1: FLESH GIVES BIRTH TO FLESH
Nicodemus is like many of us. He likes his nation and his race. He feels very special because of his parents and famous forefathers.
Nicodemus may even feel better than most of us. He is born of the noble blood of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Like most Jews of his time, Nicodemus thinks that the Messiah will rule over Israel as a nation. Birth has already placed him in that nation. Therefore, by birthright, he ought to be a citizen of the Messiah’s kingdom.
What a shock, then, to hear John the Baptizer. Far from praising leaders of Abraham’s family, John calls them a family of snakes! He warns that their birth as Jews will not save them from punishment.
You brood of vipers! . Do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham(Matthew 3:7-9).
Jesus adds another surprise. Anyone seeking to enter God’s kingdom must be born again! Nicodemus thinks only of another fleshly birth. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4). Jesus is requiring spiritual re-birth. He explains, Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6).
Nicodemus comes from the best fleshly line in the world. He belongs to the chosen race. He seems to be a natural heir of the kingdom promised to Israel. If another birth is needed, what does that say about his fleshly birth? Why is fleshly birth not enough?
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT?
Dear friend, it is time to make a decision about life’s true nature. Jesus wants us to choose spiritual life. He assures us, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). What is the most important thing in your life? What is even more important than food, drink, clothes and a place to stay? What is more important than education and a job? Most of us value these highly. Yet they help life only during our stay in this fleshly body – which is all too brief!
Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath (Psalm 39:4-5)
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:13-14).
ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS
Beside the eternity of God’s life, our years are “as nothing,” like steam from a boiling pot. Compared with the total years of earth’s history, how long is your one life? The prophet Isaiah draws this picture of the flesh:
All men (literally, all flesh) are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass (Isaiah 40:6-7).
See the flower in full bloom: how delicate are its petals! How bright its colors! Yet the flower quickly fades and withers away. See the young woman: she is like a flower, so fresh and so attractive. Yet that kind of beauty never lasts. All too soon, she is wrinkled and worn, like her aged mother. See the young man: How strong and handsome! He hopes to escape the way his father looks. He tries to be more healthy and fit. Yet his youth passes. Before long, he too looks old. He too grows frail. Then he dies. He is buried in the same soil as all his fore fathers.
No flesh, no matter how young or healthy, is strong enough to escape the cycle of aging and death. As much as we love and respect parents, we must realize that “flesh gives birth to flesh.” From our fleshly parents we receive fleshly life, which lasts a few short years, and then is lost.
HIDE OR DECIDE
Many are so busy that they forget their most pressing appointment death. They never see that life can end at any moment.
Others are aware, but death seems too horrible. They hide in many places: parties and movies that help them pretend; jobs that seem important; friends that avoid serious thought; even drink and drugs
that twist reality.
Hiding changes nothing. You are flesh and so is your friend. One of you will stand at a funeral; the other will be laid in the ground. If you both pretend, neither will be prepared for such reality. The living one will be heartbroken at the loss. The dead will be gone forever. “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”
The spirit goes to its most important meeting.
For God will bring every deed into judgement” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
“Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement” (Hebrews 9:27).
“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).
is why Ecclesiastes 7:2 urges us to be wise before our turn comes:
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.
Before you are two choices: You can hide from death’s reality. (How foolish, since it will catch you anyway. How damaging, since it will catch you in the worst way – unprepared.) Or you can decide to be honest. “Take to heart” the truth that flesh is like grass. Your brief life is but one heartbeat from its end.
not get ready? We prepare for many things in life: education and exams, business and taxes, weddings and careers, old age and retirement. How much more important to prepare for the one event that is most certain – death.
A BETTER ANSWER
So again we ask, “What is the most important thing in life?”
Any answer based on this passing world is shortsighted. “Flesh gives birth to flesh.” “All flesh is like grass.” The flesh will fail you. There is a better answer, a better hope.
“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17).
Fleshly life is brief and fading. God’s life is the opposite – always bright, always whole, always fresh, never ending. Fleshly birth, by its very nature, can never be good enough for God’s kingdom.
“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50).
In John 3 Jesus announces His priceless gift, “eternal life.” Such a prize, though, cannot come through fleshly birth, no matter how noble. It comes only from God’s Spirit, and only through rebirth.
This is the most important kind of life: life with God, which is richer, fuller and more secure. To be born once is to die. To be born twice is to live forever (even when flesh fails).
He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die (John 11:25-26).
What others hopelessly call “death” becomes our doorway into eternal happiness. The One who welcomes us home is our Creator, and much more. He is “our Father!” For He invites you and me to
children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:12-13).
2: SPIRIT GIVES BIRTH TO SPIRIT
Nicodemus is like many of us. He thinks of himself as a person who is not too bad. He is a family man. He is a good citizen of his nation. He keeps the Law of God. He may do better than most people, for he is a Pharisee. The roots of his party reach back nearly two hundred years, to the Hasidim (Holy Ones). These devout Jews gave up their lives rather than worship the idols of Antiochus Epiphanes. Their great tradition of fighting sin continues in men like Nicodemus. Even the name Pharisee suggests separation from evil.
According to the preaching of John and Jesus, God is soon to open His promised kingdom. Surely godly Pharisees will be among the first to enter. They have looked forward to the kingdom. They should be thanked for keeping Jews pure and ready for the kingdom.
But Jesus is very firm with Nicodemus: one enters the kingdom only when his spirit is re-born. Nicodemus, as he is, is not good enough. Yet he is one of Israel’s best. Why does Jesus insist on re-birth, as if he must become a new person?
AN URGENT LESSON
The verse before the Nicodemus story says that Jesus knew what was in a man (John 2:25).
Dear friend, we must learn from Jesus about our human `goodness.’ We hear many people say, “God accepts me because I obey the rules. I help others. I’m not perfect; but I’m not so bad either.” Jesus draws an opposite picture for Nicodemus:
“Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).
To another Jewish ruler Jesus says, “No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:18). This ruler thinks he keeps every commandment. Jesus proves that he breaks the first command, for he has an idol. He loves money more than God and the poor. Hearing this, “the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:22).
Dear friend, do you have idols that push God aside? Some idols are of stone and wood. Others are of sexual immorality and worldly pleasures, selfishness, pride, success, and greed (Colossians 3:5). Do you ever walk away from God? Do you ever feel the sadness of sin? None of us can say, “Not guilty.”
Jesus describes the Spirit’s work: “He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin” (John 16:8). The Spirit charges us all:
Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:
“There is no one righteous,not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even”
THE MEANING OF SIN
As a father loves his children and guides them, so God loves us. He knows what is best for us, and gives us wise directions. Both spirit and flesh do well when we follow God’s will.
However, you see in your own life that all is not well. The human spirit hurts. The human body suffers. Sooner or later we all feel like Job. “My spirit is broken, my days are cut short” (Job 17:1). Satan has brought sin and suffering into our world.
Sin is, first of all, directed against God. Whether planned or not, it challenges His rule. “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Sin rejects God as King. Sin insults God by denying His vast knowledge and wisdom. Sin dishonors God by turning elsewhere to meet needs. As God says in Jeremiah 2:13,
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug
their own cisterns [water storage pits], broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Sin turns against us, ruining our lives and families. Conflict and crime spread. “Sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Newspapers are full of reports about sin’s harm. Yet news tells only part of the story. Reporters cannot see inside the human spirit. There, evil eats away secretly at our minds, darkening our hearts with guilt and shame.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9).
The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
Jesus is “the Light.” He exposes those who claim to be good children of Abraham and of God. He charges, You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire (John 8:44).
He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning (I John 3:8).
We learn sin from Satan. By joining his rebellion we become “children of the devil” (I John 3:10). All who sin are in the wrong family – which belong to that ancient serpent (Revelation 20:2). Jesus is right. We need to be born into a better family!
