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Jesus and Nicodemus

John 3:1-21

Introduction (3:1-2)

  • We meet four people in these opening chapters of John’s Gospel. They are John the Baptist, Nathanael, Nicodemus, and the unnamed “woman at the well.”
  • Today we will look at Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus – a man that understood something about religion, but not a lot about real faith.  Let’s take a look.
  • Read John 3:1-2
  • Jesus and Nicodemus at night.  Two questions:
    • Who is this Nicodemus?
    • Why is he coming secretly at night to talk with Jesus?
  • Nicodemus:
    • Nicodemus was a religious AND political leader.  Romans wanted order and taxes; the Jewish leaders took care of everything else.  Something like the mayor and the head priest [???] of the town all in one.
  • Night:
    • (i) It may have been a sign of caution. Nicodemus quite frankly may not have wished to commit himself by coming to Jesus by day. We must not condemn him. The wonder is that with his background, he came to Jesus at all.
    • (ii) But there may be another reason. The rabbis declared that the best time to study the law was at night when a man was undisturbed. Throughout the day Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people all the time. It may well be that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he wanted an absolutely private and completely undisturbed time with Jesus.
  • The text tells us that Nicodemus recognized that there was something to this Jesus, but he wasn’t sure.  For you it may be the same.  I know there is something about this Jesus, but I’m hesitant. 
    • If you are waiting for something 100% I’ll tell you a secret.  You will not find it! 
    • If you think that your religion, or the fact that you baptized as a baby in the church or have some document from the church, will save you, you are mistaken.
    • If you are waiting to be 100% convinced, you will be disappointed.  Why? 
    • We call this faith.  First you believe, and then God begins to reveal Himself to you; not the other way around.
  • Nicodemus wants something sure.  He wants something that he can fully understand.  He knows that there must be something more than the religion he holds on to, but he hesitates.  Because he hesitates, Jesus confronts [???] him.
  • We have a lot of misconceptions about Jesus.  Last week we saw Jesus with a whip.  Here we see Jesus confronting a religious man.  In two weeks we will see Jesus telling a woman about her sins.  We want a Jesus who is nice and non-confrontational, but the scriptures tell us that wherever you hurt He will touch you right there.  Why?  Because as the Great Physician it is the way that you can be healed!
  • Nicodemus is a religious man.  He does all the right things, but he still knows that there must be something more. 
    • We all know that we should do what is right (whether we do it or not), but the real question is “HOW”?  I know that I should live a righteous life, but what does that look like practically?
  • Nicodemus thought he was just going to have a religious conversation with Jesus, but he was wrong.
    • Jesus explains to Nicodemus, and to us, what a real, living faith looks like, how to put it into practice, and what happens to us when we deny God’s offer of a living faith.  Let’s take a look.



What does real faith look like? (3:3-8)

  • Expect Nicodemus to ask a lot of questions and Jesus answer them.  Again, Jesus does not do what we would expect. 
  • “You cannot see the kingdom of God without being born from above/again.
  • Nicodemus wanted to talk about the LAW:
    • THE LAW:  The kind of thing they did was this. To tie a knot on the Sabbath was to work; but a knot had to be defined. “The following are the knots the making of which renders a man guilty; the knot of camel drivers and that of sailors; and as one is guilty by reason of tying them, so also of untying them.” On the other hand knots which could be tied or untied with one hand were quite legal. Further, “a woman may tie up a slit in her shift and the strings of her cap and those of her girdle, the straps of shoes or sandals, of skins of wine and oil.” Now see what happened. Suppose a man wished to let down a bucket into a well to draw water on the Sabbath day. He could not tie a rope to it, for a knot on a rope was illegal on the Sabbath; but he could tie it to a woman’s girdle and let it down, for a knot in a girdle was quite legal. That was the kind of thing which to the scribes and Pharisees was a matter of life and death; that was religion; that to them was pleasing and serving God.
  • Real faith is not about rules and regulation, but about a new birth.
    • When you have a new baby you do not sit down and explain the rules! J  You love the baby and show by example how the baby should act. 
  • Jesus explains this new birth like the wind.  Interesting.  You cannot see the wind, but how many here do not believe that wind exists.  You can’t see the wind, why do you think it exists. 
    • Real faith is not some outward event but and inward one.  What is inside you, the Holy Spirit, comes out in practical ways.  Just like you can see the effects of the wind you can also see the effects of God working in someone’s life.
    • Example, things that you used to worry about all the time, and now you don’t worry about them.  The wind of the New Birth.
    • Example:` Dr. John Hutton used to tell of a workman who had been a drunken reprobate and was converted. His work-mates did their best to make him feel a fool. “Surely,” they said to him, “you can’t believe in miracles and things like that. Surely, for instance, you don’t believe that Jesus turned water into wine.” “I don’t know,” the man answered, “whether he turned water into wine when he was in Palestine, but I do know that in my own house and home he has turned beer into furniture!”
  • I think Nicodemus wanted to investigate Jesus and have a religious conversation.  Jesus would have none of it.  Real faith is meant to be experienced.

