John 3:9-12

Sometimes we have to go back to the basics. There’s a gap in our understanding. There’s a flaw in our work. And where we are presently with whatever it is can’t be corrected moving forward. Therefore, we need to go back. We need to find where we went wrong. Then, from there, we begin again. 

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? – John 3:9-12, ESV

Nicodemus was lost. Though Jesus’ words were the truth, Nicodemus couldn’t understand their meaning. There was a flaw somewhere in his foundational knowledge about God, sin, and salvation. The problem was he didn’t see it. He didn’t know where it was. That’s likely what brought him to Jesus. 

So he asked. Jesus asked him a rhetorical question in return. He knew why Nicodemus was struggling. The God-centeredness of the Scriptures had been replaced with a theology centered on man. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, part of an elite group who believed that they could keep a list of behaviors and actions in order to earn salvation and be acceptable by God. He was immersed in man-centered thinking. This is where Jesus began. 

The rhetorical question served a purpose. It called out Nicodemus’ position. But it also called out his teaching, which was consistent with the religious thinking of that time. If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus was pointing the finger there. He was telling Nicodemus where to start looking for the problem. 

Then Jesus expounded to help Nicodemus even more. He explained how Nicodemus and the other religious leaders were going away from the testimonies about God and His hand at work. They weren’t focused on the divine. They weren’t even paying attention to God at work in the mundane. The leaders wouldn’t hear such testimony. They wouldn’t believe. It clashed with the mindset that they had created. After all, why did they need God when they had figured out how to do it themselves?

That’s where Jesus wanted Nicodemus to start. That flawed assumption, that heresy (because it was), was where Nicodemus went wrong. And Nicodemus needed the rough shake-up. So Jesus gave it to Him. It worked. We know it worked because when others failed Jesus, Nicodemus was one of the two men who retrieved Jesus’ body from the Cross and took care of it. Nicodemus listened and he began again. As a result, he corrected his path and moved forward, towards God. 

If we must return to the basics, so be it. If in our lives we need to start over somewhere spiritually, in relationship, in our knowledge of something, in whatever it is, if the possibility exists and it’s the only way to correct our path, we can’t be afraid to do so. God is a God who has encouraged many men and women to start again. Being born again is a restart. So is confession and repentance. It is better for us to go back and start again than to continue forward in the wrong direction. Let us do so when we realize what we have done. Let us begin again in our pursuit of God rather than continuing to wander away from Him. 

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John 3:5-8

The Gospel is absurd. There are a lot of things in this world that are absurd. However, something absurd isn’t automatically false. As Christians, we believe the Gospel is true. But we should also realize that it takes us beyond how we normally view things. 

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

Jesus is describing a spiritual change here. That’s not something we can reach out and touch. We cannot measure being born again directly. It’s not something we can quickly demonstrate with a simple example. Jesus was talking about an eternal, permanent change borne of a supernatural event. Of course it sounds absurd. God is in the business of doing the absurd. After all, God reaching down to His creation is, in and of itself, absurd. But God did. That’s why Jesus came to us. 

The Gospel also sounds absurd because of what it tells us. We can’t earn salvation on our own. In our “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” world, God tells us through the Gospel that we can’t. Only He can. It doesn’t matter how hard we work. It doesn’t matter how much we sacrifice. We simply can’t earn salvation on our own. How absurd! The world tells us we can be anything we want! But Go says, “No, you can’t be saved unless I save you.” 

To help smooth the shock to Nicodemus, Jesus didn’t just stop with, “You can’t on your own.” Jesus gave Nicodemus examples of where our understanding is limited. We can only go so far. And we accept those limitations and move on. The Gospel should be the same way to us. 

Accept the absurdity of the Gospel. Embrace it as God’s packaged gift to us. Gifts are absurd. We give gifts; they aren’t earned. Otherwise they’d be rewards, not gifts. The Gospel is a gift – the greatest one of all. So while we may not understand everything about it, let us cherish it. Let us celebrate it. And let us share it!

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John 3:3-4

Nicodemus was being pleasant, polite, and courteous. He was flattering Jesus but he had not asked the questions on his heart. Perhaps he did not even know how to ask. Jesus stopped Nicodemus short. He then answered Nicodemus’ primary question without being asked.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

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

To Nicodemus, Jesus’ words were absurd. They didn’t make any sense. We will look more at that tomorrow: the absurdity of the Gospel. For now, let’s focus on Jesus’ initial words to a searching man, one willing to accept his pride and station in order to find the real answers. 

