God welcomes our questions!
Introduction: God has never turned away the questions of a sincere searcher. Max L. Lucado (1955– ) KEY BIBLE VERSE: John's two disciples found Jesus and said to him, "John the Baptist sent us to ask, 'Are you the Messiah we've been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?' " (Luke 7:20)
God welcomes our questions. Luke 7:21-23 (NRSV) 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind.
22 And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
John was confused because the reports he received about Jesus were unexpected and incomplete. John's doubts were natural, and Jesus didn't rebuke him for them. Instead, Jesus responded in a way that John would understand: Jesus explained that he had accomplished what the Messiah was supposed to accomplish. God can handle our doubts, and he welcomes our questions.
Do you have questions about Jesus?—about who he is or what he expects of you? Admit them to yourself and to God, and begin looking for answers. Only as you face your doubts honestly can you begin to resolve them.
Point 1: There are those who say that you can not question God.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council (called the Sanhedrin). The Pharisees were a group of religious leaders whom Jesus and John the Baptist often criticized for being hypocrites (see Matthew 3:7 for more on the Pharisees). Most Pharisees were intensely jealous of Jesus because he undermined their authority and challenged their views. But Nicodemus was searching, and he believed that Jesus had some answers.
A learned teacher himself, he came to Jesus to be taught. No matter how intelligent and well educated you are, you must come to Jesus with an open mind and heart so he can teach you the truth about God.
Nicodemus came to Jesus personally, although he could have sent one of his assistants. He wanted to examine Jesus for himself to separate fact from rumor. Perhaps Nicodemus was afraid of what his peers, the Pharisees, would say about his visit, so our Bible tells us that he came after dark.
Like Nicodemus, we must examine Jesus for ourselves — others cannot do it for us. .
Starting to read in the 3rd chapter of John. . . . Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."
Nicodemus came in behalf of the religionists. He said, "We know." Some of the religionists wondered if Jesus was the true Messiah, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah and performing the spectacular works that were prophesied of the Messiah; therefore, He was the talk of everyone throughout the nation. The rulers were questioning and wondering: Is He really the Messiah? (See note—§ Matthew 21:8-9; note—§ Matthew 21:23.) This was the question, the thing that Nicodemus felt compelled to find out. His curiosity overruled his concerns, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. He apparently did this because he feared the other leaders who opposed Jesus.
Study his words. . . . He acknowledged Jesus only as a teacher from God. He and others saw the miracles Jesus did, and they knew something: only a man from God could do such miracles.
In essence, Nicodemus was asking, "Who are you? The miracles show that God is with you, but you are claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Are you—truthfully—in all honesty?"
Note that Jesus did not answer Nicodemus directly. He saw into the empty, searching heart of Nicodemus and saw the honesty of his question. So Jesus went right to the heart of the matter. Miracles and signs were not what was important. What was important was for Nicodemus to be changed: changed spiritually, changed within, and changed completely—to undergo such a spiritual change that it could only be described as being born again.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." 3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
Point 2: At first Nicodemus had difficulty understanding Jesus' figurative, illustrative, teaching concerning the new birth (John 3:3-10), but he did not dismiss the teaching. He did not understand it but he did not dismiss it.
People should not stumble at or reject the importance of Jesus’ words. They must be born from above. The necessity is absolute and is universally binding.
If you do an original language study, this verse contains a wordplay which cannot be adequately expressed in English. The Greek word pneuma means both wind and Spirit. The work of the Spirit (pneuma) is invisible and mysterious like the blowing of the wind (pneuma). Man can not control it.
Nicodemus asked . . . how this spiritual transformation takes place. Jesus answered that Nicodemus, as the teacher of Israel (the Gr. has the article “the”), ought to know. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the new Age with its working of the Spirit (Isa. 32:15; Ezek. 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-29). The nation’s outstanding teacher ought to understand how God by His sovereign grace can give someone a new heart (1 Sam. 10:6; Jer. 31:33).
Nicodemus was a learned, educated man who was respected as an educator, he asked something of Jesus but he did understand the answer. Nicodemus was ignorant of the realm of which Jesus spoke. He represented the nation’s unbelief and lack of knowledge. Jesus, like the prophets, spoke to the nation about divine themes but the people of the day rejected His witness. “Witness” (or testimony; martyrian) is a common word in John’s Gospel.
What did Nicodemus know about the kingdom? From the Bible he knew it would be ruled by God, it would be restored on earth, and it would incorporate God's people.
Jesus revealed to this devout Pharisee that the kingdom would come to the whole world (John 3:16), not just the Jews, and that Nicodemus wouldn't be a part of it unless he was personally born again (John 3:5).
This was a revolutionary concept: the kingdom is personal, not national or ethnic, and its entrance requirements are repentance and spiritual rebirth.
Point 3: Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." 3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
Pentecost had not happened yet so Nicodemus could not have known about the Holy Spirit. . . Imagine what he thought of Jesus answer. 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
In his answer Jesus said that you must be Born from above: there has to be a regeneration.
Regeneration is a Special act of God in which the recipient is passive while the things of God work to bring about the changes necessary for eternal life! God alone awakens the person spiritually through the power of His Holy Spirit. Both the OT and NT also speak of the renewing of the individual. In a technical sense the act of regeneration takes place at the moment of conversion as the individual is spiritually awakened.
The term “regeneration” is the Greek word palingenesia (used only in Matt. 19:28 of creation and Titus 3:5). “He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (HCSB). The Bible expresses the concept in numerous places with other terms like born again, renewed, remade, and born of God.
