John 3:1-15

Sunday Morning Bible Study

October 11, 2009


How would you respond if I asked you these questions:

1.  If you were to die right now, do you know where you'd spend eternity?

2.  If you think you would go to heaven, and Jesus said to you, "Why should I let you in?", how would you respond?

I’ve led a pretty good life
I’ve never cheated on my wife and I’ve never killed anyone
I go to church on Sundays
I don't think God is mean enough to send people to hell

3.  If your ideas about heaven were wrong, would you want to know about it?

:1-15 Jesus and Nicodemus

:1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

:1 Pharisees This was a sect of the Jews known for their very strict interpretation and following of the Law of Moses.  Today we would call them “orthodox” or “fundamentalists”.

They believed in the inspiration of the entire Old Testament as well as the oral traditions of the Mishnah.  They believed in the existence of angels.  They believed in the resurrection.

There were about 6,000 of them in Jesus’ day.

They had a very strict way of living with ceremonial washings, fasting, prayers, and giving to the poor.

You could make a case to say that Nicodemus was a good man.  A very good man.

NicodemusNikodemos – “conqueror”

Several have held to the opinion that he was also known in history as Nicodemon ben Gorion, a man of great wealth and very good deeds.  This man was the brother of the Jewish historian Josephus.

:1 ruler – he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He would be considered a very important person.

:2 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."

:2 came to Jesus by night

It seems that Nicodemus didn’t want a lot of people knowing what he was doing.

He is curious about Jesus, but didn’t want to be public about it.

A few years from now, the chief priests will send their temple police out to arrest Jesus.  The police can’t bring themselves to arrest Jesus.

(John 7:45-52 NKJV)  Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why have you not brought Him?" {46} The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"
These temple police were in awe of Jesus and the things He said.
{47} Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived? {48} "Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? {49} "But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed."
The Pharisees are under the impression that there are no rulers or Pharisees who believe in Jesus (like Nicodemus).
{50} Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, {51} "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?" {52} They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."
It’s possible that Nicodemus had come to believe in Jesus by this point, but perhaps was still a bit shy about it.

We do know that at some time, Nicodemus will become known as a follower of Jesus. (John 19:38-40)

He would help Joseph of Arimathea to take the lifeless body of Jesus and prepare it for burial. (John 19:38-40)

(John 19:39 NKJV)  And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.

But for now, Nicodemus is being careful and caution about Jesus.

Note:  Jesus isn’t going to turn Nicodemus away.  Jesus is open to people coming to ask questions.

Rabbi … from God – pretty impressive compliments from Nicodemus.

:2 signssemeion – a sign, mark, token

The first “sign” Jesus did was turn water into wine, and His disciples believed in Him.

We read last week about many believing in Jesus in Jerusalem because of the signs which He did there (John 2:23-25).

(John 2:23-25 NKJV)  Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. {24} But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, {25} and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
Nicodemus must have been around to see some of the things that Jesus had done.
Perhaps he was also in the temple when Jesus cleaned house.

Why did Jesus do miracles or “signs”?

Because He wanted people to believe in Him.  God wants you to believe in Jesus.
Believing in Jesus is the key to eternal life.
But there are some “believers” that Jesus does not “believe in”.
There are some believers who only follow Jesus when things are going nice and Jesus does whatever they ask.
There are others who have learned to believe in Jesus no matter what their circumstances are.

These are the true “believers”, who Jesus will “commit Himself” to.

What will Nicodemus be?

:3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Isn’t this a bit abrupt?  Why does Jesus “answer” with this?

He's not going to answer Nicodemus' words, but his thoughts.

Jesus is going to cut through all the small talk and get to the heart of the matter.
This man wants to know God.  This man wants to be with God.
Now Jesus is going to tell him what he really needs to know.

Most assuredly – the Greek here is “amen amen” or, “truly truly”.

:3 born again

 borngennao – to be born

againanothen – from above, of things which come from heaven or God; anew, over again

Some folks like to make a big deal about the alternate way of translating this as “born from above”.

