Sermon: The Son of God Knows Nicodemus’ Heart John 3:1-9

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The Son of God Knows Nicodemus’ Heart

John 3:1-9

Primary Truth Taught-The Supernatural New Birth is a vital need all humans have.


Introduction

In the account before us today, we see a common figure in Judaism. Nicodemus, while being inquisitive, is typical of the Jewish society in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. They had a form of godliness but there was no power or to say it another way they looked the part when actually they were in the dark. Nicodemus was in spiritual darkness. He in a very real sense was representative of Judaism in these days. They too were in darkness.

Human Need Met

The New Birth is a miracle that God alone brings about. Just as we had nothing to do with our physical birth, we have nothing to do with our spiritual birth; it is produced through God by the Holy Spirit. Because God brings about the new birth, no one is outside the realm of salvation. We pray to God for the salvation of our loved ones, knowing He hears our prayers and He alone can save them.

 

John 3:1–9 (ESV)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 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?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.”

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?

 

  1. The Man Who Needed the New Birth

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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 was among the group in Israel known as Pharisees. This group was the shepherds of the people. However, rather than loving a caring for the people they were wicked shepherds who placed large burdens on the people by taking God’s law and making it unbelievably strict and burdensome.

Our text tells us that he was a ruler of the Jews. Most likely he was a member of the Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. Some even go so far to tell us the he was perhaps even one of the elite members of the Sanhedrin…

He was a ruler of the Jews. A very important man, a member of the Sanhedrin, evidently, a scribe, a teacher of the law, an interpreter, an instructor of the law, an Old Testament scholar. Over in verse 10 it indicates by the use of ha didaskalos there in an article, definite article, that he was probably the most illustrious teacher in all of Israel.[1] 

One reason we have this account is to show us that if one can reach God’s salvation through religion, Nicodemus would be first to enter. Very religious, very high up in Judaism and very much in need of salvation through being born again.

His job as a member of the Sanhedrin was to rule on and teach on the Law of God. The Jewish people had taken God’s Law and used it as a means of salvation. It had become, literally, a works salvation. They thought they could access God by being good Jews. We know the reality; it was a dead and hopeless system. Jesus in many places condemned the Pharisees for this.

Jesus knows Nicodemus’ heart, He knows what his view of salvation is, He knows everything about this man. Jesus knows that as religious as Nicodemus is, his religion is worthless. Nicodemus must experience the new birth.

Last time we looked at the great sign-seekers, those who did not chase hard after Jesus but chased hard after signs and wonders. They wanted a good show not a Great Savior. We remember the end of Chapter 2 found Jesus not entrusting Himself to them because He knew the hearts of all people.

Nicodemus is one of those who was inquisitive but lacked genuine saving faith. He was dead in his trespasses and sins and yet he was the supreme teacher of Israel. This is definitely a case of the blind leading the blind.

He did know some things…

We know You are from God. We know that no ordinary man can do the things You do. We know You’re a good teacher…isn’t that what many in the world say? I’ve heard it time and time again. Jesus was just a good teacher and the Bible is just a good history book. This statement by lost people and by Nicodemus is illogical. If Jesus was a teacher sent by God, should they not embrace wholeheartedly what He teaches? Knowing these truths and other truths about Jesus will not save a person.

Knowing these truths did not save Nicodemus.

There is a movement today that has so consumed true Christianity that it’s very often next to impossible to get out from under.

Fundamentalism is a movement that came out of the early 1900s as a response to the liberal teaching flowing from our universities. You had scholars who didn’t believe the Bible teaching error in regard to the Bible. In response to these teachers a group of evangelical teachers produced what was called the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Know as the Fundamentals or fundamentalism this list was an accurate list of the basic beliefs of Christians.

This so far is all good. The problem today is that these fundamentals have been substituted for salvation. Rather than being broken over sin and crying out to God in repentance, most fundamentalists say you just need to affirm this list of truths then we can declare you to be saved. Nicodemus knew some true things about Jesus but he was not saved because he knew nothing of the New Birth.

  1. The Necessity of the New Birth

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 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?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

The sad reality is that our friend Nicodemus is simply showing that he is spiritually dead. He is one of the leading teachers of all Judaism and he himself is not one of God’s children. The simple truths Jesus told him did not register and really they couldn’t. Nicodemus was dead in trespasses and sins and could not understand anything spiritual. His response to Jesus’ teach about the new birth so shows his spiritual deadness that it really does sound foolish but that’s all Nicodemus had.

We must notice that this is Jesus’ first teaching discourse found in John’s Gospel. We must also see that Jesus does not tell Nicodemus how he should live but told him how it is he must come to life.[2]

Listen, anyone can affirm some simple truths when presented with them. Here, especially in Nicodemus’ case he witnessed some miracles Jesus did and heard Him teach and could say, we know You are a teacher sent by God. That is not saving faith.