DEAD IN SIN
Ephesians 2:1-2 describes those who follow their own thoughts and desires. They actually follow “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” To disobey God is to enter Satan’s kingdom.
* There you are “dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
* You are one of the “objects of wrath” – literally, children of anger” (Ephesians 2:3).
* You are “separate from Christ. . . without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
As sinners we are in the kingdom that stirs up God’s anger. We cannot move ourselves up to the better kingdom. For our spirits are “dead” in sin, and “separated” from divine help. How urgently we need God’s Spirit to give life to our dead spirits! Yes, we need a second birth. Thank God for the promise that “the Spirit gives birth to spirit!” (John 3:6).
Many of us never realize how sinful and dead we are. Satan helps us to cover up with lies.
“When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Nicodemus at first sees no need for a new birth. Other Pharisees are proud to “sit in Moses’ seat.” They fail to see that they are “hypocrites” fighting God’s kingdom (Matthew 23). They think themselves closest to God, yet rush first to kill His Son (John 7; 8).
Are we also trapped in lies?
* We are “not so bad.” Yet how often we fail in our duties and choices. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t doit, sins” (James 4:17).
* We are “better than others.” Yet what happens when we are alone, where others cannot see?
“`Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD”
* We only do “small sins.” Yet how do we react when exposed or asked to change?
The question is not the `size’ of the sin, but its mastery over us.Jesus shows us reality:
I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34).
Any sin gives Satan all the hold he wants. Satan can make anything seem `small’ and `justified,’ even as he helps it to grow worse.
The world. . . hates Me because I testify that what it does is evil (John 7:7).
This explains how Bible `believers’ come to lead in murdering the Son of God. Jesus warns Nicodemus:
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:20).
THE PAIN OF DARKNESS
Do we hate the Light that shows up our faults and failures? We like to keep our pride. We fear loss of respect, position and control. What will others think or say? Being honest can be painful!
God demands that we go through the pain of being honest. First, God’s own truthfulness rejects all lies. Second, God loves us deeply. He knows that darkness holds for us far, far greater pain. For all who join the rebels must receive their sentence for treason. Look at Satan’s end:
The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10).
Now look at the sinner’s end:
He, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength. . . He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast. . (Revelation 14:10-11).
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice the magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death (Revelation 21:8).
All humans face the first death – fleshly death. All in Satan’s kingdom then face the “second death” eternal death. Spiritual beings cannot be buried in soil. If their burial is in fire, it must be “the eternal fire.” Injury by fire is the most painful thing we know. Thus God often pictures the rebel’s punishment as fire. You do not want to hear this sentence from Jesus:
Depart from me you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
Jesus never softens the truth, nor should we. Yet He who warns most about “hell” also offers hope. Notice that “the eternal fire” is meant for rebellious angels, not humans. Jesus tells Nicodemus of God’s care for us, and His plan for us: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:16-17).
Final judgement is coming (John 5; Matthew 13; 25). But for now the door is open to sinners.
Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Look into heaven and hell. See those born once who die twice in their sins. See those born twice who never die. (Their departure is too wonderful to be called death, John 8:51; 11:25-26.) When you see all this, you realize how much your spirit needs new birth from God’s Spirit. “But,” you may say, “I’ve never seen these spiritual things.” Dear friend, you can see – by faith! For Jesus shares with you His own direct knowledge. He assures Nicodemus, and us, “I tell you the truth, We speak of what We know, and We testify to what We have seen” (John 3:11). He knows heaven’s happiness. He sees all hell’s horror. He knows what is in your spirit.
No wonder He is so strong in His demand: You must be born again!
3: NEW BIRTH IS BY DEATH
Nicodemus, like us, is attracted to Jesus. This new teacher fascinates him. Nicodemus examines all the facts he can find. They convince him that God has sent Jesus, for no one can do such miracles unless God is with him. Every illness receives a complete cure – instantly! The crippled walk! The blind see! Reports from Galilee even tell of water turning into wine (John 2).
Yet the same reports disturb leaders like Nicodemus. John the Baptizer has introduced Jesus to the nation. John announces that Jesus is far greater. Though John baptizes in water, Jesus will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Though John is the older man, he claims that Jesus existed long before him. More than that, John likens Jesus to a lamb. “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” What can this mean? How can any human be a sacrifice to forgive sins?
Doubts and questions swirl in the mind of Nicodemus. His meeting with Jesus only seems to add more questions. For Jesus speaks of strange things – another birth, the mystery of wind, earthly things and heavenly things. Jesus then reminds Nicodemus of an ancient event:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).
Why did Moses use a snake? What can this mean about Jesus?
"SNAKES" AND "SHEEP"
Jesus begins, dear friend, to open a door to a great mystery. He reminds us that when Israelites rebelled, God punished them with snakes. Many people died. The rest cried out for relief. So God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake, and to place it on a pole. Any person with snakebite had only to look up at the bronze snake. All doing so were healed, and escaped death (Numbers 21). Now Jesus is like that bronze snake, about to be “lifted up” in order to save others.
How different the “snake” is from John’s picture, “the Lamb of God!” Yet this too recalls ancient stories. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham went to do it, confident that “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8). God did, in fact, send a sheep, which was killed in Isaac’s place.
Later, at the first Passover, each Israelite family killed, roasted and ate a perfect young sheep or goat. They also put its blood over their doors. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.
No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). Israelites remember every year, at a similar meal, how God once rescued them by lamb’s blood. In fact, perfect male lambs are killed daily at the temple (Numbers 28, 29). Scripture often speaks of sacrifice and blood removing sins.
The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).
Now John commands, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Is Jesus the perfect sacrifice, which brings us full forgiveness?
JESUS HAS NO DOUBT
Again and again Jesus states His mission – to die! (Matthew 12:40; 16:21; 17:12,22-23; 20:18-19; 26:32). Just before meeting Nicodemus, Jesus has challenged temple leaders: “Destroy this temple [My body], and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). He soon upsets followers, claiming that His blood and flesh are food, which He “will give for the life of the world” (John 6:32-51). He must die to protect His sheep:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:10-11).
No one forces this death on Him. He freely chooses to give up life, and to regain it later (John 10:14-18). He foresees that enemies will lift Him up (John 8:28).
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die (John 12:32-33).
All flesh dies, but Jesus’ death is unique. It is the “ransom” paid to set us free (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6). Free from what? Jesus eats His last Passover with His followers. He gives them the bread made without yeast, saying, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Then all share the grape drink.
“This cup,” He says, “is the New Covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20).
“It is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”(Matthew 26:26-28).
Here is the answer: His ransom frees us from sins! God promised this long ago.
“I will make a New Covenant. . . For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31,34).
But why must God do it this way? Why “must”the Son of Man be lifted up like that bronze statue? Could there be any other way to free me from my sin?
NO WAY BUT DEATH
After the last Passover, Jesus takes His followers to a garden called Gethsemane. He prays three times to be released from the required suffering. Jesus has faced all death threats with calmness and courage. Yet this death holds much more terror than any other possible death.
Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.” Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:38-39).
An angel strengthens Him, but brings no message of relief. So Jesus prays “more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus then arises to meet the police, led by the betrayer, Judas. Peter strikes out to stop the arrest.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said. “Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions [armies] of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way? (Matthew 26:52-54).
LIKE A LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER
Jewish leaders already reject fair hearings. (They even refused to hear Nicodemus, John 7:50-52.) So Jesus’ disciples desert, scattering in fear. Peter denies that He ever knew Jesus. Jesus alone must endure the all night show trials, the false witnesses, and the raging accusers.
They spit in His face and struck Him with their fists. Others slapped Him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit You?” (Matthew 26:67-68).
