Many of you have attended a community college, college, or university that is considered accredited by US Department of Education. Simply put that means you attended a school the government considers competent, authoritative and credible. This is our government’s way of saying the people who are teaching you know what they are talking about. It is important that those who are teaching us know what they are talking about. For reasons like this, I have this weird habit now of when I am thinking about buying a book I look at the credentials of the author or authors. I want to read from men and women who know what they are talking about. In many ways this is what our text is addressing. In John 3.1-8 Jesus trying to address, “what accreditation is required to enter heaven?”
Theme: The accreditation required for heaven is repentance and rebrith.
It has been a while since we have been in the Gospel of John so let me remind us all where we left off. In John 2 Jesus gave us 2 signs: (1) He turned water into wine, and (2) He cleansed the temple. John 2.23-25 serves as transitional verses from those stories to the intentional dialogues Jesus is going to have in John 3, 4, 5 and the rest of the book of Signs. And what we learned from John 2.23-25 is many believed because of Jesus’ signs, but their faith will not last. Many of these people had a shallow view of Jesus and have a shallow view of God’s kingdom. Jesus is addressing this same issue in John 3.1-8.
1. The Accreditation Of Nicodemus—John 3.1-2.
The beginning of John 3 introduces us to a man named Nicodemus, and immediately our author begins establishing his credibility. In John 3 we see Nicodemus has at least 3 titles, so let’s look at them together.
First, Nicodemus “was a man of the Pharisee.” This meant Nicodemus was an extremely devoted disciplined religious morally upright man. The Pharisees were a religious group of men who decided after the exile that they wanted to obey every law in the OT. There are 613 laws in the OT—248 things you can do, and 365 things you cannot do. To help you understand how serious the Pharisees were let me give you one example of how they accomplished this. According to Exodus 20.8-11 you are not supposed to work on the Sabbath. So, the Pharisees would take that law and ask the question, “can we tie a knot on the Sabbath? Is that considered work?” They decided you cannot tie a knot on a bucket to draw water out of a well, but a woman could tie a knot around her daily attire. Well kudos to women being able to put a belt on, but stinks we can get water. All of this is to emphasize that men like Nicodemus were very dedicated to upholding God’s law.
Second, Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews.” More than likely this meant Nicodemus was a part of the ruling religious sect in Israel. This group was called the Sanhedrin. Think of the US Senate and Supreme Court combined together.
The third, and final, title is not given in our text for today, but found in John 3.10. And what it tells us is Nicodemus was “the teacher of Israel.” He is not referred to as “A teacher IN Israel,” but as “THE teacher OF Israel.” Saying the name Nicodemus in Israel at that time would have been the equivalent of saying John Piper or Tim Keller during our time. Many scholars believe Nicodemus could have been the leading theologian in Israel. Nicodemus was no religious bumbling theological dummy. Nicodemus knew his stuff.
Despite all that Nicodemus was also very humble and respectful—READ John 3.2. He referred to Jesus as a “rabbi,” which was his way of saying, “you are my equal.” Jesus had no formal education like Nicodemus, but Nicodemus showed him dignity and respect. Friends, if Nicodemus walked into our church today you would ask me to step down and let him take the lead. Nicodemus marked off everything we would be looking for in a quality religious leader.
2. The Accreditation Required—John 3.3.
Jesus opening remarks to Nicodemus were utterly shocking—READ John 3.3. In order to understand how shocking this statement is we need to understand some preliminary things that are assumed in our text. As I stated earlier it is assumed Nicodemus is very knowledgeable in his understanding of the OT. In the past I have heard many sermons and bible study leaders tell me this theologically bright man did not understand what Jesus was saying. But I have come to believe that is not what is happening. Nicodemus would have been familiar with OT texts like:
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.—Deuteronomy 10.16
And return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul.—Deuteronomy 30.6
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.—Ezekiel 36.25-27
Passages like these lead many Pharisees to believe one must be reborn spiritually in order to be called a child of God. So, why would this be so shocking to Nicodemus? Well, because Jesus is very directly and aggressively saying “Nicodemus, despite all your efforts you are just as lost spiritually as the drunken guy hung-over in a back alley.”
Think about this from Nicodemus’ point of view for a moment. Jesus just told him everything he poured his life, effort, energy, heart and soul into is worthless. Just like you and me there is no holding back the shock, hurt, anger, and all the other emotions we would go through in that moment. Essentially this was Jesus saying, “Nicodemus you are not good enough for heaven.”
3. Understanding How Accreditation Works—John 3.4-8.
After this shocking statement Nicodemus returns fire—READ John 3.4. You can tell Nicodemus is thrown off his game because he just straight up vents to Jesus. It is not as polished as his statement in John 3.2. Nicodemus basically says, “Look, Jesus! I know it is hard, near impossible to get into heaven. God demands perfection, but what you are suggesting is the equivalent of a full grown man attempting to go back into his mother’s womb and be reborn. I would love to be reborn, but this sounds impossible.” Friends, Nicodemus is right. If Nicodemus can’t get into heaven then none of us can. That is the dilemma we’re all in.
So what Jesus says to Nicodemus is VITALLY important—READ John 3.5-8. The first thing Jesus does is build on what has been talked about earlier. The image of birth and water should remind us of John the Baptist, and his whole ministry was centered on REPENTANCE (John 1.31). The second image of birth and Spirit should also remind us of something that came up in the ministry of John the Baptist, which is REGENERATION (John 1.33). What Jesus is telling Nicodemus is one needs to repent and be changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit. Only this type of person can enter the kingdom of God.
It is this second one that becomes really confusing. Jesus says in verse 8 that no one can tell the wind where to blow. We can’t even predict where it will blow. We can only see the effects of the wind. This is how regeneration works. Someone can claim they have repented and embraced Jesus Christ as their Savior, but we must wait to see if the effects of the Holy Spirit have truly changed their nature. And this can be confusing at times, because we do see people like Nicodemus. On the outside they might meet all the moralistic requires that should be associated with a believer, but deep down they are just as lost as immoral atheist.
Friends, take it from someone who has been a Christian for 32 years I still have not figured this out. I have seen people I thought would never come to Christ and now they are some of the best Christians I know. Then I have also seen people I thought were amazing Christians slowly slip into a state of constant rebellion to God and His people. What I can tell you is this rhythm of repentance and reception is a constant practice for the Christian. We can never assume to believe we have arrived. For some of you the raging wind of the Spirit is blowing hard on you today because you are beginning to walk with Jesus for the first time, and as awkward as it feels please be receptive. Don’t leave hear today with repenting and receiving. Others the Spirit is not a raging wind, but a subtly breeze telling you something you need to repent of right now. Friend, for you let me tell you to never get in the habit of learning to turn you Holy Spirit receptors off. When you do that one day you will wake up and not recognize the person you see in front of you.