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John 3:1-16

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
August 11, 2019

As we have the opportunity to come together before God and His word, if you are able, would you please stand and read with me John 3:16.  Which is the bottom line of where we’re going this morning.


“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 


(cartoon)   “Why are you driving so slow?!  Have you no stress in your life?!!”  Ever feel like that?  Ask anyone that’s ridden with me.  That’s me driving.


Does it not seem like most people these days are simply just trying to do life - just hanging in and hanging on?  And that what’s going on around us - locally and globally - all that can be just a tad deeply concerning if not plain down right frightening?  And sometimes, just what’s going inside of us can be deeply concerning enough?  Just saying.


And… in the midst of that, every one of us has some expectation of God.


Just ask people in Merced, what or Who God is or if there even is a God and what that means to them - and there are almost as many answers to those questions as there are people out there.


One way or another - even for those who deny that there is a God - which is its own expectation - one way or another people frame their understandings and expectations of God - based on what they see as what they need God to do for them or see God able to do for them - as we all are hanging in and hanging on.


Which is understandable.  But limits what God actually does desire to do in our lives - limits that to Who we say God is and what we say God does.


John 3:16 is part of a conversation that takes place between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus.  Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus with a problem.  Religiously speaking, he’s trying to fit a square peg into a round hole - and that’s not going very well for him.


Sometimes we think we’ve got life pretty much figured out - maybe even God - and then stuff happens and messes with how we’re thinking about things?  That’s pretty much life.  Isn’t it?


That’s where Nicodemus is coming from.  How he’s been thinking about life and God doesn’t fit to what he’s experiencing with Jesus and he’s trying to process how to deal with all that.


The give and take of that conversation - Nicodemus and Jesus - is what leads to verse 16.  Conversation that’s helpful for us to process for ourselves.


Backing up - that conversation begins in verse 1:  Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.


Nicodemus is a Pharisee.  Which tells us that Nicodemus - like the other Pharisees - he was deeply committed to doing what God required - living rightly before God.  And he was passionate about seeing others live with that same level of commitment to God.  Which is probably true of many of us here this morning.


And Nicodemus is a “ruler of the Jews.”  Which meant that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin.  Which was like a combination of our congress and supreme court - and which had authority over the religious affairs of Israel.  They were the gatekeepers of things religious in Israel.


So Nicodemus is a gatekeeper who is sincere in seeking after God.


Verse 2:  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.” 


Why did Nicodemus comes at night?  We don’t know.


Possibly because he had a reputation to maintain in the community and being seen talking with Jesus might have messed with that. 


But he did come.  “By night” means this is private.  Nicodemus is seeking after Jesus - not to trap Him or to argue with Him - but because Nicodemus is legit seeking answers to what he’s trying to process about life and God.


Nicodemus addresses Jesus by the title of Rabbi.  Which is respectful.  And also introduces us to what Nicodemus is struggling with.

To be a rabbi - a respected religious teacher - to be a rabbi back then - meant a long process of education that began at age 5 - that ended at age 30 - that included 15 intense years of being discipled by a rabbi.  The highest final stamp of approval on all that came from the religious gatekeepers of the Sanhedrin.


Which Jesus didn’t have.  


“We” - verse 2 - “we” the Pharisees and Sanhedrin - Nicodemus - we’ve been watching you teach.  And while we may have issues with what you’re teaching, and where you come from educationally, no one can deny the signs you’re doing - the miracles and healings and exorcisms


Signs point at things.


What Jesus was doing was like a glaring neon sign - pointing to Jesus as being, at the very least, a man of God - a rabbi - approved by God - and just possibly the Messiah Himself. 


Which was the square peg that Nicodemus was trying to put into the round hole.  The question that Nicodemus doesn’t ask a question.  But it’s there between the title of “rabbi” and the signs.


How can Jesus have God’s approval without having our approval?


We are the living right with God - God appointed - gatekeepers of all things religious in Israel.  We represent God to the people.  We’ve got a lock on how God does what God does and what it means to live rightly before God.  And Jesus is coming from outside our box and yet God approves of Him.


Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly - meaning this is the absolute God’s truth you can build your life on - I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 


Today, being “born again” is a description that gets used and abused and over used.  But, imagine Nicodemus hearing the description for the first time.  Understandably he asks “How?”  “Say what?” 


The word “again” in the original Greek has the idea of doing something… “again.” 


Born again - in order “to see” - literally to understand something by experiencing it because we’re seeing it first hand with our own eyes.  Born again to see first hand - to experience for ourselves - life in the kingdom of God.


Verse 5:  Jesus [glad you asked] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.


Meaning:  That which is born of the flesh is flesh [physical] and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit [spiritual].


