion there, so He could say emphatically, “I am totally other than that.  That is not what I am talking about.  If fact, It is from the pit.  The abundant life is something totally other than that.”  Unless Jesus could say that, I know us; we would say that the abundant life was something that only operated within the religious system.  As far as the world is concerned this is what religion is.  As far as the world is concerned, I could not rise higher than piety.  But Jesus said, ”I am opposed to that.  I am other than that.  What I have, cannot coexist with that.”  If Jesus hadn’t said that, I know us, we would have taken His abundant life and tried to make it work inside religion.  Even after all He said, we still try to do that.  So what would we have done, if He did not try to teach us the truth?  The two cannot possibly live together.  Be prepared for a shock-there is a lot of Pharisee in all of us. 

What is wrong with a Pharisee?  If Jesus is so mad at them, what is it about them that brings out the anger of God.  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “I am not come to destroy the Law (the Torah), I am come to fulfill it.”  It is interesting that the Pharisees said the same thing.  But what the Pharisees meant was that they were going to obey every detail by rigid obedience, and show by their actions that they were worthy of God.  They believed that God chose them and that they were the true people of God.  They had missed the whole point.  What is it that had made the people of Israel the people of God?  It was that God revealed Himself to them in their history.  He told them His name, He told them whom He was, He unveiled His Heart to them, He entered into a covenant with them and said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”  “I will dwell in the midst of you.”  What made Israel special?  It was the presence of God.  It was the revelation that God gave himself to them.  And one of the things that God gave in His covenant was the Law.  But the great issue was Himself.  There was nothing special about Israel; it was God that made them special. 

The Pharisees took the Law, but God didn’t matter any more and the covenant didn’t matter any more.  What mattered was the Law, the beautiful Torah, with all of its marvelous commands that they could keep to show that they were worthy.  And so it was no longer, “We are God’s people, because of His presence among us.”  It is, “We are God’s people; look how we live and how we keep His commands.”  Jesus said, “You search the scripture, because in it you think you have eternal life.”  He was saying, “You don’t have it; you are great students, but you missed it.”  They had lost God in His word.  Isn’t that amazing.  They were back to idolatry again, but their idol was The Book. 

In New York City, there is the largest community of Pharisees.  They are real ones.  They are called the “Hassidic”, from the word “Hassidim”.  They still live and dress almost exactly like the Pharisees.  They will not even look at you, because they are the separated ones.  They have a custom that goes back to those days.  When a child is two years old, they take some honey and they put it on the pages of the Old Testament.  The child’s finger is then placed in the honey and then to his mouth.  He tastes the honey, and he is told, from two years on, that the Law (The Torah), is honey to you.  That will be what he studies for the rest of his life.  They have a convention, and at the convention, the leader takes the Torah, and he dances with it all night long, kissing and caressing it.  The Law, the Bible, has become his God. 

This was the Pharisee; his problem was that the Book was everything to him, and he lost God in the Book.  It was almost as though the Law had become a person.  And the Law watched over every detail of his life.  He could not wake up in the morning without thinking, what did the Law say.  The Law was the way to God.  His thinking was, “If I can only keep the Law, I can go to God.  When Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the Law, He did not mean that.”

Actually, when Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the Law, He had got to the heart of the matter.  He had come to get past the outward command and get to the “guts” of the thing.  What is the Law?  Thou shalt not kill; that’s not the Law.  That’s only the wrapper that it came in.  We need to dig around a bit to see what God is really saying and to see what is behind the commands.  Thou shalt not commit adultery-no, no, no; that’s only the wrapping paper.  What’s underneath that?  It’s one word-LOVE.  Because, if I love you, I will not kill you.  If I love you, I will not run away with your wife.  If I love you, I will not steal from you.  Love is the fulfillment of the Law.  And all the wrappings of “Thou shall not”, is only the wrapping paper.  The Pharisees had taken the wrapping paper off the candy, discarded the candy, and were now arguing about the wrapping paper.  Love is the piece of chocolate.  The Old Testament Torah was just the wrapping paper.  Jesus said that the whole law was summed up in this one word.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart and your neighbor as your self.”  That’s the whole thing-LOVE. 