How do you get to heaven? This is an important question, likely the most important question any of us can ask. This was the question on Nicodemus’ heart. Here was a teacher of the Law, a recognized member of the Jewish religious leaders, and one who had patterned his life to avoid sin by any means possible. Yet still his heart nagged him. He knew that none of this meant seeing God in eternity. 

Jesus doesn’t toy with him. He doesn’t make Nicodemus figure out the right question to ask. He doesn’t send Nicodemus on a quest for understand or even pile on some task of penance. Rather, Jesus answers him directly. Yes, Jesus’ words were confusing, at first, but they were truth. They were what Nicodemus needed in order to answer the question on his heart. 

God is willing to deal with us in this way. He tells to ask for wisdom and He will grant it. He had provided a Counselor and Guide in the Person of the Holy Spirit. He has poured out Himself in His Word. Our God desires for us to understand if we are willing to pursue Him. If our heart truly seeks after Him, if it hungers for the Kingdom of God, He will answer. The Bible is filled with accounts where God answered earnestly seeking people. Nicodemus isn’t an isolated example. 

We must seek after God. We must bring the questions of our hearts to Him. If we do so without deception or scheme or other purpose, we can expect His answers. Do note, it’s not because we deserve those answers, but because of who He is. Because He honors His promises, we can count on those answers. So let us seek, let Him answer, and let us respond. After all, Jesus spoke these words so Nicodemus could respond and see the Kingdom of God that was his deepest desire. He expects the same of us. 

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John 3:1-2

I can always learn more. It doesn’t matter how much I know about a subject. Even if I’m recognized as knowledgeable, especially if I’m recognized as such, I have more to learn. That old maxim of “the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know,” is true. So what if you’re one of the acknowledged experts about something? There’s still more to learn. 

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

Nicodemus was both a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. We learn in verse 10 that Jesus knew him as a teacher of the Law. It’s the same word, teacher, as in Luke 2:46, where Jesus remained back at the temple as a young boy. If anyone was an expert, it was Nicodemus. Still, he had questions, earnest ones, and came to Jesus with them. 

There’s always been a lot of discussion over why Nicodemus came by night. Was he scared of what others might have thought? Was this the only time he could get out to see Jesus? The Bible isn’t clear. What is clear is that he came to see Jesus with his questions. Let’s focus on that. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what you don’t know. Whether we are asking God or man, continuing in ignorance is not a Scripturally supportable position. Nicodemus is a good example for us here, even if we are learned about a subject. There’s always someone who knows something we don’t. Spiritually, that’s the Holy Spirit who is our teacher and our guide. He used the Word to instruct us. 

What is it that you know you should know more about? Biblically, spiritually, this is an especially important question to consider. Ignorance of God’s Word and of His ways is unacceptable. This is, of course, of primary importance. But it’s not the only area we should be concerned. Let us be like Nicodemus, not worrying about what others might think, and let us ask our questions and learn. 

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John 2:23-25

Have you ever trusted someone you found out later to be untrustworthy? It seems like our default mode is to trust. This is why con-artists prosper, whether they work the streets, the phones, or the Internet. They know we have to trust some folks. It’s true: we do. And we shouldn’t be afraid to trust folks we know are solid in their integrity. After all, living a life where we don’t trust anyone isn’t workable. It’s not doable. However, we should be as discerning as possible before extending that trust. 

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. – John 2:23-25, ESV

Remember those at the temple questioned Jesus for signs? He gave them those signs. John’s words here are that many believed. But why did they believe? Why did they follow after Jesus? Simply, because He was working miracles. They wanted some of that. They weren’t interested in salvation and forgiveness. They hadn’t given up everything to follow Him, despite the cost. Jesus knew these folks’ hearts. We are told Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to these people because He knew what they were after. It wasn’t a closer walk with God. It was more for themselves. 

We must be careful with our trust as well. Why do certain people associate with us? Why are they being so nice and helpful? Is this how they always are or do they want something from us? These are important questions to ponder in our relationships. 

This is different than people letting us down because they are human. We all mess up. We all misinterpret things, act too hastily, or get fired up by emotion. These types of things happen from time to time. Think about Peter, James, and John. They each let Jesus down at critical points in His ministry. Yet He continued to entrust Himself to them. They were with Him for the right reasons. But they were still human. Therefore, Jesus loved them, showed His grace to them, and continued to extend His trust. 

