Tag Archives: Spirit

AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE!

“AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE!”
Revelation 22:1-21

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Some time ago, my wife and I were invited to a birthday party. When I received the invitation, I had no idea what the evening would involve. All I knew was the location – a retreat center called Faraway on the Longbranch Peninsula. But the fact that we were going to be with friends made it appealing. So, we said, “Yes!” Then the evening arrived. To our delight, transportation was arranged for us, so that rather than driving ourselves, we were able to relax in the comfort of a friend’s “Caddy.” But there was more! Stepping out of the car, we found ourselves facing one of the most beautiful waterfront mansions we’d ever seen. The evening then began with a tour – delicate antique furniture, embroidered bedspreads from China, precious inlaid tiles in the bathroom. Each room was a masterpiece of interior design. Then dinner was served – one of the most delicious meals we’d had in months. It truly was an evening to remember.

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As I reflected on it, I couldn’t help but compare it to another invitation we have received. On this trip transportation is also provided; we will be surrounded by Christian friends; and we will dine in the most glorious mansion anyone has ever seen. But there will also be some striking differences. This time we won’t have to return home afterwards. For we will be at home forever! This time we can eat all that we want without worrying about our waistlines. And best of all, the Lord Jesus will be our host at this meal! As I reflected upon it, I wondered, how could anyone in their right mind refuse an invitation like this?

The invitation I’m referring to is the one given in this, the final chapter of Revelation. The key word here is “come.” This is not a new word in the Bible. When Noah finished building the ark, God invited him, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, and be safe.” When Israel turned to idols in Isaiah’s day, God urged them, “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” When John baptized Jesus, he said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Andrew and Peter wanted to know more. So, they asked Him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus invited them, “Come and see.”

The Bible is full of invitations to “come.” But the invitation in Revelation 22 is unique. Actually, there are two invitations in this chapter. The first is Christ’s offer to sinners, “Come . . . take the free gift of the water of life.”

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The second is John’s reaction to everything he has seen: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” Isn’t that a wonderful way to end such a serious book? For weeks, we have witnessed many terrible, heartbreaking truths. But now the curse of sin is lifted and “whosoever will” may come and freely enjoy the glory of God’s kingdom. No one need suffer the judgments mentioned in this book. That’s something people bring upon themselves because of their unwillingness to repent and turn to Jesus. Everyone is invited to enjoy the blessings of this offer. So, to help us understand what it involves, John emphasizes three key facts about it.

1. THE BLESSINGS OF THE INVITATION

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young once sang a song about man’s craving to “get back to the Garden.” While we may not recognize it in ourselves, that desire is real! Every philosophical, political, or religious movement is nothing more than man’s feeble attempt to recover what was lost in Genesis 3. But the good news John announces in this last chapter of the Bible is that Paradise Lost will soon be Paradise regained! What we forfeited due to sin, God will restore by His grace. To illustrate that, John describes four blessings we will enjoy in the New Jerusalem.

First, the fullness of God’s Spirit. John says in verse 1, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.” This is a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit who is poured out on everyone who believes in Christ. One reason for this conclusion is the origin of this water. It comes from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Another reason is the promise of Jesus in John 7:37, ”If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me . . . streams of living water will flow from within him.” To what was Jesus referring? John explains, “By this He meant the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” In other words, just as Jesus will be the light of that city, so His Spirit will be our source of physical and spiritual life.

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Second, access to the Tree of Life. Verse 2 continues, “On each side of the river stood the Tree of Life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Someone has said that the history of mankind revolves around three trees – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which brought death upon all of humanity when our first parents broke God’s commandment and ate of its fruit in the Garden. The second tree is the Cross of Calvary on which our Savior died to pay for our sins. The third tree is the Tree of Life that will grow along the River of Life in the center of the city. Those who have read Genesis 3 will remember this tree. For it was from this tree that man was banished. God posted cherubim at the east of the Garden with a flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life, so that man could not eat of its fruit and live forever in his fallen condition.

