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Nicodemus is like many of us.2.1 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?
2.2 – An Urgent Lesson
2.3 – The Meaning of Sin
2.4 – Dead in Sin
2.5 – The Pain of Darkness
2.6 – Hope
2.2 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 ht had great wealth.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 one'” (Romans 3:9-12).
2.3 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.
You see in your own life that all is not well.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!
2.4 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).
Satan helps us cover up with lies.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 do it, 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” (Jeremiah 23:24).
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).
2.5 THE PAIN OF DARKNESS
Do we hate the Light that shows up our faults and failures?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:
God sent His Son to save the world through Him.”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 judgment 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!
God wants us to escape the spiritual death caused by our sins.
Nicodemus believed that his goodness was enough, but he still needed re-birth in the Spirit. Our spirits, too, must be re-born, because of sin in our lives. Every one of us fails. We all violate God’s will and character. God, however, wants us to escape the spiritual death caused by our sins. By sending His Son Jesus, God opens the door for our sins to be forgiven so that we can enjoy eternal life with Him.
1) Ephesians 2:1-2 – “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
2) John 3:20 – “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
3) Matthew 25:41 – “Depart from me you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Let us see who we really are, and let us be ready for You to rescue us.
Great Judge, we know all too well about our own weaknesses and failings. We need to be freed from our sins. We try sometimes to do the right things, but we feel helpless. We need Your help. Great Savior, let us see who we really are, and let us be ready for You to rescue us. Thank You for reaching out to help us!