Though there is truth that being “born again” is being “born from above”, keep in mind that this isn’t the way that Nicodemus takes it, nor the way Jesus will continue to describe it.  Nicodemus is thinking that you have to crawl back into your mothers womb.

This is a phrase used a lot nowadays.

GM was on the verge of death, but was saved by the government. Now it is called “born again”.

The Wii gaming system introduces some new stuff and is called “Born again”.

Al Gore remanufactures himself in the public eye, going from politics to ecology, called “Born again”.

Though the world doesn’t have the slightest idea of what this phrase really means, at least they have gotten down part of the concept.

:4 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?"

There was a concept among the Jews that when a Gentile converted to Judaism they experienced a “re-birth”, but Nicodemus was already Jewish.  The only thing he can think of is that Jesus is talking about something ridiculous.

He doesn’t get what Jesus is talking about.

:5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Most assuredly – the Greek is “amen amen” or, “truly truly”.

:5 born of water and the Spirit

Jesus is giving a little more clarity to what it means to be “born again”.

What’s Jesus talking about here?

There are two basic theories of what Jesus means.  It’s all about the water. by being born of “water”.  Most people recognize that being born of the Spirit refers to a spiritual birth.  You can boil down the options like this:

1.  A person has to be baptized to be saved
Being born of water means baptism., being born of the Spirit means spiritual birth.
There are churches who teach that you must be baptized to be saved. 

Some teach that as soon as a person prays to accept Christ, you need to baptism them for them to be saved.

The Catholic church teaches that this is what happens during infant baptism.

Yet without baptizing him, Jesus promised the thief on the cross …

(Luke 23:43 NKJV)  …“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Baptism is very important, but our salvation doesn’t depend on it.

We are commanded to be baptized. Jesus was baptized, an example to follow.

But the truth is our salvation doesn’t depend upon it.

2.  Two births, a physical one and a spiritual one.
Being born of water speaks of the physical birth.

For nine months, while in your mother’s womb, you were swimming in a sack of water. At birth, you were born out of the water.

Being born of the Spirit speaks of the second, spiritual birth.
Keep the context of the passage in mind.

a.  The whole concept of being “born again” requires that there be two births.   You can’t be born again, if you haven’t been born at all.

If Jesus was talking about two births in verse 3, here in verse 5 He is telling us what the two births are.

b.  In the next verse, Jesus speaks of the two kinds of birth:

(John 3:6 NKJV)  "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Keep the Bible as a whole in mind.

We’ve already seen that salvation isn’t by baptism.

:5 he cannot enter the kingdom of God

Literally, “he is not able to enter in…”

Unless a person is born twice, through both births, they will not see heaven.

Is this a crucial piece of information? YES!


Have you been born again?

I have done a few funerals over the years.
A very common thing you hear at a funeral is, “Well he was such a good person, he’s in a better place now”.
The issue of heaven is not about being a better person.
It’s about being born again.
Nicodemus was a good person.  Jesus told him he needed to be born again.

:6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Jesus is contrasting the two births, one of flesh, the other of the Spirit.

Your first birth is of the “flesh”.

The second birth is of the “Spirit”.

The spiritual birth is not something that happens to the outside of you, it’s something that happens to the inside of you.

It’s not what you do to yourself, it’s what the Holy Spirit does for you.


The necessity of the new birth is vividly portrayed in the life of George Whitefield.  At 16 he became deeply convicted of his sin.  He tried everything to become acceptable to God.  He wrote,
“I fasted for 36 hours twice a week.  I prayed formal prayers several time a day and almost starved myself to death during Lent, but only felt more miserable.  Then by God’s grace I met Charles Wesley, who put a book in my hand that showed me from the Scriptures that I must be ‘born again’ or be eternally lost.”
Finally, Whitefield understood that he had to trust in Jesus Christ.  He believed and was both forgiven and changed.  After he became a preacher, he spoke at least a thousand times on the subject, “You must be born again.”