Consequently, the presence of the Tree of Life in new Jerusalem is one of the strongest testimonies to God’s full forgiveness and our complete salvation from sin. For what was taken away from us because of sin now brings eternal life to everyone who enters this city. Other details about this tree are also interesting. One is its fruit. It bears twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month of the year. That means there will be food in heaven – delicious food, of which we can eat all that we want without any worries of getting fat. In fact, it is in eating this fruit that we gain power to live forever.

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Another detail is its leaves. It says they will be for “the healing of the nations.” What does this mean? Will there be disease in heaven? No, the word can be translated “health.” That is, just as its fruit gives life to all who eat it, so its leaves maintain the health of those already healthy. Finally, look at its abundance. Genesis makes it sounds as if there was only one tree of life in the Garden. But not in New Jerusalem! This tree will flourish throughout the city!

Henry Morris writes, “The tree is not rare but prolific, growing in profusion all over the world. In the New Jerusalem, it grows along the esplanade in the center of the golden streets and lines both banks of the cascading river. Presumably, outside the city, it grows along the shores of all the tributaries of the mighty river, as they spread out around the world. The need to continually partake of its life-giving fruit will be a testimony to the people of the New Earth that our Creator and Savior is Himself the source of life and breath and all things. This knowledge and requirement will never become a burden but will always remain a joy and a delight.”

Third, fulfillment in our work. People wonder, “What will we do in heaven? Sit around and strum our harps forever?” Certainly, music will play a major role in heaven’s worship. But John says we will also be busy doing other things. First, he says we “will serve Him.” What does that mean? Are we going to have to work in heaven? Yes and no. Yes, we will be actively engaged in serving Christ. That’s been our calling from the beginning. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Those who like to garden can appreciate what a pleasure that was, especially without weeds to frustrate their efforts. Thus, it will be on the New Earth! It will involve none of the drudgery involved in today’s work. For what turned man’s work into labor and sorrow was the curse. But Revelation 22:3 promises that there will no longer be a curse. Hal Lindsay says that the service we give to the Lord will be as laborious as a Bride making the bed for her new Groom on their honeymoon.

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Compare it to your hobbies. Most of us have activities we enjoy doing in our spare time – sewing, painting, reading, writing, playing an instrument. These activities are pleasant because there is no pain or stress involved in doing them. So, will it be in heaven! God will let you explore interests you had in this life, but never had the time or money to pursue. Or maybe He will give you brand-new talents you always wished you had and let you cultivate them for His glory.

By the way, this is one reason we can afford to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and forego other things we’d like to do. Personally, I would love to have season tickets to the Seattle Seahawks’ games, a summer cabin at the ocean, a boat to enjoy on the weekends, and every evening free to spend with my family. But, like many of you, I forego those things. Not because they are wrong, but because there isn’t time in this life to do both everything I want and everything I should. Does that make me sad? No, and why not? Because I’m going to live forever and have all of eternity to pursue the things I enjoy. In fact, given that this is the only life in which we can sacrifice ourselves for Christ, wouldn’t it be foolish to try to get everything I want today? Remember –

Only one life, ‘twill soon be passed; Only what’s done for Christ will last!

The second thing we will do is “reign forever and ever.” There’s no indication here over whom we will rule, but I’m convinced that these are more than idle words dropped onto the page. If John says that we will reign with Christ, then there must be someone who needs ruling. 1 Corinthians 6:3 gives us a hint, for there Paul writes, “do you not know that we shall judge angels?” Another writer suggests that there may be intelligent life on other planets that God will reveal in eternity. In his space trilogy, C. S. Lewis imagines Perelandra and Malacandra, two planets with intelligent creatures living on them who have not rebelled against the will of God. But, of course, the definite answer to this, like so many other questions, won’t be answered until we arrive in heaven.