The Pharisee said, “Thou shalt not kill, but I can hate you and I can lose my temper with you.”  But Jesus said, “Have the Law and you have just the command, have love and your whole life will be transformed.  There is a big difference there.  The Law says, “Thou shalt not kill”, so I can put my fingers around your throat, as long as I don’t kill you.  I can get within an inch of it, as long as I don’t kill you.  But love says, that if I lose my tamper, I must ask your forgiveness.  See the difference.  Jesus said, “I have come to fulfill it, to get to the heart of the matter.  Do you realize that many Christians are very close to where the Pharisees were?

Islam has a book that they live by; it’s called the Koran.  Christians also say that they live by a book, the Bible.  But we don’t live by a book.  We are not under the rule of a book.  We are under the rule of a living Savior.  Do you see the difference?  It is possible to lose the Word of God, in the word of God.  The Bible is the word of God, and I believe that.  But THE Word of God is Jesus.  If I have only got the book, then I have lost THE WORD.  That is what the Pharisees did; sincere, starting out right, but they lost God in the book. 

Now the Pharisees have got a problem, because if they are going to keep the Law, they need help.  However, it is interesting that the Pharisees never said how could I keep the Law?  What they said is, How can I not break the Law?  There is a big difference; how to keep the law is simple-love your neighbor.  How not to break it; now that’s something else.  Well, they said, we have to have fences, because, heaven help us, if we even get close to breaking the command, we will break it.  So, they had to put up a lot of fences to make sure that they didn’t even get close enough to break the commands.

Here is an example of a fence.  The command is “Keep the Sabbath Day holy.”  Isn’t that simple?  The Sabbath Day was God’s gift, and it should be fun.  Remember when they were in the wilderness, they had to get up before dawn to gather the manna, but on the Sabbath day, God said, “Stay in bed, this one is on me.”  They didn’t have to get up early on the Sabbath.  It was a fun day.  They could stay at home with their wife and kids, get out the Bible and read it to the family.  If a Levite passed by, they could ask him in to share a meal and explain God’s word to them.  It was a fun day, and a simple day, if you kept the Law.  However, according to the Pharisees, you were not even to move out of your house on the Sabbath, except for a short period.  Do you know why?  Because they were focused on not breaking the Law, rather than on keeping the Law.  Now that’s a big problem.  For instance, what would be considered “working” on the Sabbath?  Plowing would be considered working on the Sabbath, but what is plowing?  They said that if you drag a chair across the floor, that divides the dust, so that is plowing.  Therefore, one of the fences that the Pharisees put up was, “You are not to drag a chair across the floor on the Sabbath.”  Here is another fence.  You know women, if they look into a mirror and spot a gray hair, they are going to pluck it out.  Now that is definitely working on the Sabbath.  The fence was, “Women cannot look into a mirror on the Sabbath.”  There were many, many more fences.  When Jesus was walking through a field of corn and he plucked an ear of corn, rubbed it between His hands, and blew the chaff away, the Pharisees pounced on Him.  You wouldn’t believe the number of rules that He broke when He did that.  He was harvesting on the Sabbath Day; He was grinding corn on the Sabbath Day.  There were fences for everything, but understand, the Pharisees were sincere.  They were saying, “If you don’t keep the fences on the Sabbath Day, you know what that will lead to.  We know that fences are not in the Bible, but they will keep you from doing things, that will lead to other things, and eventually lead you to breaking the command.” 

You know, there are some people who live with fences today.  Let me give you some examples:
• Do not go to movies-Who knows what you will see there.
• Don’t watch TV-It will corrupt your mind.
• Don’t wear jewelry-That will lead to pride.
• Don’t wear make up-That is another sign of pride.
• Do not get a permanent-Once again, this is pride.
• Do not go to the beach-You might discover that women are different than men.
• No dancing-You know what touching leads to.
• Women should not wear shorts or jeans-That will cause men to look and you know what that leads to.
• Do not eat in a restaurant, that serves beer-You know where that will lead.

