Encounters with Jesus: A Bible Teacher

Sermon by Derek Thomas on July 12, 2009

The Lord’s Day
Evening

July 12, 2009

John 3:1-21

“A Bible
Teacher”

Dr. Derek W. H.
Thomas

Now we continue this evening a series we began about a
month ago of conversations, discourses, that our Lord Jesus Christ had with
various people, and tonight we come to a very well-known, familiar passage.
It’s the passage about Nicodemus and it contains language that is part of
our religious subculture — the language of being “born again.”
Now before I read the passage, I want to point out a couple of things.

First of all, John Piper, in his latest book,
Finally Alive, addresses this issue
of what does the word, “born again”, mean.
In our culture, in the news, in our newspapers, the term is used with
such frequency that you might not be all together sure what the word means,
particularly since the Barna Group, for example, in its research points out that
there are so many hundreds of thousands of people who profess to be born again,
but are as worldly as the world – who tolerate injustice as much as the world,
who are mean, who are spiteful, who commit all kinds of sexual practices that
the Bible forbids and so on and so on.
The conclusion that Barna draws, is that the church is full of born again
people who are very worldly.

But John Piper in his latest book
draws an entirely different conclusion.
It’s not that the church is full of born again people who are very
worldly; it is that the church is full of worldly people who are not born again.
We need, you and I, to rescue this word, “born again”, as we find it in
John and in John’s gospel, and especially here in the third chapter of John’s
gospel and pour into that word all of the biblical truth that it ought to have.
Now before we read this familiar passage, let’s look to God in prayer.

Father, we thank you
again for the Bible. We thank you
for the day and age in which we live — that we can have a copy of the Scriptures
in our own hands, that we have many copies at home, in our cars, and on
electronic devices. We are a people
that ought to be very familiar with the Scriptures.
We pray now for your blessing as we read a passage that is very familiar,
and pray for the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
Grant, O Lord, that light might shine upon us as we read these words,
that we might not only read them, but understand them and take them to heart.
We ask it all in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

John chapter 3:

“Now, 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
him, ‘Truly, truly, 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, ‘Truly, truly, 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. Do not marvel
that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear it 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.’

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?
Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to
what we have seen, but you do not received 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. 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.

For God so loved the world, that
He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have
eternal life. For God did not send
His son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might
be saved through Him. Whoever
believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned
already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment:
the light has come into the world and people love the darkness rather than the
light, because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to
the light, lest his work should be exposed.
But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be
clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Thus far, God’s holy and inherent Word.

Now, it’s night time, and a Pharisee, named Nicodemus,
comes to Jesus. He comes by night,
perhaps because he’s frightened of being seen in the presence of Jesus and of
conversing with Jesus. We’re told
in verse ten that he is a teacher of Israel.
He is one of the great Bible expositors, one of the great Old Testament
expositors in Jerusalem.
He is a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council.
You might have been there in
Jerusalem
at one of the great festivals:
Purim, Tabernacles, the Day of Atonement, Passover.
And you would be walking in the streets and point out, there he is, that
great Bible teacher, Nicodemus. But
he’s not a believer. He isn’t in
the kingdom of God.
Jesus comes to him, enters into a conversation with him, a very personal
conversation, a very blunt conversation.
It’s not like the conversation with the woman at the well.
There was a lot of small talk to begin with.
No, Jesus gets to the very heart of the issue — he’s not born again, and
unless a man is born again, he may not see, he may not enter the
kingdom
of God.
He comes to Nicodemus, this man who knows the Old Testament, who teaches
the Old Testament, and proclaims the Old Testament, and He says to him, “You’re
not in the kingdom of God.”
These are the kinds of things that might have gotten Jesus punched in the
nose perhaps. It’s that blunt.
It’s that “in-your-face.”