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Finally, the presence of Christ. This will be our greatest joy in heaven. John says “we will see His face.” Theologians call this the Beatific Vision, for there is no sight more beautiful to human eyes than the face of God. You ask, “Is it the face of God the Father or God the Son?” Jesus answered this in John 14:8-9. Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus explained, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Colossians 1:15 reiterates this. Referring to Jesus, it says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” God is Spirit, and therefore invisible. But that won’t detract from your heavenly joy. For in Christ “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)

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Fanny Crosby, the writer of “Blessed Assurance” and many other great hymns, said she didn’t mind being born blind because in heaven, the first thing she would see is the face of Jesus. In fact, in giving her testimony at a conference where Dwight L Moody spoke, she shyly admitted, “There is a hymn I’ve written but never published. I call it my soul’s poem. I repeat it when my heart is troubled, for it brings comfort to me. She then recited it while the audience wept: “Someday the silver cord will break, and I no more as now shall sing; but O, the joy when I awake within the palace of the King and I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story – saved by grace!” At age 95, her wish was granted. She awoke in heaven and the first face she ever saw was the face of Jesus. Imagine her joy!

2. THE CONDITIONS OF THE INVITATION

John continues in verse 6, “Then the angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the profits, sent His angel to show His servants the things that must soon take place. Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.’” First, the angel emphasizes the trustworthiness of this invitation. In fact, he confirms the reliability of the entire Bible by emphasizing that the same God who inspired this book inspired the prophets of old. But, he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to pinpoint two conditions for enjoying the blessings of this book.

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The first is: Keep the words of the prophecy in this book. This means more than keeping a copy of the Bible on your bookshelf or nightstand. It means to stand up for the truth of this book and put it into practice. In fact, to demonstrate how vital our loyalty to this book is, John adds in verses 18-19, (Let the followers of Joseph Smith and other cult leaders beware!), “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the Tree of Life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

This was a common practice of scribes when recording royal decrees. Anyone who added to the King’s words was warned that he would stand before the king in judgment. But this warning label is far more severe. John warns us that our very entrance into God’s kingdom is at stake, determined by what we do with this book. Will we believe it and obey it? Or will we ignore it to our eternal hurt?

The second condition is: Worship Jesus alone. John himself is corrected about this. He confesses in verse 6, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it. I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers, the prophets, and all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” The only acceptable form of worship in heaven is that which is directed toward the Father and the Son. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” He also added in another place. “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father. (John 5:23) John’s experience points out two eternal dangers that are at work today.

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The first is the danger of hero worship. Most leaders are by nature charismatic personalities. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be likely to follow them. But there is a danger in admiring them too much. And that’s what’s happening in Christian circles today. People are so hungry for someone to follow that they develop little fan clubs around their favorite religious artist or Christian speaker. And that’s wrong! Not only does it rob God of the glory that He alone deserves; but we inevitably discover that our idols have feet of clay. I once attended a Bible study where a woman said, “O, I don’t know what I’d do if I ever heard my pastor swear! I think I’d lose my faith!” And I thought, “Then get ready to lose your faith, sister, because I know some things about your pastor you’d never believe.”

The second is the danger of being carried away by emotion. One of my seminary professors used to warn us prospective pastors, “Gentlemen, do not entrust the ministry of the church to artsy people.” I wondered how he could be so harsh. But now I understand his concern. Human emotions are so powerful that unless brought under the control of godly wisdom, they can lead to all sorts of dangerous behavior – worship of angels, visions of giant “Jesuses, as well as unethical and immoral behavior. More than once I’ve heard Christians excuse their immorality by saying, “It feels so right; it can’t be wrong!” But that’s when we need to remember that Satan is an angel of light who can just as easily counterfeit our emotions to deceive us as he can false doctrine.

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3. THE ASSURANCES OF THE INVITATION

Finally, in verses 12 to 19, John moves from blessings and conditions to assurances of Christ’s return and our invitation to heaven.