My wife was raised in a family and a church that had all of these fences.  On Sunday, you couldn’t put gas in your car or cook a meal.  You couldn’t eat ice cream on Sunday.  All you could do was set at home and wish for Monday to get here.

Jesus openly scoffed at their fences.  He went out of His way to break their sacred laws, and He loved to do it.  For example, when He rubbed the ears of corn between His hands, He knew they were watching.  He stomped on their toes.  He said, “What you have, is not what I have.”  He said, “The whole law is summed up in one word-LOVE.”  That was the whole message-LOVE. 

The Pharisees despised everyone else.  That is easy to do when you say, “I am keeping the Law; I am living by the book.”  Then you can turn to those who are not and say, “You are second class.”  A Pharisee would not associate with a Samaritan.  If he happened to touch a Tax Collector on the street, he would go home and take a bath, then send his clothes to the laundry.  He despised the peasants that didn't understand the Law.  He would stand every day when he got out of bed and prayed this prayer; "I thank thee, O God, that I am not like other men, I thank thee, O God, that I am not a woman, I thank thee, O God, that I am not a dog.  I am a member of the Association.  I am better than the others, because I have the truth, and I have studied the scriptures."  When they asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, that was a very big question in those days.  The Pharisees said, “Only other Pharisees are my neighbor; everyone else I can hate.”  Jesus said that everyone is your neighbor, and that was like a breath of fresh air.  Remember that they wouldn’t touch a Tax Collector.  But Matthew was a Tax Collector.  They wouldn’t go into a Tax Collector’s house, because they said, I might get infected.”   They wouldn’t cross the threshold of a Tax Collector’s house, but Jesus made a Tax Collector one of His disciples and they had a feast in his house.  (Now you know what goes on at one of those things.)  It was the gossip for weeks, “He went to eat with Tax Collectors and sinners.”  Can you feel the shock of this?  No one in Israel would do that.  It was unheard of.  Jesus did the sort of stuff that shocked people back then, and it may even shock some today.  He went out of His way to do it and He let people see Him do it, because He said, “You have it all wrong.”  The Pharisees said, “How can you do it, they are sinners.”  But Jesus said, they are not.  Did you ever notice, Jesus never called anyone a sinner?  Pharisees did, but He didn’t.  He said, “They are lost sheep, lost coins and lost sons.  The Pharisees would say, “There is joy in heaven, when a sinner drops into hell.”  Jesus responded with a smile and said, “There is joy in heaven when one sinner repents.” 

Are there any Pharisees around today?  Do you think that there may be some spirit filled people around today who think that Baptists are second class citizens?  There was a time in my life when I believed that a Catholic could not be saved, unless he joined my church. 

Jesus came to that Pharisee community and He said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  That was not an invitation to sinners, as we often make it.  It was an invitation to people who were sick and tired of religion.  It is such a weary thing to constantly be obeying rules and wondering, can I do it?  Don’t make being a Christian a burden that is heavy and hard to carry.  Don’t make pleasing God a burden.  Recognize that God loves you with an unconditional love.  Recognizing that it is who He is and not what we have done, that is the key to peace with God.

Now let’s continue with John’s account of Jesus encounter with Niodemus.

The only thing that we are told about Nocodemus is that he was an important Pharisee.  But that alone tells us a great deal about him.  The following conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is remarkable.  Jesus in a patient, compassionate manner leads him from a selfish, religious piety to “saving faith”, when He presented the Gospel, but never was the Gospel presented in more detail and in greater clarity and with greater power and authority.  We are not told at this time that Nicodemus believed, but I think that he did.  He gave evidence of his conversion at the trial of Jesus, by defending Him.  Then after He was crucified, he went with Joseph of Aremethia, to claim His body for burial.  These were courageous acts that may have cost him his standing in the community, and much worse.  Now let’s unfold this great work of Christ.