In John 3:3-8 Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to enter the kingdom of God, he must be born again. This thought is echoed in 1 Pet. 1:23, “Since you have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God.” The Bible clearly teaches that man must undergo a spiritual re-creation in order to have a relationship with God or enter His kingdom.
Paul provides further explanation in Eph. 2:1: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Clearly Paul does not mean physical death but instead is referring to man’s spiritual state. Sin has left man dead spiritually, unable to respond to God. However, regeneration reawakens or resurrects man’s spiritual capacity so that he can have relationship with God. Regeneration gives man the ability to commune with God, thus making man “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
So many places in scripture, speak to this same subject. For example, God told Israel in Ezek. 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (NASB).
This need for a new heart was expressed by the psalmist: “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10 HCSB). Jeremiah 31:31-34 also speaks of God establishing a new covenant where His law will be written on men’s hearts. These verses clearly speak of a change in man’s heart resulting in an improved response to God and His will, which is reflective of the NT concept of regeneration.
Several denominational church traditions, for far too long, have associated the regenerative act with baptism. However, the Bible clearly teaches that baptism is a testimony that regeneration has taken place and not a means to attain it. The Bible is clear that regeneration is brought about by the Holy Spirit alone (Titus 3:5; 1 Cor. 2:6-16).
Regeneration is the catalyst that allows the Christian to interact with his creator. It is the beginning step of an eternal walk with God. Regeneration allows the individual to have a relationship with God and thus stands at the beginning of the Christian life.
The regenerated person is a new person (2 Cor 5:17; 1 Peter 2:2; cf. Gal 6:15). He has a new life inwardly, characterized by a renewed mind that governs all his thinking and attitudes (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23-24; cf. Ezek 36:26-27; Jer 31:33). He also has a new life outwardly, characterized by loving behaviour towards others, hatred of sin and victory over the world's temptations (Col 3:10,12-13; 1 John 2:29; 4:7; 5:4,18; cf. 1 Cor 5:7-8).
Point 4: When you go to Jesus with a question, even if you do not understand the answer it still contains some thing, that is going to make you and your situation better.
A genuinely changed life makes people curious about the gospel. The Samaritan woman immediately shared her experience with others. Despite her reputation, many accepted her invitation and came out to meet Jesus. Perhaps there are sins in our past of which we're ashamed. But Christ changes us. As people see these changes, they become curious. Use these opportunities to introduce them to Christ.
Curiosity is sometimes the first step that leads us to God.
Point 5: When we go to Jesus with a question, even if we do not understand his answer. . .that answer awakens something within us. Nicodemus did not understand the answer but that answer opened up something on the inside of him that opened up the Conditions of Receiving the Spirit: Jesus spoke and Nicodemus began to
1. Thirst (John 7:37). This means the ardent, eager, famishing, keen, and all-consuming craving and passion of the soul for complete union with God and the fullness of the Spirit (Psalm 42:2; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 143:6; Isaiah 41:17; Isaiah 44:3).
2. Jesus spoke and Nicodemus began to feel an invitation - Come unto Me (John 7:37). This means the complete surrender of the life to do the whole will of God as light is received (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 John 1:7).
3. Jesus spoke and Nicodemus knew that an empty place within him, began to Drink (John 7:37). This means the whole-hearted reception into one's life of the gifts, the fruit, and operations of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-13; Galatians 5:22-23; Rev. 22:17).
4. Jesus spoke and Nicodemus began to believe; Believe on Me as the Scripture hath said (John 7:38). This means to believe in and obey to the letter the whole gospel program (John 14:12-15; Matthew 28:20; Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8; Acts 5:32).
Out of the believer will flow unlimited power to do the works of Christ (John 14:12).
Conclusion: “The Bible, as a revelation from God, was not designed to give us all the information we might desire, nor to solve all the questions about which the human soul is perplexed, but to impart enough to be a safeguard to the haven of eternal rest.” —Albert Barnes
Receiving salvation is simple, direct, personal, and public.
God specializes in finding and changing people we consider out of reach. It took awhile for Nicodemus to come out of the dark, but God was patient with this "undercover" believer.
Afraid of being discovered, Nicodemus made an appointment to see Jesus at night.
Daylight conversations between Pharisees and Jesus tended to be antagonistic, but Nicodemus really wanted to learn. He probably got a lot more than he expected – he received a challenge to a new life!
We know very little about Nicodemus, but we know that he left that evening's encounter a changed man. He came away with a whole new under- standing of both God and himself.
Nicodemus next appears as part of the Jewish council. As the group discussed ways to eliminate Jesus, Nicodemus raised the question of justice. Although his objection was overruled, he had spoken up. He had begun to change. . He was silent at the trial of Jesus, saying nothing to defend Jesus, but he boldly stepped forth after the Lord's death and publicly helped in the burial of Jesus (John 19:39-42).
Our last picture of Nicodemus shows him joining Joseph of Arimathea in asking for Jesus' body to provide for its burial. Realizing what he was risking, Nicodemus was making a bold move. He was continuing to grow.
God looks for steady growth, not instant perfection. How well does your present level of spiritual growth match up with how long you have known Jesus?
In Love Is a Spendthrift, Paul Scherer writes:
“On Calvary, men had their fling at saying ‘No' to God. But ‘very early in the morning, the first day of the week,’ it was God's turn.
He said his ‘No' to the judgment hall where Pilate had condemned Jesus, to the hill where the soldiers had crucified him, to the grave where Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had helped to lay him, to the seal that had shut him in, and to the guard that had stood watch.
“How much is left within us to which he must still say no too?” Have you experienced the blessings of regeneration?