His first assurance is that it is near. Three times in this chapter, Jesus promises, “I am coming soon!” One example is verse 12 where He promises, “Behold, I am coming soon. My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the Tree of Life, and may go through the gates into the city.”

This confuses people. “After all,” they think, “it’s been 2000 years since Jesus made this promise. If He was coming soon, why hasn’t He arrived yet?” The answer is found in the meaning of the word “soon.” The word means “suddenly.” Jesus wasn’t promising that He’d come immediately. He was warning us that when He does come, it will be suddenly and without warning. It is what Paul meant when he said that the Day of the Lord will come without warning “like a thief in the night.” In other words, when the things predicted by this book begin to happen, they will happen rapidly, leaving no time to repent. So, repent now!

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That also helps to explain Jesus’ statement in verse 11: “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” Jesus isn’t advising people to continue in sin and be lost. The Bible says He is not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. The point here is that when He returns, there won’t be any time for repentance. Those who have chosen to be holy will continue to be holy forever, whereas those who refuse His invitation will be lost forever. So, again, the time to repent is now, not then!

My next-door neighbor told me about an experience he had. He was helping his friend repair his roof when suddenly a piece of lumber knocked him off balance and sent him crashing to the ground. The fall fractured his collar-bone and nearly broke his neck. I asked him, “What did you learn from the accident?” He said. “I learned one thing for sure. I’ve always heard that a person’s life flashes before their eyes at a moment like that. But that isn’t true! I didn’t have time to think about anything. If I hadn’t known the Lord, I could have died and been lost forever! I realized that the time to make your peace with God is now!”

His second assurance is that it is free. Verse 16 says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star.” And then He adds in verse 17, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let them take the free gift of the water of life.” In other words, there is absolutely nothing you and I can do to earn our way to heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Titus 3:5 adds, “Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us.”

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In fact, notice how the Bible ends in verse 21. John says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” That’s very different from how the Old Testament ends. There Malachi warns that Elijah is coming and will “strike the earth with the curse” unless his readers repent. The Old Testament speaks of law and judgment, but here we read of grace. Why? Because it’s only through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that anyone can be saved. Salvation is a free gift of God that can only be received humbly by faith.

Yet, even though salvation comes freely to us, it came at a high price to God who gave the life of His Son to purchase our salvation. Furthermore, there is often great soul-searching and spiritual wrestling before a genuine commitment to Christ is made. Some Christians give people the impression that all they have to do is bow their heads, say a quick prayer, and “presto- chango,” you’re on your way to heaven. But that is not true. Verse 17 says it is those who are “thirsty” who may freely drink of the water of life. That means there must be a genuine recognition of our need for Christ and a sincere hunger for the salvation He can give us, in order for the change to be real. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus said, “for they shall be filled.”

By the way, be sure to notice from whom the invitation comes. John writes, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” That’s a reminder of our partnership with God in the work of evangelism. The Spirit is God, and He faithfully does His part by convicting the people of sin and drawing them to Christ. But we, the Bride of Christ, also have a part to play in the salvation of others. We are to be witnesses to Christ and invite others to believe in Jesus as often as we can.

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Or put another way, William Carey’s pastor was wrong! When the great missionary suggested taking the Gospel to India, he was abruptly told, “Sit down young man. If God chooses to convert the heathen, He will do it without the help of you or me.” But that’s bad theology! Here God reminds us that if someone gets into heaven, it will be because we’ve invited them. We are tools of the Holy Spirit, and our words, if they are God’s Words, have great power over people. Therefore, whatever the Holy Spirit accomplishes, He will accomplish through us. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” Therefore, prayerfully look for someone who needs that invitation and extend it to them today.
Remember, there are only two things that you can take to heaven with you: 1) Your Christ-like character developed over a lifetime; and 2) Another person with whom you have shared the Gospel and invited to heaven.