Governor Pilate wants to free Jesus. “For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him” (Matthew 27:18). The Jewish leaders choose to release a known murderer, rather than this “Rabbi” Jesus. They accuse Pilate of treason, and threaten to riot. So he finally has Jesus stripped and flogged with cutting whips. Guards beat and spit on Him. They mock Him with `royal’ clothes. They press a `crown’ of thorns into His head.
Then they load heavy wood onto His wounded body. He tries to carry it through Jerusalem. At the place called “Skull” soldiers nail Jesus’ hands and feet to the wood. Then, on this rough cross, they lift Him up! Roman troops, Jews, even two thieves crucified nearby, join in jeering at His shame. They laugh as His blood flows. At noon the sky changes.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Jesus cries out twice more:
“It is finished” (John 19:30).
“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit “(Luke 23:46).
He gives up His life. Joseph of Arimathea, another council member, takes down the dead body. He and Nicodemus wrap the corpse in spices and cloth, then bury it inside a tomb of rock (John 19:38-42).
So Jesus’ words come true: in giving His life, He is lifted up! Jesus on His cross is like the bronze snake on its pole. Look more closely at the meaning. God could use many ways to save those rebellious Israelites. Yet He told Moses to make an image like the thing killing them, a deadly snake.
God pointed toward us and His Son. Our sins and crimes against God are our deadly snakes that poison us. The Son of God becomes the Son of Man, “being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:7). In His trial and execution, He is treated like the worst criminal. He looks like us and our poisonous sins. His forsaken cry has all the pain we should feel in hell.
[God sent] His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man (Romans 8:3).
LOOK AT THE CROSS!
Look at the Lamb of God. Gaze at the Lifted One. What do you see there? God condemning sin -our sin – placed on His Son! The Lamb taking our guilt and our punishment!
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. . . He was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:6-7).
Look again. Do you see how ugly and damaging our sins are? We have all played our part: we envy and hate, boast and betray, lie and deny, fear and fail. We who accuse deserve to be accused. We who judge deserve God’s judgement. Human hypocrisy and revolt is most clear at the cross. For God came to bring us back to His side, and we hated Him for it.
Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness (John 3:19).
Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father as well (John 15:22-23).
Even today some are, in a spiritual sense, “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:6). Those who have “treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant,” and who have “insulted the Spirit of grace,” continue today to “trample the Son of God underfoot” (Hebrews 10:29).
How sin twists the human heart. How it turns us against the very One who gives us life, the Creator to whom we owe all love. How our selfishness hurts our own lives, and leaves our families in ruins. How much suffering has spread through the world because we left the peaceful ways of God. How our rebellion breaks God’s heart with sorrow. Dear friend, look at the cross. See the horror of your own sins. See how dearly He loves you. His arms are stretched out on the cross.
They are stretched out to reach you.
They are stretched out to welcome you home.
See the price He pays for you: suffering so that you can live, dying so that
you can be born again
4: NEW BIRTH IS BY GRACE
Nicodemus, like most of us, may have difficulty understanding “grace.” For people in his time – as now – think that they become good through their own efforts. Paul (a fellow – Jew and formerly a Pharisee) describes the Jewish religion in this way:
Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works (Romans 9:31-32).
In other words, these Jews work hard to keep God’s law. They think that their labors make them “righteous,” and earn reward from God.
Paul, in Romans, argues that such thinking is wrong. But Nicodemus, when we first meet him, still thinks in the old Jewish way. He is with other Pharisees who love to justify themselves to others. Even their prayers list for God their good deeds (Luke 16:14-15; 18:11-12). Jesus warns against the deadly yeast of their religious teaching (Matthew 16:6,12; 23:1-39).
So Jesus offers no praise for Nicodemus’ good morals or high position. He closes the door on proud self-righteousness – Nicodemus must start from birth again! Jesus opens a window for humble self-examination “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?” Then Jesus throws open a door to the full light of God’s love. God gives the richest Gift heaven can give:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
This is the very heart of grace. Yet many of us struggle with it. In all that Jesus says here, where is the human labor on which we rely? Is there not some way we can earn our place with God?
THE CENTER OF FAITH
Too often we place ourselves in the center of our religion. We depend on our own wisdom, pride and effort. Jesus teaches us to move aside. For man-centered religion ends up rejecting God and crucifying His Son.
None of the rulers of this age understood [God’s wisdom], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Paul was `religious,’ yet destroyed many lives. Now he moves aside, and points to Jesus Christ as the central Person. Surrounding Jesus is the message called the “Gospel” Good News.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have
believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our
sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:2-4).
FACING THE JUDGE
To see Christ suffering so terribly “for our sins” is to see God’s great anger at our sins. God is the only Judge who sees all facts, reads all motives, and judges perfectly.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).
His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He (Deuteronomy 32:4).
When God examines us, what does He find? The deadly rot of spiritual disease. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Piling good deed upon good deed never succeeds, since even our best deeds are sin-stained. The Holy One must distance Himself from such moral filth. As Judge, His just anger must burn against all sin and rebellion.
O LORD. . . Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong(Habakkuk 1:12-13).
Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).
I am about to pour out My wrath on you and spend My anger against you; I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all your detestable practices. I will not look on you with pity or spare you (Ezekiel 7:8-9).
Take center stage, and see what happens! Try to impress God with your fine list of works. Oh, you find yourself at the center – the very target at which He aims His fiery vengeance!
God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day (Psalm 7:11).
Nothing you can do changes your past record. No amount of pleading or hard work changes your Judge’s mind (Numbers 23:19). He knows you too well, and you fall far short of His perfect standard.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Since you stand in the line of fire, move to safety. Start to depend on God instead of yourself.
LOVE, EVEN THROUGH PAIN
To look at Christ dying for our sins is to look into the face of perfect love. Nails do not hold Him to that wood. He can come down. He can call heaven’s armies. Instead He drinks every bitter drop of suffering.
Only the deepest love for you and me holds Him on that cross.
Listen to the kindness uttered from the depths of His agony. We might expect Him to care for His mother (John 19:26-27). But what about His enemies? Even as nails are tearing, bleeding His life away, He says, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).
This is grace: blessing instead of cursing such murderers. Both crucified robbers hurl insults at Jesus (Matthew 27:44). One thief then recognizes the truth, and pleads, “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” Helpless and dying, the thief has nothing to bargain with, no service to offer. He admits that his corrupt life deserves this death sentence. Yet Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). “Paradise” is like heaven, the very opposite of the hellish punishment the thief has earned. This is the meaning of grace: receiving the mercy we need, not the punishment we deserve!
THE SAME GOD?
Is this the Jesus who drives “robbers” out of His temple? Does He speak for the same God as the Psalms and Prophets? They called down curses on enemies. Does God change somewhere between the old Scriptures and the cross? Anyone who thinks so has not paid enough attention to Scripture.
Jesus warns as severely as any prophet (Matthew 7-25; Revelation 1-4).Likewise, the old Scriptures speak often of God’s love:
* God walked in the garden with innocent Adam and Eve. But He also “walked” with Enoch and others who had sin(Genesis 3,5,6,17).
* God treated Abraham as “friend,” and promised, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed (Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 41:8).
* To Moses God revealed Himself, first and foremost, as “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). * David relied on that same grace. “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old (Psalm 25:6).
* God judged and condemned many sinners, yet made Hisfeelings clear. “For I take no pleasure in the death of any- one,” declares the Sovereign LORD. `Repent and live!”
* Prophets blasted the nation of Israel (Ephraim), but always stressed God’s loving motive. “Is not Ephraim My dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore My heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,’ declares the LORD; (Jeremiah 31:20).
* As Jonah (4:2) complained, God is “abounding in love” for non-Jews also.