How is real faith put into practice? (3:9-16)

  • Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. I don’t think he is stupid, but he is a man that wants to understand things.
    • Religion confines God to a box so we can easily understand Him, but real faith is different.
  • Vs.11 – “we tell you about what we have seen” We are not talking about theology.  This is not theory, but reality. 
  • The first step to real faith is to believe in Jesus – to experience a new birth.  The New Birth must be put into practice. 
    • James – you believe?  So what?  I want to show you my faith with my actions.
  • So, how do we put real faith into practice?
  • Jesus talks about a very interesting example from Numbers 21:4–9
    • Tell the story about the snake on the pole (medical symbol today).
  • Numbers 21:8-9  Those who looked upon the snake were healed. 
    • We know we should do good.  Some even know that they should experience a New Birth.  But what does that look like practically?  How do we live out this new birth?
    • What is the difference between those that want religion and those that want a real faith?
  • Religion wants rules and regulations.  Real Faith requires that we focus only on Jesus – continually.
  • Ask yourself, how much am I focusing on Jesus?  Is Jesus the focus of my life or is Jesus one small part of my life?
  • Numbers 21 – What happened to those who focused on the snake?  They were healed.  Religion brings bondage to Laws, but Real Faith, a New Birth, brings healing.
  • Real faith is put into practice as we focus on Jesus.

What is the alternative to real faith? (3:17-21)

  • So, the choice is laid before Nicodemus?  Religion or real faith, the old life or a new life.
  • In some ways I can almost see Nicodemus adding up the cost in his head.
    • A New Birth means rejecting what he had grown up with and being rejected by those around him.
    • Yet Jesus tells him that the alternative is judgment. 
  • God sent His son, not to judge the world, but to save it.  But the choice is yours. 
  • Vs. 19-20 gives us the answer to the unasked question.  Why do people reject God’s offer of a new life, or real faith?
    • Their actions will be exposed.  Someone may find out that you are not perfect.  FYI we already know that.
    •  I will not go to church because they will judge me, think less of me, no… we already know that you are a sinner… why?... because so are we.
  • Real faith does not allow us to hide… that is why people reject Jesus.
  • Real faith is not about judgment, but the freedom to live as God has created us.


  • Nicodemus is not such a strange figure for us.  He faces many of the same challenges that we do. 
  • Jesus challenges Nicodemus.  When we meet Jesus we must ask the same questions of ourselves as Nicodemus:
    • Am I more worried about what others will think about me than about what God thinks about me?
    • Am I ready to change the way I live?
    • Am I ready to step out in faith and accept this New Birth, even though I don’t totally understand it?
  •  There is a little bit of Nicodemus in all of us.  We hear about Nicodemus a few more times in scripture, but at the end of the story here in John 3 we are not sure how Nicodemus answers Jesus.
  • The important question today is how YOU will answer Jesus? 
  • If you want to experience a New Life and see the Kingdom of God you must be born again.
  • “God so loved the world”  - He has taken the first step.  How about you?

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