They’re the same but different. 


We need to get born physically in order to know what life is like outside the womb.  Same thing spiritually.  We have to be born spiritually  in order for us to see the kingdom of God - to live in relationship with God in His kingdom.


Verse 7:  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  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.”


Trying to fit God into a box of our understanding and expecting God to do things the way we expect God to do things is like trying to control the wind.  We can see what it does.  But the wind will do what the wind wills to do.


God does what God wills to do according to whatever and however God wills to do it because of Who God is.


Question “How?”  Answer:  Spiritual rebirth isn’t a people thing.  Spiritual rebirth is a God thing.   God who alone is able to give us the spiritual life we must have to enter into - to experience - to “see” first hand - His kingdom - life with God now and forever.


That’s not something we can control or even totally understand.  It’s outside the box of what we can process.  It is something we need to trust God for.  God who says, “Trust Me.”


When we repent of our sins and by faith turn our lives over to God - trusting in Jesus’ completed work on the cross on our behalf - God the Holy Spirit - enters into us and does the work of rebirthing our spirit - of spiritual transformation - that enables our entry into God’s kingdom.


Jesus cuts to the bottom line of our struggle.  Life with God - what makes the peg fit - is not trying to fit the peg into the round hole of life with God.  What makes the peg fit is God reshaping the peg.


Which is a God thing.  Not a people thing.  It’s not about us.  It’s about God who - by the work of the Holy Spirit - make us to fit - spiritually transforms us - into a relationship with Him.


Verse 9:  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 


Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 


Which sounds harsh.  But it’s blunt honesty that Nicodemus needs to hear. 


Verse 11:  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.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

With everything that you’ve studied and know and teach about God.  With everything that you do for God.  With all that you’ve ordered and processed your life with - how is it that you’re not getting this?


What about God’s word - what about the writing of God’s prophets that God used to explain what the signs point to - what about God’s word do you not understand?  What about what the signs are connecting together with God’s prophetic word - what about what the signs are pointing at do you not understand?  What holds you back from receiving the testimony of what’s already been testified? 


"Nicodemus.  You need to stop looking at yourself for the answer and trust God for His."

The title “the Son of Man” has its roots deep in the witness of Scripture.


Jesus applying that title to Himself is about Jesus identifying Himself as the Messiah of Scripture - Who in fact is the God - descended from heaven.  And yet Jesus - being fully human who suffers the pains of our humanity - especially as He endures the ordeal of the cross.


“Nicodemus.  The witnesses [plural] everything you’ve studied in Scripture and the signs that you’ve seen Me do - that all testifies of Me - that I am God - the Messiah.  What I’m teaching you is what it really - truly - means to be spiritually reborn by God to what it means to live life with God.”


Then - verse 14 - Jesus gives an illustration that goes to the heart of why Nicodemus - why all of us struggle with our own square pegs - a hugely sobering illustration - that points at the core of where all of us struggle with God.


Verse 14:  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”    


In the days of Moses - out in the wilderness - on one of many occasions when the people of Israel were disobeying God and grumbling because God wasn’t doing things the way they thought God should.  At a time when God was punishing them for their sin - trying to wake them up and bring them back to Him.  At that time the people of Israel were being bitten by hundreds of poisonous snakes and a number of the people were dying.  Nothing they could do - by their own efforts -  nothing could save them.


Finally the people admitted their sin against God and they told Moses to pray for them.  Which Moses did.  And God told Moses to take a pole and put a brass snake on it and put it up where the people could see it.


God said that when someone was bitten by a poisonous snake - if that person would look at the brass snake - the sign of God’s deliverance - and choose to by faith take God at His word trusting God for their salvation - then God would heal them.  Which as they did, God did.  (Numbers 21:4-9)


Which, when we think about it sounds like some kind of primitive superstitious tribal witch doctor thing.  A brass snake on a pole in the desert?  Way beneath our sophisticated understanding of religion and God.  Except it was God who told them to do it. 


Let’s be clear - the snake in and of itself was just a brass snake.  But it was God who chose to respond to the faith of the people - turning from their expectations of God and their efforts at trying to save themselves and simply trusting God.


Which is an illustration that Jesus applies to Himself.  Jesus being lifted up on our behalf to be our Savior.  When we agree with God of our sin and we choose to turn from it - repent - and by faith trust God alone for our salvation that He offers us in Jesus - that God will and does save us.  God rebirthing us spiritually to eternal life with Him.


Which is a God thing not a people thing.  What God does because He’s God and we need to trust Him that He does.


We’re together?  Mostly?


Here’s the sobering part of Jesus’ illustration that touches us.  What Nicodemus as a teacher of Israel would have caught.