Twitter is a marvelous thing.
Between the first and second services this morning I got a message from a
dear friend in Orlando.
And he is a minister at the same church in which R.C. Sproul is the
preacher. And the text for this
morning, at least the message for this morning that R.C. Sproul preached was,
“Three Words That Changed My Life.”
“Three Words that Changed My Life –
Regeneration Precedes Faith
”.
Oh, if you know R.C. Sproul, that’s R.C. Sproul all over.
That’s the kind of statement that gets him going.
Regeneration precedes faith.
Perfect, I thought. That’s
exactly what John chapter 3, the story of Jesus speaking to Nicodemus is all
about – that before you can believe,
before you can exercise faith, you
need to be regenerated.

You need to be born again.
What is Jesus saying to Nicodemus here?


I. Men and women are spiritually deaf and unable to
understand spiritual truth.

Well, first of all, He is saying that something is absolutely necessary.
Something is absolutely necessary.
Unless a man is born again, he cannot see, he cannot enter the
kingdom
of God.
It’s an absolute necessity.
This new birth, this being born again, or perhaps being born from above, is
something that is necessary not because Nicodemus is a Pharisee, not because
Nicodemus is a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, it’s
necessary not because Nicodemus is Jewish, it’s necessary because Nicodemus is a
human being. This is something that
is true, not just of Nicodemus; it is true of every single individual that is
born into this world. Because he is
a human being, because he is a fallen son of Adam, unless he is born again, he
cannot enter the kingdom of God,
he cannot see the kingdom
of God — he is spiritually
blind. You remember the apostle
Paul writes about that in the opening of 1 Corinthians.
The natural man, he cannot see, he cannot discern spiritual things.
Many of you have experienced that through believers, who are Christians
here tonight. You’ve spoken to
someone about spiritual things.
You’ve read a passage of the Bible and it’s got you all excited and there’s a
sort of glaze over the person’s eyes and they have no idea what you are talking
about. It’s not because you’re
using technical language, it’s that they don’t comprehend, it’s not getting
through; they don’t accept things that are spiritual.
It’s like you’re speaking a foreign language.

I’ve just come back from
Switzerland, where at least in one part they
were speaking French which I somewhat understand, and in other parts they are
speaking German which I understand less.
And when you’re in the presence of someone who’s speaking a foreign
language, nothing’s getting through.
You’re hearing the sounds, but you don’t understand; you don’t
comprehend. That’s like what Jesus
is saying to Nicodemus. Unless you
are born again, unless you are regenerated, unless you are born from above,
nothing is getting through. You
don’t understand. Do you know what
Nicodemus said? “I don’t
understand.” (laughter)
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
He confirms, you see, his need of regeneration.
He confirms the very thing that Jesus is saying — that unless you are
born again, you don’t understand spiritual things.
He hasn’t entered into the
kingdom of God.
Regeneration precedes faith.


II. Can we decide how and when we enter God’s kingdom?

Now, people sometimes think that they can believe whenever they like.
I have spoken to lots of people, especially young people, especially
college-age folk, and they have this notion that they can believe on their own
agenda, on their own timetable.
“I’m going to have my life at college, I’m going to sow my oats, I’m going to
live a little, and when I get married and have children, I’ll think about
religion then. But it’s on my
timetable, it’s on my agenda, it will be according to my plan.”
And Jesus is saying, this regeneration, this new birth, this spiritual
awakening, this new heart, this new spirit, is life from above that is
absolutely necessary to enter the kingdom of God.
It is not something that you can manufacture, because Nicodemus
doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t
comprehend it.

You remember what John had said in the opening prologue.
Turn back, if you have your Bible, turn back to chapter 1 and verse 12:
“But
to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to
become children of God, who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the
flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

We’re not Christians because we
have a blood line. We’re not
Christians because we happen to be covenant children.
Just because our parents, our mothers our father, our grandparents, our
great-grandparents are Christians, doesn’t make us Christians.
We’re not in the kingdom of God,
we’re not regenerate, we’re not born from above simply because of blood line.
Nor, John says, of the will of the flesh.
We’re not Christians because we have willed it.
It is entirely something that is our making, it is entirely something of
our own decision; we are in charge of our own agenda.
It’s not of the will of man.
Isn’t it amazing that John can say such a clear statement and that people still
think that they have this notion called free will – that we can believe in our
own time and in our own agenda. I
have a finger on this button and I can press it whenever I want and I’m going to
do it when I’m 45, or 55, or 65.

