Sermon on John 3:1-17
Text: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but 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? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven —the Son of Man. 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.
“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.”
There are many things in our homes that we take for granted. We do not often stop and think about them. For example, there are our televison sets. I have to admit that I do not know exactly how they work. There was an engineer who drew up the plans for it. I do not know how it all fits together. There were factory workers who put it together. I do not know exactly how it got to the store. A delivery person had to get the television set there. I just know that I enjoy watching it. This morning, as we study Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, we are reminded of our salvation and how each of the three persons of the Trinity was involved. THE TRIUNE GOD HAS PROVIDED YOUR SALVATION. 1. The Father Gave His Son For You. 2. The Son Died On The Cross For You. 3. The Spirit Gives You Life.
Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, came to Jesus at night, because he wanted to find out more about him. He saw and heard of all of the miracles that Jesus had done. He knew that God was with him. However, there were many different ideas floating around about Jesus. So, he came to see for himself. Jesus replied, saying, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was accustomed to the notion that he must follow the law of Moses fanatically. The Pharisees, in general, thought of themselves, as being better than the rest. They had come to the mistaken notion that they could, by their own merits, enter the kingdom of God. Jesus, by way of his statement, begins to show Nicodemus that salvation does not come from your own doing, but through the work of God.
First of all, we begin with the work of the Father in regard to our salvation. We turn to one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, “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.” The first thing that the Father did was he loved. This love is amazing for two reasons. The first reason is the fact that the Father loved the unlovable. There was noting lovable in any of the people who have ever lived on this earth or will ever live on this earth. That includes you and me. We are not lovable because we are sinners. God has told us very clearly what we must do and what we must not do. How often haven’t we done the exact opposite. We see a chance to help someone, but we find all sorts of excuses why we can’t. We are to show compassion to others, but we end up being selfish and only looking out for ourselves. We complain about our lives, pointing out all of the things that we don’t have. God doesn’t look the other way where sin is involved. You see, God hates sin. To be honest, God even hates the sinner and he threatens to punish anyone, including you and me, who sins. This is what makes God’s love so amazing. Though he would have every right to damn us for eternity, he has chosen to love us.
The second reason that God’s love is so amazing is the fact that he chose to love us before the beginning of the world. He chose to love us and wanted us to spend our eternity with him. He knew that we would not be able to save ourselves, so God’s love went into action. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” God didn’t just say he loved us. His love moved him to action. He loved you and me so much that he gave his Son. In verse 17, we are reminded that he sent his Son. The Father was very active in your salvation.
To illustrate his role in our salvation, Jesus recounted the Old Testament account of the nation of Israel as they traveled in the wilderness toward the Promised Land. The people began to complain about what God had been doing. They rebelled against God. As a result, God sent venomous snakes into their camp. These snakes bit many people, who died. The people, realizing their sin, came to Moses and asked him to intercede with God for them. God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake, and put it up on a pole. If a person was bitten by a snake, he needed only to look at that bronze snake and he would live. Jesus said, “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.”
The parallels between the account in Numbers of the bronze snake and Jesus are very clear. We are like the nation of Israel in our rebellion against God. The poisonous snake that has bitten us is sin and its bite is every bit as lethal as those snakes in the wilderness. We had eternal death staring us in the face. However, just as Moses lifted up that bronze snake on the pole, Jesus was lifted up on the cross. He suffered and died on that cross to pay for our sins. Just as there was nothing else that the people had to do than to look at that bronze snake in order to be saved, there is nothing that we do to add to what Jesus did while on the cross. That was, as Jesus said, the reason he was sent to the world. He was not sent into the world to condemn the world. He could have come the first time in judgement upon all mankind. He would have been just in doing so. However, his mission was a rescue mission. He came to live a perfect life in our place. He came to suffer and die to pay for our sins. He rose again, showing us that his mission had been accomplished. It is true that the Son was also very active in your salvation.
If you stop and think about it, it seems odd that looking at a bronze snake set up on a pole would rescue you. However, in reality, it was not so much the physical looking at the snake that healed you, as it was the faith that trusted God’s promise. In the same way, we are saved from the effects of sin. When we look to Jesus in faith on the cross as our Savior, we receive the benefits of what he has done for us. It is here that the Holy Spirit plays a role in our salvation. We would not have received the benefits of what Jesus did, if it were not for the work of the Holy Spirit.
Nicodemus had come to Jesus with the mind set that you must do something to be saved. Jesus shows him that it is only through faith that we can be saved. He said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” We know, from other places in the Scriptures that when we are baptized, the Holy Spirit is at work, creating faith in our hearts. It is only through his work that we can believe. We cannot do it on our own. Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” We are born in sin. We have received this from our parents and they from theirs, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. Flesh can only give birth to flesh, Jesus said. We have to be born again, if we are ever going to experience the kingdom of heaven. If we are going to be born again, it must be through the working of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this on our own. A person can contribute no more to his spiritual birth than he can to his physical birth. That is why Jesus tells us, “Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The Holy Spirit creates this faith in our hearts and we are born again. The first time we were born as part of humanity, with all of the sin that goes with it. When the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts, we are born into the family of God. We can rightly call God our Father and Jesus our Brother. Since we are part of his family, we stand to receive his inheritance, namely, an eternity of bliss in heaven.
How do we know that the Spirit has been active in us? Jesus uses the analogy of the wind, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” You hear the sound of the wind. You feel it blowing in your face. However, you cannot actually see it at work. You can only see and feel the effects of the wind. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. You cannot see him at work. However, you can see the effects of his work. That fact that you are a believer is evidence of the Spirit’s work. When you do things out of thankfulness for all that God has done for you, you see evidence of his work. The Holy Spirit has also been very active in your salvation.
As I said earlier, we often take things for granted in our homes. The first time you saw them or experienced them, there was a thrill. Those of you who did not have a television when you were growing up, do you remember the first time you saw one? Those of you who grew up with a black and white televison, do you remember the thrill of seeing your favorite shows in color? How about the first time you saw a show in high definition? It is easy to become complacent with what we have become accustomed to. I pray that this is never the case with our salvation. Think about where you would be, if you could not be sure where you would spend your eternity. Think about how horrible it would be if you never heard what God has done for you. Thank God that he loved you so much that he actively sought you out and saved you. Our Triune God wanted to save you. He has accomplished this for you. May we never take this for granted. Rather, may our lives give glory to him, who has truly saved us. Amen.