Fast forward about 730 years from Moses and Hezekiah is king of Judah.


In the years between Moses and Hezekiah - God’s people had preserved the brass snake as a religious relic that reminded them of God’s deliverance. Of God powerfully responding and coming through for His people.  So, at first, when they saw the brass snake on the pole they thought of God and they worshiped and praised God.  It helped them to deepen their faith in God.


But gradually - by the time of Hezekiah - it had become a religious symbol like the religious symbols of the pagan religions around them.  The bronze snake on a pole had become itself the object of their worship.  Not God.  It had become a part of their religious efforts at being right with God. 


So much so, that Hezekiah - when he was purifying the nation of it’s pagan religions and their symbols - Hezekiah, with contempt, had called this brass snake “Nehushtan” - “a thing of brass”.  A sign pointing away from God not towards God.  (2 Kings 18:4)


Nicodemus would have caught that in Jesus’ illustration.


The religious leaders of Israel with all that they had studied in Scripture and all that they knew about God and the symbols of living rightly with God - the Temple and the feasts - who were so committed to obeying God that they’d made all of that about them and not God.


They’d completely missed what all the Scripture and signs were pointing them to - Jesus the Messiah - who would be lifted up for all of them - and us.  What it means to have a relationship with God through faith in Christ because God by His grace makes it so.


We keep trying to do life by our own whit, wisdom, working, and Wikipedia - trying to pound the square peg into the round hole - even as followers of Jesus who claim to know better we fall into this - defaulting to our version of life and God - and expecting different results.  Speaking as a square peg - that hurts… again.


Are we hearing Jesus?  “How’s that going for you?”


That’s the back fill conversation on John 3:16.  Jesus answering Nicodemus - and anyone who’s trying to do life with their version of God or trying to do life on their own.  Unless you’re born again spiritually by God - you will always come up short.


And if you are reborn spiritually - keep coming back to the cross and God’s grace - because it is way too easy for us to make a relationship with God about us and not Him.


Read again with me John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 


That’s Jesus’ bottom line. 


If there’s one verse in the Bible that boils down the whole message of the Bible - God’s answer to all of what confronts us - what we really need not what we say we need - if there’s one verse that boils the Bible down to a bottom line - here’s the answer in one verse.


First, there’s good news.  God loves the world.  That’s each of us.


God loves us.  Turn to the person next to you and tell them that:  “God loves you.”


Each of us, no matter what we may think of ourselves.  No matter what others may think of us.  No matter what we may think others may thing of us.  No matter what our past, baggage, and hang-ups.  No matter what our sins or our attitude towards God.  Whether we accept the truth of His love or not - He does love you.


Second - there’s bad news.  Jesus talks about perishing and eternal life.


The Bible tells us that everyone one of us has sinned.  Sin is anything we say, do, or think that’s disobedient to God.  Adam sinned.  Each of us is born into that sin and we go on sinning.


Look at the world we live in.  There’s a whole lot of sinning going on.  And a whole lot of pain and brokenness because of it.  Even in our own lives.


It is our sin that separates us from God who is without sin.


The word “perish” means to be utterly destroyed.  The reality is of destruction that we get a taste of today and that continues on and on and on without end.  Judgment for our sins and some real sobering consequences. 


The contrast to that is what Jesus described by the words “eternal life” - life without end - our living forever with God.  Joy - peace - the presence of God.  Forever.  Whatever horror “perish” is - eternal life with God is the opposite.


The bad news is that every one of us - apart from Jesus - because of our sin every one of us is perishing - facing eternity without God.


Then there’s more good news:  God gave His only Son.


The God Who created everything - God - humbles Himself to become one of us and to take upon Himself our weakness and our shame.  Which is out of the box of how we might think of God.  But, God is... God.  And, that is exactly what He choose to do.


God gave His Son.  Gave Him to be scourged and crowned with thorns.  He gave Him to be lifted up and to die on a cross - crucified.  To deal with whatever needs to be dealt with because of our sin - to heal whatever we’ve broken in our relationship with God - and to do what needs to be done to make us right with God. 


Which brings us to the last part of John 3:16 - “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 


Each of us needs to choose our own response to what God has done.


You can walk out of here this morning having rejected all of this as a bunch of religious whatever - and that’s a choice.  A commitment of your life to a course of life.


Or, you can take God at His word and choose to by faith trust Him for what He’s done through Christ’s work on the cross - reject your sin and turn your life over to God - and let Him do His - God only can do it work of spiritual rebirth - and get you right with Him - giving you life with Him now and forever.


Good News.  Bad News.  Good News.  You Choose.  Whoever believes - by faith - calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Whoever.





Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.