Sermon on John 3:1-17
Text: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
It’s interesting how some words have lost their original meaning. For example, there is the word “awesome.” It originally had the idea of being overwhelmed by something you saw. You are filled with wonder. For example, when Jacob was given the vision of the stairway into heaven, it says in Genesis 28:17, “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’” Today, when someone uses the word “awesome,” it means that something is very special. Another example would be the word “literally.” You might hear someone say that they are literally starved to death. That can’t be true because that person is still alive and hungry. This morning, we are going to look at a common word that can be misused. We are going to look at the word “gift.” Indeed, we are going to look at THE GREATEST GIFT. We see that it 1. Cannot Be Earned, that it is 2. Offered To All, and that it is 3. Received By Faith.
Our text consists of a nighttime visitor of Jesus. The man’s name was Nicodemus. It may have been that Nicodemus came at night because it would be a good time for a quiet discussion of deep religious subjects without being interrupted by anyone. It is more likely that he came at night because he didn’t want to be seen with Jesus. He was afraid of what others might think about him if they knew that he talked to Jesus. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body. Resistance to Jesus was growing. How would it look if a member of this august body was seen talking to Jesus? So, he secretly met with Jesus.
Nicodemus began by saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (Verse 2) He began by stating what the common thought about Jesus was. He was a teacher. He had performed miracles, which showed that he had come from God. Nicodemus came seeking information about Jesus.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (Verse 3) We might wonder why Jesus responded as he did. The reason is that Jesus wanted Nicodemus to see the great gift that was offered to him. He spoke of seeing the kingdom of God, that is, eternal life in heaven. To help Nicodemus learn about this great gift, Jesus needed to teach him a very valuable truth. No one can receive this gift unless they were born again. To help us understand Jesus’ point, we need to remember that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a teacher. If you would have heard one of Nicodemus’s sermons, he would’ve been quoting the Bible left and right. He taught the Law. He kept the Torah. The Ten Commandments came off his lips as easily as if talking about the weather. And he knew many other commandments, too, commandments designed by the Pharisees to keep good order, to show people how to live, to make sure everyone was doing everything in the right way. This was all done with one purpose. This is what you had to do if you wanted to see the kingdom of God.
When Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again,” it was a call to repentance. He was showing Nicodemus that, no matter your best efforts, you cannot earn eternal life. In order to see the kingdom of God on your own, you would have to be perfect throughout your entire life. This is not keeping a set of man-made rules. This is keeping God’s commands. You can never have sinned, not even once. Jesus wanted to teach Nicodemus that salvation can never be earned.
This is a good reminder for us, as well. There are many churches that teach that you must live a certain way and do certain things, if you want to be saved. They may even speak about Jesus, yet they add in things that you must do. However, we don’t have to go that far to see this attitude, do we? There are times when we may catch ourselves thinking that we have done this or that and so God owes us something. We may look at others and how they are living and think that we aren’t that bad. Surely, we’ve done more good than others. Yet, we, also, need to be reminded that we cannot see the kingdom of God, have eternal life, because of what we do. We must confess that we have dared to sin against our God and don’t deserve heaven, but an eternity of separation from God in hell. This greatest gift is not something that can be earned. That goes against the very concept of a gift. A true gift is something that is given without any effort on the part of the one who receives it. It is freely given by the giver.
This is clearly seen as we talk about the greatest gift that has ever been given as highlighted in the familiar words of John 3:16, “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.” First, we note the motivation behind the gift that was given: “God loved . . . so that he gave.” The reason that God gave this gift was love. It wasn’t a “I’ll do this if you do that” or “I’ll do this so that you do that.” God gave this wondrous gift purely out of love.
What was this gift that God gave? “God so loved . . . that he gave his one and only Son.” God saw that we were powerless to save ourselves. There was no way that any of us would ever see the kingdom of God, so God gave his Son. Jesus came to the earth to rescue. He came to do what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus came to live perfectly, following every one of the laws of God on our behalf. Where you and I have failed to be perfect, Jesus was. Then, in the ultimate show of love, God gave his Son to be the sacrifice for sin. That was the reason that Jesus was on the cross. He was there to pay for sin. He was punished in our place, suffering what we deserved. The debt of sin is gone. We have the proof of this in the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. God loved so that he gave his Son.
To whom is this gift offered? “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” This gift was meant for all people. When Jesus suffered, died, and rose again, it was for every single individual who has ever been born or will ever be born. Jesus has paid the debt of sin for every single person. It was all done, so that all people might see the kingdom of God. This precious gift is offered to all people.
Does this mean, then, that all people will eventually be in heaven? No, because as the rest of the verse continues, “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.” Only those who believe will receive this great gift.
To help us understand this concept, let’s look at the Old Testament account that Jesus references in verses 14&15, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” We find this in Numbers 21. As the nation of Israel was traveling to the Promised Land, they began to complain, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Numbers 21:4) The LORD sent venomous snakes among the people. Many people were bitten and died. When the people called out to the Lord, he instructed Moses to construct a bronze snake and put it on a pole. If someone was bitten, they could look at the bronze snake and they would be saved. Does that make sense to you? If I am bitten by a snake, I need to look at a bronze snake and I will be cured. To do so would require faith that this would work. If someone didn’t believe that this looking would save them and refused to look at it or try another cure, they would die.
This is the point that Jesus makes. Everyone who looks to him in faith has eternal life. If you don’t trust in him, believe in him, and think that there is another way, you don’t receive the benefits of what he has done for you. Instead of seeing the kingdom of God, you are lost forever. Faith is the hand that receives what Christ has done for you.
Where does one get this faith? It goes back to the first thing that Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (Verse 3) We must be born again. Jesus expands on this thought in verse 5, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” It is only through the working of the Holy Spirit that we are brought to faith. He is the one who creates this faith in our hearts that receives the blessings of Christ has done. For many, it begins when they are born of water, that is to say, when they are baptized. Through that gracious water of life, the Holy Spirit creates faith in the heart, including that of an infant. For others, the Holy Spirit creates faith as he works through the hearing of God’s Word. Whatever way that this faith is created, through this faith, we received the greatest gift, the gift of eternal life.
When one receives a gift, it is only natural that the receiver says “Thank you.” How much more so, we who have received the greatest gift of all. We want to thank God for this greatest of gifts. We do so by living our lives in such a way that thanks him. We also know that this gift was meant for all people. God gives us opportunities to tell others about this great gift that God wants to give them.
So, what does the word “gift” mean? It means that someone gives something or does something purely because the giver wants to give it. We thank God for this greatest gift of all. It is so priceless; we never could have earned it. Since God wants to give the gift to the world, I know that he wants to give it to me. I thank God for creating in me the faith to receive it. We praise our God for this greatest gift. Amen.
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