Jews like Nicodemus know their Bible. Some passages describe an angry Avenger who destroys rebels. Other passages portray a patient Father, full of tender mercy. All of these Scriptures tell the truth:
GOD IS JUDGE
His very nature demands complete justice. He cannot lie to Himself about our sin and its fatal result. The Holy must separate from the unholy. The Just must condemn the unjust. Therefore the truth cannot change:
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
YET “GOD IS LOVE” (1 John 4:8).
His very nature longs to rescue us – to forgive every person of every sin.
God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
How can God be “just” and “the One who justifies?” These two are not opposite `sides,’ as if God fights against Himself. Justice and mercy flow together from who GOD is – the Person of PERFECTION in all that is right and good. Yet, to us, God seems to face an impossible problem. How can He condemn sin and yet save the sinner? How can He stay pure while bringing impure people back to Himself?
THE WISDOM OF GOD'S ANSWER
Nicodemus and Joseph bury the Crucified, not realizing that here rests God’s amazing answer! Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). From eternity God knew the danger of giving man free will. God knew man would one-day use the power of choice against Him. Yet God placed the highest value on man and his real love (made possible by real choice). So, from the beginning, God chose His own solution: replacement.
One who is pure takes man’s place, paying every penalty justice demands. Sinners cannot pay for others; their own death sentence takes all they can pay. God uses animals as pictures of replacement. But they have no spirit or will to truly suffer man’s punishment. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
Angels offering themselves would show their love, not God’s love. The truth is, God loves us, and wants to save us! All sin is against God, and only God can forgive it. God, therefore, chooses Himself as the substitute or replacement that allows mercy for humans.
This explains why God became man (John 1; Philippians 2). He shared our flesh “that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree; by His wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).
He took on our sin so completely that 2 Corinthians 5:21 says,
God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.
Here we see the meaning of the bronze snake, which stands for sin and death. Our Savior fulfills it by becoming sin, and suffering death on our behalf. We see His torment – loneliness and insults, curses and wounds, blood and death. Far greater is the unseen pain, for sin separates from God. Hear the Son’s desperate cry to the Father: Why have You forsaken Me?
Unless we enter hell, we can hardly know the depths of terror in that wail. The sinless and infinite heart of God’s Son suffered the infinite punishment we deserved. What astounding love! Like Nicodemus, we only begin to grasp the fullness and depth of Jesus words: “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (John 3:16).
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . ..When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son (Romans 5:8).
As both God and Man, Christ is the perfect sacrifice that pays the full penalty for all sin. So this is God’s answer, which proves Him to be both “just” and “the One who justifies” (Romans 3:25-26).
LET JESUS TAKE YOUR PLACE
The Son of God becomes Son of Man that you can be born as a son of God (John 1; Hebrews 2; 1 John 3). So, in a sense, you change places. He takes your place in death, freeing you to take a place with Him in life. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says He takes our sins so completely that we “become the righteousness of God.
We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:10,14).
Are you at the center of your religion? Do you depend on yourself, and trust your own works to please God? If so, your sins (and pride) make you the target of God’s anger. “Cursed is the one who trusts in man” (Jeremiah 17:5). Step away from the curse, dear friend, by depending on the grace of Christ. Let Him into the center. He has already received the full blast of God’s judgement for you. Let Him now give you “rebirth’ and a new life.
When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5).
5: NEW BIRTH IS BY FAITH
Nicodemus, like many of us, has some faith. His Jewish background helps him to believe in God and the Scriptures. He even has a growing faith in Jesus. He confesses to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.” He admits that God is the power behind the miracles and wisdom of Jesus. This is a step forward.
Yet the faith of Nicodemus is many steps away from the full truth. Jesus is much more than “a teacher.” He does not use borrowed words, as teachers do. He speaks from personal knowledge of heaven.
I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen. . . No one has ever gone into heaven except the One who came from heaven the Son of Man (John 3:11,13).
This is vital truth that Nicodemus has missed. Therefore Jesus accuses Nicodemus of unbelief:
Still you people do not accept our testimony. . . I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:11-12).
It is not enough to think of Jesus as a good man, a fine teacher, or even a great prophet. Faith should not stop short at half-truths. True faith rests on the full truth of Jesus as Savior.
“The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3: 14-15).
What does it mean to “believe in Him?” And why is this faith so important to God?
A SERIOUS CHARGE
How confidently Nicodemus begins, saying, “We know.” How quickly Jesus uncovers his ignorance, saying to him, “You do not understand. . . You people do not accept. . . You do not believe” (John 3:10-12). This charge is serious. Jesus warns that such unbelief brings certain death.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. . . Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:16,18).
I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins(John 8:24).
God has always wanted faith.
Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Now that God has sent His Son, He requires faith in both Father and Son.
Trust in God; trust also in Me (John 14:1).
In the Bible there is no difference between “trust,” “faith”and “belief.” These English words often translate the same original Hebrew or Greek word. What is the meaning of that word in Scripture? What is faith?
FAITH MEANS RECEIVING FACTS
To believe in Jesus is to accept the fact that He is our Savior. He is Son of Man (truly human) and Son of God (truly God). Faith is not blind guessing about what `might’ be so. Jesus assures Nicodemus,
I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen (John 3:11).
Nicodemus hears the “testimony,” the true report of eyewitnesses.He sees solid evidence. By these He comes to believe.
The crowning evidence is Jesus’ resurrection. The corpse, which Nicodemus laid in the grave, comes to life again. The risen Christ presents Himself to chosen witnesses: Peter, John, Paul and others, including 500 at one time (John 20; 1 Corinthians 15).
After His suffering, He showed Himself to these men [apostles] and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive (Acts 1:3).
“You will be My witnesses,” Jesus tells His apostles. The Holy Spirit makes sure that their testimony is accurate in every way (Acts 1; John 14,16; 1 Peter 1).
You and I have not seen Jesus in person. Yet our faith can be as strong as that of eyewitnesses. When Peter writes to readers like you and me, he describes them as enjoying faith equal to His own (1 Peter 1; 2 Peter 1). John assures us that his writings can bring us to saving faith (John 20; 1 John 5). Hebrews 11:1 describes faithas “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” We are sure – we believe – because the word of God is so completely dependable.
Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).
Faith, though, is more than accepting facts. Nicodemus’ fellow leaders later “believe.” But this does not mean that God approves.
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in Him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God (John 12:42-43).
Jesus will not tell God He knows us unless we have enough faith to tell people that we know Him. “. . .Whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father” (Matthew 10:32-33). True faith treats Jesus as Lord, and tells others the reason for its hope (Acts 26:6; 1 Peter 3:15).
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
FAITH MEANS TRUSTING
Faith, though, should be more than confessing Gospel facts. You must trust in what those facts mean. You must take seriously Jesus’ claim: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). No one else – no angel, no spirit, no holy man, no exalted woman – is the way to heaven’s blessing.
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Trusting Christ ends all efforts at being your own savior. You will be rescued, not because you are so good, but because God is so good. Your salvation is not by your kind deeds, but by God’s infinitely kinder deed. How much He values you! Giving His Son for you cost Him more than words can tell. Yet to you all this is free. Soon after Nicodemus’ visit, Jesus teaches a woman of Samaria. Her life has been sinful and immoral, and Jesus says to her,
If you knew the gift of God. . .you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water (John 4:10).
What happens when you work for a gift? It is no longer a “gift,” but something owed to you. By earning it you place the giver under a duty or obligation. This is Paul’s point in Romans 4:4: “When a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.” God rejects all such human “works” for salvation (Romans 3-4; Galatians 2-3).
The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
Sadly, many religions still try to earn favor with God. Pictures and lips honor the cross; but hearts dishonor and distrust it. They treat Christ’s sacrifice as incomplete, and in need of extra work. “Yes, Jesus sets you free” – yet you fail to do enough for Him, and feel enslaved by guilt! “Yes, Jesus freely forgives” – yet some leaders want you to earn the right to receive that forgiveness.