Are you familiar with those Capital One Vikings from the commercials?
In an old TV commercial, a couple is making a purchase in a shopping center. When the clerk tells how much it will cost, the woman says she will pay the bill with her credit card. Suddenly the Vikings begin surging into the store. They run down the store aisles yelling, with weapons drawn, toward the couple making the credit card purchase.  As the barbarians charge past one store clerk at the perfume counter, she sprays perfume on them.  Like that’s going to help.
Finding eternal life requires more than just a little spray of the perfume of religion.  God doesn’t want to cover up the smell; He wants to change you from the inside out.
Craig Brian Larson, Arlington Heights, Illinois

:7 "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'

do not marvelthaumazo – to wonder, wonder at, marvel

Apparently Nicodemus was listening with his mouth hanging open or something.

There’s a part inside of you that was designed to communicate with God.  It is your human “spirit” (John 4:24).

(John 4:24 NKJV)  “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Yet before we meet Christ, our inner “spirit” is considered dead to God (Eph. 2:1).

(Eph 2:1 NLT)  Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins.

And that's why we must receive this new birth, so that our spirit will be alive to commune with God.

:8 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

The Greek words for “wind”, “blows”, and “Spirit” are all related.

windpneuma – spirit, wind

blowspneo – to breathe, to blow

Spiritpneuma – spirit, wind

Jesus is using a play on words to teach about the Holy Spirit in the new birth.

The Holy Spirit moves when and where He wants to.

It has to be a work of the Holy Spirit in being born-again.

It’s not a matter of you deciding to clean yourself up for God.
You have to let the Holy Spirit change you.

John already wrote,

(John 1:12-13 NKJV)  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: {13} who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

The issue is “receiving” Him, believing in Him.

Even with our advanced science, we can’t really tell where the wind is blowing.

When it’s hurricane season, the weathermen will have different ideas where a hurricane will land, but you never know for sure.

Sometimes wind can be gentle, and you hardly know it’s there.

Sometimes wind can be fierce, and you can see what it’s doing.

When a person becomes born again, they are going to be moved by the Spirit, like a hot air balloon.

We won’t always see the ways the Holy Spirit is working, but we can see His tracks.

When the Spirit moves, we should be moving too.


Hot Air Balloons
Hot air balloons are dependent upon the wind currents to move.
Whenever the wind moves, they go with it, unless they’re tied to the ground.
Some Christians are like those advertising balloons at the car lots, drawing a lot of attention to themselves, but aren’t really going anywhere.
We need to make sure we don’t have too much ballast, and make sure there aren’t any ropes holding us back.

:9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"

Nicodemus is having a hard time comprehending these things.

How could he, a Pharisee, need to be born again?


Even “good” people need a Savior.

The Bible says that all of us are sinners, needing a savior (Rom. 3:23)
(Rom 3:23 NKJV)  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

:10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?

Jesus is implying that Nicodemus has the equivalent to a PhD in the law of Moses.

:10 Nicodemus ought to know better.

The Old Testament speaks of a day when there would be a New Testament:

(Jer 31:33 NKJV)  "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
This speaks of a change on the inside of a person. 
 {34} "No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

It’s sad that some people with great learning, even religious people are blind to the simple truth of the gospel.


Religiously blind

Nicodemus knows a lot of stuff, but he’s missing something.
Be careful that your relationship with God isn’t simply based on facts that you’ve memorized over the years.
A.T. Robertson said:
The three terrible r's of mere traditionalism:  Rote, Rut, Rot.
When your relationship with God gets to be merely things you’ve memorized and learned by rote (over and over again ...), you’ll find yourself in a spiritual rut, and that means you’ll start to rot!
When you study the Word of God, we need to always ask ourselves the question, "How does this affect ME?"
Or one day someone might say to us, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?”

:11 "Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.

Most assuredly – the Greek here is “amen amen” or, “truly truly”.  This is the third time Jesus uses this phrase.  He’s talking very sincerely, very openly to Nicodemus.

:11 what We have seen

In other words, Jesus knows what He's talking about.  He knows about the things of heaven because He’s lived there.

What greater authority do you want about how to get to heaven than Jesus Himself?


Trust the real authority

Lots of people have ideas about how to get to heaven.
But I want to know what their ideas are based upon?
How do they know it’s true?
How can you trust Buddha when he’s dead and never came back to tell you whether it all really worked?
You can trust Jesus.