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou dost, except God be with him. (John 3:2)

He chose to meet with Jesus at night.  He came as a representative of the Pharisees, because he says, “we know that thou art a teacher come from God…..”  He is also paying Jesus a compliment, because he addresses Him as “Rabbi”, which is the name for a teacher.  He says, “we know you came from God”, and, “no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”  He acknowledges the miracles, because they saw them.  They couldn’t deny them.  I believe that Nicodemus came to talk about the Kingdom.  The Pharisees wanted out from under the yoke of Rome, and their hope for freedom was that the Messiah would come and establish the Kingdom.  They hoped for something, which even today, is in the future.  I think that the Pharisees hoped to hitch themselves to His rising star.  He was popular with the people and they wanted to take advantage of that, by aligning themselves with Him.

He came at night, to sound Him out.  The Pharisees needed to know where He stood on certain issues and if He would cooperate.  They met at night, because the Pharisees did not want anyone to know that they were interested in a union with Jesus, until the time was right.  That would only be when they could control Him and use Him for their advantage.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.  (John 3:3)

This is why I think that he came to talk about the Kingdom of God, and why Jesus so abruptly brought up the subject.  But when Jesus said, “no man can see the Kingdom of God, unless he is born again”, there was a detour in the conversation.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?  (John 3:4)

Jesus said that he must be born again.  He is talking about a spiritual birth, about a birth that comes from above.  Nicodemus can’t comprehend this concept, because all he is familiar with is the birth of a baby.  At this point, he lacks the capacity to understand what Jesus is saying.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.  (John 3:5)

Now what does it mean to be born of water and of the Spirit?  There are some that believe that being born of water refers to water baptism.  This would be a strange expression if that is what it meant.  Some people believe that the reference is to the physical birth, since the baby is surrounded by water while in the womb.  I don’t believe that Jesus is talking about the difference between physical and spiritual birth, but that He is talking about being born “from above” or being “born again”.

Water, as used in scripture, is symbolic of the Word of God.  Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”  (John 17:17)  The word of God has power to both cleanse and sanctify.  In John 15:3 Jesus said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”  The word of God is likened to water again and again.  I believe that “born of water and of the Spirit,” means that a person must be born again by the Holy Spirit using the word of God.  No man is born again without the word of God, applied by the Spirit of God.  Everyone today, is born from above by the Holy Spirit making the word of God real to our heart. 

There are many examples in the Bible of men being converted.  There is Cornealius, the Ethiopian eunuch and the 3000 added to the church when Peter preached the first sermon of the New Testament, just to name a few.  Every conversion has three things in common.  The Holy Spirit is there and He prepares the heart, and makes it fertile ground to receive the word of God, delivered by the lips of a man of God.  The Lord is telling Nicodemus, that for him to enter the Kingdom of God, that he must be born again, by the Spirit of God using the word of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  (John 3:6)

“That which is born of the flesh, “ is the old nature.  The old nature is at war with God.  “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8)  God has no program for our old nature, to improve it, to change it, to save it or to develop it.  The old nature will go right down into the grave with us.  But if the lord comes, before we die, we will get rid of that old nature in the twinkling of an eye.  It can never be made obedient to God.  “That which is flesh, is flesh.”  God does not intend to save the old nature, when we are born again.

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou Hearst the sound there of, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.  (John 3:7-8)

I can’t explain to you the spiritual birth.  There are those who claim to understand it, and to be able to explain it, but I don’t.  However, I accept it, because Jesus said, “Ye must be born again.”  This is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith.  Jesus compares it to the wind.  I am like Nicodemus, because I don’t understand what causes it, or where it comes from, or where it goes.  But I know when it is blowing, because I can feel it, and I can see the trees bend under its force.  I can’t tell you how the Spirit operates, but I can tell you when it is moving in the hearts of men and women.  That is what the Lord is saying here.

Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?  (John 3:9)

I believe that Jesus has completely disarmed Nicodemus.  This man, who is a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, is in awe of Him.  Never has any man spoke, like Jesus spoke.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?  (John3:10)

Jesus appears to apply a little sarcasm here.  In other words, He is saying, “I would think that anyone that was a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, would know these things.

Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.  If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?  And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.  (John 3:11-13)

This is a tremendous statement that Jesus has made.  In John 16:28 Jesus said, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”  And now He says, “No man hath ascended up to heaven.”  What Jesus is saying, is that up to this point, no man has been to heaven.  Elijah, Enoch, Adam, Moses, David, Samuel or any other saint of God is not in heaven.  So where are they?  Well, when an Old Testament saint died, he went to a place called Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise.  Our Lord called it that, “And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom…..” (Luke 16:22)  It was not until after the Lord died and ascended to heaven and led captivity captive, that He took those that were in Paradise into the presence of God, in heaven.  Since then, for the child of God, “We are confident, I say, and willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)  But when Jesus was here, no other man had ascended to heaven.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

Jesus is reminding Nicodemus of that time when God’s judgement was hard against the people of Israel, because of their sin.  Thousands were killed by the bite of poisonous snakes.  However, Moses had a brass serpent fashioned and placed on a pole.  When someone that was bitten, looked upon the brass serpent, they were healed.  The serpent on the pole represented their sin.  And Christ was made sin for us, when He hung on the cross, because He bore our sins there.  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  (John 3:16)

I feel inadequate as I look at this verse, and I doubt that my explanation will do it justice.

God loves the world, because He created it.  When He finished creating, He said, “It is good.”  That included man.  However, man sinned and that began a downward spiral that ended up with men whose righteousness was like “filthy rags.”  Only God, Himself, could save man and He took the initiative by sending His Son to the cross.  There, at the cross, your sin and my sin was placed on the Son of God.  We are sinners, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  Because of our sin, we deserve nothing but death, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  The gift of God is the “Only Begotten Son”.  Salvation and eternal life come by belief in Him.

God loves us, but His love never saved us.  It doesn’t say that God’s loved saved the world.  God saves by grace!  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; not of works: lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  We trust Him as the one who bore the penalty for our sins.  That is a personal thing.  We must believe that He died in our place.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  He that believeth on him is not condemned:  but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

When Jesus came the first time it was to save mankind.  The next time He comes it will be to judge mankind.  But now He says that God did not send Him into the world to condemn the world; but that the world might be saved by faith in Him.

Remember that He is talking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and the Pharisees believed that the Messiah, when He came, would be a judge.  The Old Testament presented two aspects of the coming of the Messiah.  One was that He was coming as a Savior, to die, and to pay a penalty; the other was His coming as a judge.  They were looking for a judge, because the Old Testament presented that aspect is Psalms 2:9, “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron…..”  Daniel speaks of Him as judge of the whole world, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)  Psalm 45 talks about Him ruling the world in righteousness and Isaiah 42 speaks of His judgement in righteousness.  Jesus is making it clear to Nicodemus, that God did not send His Son, this time, to condemn the world, but to save the world.

In Christ there is no condemnation.  However, those who do not believe in Him are already condemned.  There are those who believe that the world is on trial today, but it is not.  The world is lost.  Our problem is something like a man in prison.  He is not on trial, he is condemned.  His only hope is for a pardon, and that is what the Gospel is.  The point is, will you accept that pardon?  How wonderful it is!  The purpose of the Gospel is to save those that are lost.

  And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21).

We love our sin, and that is the problem with men today. They refuse to believe in Jesus, because that would bring light to bear on their sin.  Men are condemned because they reject Christ, not because they are sinners.  Some men are pardoned, because they receive Christ as their personal Savior.  I believe that Nicodemus was saved, because he had “saving faith” as the result of this encounter with the Lord.

 

 

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