(To download this written message and its discussion questions, click here.)

 

THE ORIGINAL “NICK AT NIGHT”

1Have you ever stopped to consider the things that God cannot do? Let me suggest a few. The first thing He can’t do is lie. Number 23:19 explains: “God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” God cannot lie, for that would be a violation of His own holy character.

That’s why many of the questions posed by skeptics are often just plain silly, like this. Have you ever come across this one? They ask, “If your God is all-powerful and able to do anything, then let’s see Him create a rock that is too big for Him to lift!” But then that’s  just double talk, for what they’re trying to do is to pit God’s creative power against His power to do miracles, asking Him to violate His own Almighty character, something He said He will not and cannot ever do. God cannot lie, nor will He ever contradict His own holy character.

One more question while I’m at it! Are there are sins God can’t forgive? Only one! Am I right? And that’s rejecting Jesus as Lord, for other than that one unpardonable sin, He died for every sin and blasphemy we have committed or ever will commit, which means if you worship Jesus as Lord, your every sin has been forgiven—past, present, and future! But “unless you believe that I AM,” Jesus warned, “you will die in your sins.” For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your and my Only Savior and Hope of Salvation! But except for these few things, Jesus said, “Nothing shall be impossible for God!”

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Now let’s talk about ourselves. Is there anything we can’t do if we put our minds to it? “Absolutely not!” the New Agers, the humanists, and the followers of the cults will tell you. “You can do anything if you just learn to believe in yourself!” Fools! The list of what we can’t do is absolutely endless. But the one that tops the list is the one before us tonight—the impossibility of being born again!

Let me remind you, as we get started, where we left off last week. We were in Jerusalem following the Passover where Jesus performed a countless number of miracles for over a year, proving that He’s God with hundreds of people coming up to Him and saying, “I believe in you, Jesus, I believe you’re the Messiah!” We saw that in John 2:23 – “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many were believing (The word is pisteuo meaning to believe in someone.) in His name when they saw the signs He was doing.   But verse 24 adds, “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them.” (That’s the same word pisteuo.) In other words, they were believing in Jesus, but He wasn’t believing in them! Why not? John says, “He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” And what He knows us isn’t good! For as the Bible says about us in many places, “In me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing.” The only good thing about you, if your faith is genuine, is that Jesus now lives in your heart and has changed your fundamental nature.

That brings us to chapter 3 where we meet a man from Jerusalem who has seen the miracles of Jesus and concluded, “This is a man sent by God!” By the way, do you think that’s a coincidence, that John immediately introduces us to someone who pictures what he’s just told us at the end of chapter 2? Of course not! John is a fisherman, and if anyone knows how to tell a story, it’s a fisherman. Except in this case, it’s true and inspired by the Holy Spirit who, Jesus said, is the Spirit of truth, which means whatever you find in this Book, you can trust. Unfortunately for this man, he isn’t a true believer because, he doesn’t yet have the right kind of belief. That’s something John warns us again and again in this book, that there is a belief which is not a belief because it’s a belief that’s superficial, self-serving, and stubbornly refuses to give Jesus the glory He deserves as God the Son.

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Open your Bible with me, then, to John chapter 3 where we’re going to meet “The Original Nick at Night,” and therein discover both what it means and why it’s imperative to be “born from above.” My outline for our study has 3 parts: the Sinner’s Crisis, the Savior’s Counsel, and the Spirit’s Conversion.

(To listen to or download the audio version of this message, click on Audio Message. And if it would be helpful to a friend to hear it, please pass it on!)

1. The Sinner’s Crisis

John 3:1 says, “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.’” By the way, did you know that no one ever doubted Jesus’ power to do miracles? His enemies certainly didn’t. Instead, what did they say the reason was that He could do miracles, so they wouldn’t have to bow to His Lordship? They said His power to do miracles came from the devil, thereby blaspheming the Holy Spirit and committing the one sin that can’t be forgiven – the sin of rejecting the Lordship of Jesus. In fact, it’s only twenty centuries later that skeptics and liberals are so wise in their own eyes that they set aside the testimony of eyewitnesses, comforting themselves with the thought that “those ancient people weren’t smart enough to know what I know today!”