Jesus is once again our example. We must be understanding and loving to those we can trust when they mess up. But our trust shouldn’t be extended automatically. If we are struggling for wisdom, God didn’t leave us in the lurch. Through James He reminded us if we need wisdom, we should ask Him. Maybe we can’t see the depths of another person’s heart. That’s not a problem because God can. Be careful with your trust. Be loving, forgiving, and kind regardless. But only extend your trust to those who will honor it  

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John 2:21-22

The Cross was no mistake. The Resurrection wasn’t a fluke. We know these things because of Jesus’ words at the temple. At the time, His disciples didn’t understand the meaning of Jesus’ words any more than the people questioning Him. 

But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. – John 2:21-22, ESV

With hindsight they were able to understand His words. He would go to the Cross as a sacrifice for sin. But unlike an ordinary man, He would rise up after three days. Only God could forgive the people for their sins. And only God could raise Himself for the dead. Therefore, the Cross and the empty tomb would be the proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be: God Himself. And with that proof we could have assurance in Jesus’ ability to forgive us and deliver us. 

Note the timing of Jesus’ words. They come at the beginning of His ministry. They weren’t generated by an inevitable conclusion. Jesus wasn’t some rebel Israelite being hunted down by the Romans. No, Jesus was a relative unknown at this point. None of us would likely have reached the conclusion Jesus stated, He would die. Yet Jesus presented it to those assembled. He did so cryptically, but still He gave evidence of what was to come. 

We see so many prophecies in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus. Every one concerning His incarnation He fulfilled. But those aren’t the only prophecies about Jesus. There are multiple ones in the New Testament, like Jesus’ promise to rise again in 3 days. They give us further confirmation for our faith. 

Rejoice, for Jesus was who He said He was and He still is today. Celebrate, because by His grace our sins are forgiven and we are made acceptable to the Father. Exalt Him for doing what we  cannot. And be humbled by this unbelievable demonstration of His love for us. The Gospel bears repeating again and again. Let it not grow stale in our minds and hearts. 

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John 2:18-20

Have you ever been in the situation when you knew what you should do but you found yourself asking for one more confirmation, one more “sign?” We all face this situation in our lives. We don’t want to act so we find reasons to stall. 

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” – John 2:18-20, ESV

When Jesus drove out the animals and shut down the merchants and money changers, he upset some folks. They immediately demanded His reasons for doing what He did. Jesus acted with authority. He knew what was right and carried it out. No one else had done so, not even those charged with leading God’s people in their worship and adherence to God Almighty. 

Those who were in charge of the situation asked for Jesus’ credentials. They asked to know what gave Jesus the right to do what He did. I’m sure it wasn’t lost on them that He called the temple His Father’s house as He cleaned up things. They asked for a sign. I originally started to write, “They wanted,” but that’s not true. They didn’t want a sign. They didn’t actually want Jesus’ credentials. They wanted to avoid the situation entirely. So they stalled. Just like we may do. 

Jesus responded as He often did to folks who weren’t interested in listening: in a cryptic way that contained the truth if you were willing to unpack it. He described rebuilding the temple if it were to be torn down. Though He was referring to His life, they naturally took His words as meaning the physical temple complex. As a result, Jesus’ words didn’t make sense to them. The reality of it was that the temple, though it had been years, wasn’t fully finished and Jesus said, “Three days?” Jesus gave them the easy out, a way to quickly dismiss Him. Surprisingly, though they were going to dismiss Him no matter what He did or said, Jesus still left them with a “teaching moment,” a clue, to hopefully lead them (and us) to faith. Again, Jesus acted proactively. 

When we look at the two parties, we see One who did what was right without waiting for additional confirmation, more backing, or just one other person saying, “You’re right.” We also see another group who asked for more, even though they didn’t want to do what they knew was right. The second party delayed and avoided doing what they should have been doing by looking for that additional confirmation. 

So what do we do when faced with a choice where we already know what we should be doing? We can respond like Jesus did and take action when it is time to do so. Alternatively, we can stall and delay, asking for something else to confirm the decision. However, delaying or avoiding what we know is right, especially when it involves God’s commands, has another name: sin. Let us instead be obedient and follow our Savior’s example. Let us do what is right and not put it off. That is the only proper way!

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