I was reading yesterday a breath-taking statistic.
By Horatius Bonar, the Scottish preacher, hymn writer.
We sing some of his hymns in the
Trinity Hymnal
, Horatius Bonar.
He asked, this is in the 19th century, 253 Christian friends at what
age they were converted. Under 20:
138; from 20-30: 85; from
30-40: 22; from 40-50:
4; from 50-60: 3; from
60-70: 1; and over 70:
0. Isn’t that interesting!

I don’t want to make too much of
that, but I do want to say this: If
you are leaving it until you are 30, or 40, or 50, or 60 because you believe
that being born again is something that is within your own power, within your
own resources to do, my dear friends you are in the greatest possible of
dangers. Jesus is saying to
Nicodemus that there is an absolute necessity here, but this necessity can only
be done and only be achieved by a sovereign act of God.


III. How are we “born again”?

The term being “born again” can
be rendered from above.
That is, from outside of ourselves.
Look at verse 31 of chapter 3:
“he who comes from above”
it’s the same term, being born again, being born from above, from outside
of ourselves. The coming into the
kingdom
of God is not an act of
synergism, it’s not an act of cooperation; it’s not a little bit of God and a
little bit of me — 50% God and 50% me.
No. Nicodemus is right.
Nicodemus had not understood what Jesus was talking about.
If he was going to be born again, it must be from above; it must be from
a sovereign interposition of God.
Now, isn’t that humbling? It’s
meant to humble. It’s meant to
bring us to the dust. It’s meant to
inform us that by our own efforts, by our own will, by our own disposition, by
our social standing, by our family network – none of that would avail us in
entering into the kingdom of God.

Jesus begins to illustrate what He is saying here.
He talks about the wind. The
wind blows where it wills. You hear
the sound of it, but you don’t know where it’s coming from and you don’t know
where it’s going; you just feel it on your face.
Have you ever tried to stand, perhaps on a hot, clammy day, perhaps like
today, depending on which part of the building you’re in just now — if you’re
underneath the balcony, you’re fine.
But if you’re in the center, you’re feeling a little hot.
Now, try willing the wind that’s blowing out of those vents, and try
willing it to come in your direction.
Now, if you try to do that, they’ll take you away. (laughter)
You understand that? It’s as
silly as that. That’s the
illustration Jesus is using. If you
think that the power to be born again lies within you, it’s like sitting there
willing that wind to come out of that vent and blow in your direction.
It’s as silly as that.

No, my dear friends, we must come to a point where all we can do is cry
for mercy, to cry for mercy and cleansing.
“Nothing in my hands I bring” — not my will, not my works, not my
covenant status. “Nothing in my
hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”

Do you remember the conversion of John Newton – the slave trader on his
way back from Africa?
Having been involved in the buying and selling of slaves, a ship, called
The Greyhound in 1748, full of, as it
happens in God’s kind providence, it was full of beeswax.
And one thing about beeswax is that it floats.
The ship was caught in a storm and began to fill with water, and it was
the beeswax, apparently, that held it afloat.
And this man, who was a violent man who cursed and swore, cried to God in
that moment that God would have mercy on him.
By the time the boat landed in England, he had
been born again. He had been born
from above. “Amazing grace”, he
wrote, “how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

Jesus goes on to illustrate. He
illustrates from the New Testament — it’s a little odd, the illustration,
perhaps to us, but it wouldn’t have been odd to Nicodemus, because Nicodemus
would have taught this passage many, many times.
It was that incident in the wilderness when they were being bitten by
snakes, and you remember Moses, by God’s request, had made this brass snake.
And whenever the people were bitten by snakes, they would look in the
direction of this brass snake and they were healed.
Now, that’s a strange sort of story — it’s in the Old Testament, it’s one
of God’s miracles that He performed in the time of the wilderness wanderings.
It was a story well known to Nicodemus, but what’s the point of the
story? That the way in which we are
born again is looking to Jesus, look in faith, look in trust, looking in
absolute reliance to Jesus and to Jesus only.
There’s life, for a look at the crucified one.
There’s life for a look at the crucified one.