But who was Nicodemus? He had a Greek name as many of the Jews did at that time. Nico means conquer and Demus means people. So put it together, and what do you get? Nicodemus, “victor over the people.” Now don’t read too much into that. It was just a name. Nor should you read a lot into the fact that he came to Jesus by night. I don’t think, as some preachers suggest, that “night” is a metaphor for the darkness of his soul. He just hadn’t made up his mind about Jesus yet and was being careful because he knew the Pharisees were opposed to Him. Instead, what we need to understand about him are these three facts:

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1) He himself was a Pharisee. The word means “separated one.” These were the ultra-conservative, Bible believers of Israel who interpreted the Bible literally. They believed in angels, devils, miracles, the six days of creation, heaven, hell – all of which made Nicodemus anxious because he knew he wasn’t ready to stand before God in judgment. They were also conservative in lifestyle. You know the ultra-orthodox, Hasidic branch of Judaism? These were its founders, and they were absolutely rabid about keeping the Law, not only priding themselves in the fact that they kept all 613 commandments of the Old Testament (Remember the rich young ruler? “All these things I have kept from my youth!”), but they had also come up with over a thousand laws or mitzvot of their own, just to make sure they never came close to crossing over the line.

For example, one thing a Pharisees would never do, or let his wife do, was look in a mirror on the Sabbath. Why not? Because she might find a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it, which was considered working on the Sabbath! On the other hand, a Pharisee could eat an egg laid on the Sabbath, but only if he killed the hen that laid it for working on the Sabbath. That’s how ridiculous it got. And all for nothing! Because as holy as they thought they were and seemed to be on the surface (We’re good at fooling ourselves and others, aren’t we?), Jesus called them whitewashed tombs who looked beautiful on the outside, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones and every kind of uncleanness.

By the way, based on everything that’s said about the Pharisees in the Gospels, you might think they were a large group. Not so! There were only 6,000 of them in all Israel at the time. But then it doesn’t take a large group to change the world for good or for ill, does it, just a highly dedicated group? That’s what they were! The Pharisees believed if they could get the entire nation to keep the Law for one day, the Kingdom would come. “But now, with this carpenter from Galilee defying our laws and challenging our authority, the Kingdom will never come!” No wonder they were of all Jesus’ enemies the most rabid. They hated Him so much that only one Pharisee in the Bible, other than Nicodemus, ever came to Him. You know who that was? The Apostle Paul who would have never bowed to the Lordship of Jesus if He hadn’t been struck him blind on the Damascus road! Later he said this of his life as a Pharisee. Philippians 3:6, “I was a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless! But whatever things were gain to me…I now count as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”

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2) He was a ruler of the Jews, meaning he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council made up of its 70 most powerful leaders, plus the high priest, and comprising what was in essence the Congress and Supreme Court of Israel—which means Nicodemus was a very powerful man. Church tradition says he was also one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem at the time.

3) He was, according to verse 10, not just a teacher, but “the teacher of Israel.” Jesus uses the definite article indicating that of all the rabbis in Israel at the time, Nicodemus was the best and brightest of them. As such, he would have been like a walking Bible dictionary, able to quote the entire Old Testament by memory. That means when talking to him, all Jesus had to do was mention a topic and every verse on that subject would have immediately come to his mind.

But above all things, he was a lost and desperate soul. After all, what do you do when you’ve spent your whole life scaling the ladder of self-righteousness and reached the pinnacle of your religion only to discover that it’s all been in vain? The only thing left to do is to turn to Jesus! So that’s what he did. He comes to Jesus lost, fearful, and wondering how to be saved. That’s the sinner’s crisis. Now look with me at the Savior’s counsel for sinners like you and me.