FAITH DOES NOT EARN
Dear friend, true belief gives you all the right you need:
Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:13).
In the early church some Jewish Christians add their own works to the cross. “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). The apostles firmly reject this, saying,
No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesusthat we are saved (Acts 15:11).
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. . . . You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:1,4).
Drop forever, dear friend, the fatal error of pursuing righteousness “as if it were by works” (Romans 9:32). `Working’ for salvation treats it as cheap enough for a sinner to earn. `Adding’ to it suggests it is too weak. Your salvation costs heaven’s highest price (1 Peter 1). How do you respond to such amazing kindness? Accept it! Take to heart this Good News: Christ died for all sinners including you (1 Timothy 1:15; 2:4-6). Trust the complete power of God’s sacrifice. Yes, we are unworthy. Rely, therefore, on God’s Son. He is perfectly able to free you from all sin and all guilty feelings (John 8:36; Hebrews 10:10-22; 1 John 1:7-9).
I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes… (Romans 1:16).
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
After showing the importance of belief, Jesus urges Nicodemus to action.
But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (John 3:21).
In the original wording, “lives by” is from the simple verb “do.” The person doing the truth enters the light. Nicodemus must both believe and do. Jesus, of course, knows how Pharisees `work’ for their self-righteousness. So He describes the action He requires as “done through God” (or more literally, worked in God).
This work depends on God, not man. It credits God, not man. It submits to God’s will, not man’s tradition (see Mark 7).
Jews later ask, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus does not satisfy their desire to earn merit. He replies, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent” (John 6:29). Any work Jesus may demand is simply belief in action. When the Lord commands, true belief obeys. Disobeying proves one’s confession of faith to be false.
Why do you call Me, “Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46).
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
Jesus describes people who seem confident, and who confess Jesus as Lord. Yet He rejects their faith. Why? They are “evildoers,”a word literally meaning “ones without law” (Matthew 7:23). Their sin is leaving out God’s commands. They go to the same place as demons, for their faith is demonic. “Even the demons believe…and shudder” (James 2:19). Demons confess, yet remain rebels until their miserable end (Matthew 8:29; Jude 6). James warns us against their kind of `faith alone.’ Saving faith, he says, actively obeys.
You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. . . . As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:24, 26).
Paul agrees with this. He fights human “works” such as circumcision. Yet he knows that work “done through God” is essential.
* Notice what Paul says in Galatians 5:6 —
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expression itself [literally, working] through love.
* Now listen to the same apostle in 1Corinthians 7:19 —
Circumcision in nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.
*Finally, hear him again in Galatians 6:15 —
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
New creation comes through faith; and according to inspired writers this kind of faith “works. . . obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:6-7). That sounds exactly like Jesus. While discussing new birth, He requires faith “doing the truth.” Dear friend, do you believe enough to obey? Only obedient faith can receive the gift of new life. God Himself makes your new purity – your new birth – a matter of “obeying the truth” of His word:
You have purified yourselves by obeying the truth. . . . For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23).
6: NEW BIRTH IS BY REPENTANCE
Like most of us, Nicodemus thinks he knows about repentance. The old prophets often cried, “Repent!” Large crowds now say another prophet has come – John the Baptizer. They go to the desert, and hear him preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus enters public life with the very same message (Matthew 3:2; 4:17).
Nicodemus ought to be comfortable with the call to “repent,” for it means to leave sin and turn to God. Most Pharisees pride themselves in already doing that. Yet John the Baptizer makes it neither comfortable nor easy. How does John greet those Pharisees who humble themselves enough to seek baptism? You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:7-8).
Jesus is just as hard. He enters Jerusalem like a whirlwind, using a whip to drive sellers from temple businesses (John 2). Temple leaders turn against Jesus. Nicodemus, however, calls Jesus “rabbi” and greets Him in a friendly way. Jesus pays little attention to the title or the greeting. Instead, in one sentence, He seems to sweep away the life that Nicodemus has built so carefully. The respected Nicodemus must start from the beginning, with a new birth. Jesus challenges Nicodemus to come to the light. Jesus charges: “Men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Which deeds are so evil? Does “repentance” mean more than we think it does?
PREPARE FOR THE KINGDOM!
Dear friend, we have much to learn about the Messiah’s kingdom. In Scripture “kingdom,” often means “rule” or “reign.” To say, “The kingdom of heaven is near!” is like saying, “Heaven will reign very soon!” God, of course, has always reigned from heaven (Psalm 10,103). “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom . . . through all generations (Psalm 145:13). God already rules over all, whether people repent or not. Why do John and Jesus speak as if heaven’s kingdom is now coming? Why do they require repentance for it? And what has this to do with a new birth into God’s kingdom?
Ancient prophets pointed ahead to God reigning in a new and special way. In this kingdom God would save, protect and live with His people – all through His chosen King-Messiah. One prophet even set the time for the kingdom to begin (Daniel 2,9). Now Jesus declares, The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News! (Mark 1:15).
Literally, the time has been “filled” or “fulfilled!” The prophecies are coming true: God is arriving with His saving reign! Nicodemus stands at the crossroad of history. As Jesus unfolds kingdom truth, He presents a choice between life and death: “Sons of the kingdom” are saved; “sons of the evil one” are destroyed (Matthew 13). All seeking refuge in God’s kingdom must first prepare their hearts through faith and repentance. The King firmly requires this new attitude:
I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3-4).
A child is open to learning and changing. A child is dependent and receives correction. Over the years, however, `adult’ sins of pride and prejudice harden us. It is time, dear friend, to return to the humble,
yielding attitude of childhood. If we do not, there is no hope for us. “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3). But what is the meaning of this command, “repent”?
WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
Repentance is not just saying the right words. Jesus tells temple leaders a story of a father who asks his sons to work. One son rebels, saying, “I will not!” But later he changes his mind and goes to work. The other son seems to obey, saying, “I will, sir!” But he never goes to work. Jesus then asks, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” They answer, “The first.” Jesus then gives the meaning of His parable:
I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him (Matthew 21:28-32).
Repentance is not just sincere religion. To whom does Jesus give this parable? He gives it to chief priests and elders, who are very religious! They actually think they serve God, while plotting murder (John 11,16). Nicodemus is sincere and fair-minded, yet must still obey the call to repent and be born again. Saul tries always to live “in all good conscience,” yet finds himself fighting against God. “I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death” (Acts 22:3-4; see 23:1; 24:16). Saul’s zeal and sincerity are real. His ignorance is just as real (1 Timothy 1:13; like Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17). Satan uses lack of knowledge to twist eagerness into evil. Sincerity and character are not tested by what a person does not know. A person’s true test comes when he learns the truth he missed before. Scripture is about to teach you new things. How will you react?
When Saul finally learns, his honesty leads to his obedience (Acts 9, 22, 26). But most of his old friends fail the test. They prefer their darkness (John 1:11; 3:19; Acts 9:23,29).
They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness (Romans 10:2-3).
Repentance is not just fear. Some say that repentance is being afraid. Afraid to die! Afraid of God! Afraid of the future! In a parable about money, a servant says to his master, “I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man” (Luke 19:21). Yet that servant is the disobedient one. He is like Pilate when he judges Jesus. Hearing that Jesus claims to be the Son of God, Pilate becomes “even more afraid” (John 19:8). But he still orders the terrible death on the cross. Felix, another Roman governor, later throws Paul into jail. Paul warns about God’s judgment. Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now . . .When I find it convenient, I will send for you” (Acts 24:25).
Felix never finds an easy, `convenient’ time. Instead, seeking a bribe, he unjustly imprisons Paul for two years! No, fear is not repentance.
Repentance is not just feeling guilt and sorrow. Some think that when a person knows he is a sinner and feels guilty, he is repenting. Others think they have reached repentance when they are truly sorry for sinning. You remember the rich ruler. Jesus exposes his love for money. He becomes “very sad” – and leaves Jesus! (Luke 18; Mark 10). Judas feels guilty for betraying Jesus. Torn by misery and
He was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:3-4).