And then Jesus illustrates this by saying in verse 5:
“unless a man is born of water and
the Spirit”.
Now, we’re sort of
tempted when we see water, we think baptism.
But Nicodemus wouldn’t have thought of baptism.
Baptism wasn’t something that was terribly familiar to Nicodemus.
What did Nicodemus think of when Jesus said
“unless a man is born of water and the
Spirit”
? The answer seems to be
Ezekiel 36:
“I will sprinkle clean water upon you.
I will give you a new heart. I will give you a new Spirit.”

You know what the next chapter in Ezekiel is?
It’s the valley of the dry bones coming to life.
Jesus is taking this Bible teacher back to Ezekiel 36 and He is saying to
him, “unless you are born by a sovereign work of God in which your sins are
taken away, and the Holy Spirit is imparted to you, you cannot enter, you cannot
see the kingdom
of God.”


IV. Application.

How can I be sure tonight?
That is I look to Jesus I will be born from above — how can I be sure?
And Jesus utters, or perhaps John comments, the most famous verse in the
Bible, at least for us: John 3:16 —
“For God so loved the world, that He gave
His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have
everlasting life.”
He loves the
lost. He gives the best and He asks
the least. He loves the lost, He
gives the best and He asks the least.
God so loved. Did ere such
love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown, that Jesus should die,
that he should give his life, that he should become the cursed one in the room,
and in the place of sinners like you and me?
How can I be sure that, if I look to Jesus, God will bring me into His
kingdom? Because of what Jesus has
done. Because of the love of the
Father that sent His only Son to die for us.

And if I come, and if I put my faith in Jesus Christ, what then?
Jesus, in this conversation with Nicodemus, begins to open up to
Nicodemus the kinds of things that he can expect if he trusts in Jesus, if he
believes in God’s promise, as he enters the kingdom of God, as he sees and
begins to understand the kingdom of God.
He says in verses 15 and 16 that one of the things that will be true is
you will have eternal life, eternal life.
You will live in the blessedness of the presence of God forever.
That’s the blessing. There
will be no condemnation.
“Whoever believes in Him,” verse 18,
“is not condemned.”
That on that Day of Judgment there will be no condemnation because the
Spirit has come into my life and made me a new creation in Jesus Christ.

He speaks in verse 19 about the light that has come into the world, and
the people love darkness rather than the light, but those who are born again,
love the light. They love the
light. You know, when you come to
Jesus Christ, you’ll see everything differently.
You’ll see life differently.
You’ll see your family differently.
You’ll see your family differently.
You’ll see your existence differently.
You’ll see the things that matter differently — the things that are
important and the things that are trivial.

The great
question tonight, and it is a great question, is – are you born again?
Are you born from above? Are
you in the kingdom of God?
Are you trusting in Jesus Christ?

Charles Wesley put it in that great hymn,
And Can It Be

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.

Thine eye diffused a quickening
ray, I woke, the dungeon filled with light.

My chains fell off, my heart was
free, I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”

My dear friend, tonight, do you
know anything of it? Can you say
about yourself — God, in His sovereign mercy has regenerated me?
He has brought me out of darkness and into light.
He has brought me into a stage where I can say, “No condemnation.”
Though my sins are red like crimson, in Jesus Christ, they are white as
snow. I see, I don’t see perfectly,
but I see. I see the beauty.
I see the treasure that is Jesus Christ.
My eyes have been opened to behold the beauty that shines in the face of
Jesus Christ. Can you say that
tonight? Because if you can’t, I
plead with you, I plead with you, I urge you tonight, this very night, to put
your faith entirely and unreservedly in Jesus, in Jesus only, and find in
Him your treasure, your extraordinarily beautiful treasure.

Father we thank you
for the Scriptures. We thank you
for this passage. We thank you for
the truth that whoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved, will be
born anew, will be brought into the kingdom of God, into a relationship with
Jesus Christ. Father, bless us.
Bless anyone here tonight who is still an unbeliever.
Give them no rest until they find that rest which alone is found by faith
in Jesus Christ. We ask it for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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