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2. The Savior’s Counsel

Nicodemus says to Jesus, “Rabbi” meaning “teacher.” That was something Nicodemus was called every day of his life, for of all the teachers in Israel, he was the most respected. But now his soul is in trouble and he’s desperate for help! So he turns to a Teacher who surpasses him in every way saying, “Rabbi, we know that You’re a teacher from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” How does Jesus answer? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Sounds like a non sequitur, doesn’t it? In other words, how did what you said have anything to do with what I said? Ever had a conversation like that with somebody? But that isn’t how Nicodemus takes it. He realizes that what Jesus has just done is read his mind. He knows his guilt and his fears, and He knows yours too!

Nicodemus has heard Jesus preach several times by now. So he’s aware how superficial his righteousness is. That’s something every hypocrite knows in his heart. He knows he’s a hypocrite. And the Pharisees were hypocrites—every one of them! How can I say that? Because that’s what Jesus said 5 times in Matthew 23 alone: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Then He adds, “You travel over land and sea to make one convert, and when you finally win him, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves!” Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a hypocrite, and a son of hell! And he was well aware of it!

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So what does Jesus do? He ignores the compliment and goes straight to the heart of his problem. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” That means He’s about to correct a false teaching Nicodemus was guilty of. What false teaching was that? The false teaching of apostate Judaism that you can earn God’s favor by your good works and self-righteousness! Jesus corrects that saying to him not once, but 5 times in 8 verses, “You must be born again!” Jimmy Carter made that a household term when he ran for president and claimed to be a born again Christian. Since then it has been misapplied to everything from born-again athletic careers to second-hand books and used cars. So here’s a suggestion when talking to someone about your faith. Use the second, not the first meaning, of the word. What do I mean? The word anothen can actually be translated two different ways—“born again” or “born from above.” And the second meaning is what Jesus is really saying – without receiving new life from above, you’ll never see the Kingdom of God.

The analogy of birth is also the best way to explain salvation to someone like Nicodemus who is self-righteous. Because just as an unborn baby is helpless to contribute anything to his own birth, in the same way you and I are helpless to contribute anything to our salvation. Religion is useless, no matter what group you belong to or how sincere you are, because everything you do is corrupted by your sinful nature. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag.” Consequently, what you need if we want to enter God’s Kingdom is the new life which only Jesus can give you. Remember what John said in John 1:12? “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” So don’t waste your time looking for any books telling you how to be born again. Sometimes you’ll hear that. Here are four steps to being born again. But that contradicts the very thing Jesus is teaching us here. His point is that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself, except to throw yourself on His mercy and ask Him to give you new life, and He will.

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Nicodemus gets that better than most Bible-believing Christians. He knows he’s helpless to save himself. But still, like most of us, he’s thinking, “If I understood all of this just a little bit better, it’d be so much easier to believe.” You can see that in verse 9 where he wonders, “How can these things be?” But that’s not how it works. Understanding doesn’t come before believing. On the contrary, there are many things about Jesus you’ll never understand until you believe in Him. So Jesus corrects him again, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” You see in his case, his lack of understanding was due to his lack of belief, not a lack of information! After all, this was the teacher of Israel who had the entire Old Testament hidden in his heart! Read on and you’ll see that yourself. Jesus continues, “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. (Remember receiving is another word for believing!) If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, (Unbelief was his problem!) how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” His problem is he’s an unbeliever – his mind blinded by the devil, his will enslaved to sin, and his affections corrupted by the world. So he’s going to need help if he’s to believe.

That’s the point of verse 4. “How can a man be born when he’s old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Nicodemus isn’t dumb. Nor is he challenging Jesus at this point. Then what’s he doing? He’s asking for a clue, which Jesus graciously proceeds to give him. We’ve seen the sinner’s crisis and the Savior’s counsel. Now notice the Spirit’s conversion.