These feelings are not repentance, because Judas does not return to obey God. Instead he hangs himself (Matthew 27; Acts 1). Judas has a deadly sorrow. There is a better kind of sorrow.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:10).
>Godly sorrow is not repentance, but moves us toward true repentance.
POWER TO CHOOSE
Peter helps us see how sorrow turns to repentance. When Jesus is on trial, Peter keeps denying that he knows Jesus.
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken . . . And he went outside and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61-62).
Peter realizes that his lies are as bad as Judas’ betrayal. His heart is broken. He must choose where his sorrow will lead. Will it drive him deeper into sin? (Like Judas he may even hang himself.) Or will it
lead to a change for the better? Jesus foretold the testing of Peter. Jesus also said, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers”
(Luke 22:32). Yes, Peter can turn around!
Jesus has a story about a lost son. The boy chooses a selfish life that nearly destroys him. Then he comes to his senses. He says, “I will go back to my father!” He returns and his father welcomes him home – a wonderful picture of God’s love! This parable in Luke 15 helps us understand choice. God freely chooses to welcome sinners. Yet He does not force sinners to come back.
Instead, He opens the way home, and then gives us power to choose. Even in the depths of moral filth and misery the sinful son can – and does – make the decision to return home. Likewise, Peter can – and does – return to the Father for forgiveness. Some act as if they can never change. To such people God says there is no need to rush headlong into ruin. Your heart and life can change!
I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die? (Ezekiel 33:11).
THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE
The road back to doing right is uphill. Repentance is the hardest command to obey, for human will is proud and stubborn. The risen Christ confronts Peter. Three times Peter has denied Him. Three times Jesus now asks, “Simon, do you love Me?” Three times Jesus tells Peter the action that best shows his love (John 21). Peter’s life then proves that he has decided to turn back to Christ. So firm is the decision of real repentance that actions always follow. Change of mind leads to change of life.
John orders Jewish leaders, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” (Matthew 3:8). To others he gives specific examples. Tax collectors and soldiers must stop taking more than is lawful. People with extra food and clothing must share with those who have nothing (Luke 3).
Dear friend, think of your own life. Do you fail to care for the needy? Do you love money? Do you hurt those closest to you? Do you lie when it seems necessary? Do you get drunk? Are you guilty of immoral thoughts and acts? Paul lists all these sins and more, saying,
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).
We cannot willfully carry rebellious ways into the presence of the Holy One. The “kingdom” is where people come to God for salvation by His Son, and so willingly place themselves under His reign. Even as you struggle with many weaknesses, you can certainly decide which ruler you are trying to obey. The decision for Jesus to be your “Lord” will (and must) make a difference in how you live.
I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20).
A SHORT TIME
Do you sometimes wonder why God allows this wicked world to continue? Dear friend, the world continues until now for one main purpose to give you and me the chance to repent.
The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise [to destroy the earth] . . . . He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Too many of us misuse the patience and goodness of God. When He gives us time, we use it for more sinning. When He blesses, we think He approves of us. So we put off serious learning or changing.
Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:4-5).
No, dear friend, God is neither blind nor forgetful about our sins. This moment of life is God’s gift to you. It is not for your selfish purposes and pleasures. It is for learning truth! It is for doing truth! Jesus urgently sends this message to you and to every precious soul for whom He died.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations (Luke 24:47).
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19).
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
Now that command comes to you. Determine to let God rule your life. Leave behind all that brings shame and death. This is the decision that prepares you to enter God’s kingdom by water and the Holy Spirit.
7: NEW BIRTH IS BY WATER
Nicodemus hears “water” mentioned with the new birth. Like many today, he at first fails to see how it fits. What has water to do with a new life?
Later he has time to think about major events surrounding his visit with Jesus. Great crowds are flocking to see John. His strange name -“the Baptizer”- tells that water is central to his mission and message. John claims that God sent him “to baptize with water” (John 1:33).
John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River (Mark 1:4-5).
Jesus then enters this scene. What is His first priority? Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John (Matthew 3:13).
Jesus needs no forgiveness, and John resists. But Jesus insists, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). So Jesus goes into the water. God heartily approves, as shown by His voice from heaven and the Spirit’s arrival. Is baptism the “water of the new birth?
JESUS USES WATER
One might think that baptism in water ends when Jesus takes over. For John says, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). Yet, after talking with Nicodemus, Jesus goes on doing as John does.
After this, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where He spent some time with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty, and people were constantly coming to be baptized . . . [Some report to John,] “The One you testified about well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him” (John 3:22-23, 26).
Now both are using water, Jesus soon has His followers dipping even more people than John’s growing number (John 4:1-2). With each new person baptized, John and Jesus prove that water is important. All of this is at the very time when Jesus requires the new birth of water and the Spirit. How can Nicodemus fail to see which “water” is required?
The common people can see well enough. So many respond that reports state in a general way: “All the people were being baptized” (Luke 3:21). Only a few – mainly leaders of religion – see no importance in baptism. They reject the authority behind it. (Luke 20:1-8).
All these people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way
was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected
God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John (Luke 7:29-30).
THE KING HAS ALL AUTHORITY
Dear friend, are you willing to accept God’s purpose for you? Now that Christ has risen from death, there is no longer room for doubt. We cannot make up our own way into God’s kingdom. Jesus is Lord. He alone has “all authority.” He sets the terms, and He keeps a vital role for baptism:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in , into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the other apostles begin publicly to make disciples. They prove to Jews that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ . . .” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching . . . (Acts 2:37-38, 41-42).
Here the apostles carry out the order of Matthew 28. They make disciples for Christ through teaching and baptism. The apostles pass on to new disciples all of Christ’s commands. Those include commands from Matthew 28 itself. Thus we find new disciples, such as Philip, also teaching and baptizing others. When they believed Philip as he preached the Good News of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women (Acts 8:12).
Acts 8 is similar to John 3. In both places the Gospel message links “the kingdom of God” with baptism. But are we sure this is baptism in water? Continue to read Acts 8, as Philip teaches an Ethiopian eunuch.
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the Good News about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said,”Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” . . . And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:35-39).
Clearly, telling about Jesus includes telling about baptism. Yes, the Gospel message does have people looking for water. However, the Ethiopian does not merely reach for a bottle of water. Remember how John baptized “in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:5). Later he baptized at Aenon. Why? “Because there was plenty of water” (John 3:23).
Now we see the Ethiopian leaving his vehicle. They go “down into the water” where Philip baptizes him. Why go to such lengths if only a little water will do? There is a reason for doing it this way. They respect the authority of Jesus. His command to “baptize” has a clear meaning, which they understand. It turns out, as we read Romans 6 and Colossians 2, that baptism is a kind of burial. A little pouring or
sprinkling hardly amounts to a proper burial. When something is buried, it is put under the ground. When we are buried in baptism, we are put under the water. Dear friend, have you gone “down into the water”? Have you been buried in water?
WHEN SHOULD YOU OBEY?
In Acts baptism is an urgent matter. The Ethiopian begins with little or no knowledge of the Gospel. He does not realize that Jesus is the sacrificed lamb (Acts 8:30-34). Upon first hearing the Gospel, he is immediately baptized. What is the rush? We can ask that question often as we read the book of Acts.
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:41).
“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” . . . So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:47-48).
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his
family were baptized (Acts 16:33).
On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5).
nd now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized . . .(Acts 22:16).