Because Jesus is the Teacher sent from God , He is going to tell Nicodemus what God requires in order to see the Kingdom of God. It’s not a good life but a new birth. Because He had not been born again, he could not see the Kingdom of God, or the things pertaining to the Kingdom. Jesus’ Words were falling on deaf ears.

We might have people in our families who are like Nicodemus. We tell them and tell them spiritual things but they never grasp spiritual truths. It’s as if they don’t even hear. This is the harsh reality of someone who is spiritually dead they cannot hear spiritual things.

What Nicodemus needs are not questions answered because he literally cannot understand the answers; no, what he needs is a new birth.

Jesus’ words here have been greatly misunderstood…“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Some say this refers to natural birth (born of water) vs. the spiritual birth (born of the Spirit). Others want us to see this as referring to water baptism as having salvific effects.

Most commentators see the resolution as much simpler. Nicodemus’ understanding of water baptism was much in line with John the Baptist’s view. It was a picture of the old man being put to death in repentance and the new man being born. So, it is dealing with the idea of the old man being put to death and then the new man being born of the Spirit.

Jesus desires Nicodemus to see that the old ways of the sinner must be put to death and the new life brought on by the Holy Spirit ruling and reigning in the believer. But our friend could not understand.

Do we understand today? Do we see that salvation is of the Lord and nothing else? It’s not a set of rigorous rules and it’s not even affirming a long list of truths but it is something that happens to us at God’s hands.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Flesh produces flesh but the Holy Spirit produces spirit.

Let’s see how it is God works in the New Birth…

  1. The New Birth is Supernatural

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.”

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?

Because Nicodemus was a sinner, born with a sin nature he could never do enough good things to save himself. He could never obey God’s Law strictly enough to merit a ticket to heaven.

James 2:10 (ESV)

10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

Romans 3:23–24 (ESV)

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

These verses describe very vividly our friend Nicodemus. Beloved, they also describe us. No one can merit God’s salvation. None can be good enough. But understand where we fall infinitely short because of sin God does what we cannot do. Do you trust God to do what only He can do?

Here we see one of the most important statements in all of God’s Word. This statement affects everyone in one way or another…you must be born again.

We see that the New Birth is Necessary, now let’s see together that it is Supernatural.

Pnuema is the Greek word that’s translated in verse 8 as the wind. Pneuma can also mean Spirit of God. So Jesus by way of wordplay explains just how the Spirit of God works. For those who like to think we are in control of everything, these truths can be unnerving. This is why in our world today there is such a bold rebellion against biblical truths. This verse tells us there is Someone else in charge and His name is God.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

March and April are typically windy months in Ohio. We had wind. Trees were snapped off and limbs fall. Your garbage cans end up down the street. The wind is not visible but you can watch as tree wave back and forth. You walk outside in a strong wind and feel it pushing against you. At the same time while not actually seeing the wind, we don’t know really were it came from or where it will end up. Jesus tells Nicodemus that’s how it is with the Spirit of God.

So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Why does Jesus call this the New Birth?

Every person alive has experienced the natural birth. We’ve all been born of the flesh. The harsh reality is that while we’re alive and moving around, the Bible gives us the harsh reality, we’re spiritually dead. We live and breath but our souls are like corpses.

The great Bible scholar and commentator Leon Morris tells us…

Entry into the Kingdom is not by way of human striving, but by that rebirth which only God can affect.[3]

We end this section with Nicodemus’ response…

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?

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.

At the end of the day, we must leave salvation of our loved ones to God. The reality is that until He brings us to life spiritually we’re like Nicodemus the teacher of Israel who could not even grasp the most basic spiritual concepts.

The question I have is this: Are you at peace in leaving the salvation of your loved ones in God’s hands or does the thought bring anxiety to you?

The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter how truth makes us feel, it’s still truth. Let us leave the things of God to God. Let us be concerned with the things that are our responsibility.

Next time, I want to show you what it is that we can do. I know so far it sounds like there is absolutely nothing we can do in the salvation of our family and friends…but there is. We cannot save them of course but I want to look closely next week at where Jesus takes Nicodemus and see if that might be a good place for us to take our loved ones.

Nicodemus could not understand heavenly things because he was entirely earthly. Come next time and lets see together what we can tell our loved ones that can bridge the infinite gap between heaven and earth.

Children’s Homework

Where is the Old Testament account Jesus refers to in John 3:14-15? Why was a snake used? What comparisons can be made between the event spoken of in the OT and the cross of Christ?

Declaration of Grace

In the mercy and grace of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become the children of God and gives to them the Holy Spirit. May the Lord, who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

 

[1] http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1505B/the-new-birth

[2] Gospel of John by A W Pink pg 107

[3] The Gospel According to John by Leon Morris page 189

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