By Denise Davis
Let's look at how the Holy Spirit draws us to Himself before we are even saved and how He continues to draw us to Himself after we are saved. This is also the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night and how his heart softens to see that Jesus was indeed the risen Messiah. New birth is a key topic in John 3. In this chapter, we see Jesus in three different roles: the Teacher (John 3:1-21), the Bridegroom (John 3: 22-30), and the Witness (John 3: 31-36). Today we are going to focus on Jesus as the Teacher. Please turn with me to John 3: 1 - 21, "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.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' 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?' Jesus answered, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (and this is spiritual birth). Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." Pastor Steve has taught many times that this is a divine imperative or a command that we MUST be born again to live forever. Back to verse 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." Nicodemus answered and said to Him, 'How can these things be?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. (Jesus says 'We' 3 times and 'Our' one time in this sentence. He is referring to the Trinity). Verse 12, "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
Warren Wiersby writes that, "Not only was Benjamin Franklin a great statesman and inventor, but he was also a great correspondent and received letters from famous people from all over the world. One day he received what could well have been the most important letter ever to come to his desk. It was from the well-known British preacher George Whitefield. 'I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world, as you have made such progress in investigating the mysteries of electricity, I now humbly urge you to give diligent heed to the mystery of new birth. It is a most important and interesting study, and when mastered, will richly repay you for your pains.'" Whitefield was of course speaking of being born-again in his letter to Benjamin Franklin.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews. He was initially attracted to Jesus because he witnessed the miracles He performed. As the "teacher of the Jews", which is the literal translation in John 3:10, Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus and what He taught. He also had great respect for Jesus as the Teacher from Galilee. In John 3:2, it indicates that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Wiersby wrote, "evidence indicates that Nicodemus was deeply sincere in his quest for truth. He came to Jesus by night, not because he was afraid of being seen, but most likely because he wanted to have a quiet, uninterrupted conversation with the new Teacher 'come from God'" Wiersby went on to say, "The fact that Nicodemus used the plural pronoun 'we', and Jesus responded with the plural 'ye' (in John 3:7) may indicate that Nicodemus was representing the religious leaders. He was a man of high moral character, deep religious hunger, and yet profound spiritual blindness."
Jesus used four different illustrations to teach Nicodemus the basics of salvation. He began with birth in verses 1 - 7, then the wind in verses 8 - 13, then the serpent on the pole in verses 14 - 18, and He ended with light and darkness in verses 19 - 21.
In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The word 'see' refers to perceiving the kingdom of god. In verses 5 - 7, Jesus explains being born-again to Nicodemus. These are often the verses we use to share with non-believers and they often have the same difficulty understanding this concept that Nicodemus had. They think only of a physical birth, but Jesus was teaching about a spiritual birth, or being born of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who draws us all to the Lord, but He can only draw a person who has a soft heart, much like Nicodemus.
Wiersby also explains "that just as there are two parents for a physical birth, so are there two 'parents' for spiritual birth. The first is the Spirit of God (in John 3:5) …"Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" and the Word of God (James 1:18), "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures." And (1 Peter 1: 23 - 25), "having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because 'All flesh is as grass, and the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flowers fall away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.' The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and, when the sinner believes, imparts the life of God." What he was saying, is that the Holy Spirit uses God's Word and upon repentance, He gives us the Father, the Son, and Himself.
Believing is the main emphasis of today's scripture (John 3: 14 - 21), because salvation comes through faith. Evidence of our salvation is the witness of the Holy Spirit within, and the Holy Spirit enters our life when we believe.
While physical birth involves life, spiritual birth involves God's life. John uses the word "life" 36 times in his gospel. The exact opposite of life is death, so the person who has not believed in Jesus Christ does not have God's life, which is eternal or abundant life. The only way to gain eternal life is through faith in Jesus. Nicodemus had a soft heart and finally realized Jesus was indeed the Messiah in (John 19: 39 - 40), "Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury."
Jesus also used the wind to teach Nicodemus about the Spirit. In both Greek and Hebrew, wind or breath, is translated as "spirit". In (John 20:22), it says, "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" In (Acts 2:2), it says, "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting." Being born-again is required to see the kingdom of God, but is a bit mysterious to understand just like the wind. Until a person is born-again and receives the Holy Spirit, he or she cannot understand the need for the Spirit or how He works. Much like the wind, the Holy Spirit is invisible but powerful. In (Ezekiel 37: 1 - 14 - I don't have time to read this scripture, but most of you know the story). Ezekiel the prophet saw a valley full of dead bones. The Holy Spirit told him to "Prophecy to these dry bones, and say to them, "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.'" When he prophesied to the wind, the Holy Spirit gave life to the dry bones. Here we see both the Holy Spirit and God's Word being used to bring dry or dead bones to life. It is the same for us before we are believers. Our bones are dead, or we are dead in our trespasses. We all need God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit to truly be alive in Jesus Christ. But, even after being born-again, we still can't see the Holy Spirit at work in us, just like we can't see the wind. We hear the wind, and when listening, we can hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us.