They did not wait for a special day, or for a larger group. The Philippian jailer began as a pagan unbeliever. He asked, “What must I do to be saved?” and the same night he believed and was baptized (Acts 16). He did not wait through many months of classes and exams. Why? Because you can learn the Good News in a short time. This simple Gospel includes the command to be baptized. If you believe Jesus is Lord, why put off obeying Him? True faith has the attitude of Psalm 119:60: “I will hasten and not delay to obey Your commands.” Are you hastening to obey, or are you delaying? Your answer should take into account another urgent reason for receiving New Testament baptism .. . .
THE PURPOSE OF WATER
John’s baptism was an early preparation. After Jesus completes His saving work, Christian baptism takes over (Matthew 28:19). The two baptisms are different. (Those who later receive John’s baptism must be immersed again into Jesus, Acts 19:1-5.) Yet both share a similar purpose. John was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). Compare this with Peter’s words to the people who are convinced that Jesus has risen from death:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
[Noah and his family] were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21).
The King Himself gives to Peter the keys to the kingdom. Here Peter binds – requires – what God has bound (Matthew 16:19). In effect, Peter is repeating what the King told Nicodemus: entering the kingdom requires “water.” That water is not just an outward washing or bath. Nor is it merely a picture or symbol. No, in 1 Peter 3, the “symbol” is the water of Noah’s time. The flood separated Noah from the wicked. It saved him while destroying the world. That ancient water “symbolizes” and points to a far greater salvation (and separation) by baptism.
Dear friend, will you be saved by the water? Or will that same water condemn you because you reject the King’s way into His kingdom? Jesus warns that “many” who think they are safe will be lost. They never know Jesus, and they never “enter the kingdom” because they fail to follow His way. Sadly, they never see their mistake until it is too late (Matthew 7:21-27).
IS WATER AGAINST SALVATION BY FAITH?
Peter has no problem joining belief with water for salvation (Acts 2,10; 1 Peter 1-3). In this he is like his King and his fellow-apostles:
Go into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will
be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:15-16).
Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word (Ephesians 5:25-26; like Hebrews 10:22).
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).
Faith and baptism go together for entering Christ and becoming “sons of God.” This is true for “all” – everybody (John 3:3-5; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:26-27). The King Himself sets the example, submitting to baptism like “all” others (Luke 3:21). Even one as sincere and special as Saul (Paul) must submit. For three days, after seeing the risen Christ, Saul fasts and prays. Do his faith and prayers alone cleanse him? No, for after these things God’s spokesman arrives, saying,
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name (Acts 22:16).
His sins remain, and need to be washed away. Such forgiveness takes place when belief obeys in baptism. Truly, just as Jesus says, no one can enter the kingdom unless he is born through water and Spirit.
DOES WATER WASH AWAY SIN?
Religions, long before Christ, used water and were powerless. Water has no special magic. Certain followers of John prove this. As “disciples” trying to obey God, they receive John’s baptism. Despite their sincere hopes, that water has no value, for this is after the end of John’s baptism. Paul teaches them about Christ and His Spirit. Then they receive immersion again, this time “into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:4-5).
The power to save is in Jesus! His blood clears us of sin (1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5; 7:14). Why then does Acts 22 command, “Be baptized and wash your sins away”? Does Jesus link His blood and death to baptism?
Compare Matthew 26 with Acts 2. Jesus gives His blood “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Yet repentance and baptism are “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). They share exactly word for word – the same purpose. Yes, they are tied together! Christ’s blood was poured out as He died on the cross. His sacrifice satisfies both the justice and mercy of God (Romans 3:25-26;
5:1-11). Now we learn where faith meets that saving death:
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised
from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:3-4).
“having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:12).
God alone has power to raise you from sin and death. Likewise, God alone decides where and when He applies His saving power to you. Clearly He chooses believing, repenting baptism. In this event one enters “into” Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; Matthew 28:19). This is also where one comes “into” Christ’s death (Romans 6; Colossians 2).
Now we see why Paul must wash away his sins in baptism (Acts 22). Through baptism he enters Christ’s death and its saving blood! Only in that death can grace save. Only in that death is one effectively “calling on His name” (Acts 22:16; see 2:21-42). Do you see why Paul is not saved before baptism? He can never force his way into God’s favor, no matter how sincere his prayers and tears. He – and – we must enter in the way set by God Himself. That way is through His Son’s death, and that death is entered through baptism.
IS THIS THE NEW BIRTH?
Read Romans 6 again – carefully. Do you see how you share in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection by baptism? Do you see how your old sinful self dies with Christ there? Do you see how God raises you to “new life”? It is new because all your sins are forgiven! Your new life serves God, not sin (Romans 6:5-23). And isn’t “new life” another way of saying, “birth”? Yes, this is your spiritual birth!
When Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, He knows what He plans for baptism. He knows that in watery burial believers will enter His saving death, rising again to a clean, new life! That is why He requires “water”in the new birth. Nicodemus must be born this way. Dear friend, you too must be born this way. The King leaves no one out (John 3:5). Listen to His literal wording, as He speaks to you now:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
8: NEW BIRTH IS BY SPIRIT
Nicodemus is “born of the flesh.” Like us, therefore, he tends to think in fleshly ways – even when trying to understand the spiritual world. When Jesus requires a new birth, Nicodemus thinks of a second physical birth. So Jesus repeats His requirement in a way Nicodemus might recognize:
I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5).
John the Baptizer uses “water” while promising “the kingdom of God.” Jesus also requires water. But what about “Spirit”? Is this a second event, as if one must be born “of water,” and at another time “of Spirit”?
In any case, we have no power over the Spirit. We could not even do the smaller thing of choosing our first birth and our fleshly parents. How can Jesus make “birth” a command for us, and hold us responsible?
LISTEN TO YOUR SAVIOR
Dear friend, Jesus does not make His will too difficult for you to understand and fulfill. He gave His own life for saving you. He loves you so deeply; surely then He also makes clear how you enter His new life.
So turn away from the confusing opinions of men. Listen to the one and only Teacher (Matthew 17:5; 23:10). He chooses His words with care. The wording is not “born of water and born of Spirit.” Nor is it even “born” of water and of Spirit. Jesus literally says, “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The one word “of” goes with both “water” and “Spirit.” The original wording ties both together, showing clearly that this is a single birth, which Jesus also calls “born of the Spirit” (3:8).
The Spirit, of course, is God. He often speaks of Himself in this way when He reaches into the world with special power. Therefore the writer John also uses the term “born of God” (John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18).
GOOD NEWS OF THE SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is active and powerful in every part of the Gospel:
Through the old prophets the Spirit predicts the coming of Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12).
Through Mary He gives unique life on earth to the Son of God. “She was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit . . . What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18, 20; see Luke 1).
Through the eternal Spirit, Christ offers Himself to the Father as the perfect sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 9:14). The Spirit raises Christ from death, and promises the same for us (Romans 8:11).
He fills John the Baptizer, and leads the apostles and their helpers into “all truth” (Luke 1,12; John 14, 16; Acts 1,2; 1 Corinthians 2,12).
He shares His holiness so that we can enter God’s presence (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 3; Ephesians 2:18; 1 Peter 1:2).
The Spirit shows Himself most clearly at Jesus’ baptism, coming to Him “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). John recognizes this sign and tells the people,
The One who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The Man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33).
This event proves Jesus to be “the Son of God” (John 1:34). The Father in heaven voices agreement: “You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). (Father, Son and Holy Spirit are named together at this water baptism. How fitting that their names unite again in the believer’s baptism, which is literally “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
YOU CHOOSE TO DO HIS WILL
Shortly after His own baptism, Jesus confronts Nicodemus. Jesus makes birth of water and Spirit a command. “You must be born again” (John 3:7). How can you obey a command to be born? Nicodemus had no choice about his first birth. The seed of his parents came together, and so he was conceived. His tiny body began to grow inside his mother. About nine months later he was born. All of this was without his knowledge or will. How then can he make a choice about his second birth? Yes, one can decide to pass through “water.” But the Spirit is Person. In this picture of birth He is like a parent. How can mere man make a decision to be “born of the Spirit”?
