I enjoy jokes about people showing up at the pearly gates, seeking entrance into Heaven and are met by Saint Peter. Like this one:
Three men died and were standing at the pearly gates. “What have you done to deserve Heaven says Saint Peter?” The first man was a police officer who enforced law and fought crime. Peter says, “OK, go on in!” The second man was very wealthy man and gave lots of money to charitable causes. Peter say, “OK, go on in!” The third man was a director of an HMO organization. He had helped save millions of dollars for health care and insurance companies. He had helped cut down on waste, fraud, and abuse in the system. Peter says, “OK come on in, but you can only stay for 3 days!”
While many of these jokes bring a smile to our faces, behind most of them is the false assumption that we must we can earn our way into Heaven. It is shocking to people to hear that they can’t do anything to earn entrance into Heaven. This is exactly the truth that Jesus is sharing with Nicodemus in John chapter 3. It’s not about our works or religion. Salvation and new birth is about Jesus and what he did! That’s the message that Jesus had for Nicodemus… That’s the plan that God has for us. In today’s post Jesus shares with Nicodemus the words that have become known as the “Gospel in a nutshell” John 3:16.
Before we get there Jesus is still explaining to Nicodemus the concept of “New Birth” spiritually.
8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
We see from this dialogue that it is OK to
- Ask Questions In addition to asking questions I must also…
- Be Honest
Many times people that claim to be seeking are just looking for justification to live the way they want. We must be honest. Don’t let anything stand in the way of eternity, not pride, tradition or selfishness.
- Understand My Greatest Need
What each of us needs to understand is the message that Jesus gave to Nicodemus In order to have acceptance with God into his kingdom, there has to be a personal, individual change that takes place. See, Nicodemus greatest need was not for Religion, Tradition, or Position. His need was to be changed. He didn’t need to be taught by the Teacher; he needed to be birthed by the Spirit.
Why do you go to church, read the bible or pray? Do you want to hear some principles from God’s Word that you figure will help you live life a little more peacefully? You can find those. Do you want to make some new friends? You can find that too. Do you want some more business contacts to sell to? Or did you come to Jesus in order to be changed by Him – not cleaned up, not overhauled, not refurbished – but completely and utterly changed. If that’s what your need is, then you’re at the right place. That is your greatest need.
I Need to Respond to Jesus
Start my Spiritual Renewal by responding to Jesus’ invitation. Jesus answered and said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.’’ (verse 3) Jesus answered, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” (verse 5) Twice Jesus answered. Twice the condition given by Jesus was the new birth. Twice the ultimate fulfillment of these conditions was entrance into the kingdom of God. Jesus gave the invitation: “Come on in! He gives the same invitation today to you. Come on in!
Jesus further explains who he is,
13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.
14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
To emphasize his point, Jesus turns to a familiar OT story. He refers to the desert incident when God sent venomous snakes into the Israelite’s camp because they kept complaining and not doing as God asked them to do. The venomous snakes that lived in the region are called. “Palestinian Vipers.” Her’s a picture of one:
As these snakes began to strike the people, the people became sick and some died. they cried out to Moses. Moses prayed and God instructed Moses to make and erect a bronze serpent. And all those who looked up at the serpent were saved. Even so, Jesus would be lifted up on a cross, and those who look to Him will be saved.
Like the Israelites in the desert, we have all been struck down by sin. Sin has sunk its fangs in our spiritual souls and we are dying. The venom has made its way to our hearts and we are dying in our sins.
But God saw us in our sinful hopelessness, and He made a way. He sent a Savior, who was lifted up on the cross. And now the message is clear, “Believe in Him. Believe in Him. Believe in Him!. Look to the cross. There is healing in the cross. There is a Savior. The new birth comes through a Savior.
Our salvation is driven by the love of God based on our need for healing, and restoration.
From here we find the most popular Bible verse of all times.
16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
I read a story about an instant cake mix that was a big flop… The instructions said all you had to do was add water & bake… The company couldn’t understand why it didn’t sell – until their research discovered that the public felt uneasy about a cake mix that required only water… Apparently, people thought it was too easy…
So the company altered the formula & changed the directions to add an egg in addition to the water… The idea worked & sales increased.
That story reminds me of how people react to the plan of salvation or being born again. To them, it sounds too easy & simple to be true. Unlike the cake mix manufacturer, God has not changed His “formula” to make salvation more marketable… The gospel we proclaim has nothing to do with being good enough, its about Jesus and that he was good enough. It’s not about us, its about Jesus. It’s about grace. Grace goes beyond human comprehension. By our nature, we want to merit God’s favor. The shocking revelation of Jesus about the scandal of grace challenges our normal way of thinking.
Here are the Steps to Spiritual Rebirth
Psychologists say that there are three steps to change. First, realize the need to change – what they call dissonance. Second, have a desire to change. Third, commit to changing. Simply put, it is I should change, I want to Change, and I have Changed. It’s a decision we make not a deed we do.
Christianity has talked about those same three steps for generations. The biblical words are Conviction, Repentance, and Rebirth.
- Conviction – “I need to change”
- Repentance – “I am moving away from my old life and towards Christ. My mind is changed!”
- Rebirth/Conversion – “I’m committing myself to Christ. I’m breathing in the new life spiritually that Jesus offers.”
We recognize that these are not steps that we can take by ourselves. The Holy Spirit is involved in each step. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin in our life and our need for him. We repent because of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life and then when we move towards God then he supernaturally gives us new life.
Nicodemus was radically challenged and went away different than he came. This story ends well, eventually; Nicodemus experienced a spiritual renewal of his own. We read of him defending Jesus before the Pharisees as they were plotting against him — earning him a severe rebuke (John 7:50-51). He also shows up after the crucifixion of Jesus and helps Joseph of Arimathea anoint the body of Jesus, wrap it and bury it (John 19:38-40). Both of these acts were done at great personal risk, and possibly got him expelled from the Temple. Something had happened to the heart of Nicodemus. He could have held on to his title as a religious teacher in Israel and resented that Jesus was trying to teach him something, but he humbled himself and experienced a new birth.
I hope you will do the same. We need to see the verses after John 3:16 which are just as important:
17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
The choice is ours, spiritual renewal in Jesus Christ or judgment and spiritual death. Will you chose Christ?