Jesus used the serpent on the pole (verses 14 - 18) to teach Nicodemus about faith. Verse 14 says, "And when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Wiersby points out that the verb "lifted up" has a dual meaning: the first is to be crucified (John 8:28) "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things,"and the second is to be glorified and exalted. He also states that, "In his gospel, John points out that our Lord's crucifixion was actually the means of His glorification (John 12:23), 'But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified." Just as Moses interceded for the people - anyone who was stricken was immediately healed when they looked at the serpent. This was about faith just like believing in Jesus is about faith. Just as the people were saved if they looked at the serpent on the pole, so are we saved if we believe in Jesus as the Messiah and look to Him in faith. Jesus came to this world as our Savior and died for us on the cross. The serpent brought healing to dying Jews, but Jesus gives eternal life to anyone who trusts in Him and believes in faith.
Jesus also used light and darkness to teach Nicodemus, and everyone who reads His Word. Verses 19 - 21 say, "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God." Light and darkness are used in (John 1: 4 - 13) as well, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John, this man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, 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." Why do sinners not want to come to the light? Simply because they love the darkness, or their evil deeds. We all have family members and friends we pray for daily that they would come to the Light, which is Jesus. Many refuse to come to the Light because of pride, selfishness, drugs, and many other sins which they don't want to give up.
Once we walk in the Light and are baptized in the Holy spirit, we still have freedom to make a choice whether we will call upon the Holy Spirit in relationship, or do things on our own. He is our Helper when we call upon Him for help in our lives. But, much like He didn't force us to come to Him in obedience to be saved, He will never force Himself on us even as believers. We have to invite Him into our daily lives and allow Him to work in us and through us. There is nothing we can do apart from Him, so we have to stop trying to do so! We have to come to the end of ourselves and see our need for our Helper. As Pastor Steve teaches so often, all we need to do is ask every morning, before our feet hit the ground, for the Holy Spirit to come in and dwell in our lives so He can do the work He desires in us. The Holy Spirit was working in each of us here today before we became born-again to help us see our need to repent and He is knocking on our hearts to be invited in to work in us every day. But we have a free will and again, He will never force Himself into our lives. We have to ask for His help (Luke 11: 9 - 10) says, "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." We need reciprocity - Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines that as a reciprocal state or relationship; also a mutual action or exchange. This is what He desires of us, to trust Him, believe in Him, and submit to Him in full obedience so He can work in us and through us.
Let me leave you with a few quotes from Catherine Marshall in "The Helper". She said, "the Helper never violates anyone's free will. He, like each person of the trinity, has supreme respect for our personhood. He will never trample upon that or take us any further than we are willing to go. In this regard the Holy Spirit and all powers of darkness stand in complete antithesis (which is opposition). Satan despises our personhood and steadily seeks to suck all freedom of will from us. Satan wants us in slavery to him; the Helper wants our freedom. This is at once an awesome measure both of the value that God places upon the creatures made in His own image and of the humility of Jesus who 'stooped low, made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.'" She also spoke of a night when she was very ill in 1943, when Jesus appeared to her in the night. She had been very discouraged and finally cast herself on the mercy of God. She was awakened at 3:30 A.M. with Jesus standing beside her bed. He gave her a simple directive to "Go, and tell your mother." She said that, " Even in that moment of command, I was acutely aware of Jesus' regard for my personhood and of His hands-off attitude as regards my free will. There was no stampeding, no crowding. The choice to obey or not to obey was clearly mine. That's the way Jesus wanted it to be. Not understanding why He wanted me to tell my mother, I still knew that I must obey anyway. My healing began at that point of blind obedience. In retrospect, I realized that it was not for my mother's sake that Jesus had given me this directive, but for my own sake: I had to bend the will and obey."
As I pray in closing, think about any area in your lives where you may need to bend your will and obey. Is there something you feel the Lord has been prompting you to do, or perhaps you simply haven't been taking the time to seek Him and His will for your life, or are you not trusting Him?