The answer is in the way the Spirit wants to work. As Almighty God He can easily overpower us and force us into spiritual birth. (He can even make children for Abraham out of stones, Luke 3). Yet He is so free, so fully in control, so confident that He is not trapped into keeping all freedom to Himself. He creates us “in His image” with true ability to choose. “If anyone chooses to do God’s will he will find out whether My teaching comes from God” (John 7:17). Again and again Jesus insists that “anyone . . . everyone . . .whoever” can freely receive Him and His gifts (John 3:15,16,18,21). Jesus even gives man a part in receiving the Holy Spirit.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives . . . . If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:9-10,13). On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39).
“Scripture” indeed looks forward to this life-giving river. Isaiah likens the Spirit to reviving rain. Ezekiel even foresees God placing His Spirit into His people.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants (Isaiah 44:3; like 58:11; Zechariah 14:8).
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws (Ezekiel 36:26-27; like 37:1-14).
God places His own eternal, all-powerful Spirit into tiny, weak humans. Though too wonderful for us to fully grasp, this is what the old Scriptures promise. And this is what the New Testament boldly reports as fulfilled in Christians! Those who enter Christ become “a holy temple. . . a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:21-22; also Romans 5,8; 1 Corinthians 3,6).
THE WORLD CANNOT RECEIVE HIM
Jesus, however, assures His disciples that the wicked “world” has no part in the Spirit.
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him (John 14:16-17).
The world cannot “see” the Spirit, for He is invisible and known through faith. The world cannot hear the Spirit of “truth,” for the world is listening to the father of lies. The Holy Spirit of truth is separated from all that is sinful and false. Therefore He deals with us, like God the Father, on the basis of sins removed by Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. You recall how the Spirit says that water baptism “saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Peter 3:21). Now notice a similar statement through the same writer.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
Christ’s resurrection empowers new birth (1:3). Christ’s resurrection empowers water baptism (3:21). Why use baptism for birth? Because, dear friend, this is your spiritual resurrection. You are “buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). The Holy Spirit does not accept or live with sin. You must therefore “be baptized and wash your sins away!” (Acts 22:16). As divine blood removes your sins they no longer offend God. They no longer keep His Spirit at a distance. He can then work in you to raise and renew you. This is birth through “water” and “Spirit” (John 3). Or, stated another way, through “washing” and “renewal by the Holy Spirit.” He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
Yes, this is God’s way for all to be born as sons and qualify to receive His Spirit. The Spirit’s wording leaves no room for exceptions.
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:13).
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3: 26-27) . . . . Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).
"TRULY, TRULY I SAY TO YOU!"
Dear friend, Jesus places before you now the most important decision of your life. You can tell how serious He is. Three times He says, “I tell you the truth!” (Jesus’ wording is literally, “Truly, truly, I say to you . . .” So He actually uses this word “truly” six times with Nicodemus!) He repeats how impossible it is to enter God’s kingdom without this birth (John 3:3-7). As Jesus teaches He proves that His words come from God (3:11-13). They are the basis for eternal salvation – or eternal destruction (3:34-36). As Jesus says in John 6:63,
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Dear friend, the word of God cannot fail. It will give you life if you allow it to do its saving work in you. But if you refuse, it will go on to do the work of judging you. You alone decide whether God’s word brings you mercy or condemnation.
There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of My own accord, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and how to say it. know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told Me to say (John 12:48-50).
Jesus stresses your personal choice in a story about His “seed” (Matthew 13; Luke 8).
When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart (Matthew 13:19).
Nicodemus is hearing “the message about the kingdom” – how to see it and enter it. Even when he first misunderstands he faces a decision. He can harden himself against further learning. This allows Satan to steal God’s word, like a bird taking seed from a path. But Nicodemus can choose to keep on learning from Jesus, so as to understand Him. Then God’s seed can grow within him. You, dear friend, face the same decision. You can choose an honest heart that listens, learns and obeys.
The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:15).
To “retain” means to hold tightly to the word. To “persevere” means to keep trying even when it is difficult. Satan uses many troubles and temptations. Allowing these trials to close your heart turns it into rocky or thorny ground that chokes out God’s word. Therefore you must remain strongly committed to truth.
THE SEED OF THE SPIRIT
In this parable, as elsewhere, Jesus plainly shows the “seed” that enters your heart and saves you.
The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11).
Humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says! (James 1:21-22;see also Matthew 4:4; Acts 11:14; Ephesians 1:13).
James is right – hearing (or reading) Bible facts is not enough. You must allow the planted seed to grow. You must “accept” and “do” as God’s word instructs. Otherwise Satan, the father of lies, tightens his hold on you as you fool or “deceive” yourself.
Satan plants his seed – his lying word – in order to kill (Genesis 3;John 8). God plants His seed – “the word of truth” – in order to give life!
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:21-23).
The seed of a human parent is perishable. Since “flesh gives birth to flesh,” you will fade and die like any flower. But God never dies! Just as God is eternal, so His seed is everlasting and “imperishable.”
What is His life-giving seed? “The word of God”! Peter shows that he means especially “the Gospel,” which the Holy Spirit has safely delivered through His inspired spokesmen (1 Peter 1:12,24).
The picture becomes clear as we compare 1 Peter 1 with John 3. The picture is that God has the role of a father. His Spirit plants His seed (His word) by the preaching of Good News. When you learn from the Gospel, you let the seed conceive and grow in your heart. But you are born of one parent alone. Thus “water” may be likened to a mother’s part. Just as you were not born of a father alone, so you cannot be born of Spirit alone. Just as you were not born of a mother alone, so your spiritual birth cannot be by water alone. Christ determines that your birth must be &;of water and Spirit.” When you allow the Gospel seed to work in your heart, you soon reach the point of birth. That is, you obey, passing through the “water” the Gospel requires. You come out of the water a fresh, clean person with a completely new start!
The Spirit chooses you. He is eager to give you this wonderful new birth.But, friend, He gives this birth on His own terms. He clearly reveals that He chooses baptism as a kind of mother for your birth.
Your cleansing is “by the washing with water” through “the word” that teaches you to believe and obey (Ephesians 5:26). Now it is your turn to choose the Spirit. You do that by submitting to His will. Then these marvelous words can also be said of you: “You have purified yourselves by obeying the truth . . . For you have been born again . . . through the living and enduring word of God.”
THE GREATEST DECISION OF YOUR LIFE
All of this explains why Jesus makes the new birth a command and holds you responsible. If the Spirit forced Himself on you, you would have no say in the matter. But He created you with a mind and will
of your own. You decide to accept or reject the Spirit’s seed. You choose to submit or rebel when that Gospel requires repentance and baptism for your sins to be forgiven.
What an amazing ability! You can freely accept the wonderful new life Jesus offers. But be warned: you are not free to escape the result of your decision. If you “do not obey the Gospel” you do choose Satan and his fiery fate.
When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
How needless to suffer on earth and then in eternity. Jesus earnestly desires a far better result from your ability to choose. He gave His very life for you to share His joy, beginning now and lasting forever. Will you accept His invitation? Will you share in His death and resurrection by baptism? Will you let His blood wash away all guilt and all shame?
Let us know immediately about your decision so that we may encourage and help you in obeying the Gospel. Then pass on the Spirit’s invitation to your loved ones and to others. The greatest danger any person faces is eternal punishment. The greatest need is to enter eternal life through the new birth of water and Spirit. There is no greater joy than living at peace with your Creator, who loves you and wants you to be His child. You can give no greater gift than the Good News. Accept the saving seed, submit to it, and then share it!
The Spirit and the bride [God’s people] say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life (Revelation 22:17).
I learned the above from WBS, all glory goes to the Lord Almighty