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3.  The Spirit’s Conversion

The first clue Jesus gives him is in verse 5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into 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 be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Spirit, of course, refers to the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to “born of water”? Some say it refers to baptism. But how can that be true? Baptism does not save us. Baptism is a testimony that we’ve already been born from above. Others say it refers to the waters of birth. But that can’t be right either. First century Jews weren’t yet aware of the role amniotic fluid plays in the birth of a child. Nor did Nicodemus have to be told that you have to be born the first time before he could be born the second time.

So what was Jesus referring to? Remember Nicodemus was an Old Testament scholar whose mind would have immediately tracked with Jesus, taking him to passages like Ezekiel 36 where God promised His people, “I will…sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness…and I will give you a new heart and…put my Spirit within you and make you walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.” Jesus was talking about the New Covenant that was about to come true in His blood, a promise that Nicodemus had known since he was a boy. But like all the religious leaders of Israel, he was an apostate Jew who, because he hadn’t experienced the miracle of new life himself, had given up on God’s promise. And once you do that, what do you next? You reject what the Bible says about sin and that we aren’t all “good kids” with good hearts. The fact is there’s not one good person among us. Because if you admit that, that we all deserve eternal punishment in hell, how do you cope with the fear? Answer: You ask God for the gift of faith to believe His promises of new life and forgiveness!

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The second clue is in verse 8. Jesus continues, “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.” Ever done that? Stood outside surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and heard His wind roaring through the trees? I did that the other night. I was outside watering the flowers when I suddenly heard and felt a cool summer’s breeze blowing past me. And I thought, “What a perfect way to describe the power and refreshment of the Holy Spirit!” I didn’t know where it came from or where it was going. Nor could I control it! Ever tried to get the wind to blow when you want to fly a kite? But I felt the results of it! And you can see the results when the Holy Spirit touches someone’s life, for what happens? Just as the dead man heard Jesus shout, “Lazarus, come forth!” I heard a voice – not audibly, but just as real – saying, “Gary, believe!” And for the first time I believed in Jesus, and my spirit, which had been dead for so long, came to life, and I’ve been following Him ever since.

But what about Nicodemus? Was he ever born from above? John doesn’t say. He fades from the scene in verse 21, and we don’t hear from him again until chapter 7 where his colleagues on the Council decide that Jesus has to go. So he takes issue with them on a point of Law. John 7:50—“Nicodemus, who had gone to Him before and was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what He does?’” So he hasn’t taken a public stand for Him yet, but I’m feeling better about him. Aren’t you?

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And the last we hear of him is John 19:38 following the crucifixion. He and a rich friend by the name of Joseph of Arimathea summon up the courage to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus, so they can prepare it for burial and lay it in a new tomb that belongs to Joseph. And now I’m starting to love this guy because of his love and loyalty to Jesus! But that’s all the Bible says about him.

Thankfully, church tradition fills in the rest of the details. It reports, for example, that Nicodemus was the only person who stood up for Jesus at His trial, that he was baptized after the Resurrection by Peter and John, and that his preaching of Christ was so powerful that the Sanhedrin he served removed him from his position as teacher, confiscated his property, and banished him from Israel subjecting his wife and children to abject poverty. His daughter was so poor it’s said she had to dig through the dung piles to find a few pieces of grain to eat. A rabbi saw her doing so and took pity on her. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am the daughter of Nicodemus.” “Whatever happened to him?” he asked. “He became a follower of Jesus and was banished from Israel.” So the rabbi refused to help her. And as for Nicodemus himself, he became one of the first martyrs of the church, beaten to death by a mob for preaching in the name of Jesus.

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That’s the story of Nick at night. He had everything and then gave up everything to gain what the world can never take away. So even though John doesn’t give us the details, we have our answer: His sins were washed away and he was given new life from above. For so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

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