:12 "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

:12 heavenly things - Or, “Buddy, if you are having trouble with this, what are you going to do when I get to the really good stuff?”

earthly things

The new birth is something that takes place on earth.

heavenly things

Being born again is just the beginning.

Jesus has a lot to teach us, but you don’t get to second base until you’ve made it to first.

(1 Cor 2:9 NKJV)  …"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."


The Little Boy and his Atheist Uncle

One day a little boy asked his atheist uncle to come see his dog’s brand new litter, describing them as her “atheist” puppies. Naturally the uncle was impressed that his nephew recognized his atheism and would think to refer to the newly born puppies as atheists also. Several weeks later, he received a call from his nephew, once again inviting him to see the puppies, but this time, the little boy described the litter as his dog’s Christian puppies. This perplexed the uncle, but he headed over to his nephews house to see the puppies anyway. Naturally, the uncle was curious by the change and asked his nephew why he now referred to the puppies as Christian puppies when he had originally referred to them as atheist. The wise little nephew was quick to reply, “Uncle, now their eyes are open.”

:13 "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

Enoch and Elijah ascended into heaven, but it wasn’t by their own doing, it was God’s doing.

It’s not what man can do to get to God that counts, but what God has done for man that gets us to heaven.

That’s the big philosophical difference between Christianity and other “religions”.

Christianity is not about how you can ascend the seven steps to nirvana.
It’s all about how Jesus came down to give you a hand.

:14 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

:15 "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

:14 the serpent in the wilderness – Jesus is referring to an incident when the children of Israel were in one of their complaining moods while wandering in the wilderness.  God decided to do something to deal with their constant complaining.

(Num 21:6-9 NKJV)  So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

The serpents were a kind of judgment by God on the people's complaining.

{7} Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. {8} Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." {9} So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

How was a person saved by the judgment of the serpents?
They had to take a simple step of faith and look up to the bronze serpent that Moses had made on the pole.
How reasonable was it to look at the serpent on the pole?
It wasn’t reasonable at all.
To our normal way of thinking, it didn’t make sense at all.

What good is looking at a bronze serpent going to do?  Yet it was faith.

I imagine that it could be a point of pride to some people who would think, “This doesn’t make sense, I know I’ve been bitten by a serpent, but by golly, nobody’s going to make me look up at that pole.”

You don’t make serpents on a pole, you make anti-venom medicine, and hope the victim gets to the doctor in time.

But God’s way worked!

Lesson #1

Complain or trust

Jesus is taking this story and showing how it is a lesson about faith.
The opposite of complaining is faith.
When I complain, I am demonstrating that deep down inside I don’t trust that God knows what He’s doing.
What if God wants me to go down a certain road that is filled with pain or uncertainty?  Am I going to complain?
What if the place of blessing and maturity that God has for me can only be reached by going down this one road?

If I am learning to live a life of faith, I go down the road, even when I don’t like it.

If I don’t trust God, I stop and complain.  I get nowhere.

Lesson #2

Saved by faith

Jesus told Nicodemus earlier that he needed to be born again.
Now Jesus gives Nicodemus another clue.
Being born again requires a spiritual change (born of Spirit)
Being born again requires faith.  He must learn to trust Jesus.
The bronze serpent required a person to look up and trust.
Jesus would also be lifted up, but on a cross.
Salvation comes when we take our eyes off of our mess and look to Jesus.
Charles Spurgeon was a sixteen year old teenager.  He had been raised in a godly family.  His dad was a preacher.  His grandfather was a preacher.  But he wasn’t saved.  He didn’t get it.  On a Sunday morning he went looking for a church.  He had to travel through some heavy snow when he stumbled across a small little church.  The regular pastor didn’t make it that day because of the snow.  There were just a few people there, including the old deacon who got up to give the message.  It was a short message based on:

(Isa 45:22 NKJV)  "Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

And that’s what did it.  Something clicked inside of Charles.  He knew this was what he needed to do.  He looked to and trusted in Christ.

May this be your day.