John Bradshaw - Great Chapters of the Bible, John 3
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. In 2019, an athlete running in the men's 5,000 meters at a Diamond League event in Lausanne, Switzerland, had victory in his sights. He was well clear of the rest of the field, and when he ran into the home straight, he stretched his lead to about 25 meters. It was a dominating run. He crossed the finish line and raised his arms in victory, waving to the crowd. But the problem was this: If the race had been the 4,600 meters, he would have been fine, but he has miscalculated the number of laps to run. He finished just as the bell was being sounded. There was a lap to go. He thought he had it won. He got back into the race, but he was spent. He ended up finishing 10th. He thought he had it won, but he didn't. And if you read the Bible, you're going to find out that there are people who think they have everlasting life, but they don't. They come up short for an important reason. We look at that today as we study another great chapter of the Bible.
Today: John chapter 3. Jesus says in Matthew chapter 7 there will be people who say to Him, "Lord, we've prophesied in Your name. We've cast out devils. We've done many wonderful works". And they get the surprise of their lives to hear Jesus say in verse 23, "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness"! They thought they had it won. Somehow they thought they'd been honoring God. And in Revelation chapter 3, Jesus says to people, "You say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing', and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked". He says in verse 16, "You are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot," and so therefore, "I will vomit you out of my mouth". People who thought they were okay, but they weren't. Now, they were righteous, all right, but they were self-righteous, and self-righteousness is deadly. We find another individual like that in John chapter 3.
Now, talk about John 3, and it's likely a person's mind will automatically go to...John 3:16. It's said to be the most famous verse of all the 31,000 or so verses in the Bible. It's said that John 3:16 encapsulates the gospel like no other verse. Some athletes will write John 3:16 on themselves or their uniforms when they compete. Signs saying "John 3:16" are held up at sporting events. Even fast-food restaurants have printed John 3:16 on their paper cups. It's a well-known verse for good reason. It's easy to memorize. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life". But what's the context of John 3:16? What was going on at the time? What prompted those words to be said? Who said them? Now, Jesus spoke those words, but why did He do so? And to whom was He speaking?
Let's look in John chapter 3, and let's begin in verse 1. John 3 and verse 1. The Bible says this: "There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews". Nicodemus was an important man. The Pharisees are mentioned almost a hundred times in the New Testament. They were a sect, a group of leaders among Judaism at the time. They were known for their strictness, their obedience to the law. Which might sound like a good thing, except that these individuals, at least as they're presented in the context of Jesus' life and ministry, were very big on tradition, not so big on experiencing a change of heart. They often opposed Jesus because they felt He wasn't giving their traditions the respect that those traditions deserved.
Give you an example. It was a group of Pharisees who complained to Jesus that His followers were not washing their hands in a certain ritualistic way. Completely unnecessary, but to them it was important that the tradition was followed. And in that exchange, Jesus pointed out that while they were insistent about keeping traditions, they themselves were breaking the commandments of God in an egregious way. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, but it's clear that he was a Pharisee with a difference. He came to Jesus and engaged Jesus in a spiritual discussion. 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.'"
This was an attempt at righteousness by flattery. He was drawn to Jesus but wasn't ready to consider Jesus as the Messiah. And you'll notice that he came to Jesus at night. It wouldn't have worked out well for Nicodemus at all if he'd been seen talking to Jesus, so he came in secret. And here's where John 3 really begins to soar. Jesus talks about what it means to be a follower of Christ. Now, there were some real gaps in Nicodemus's spiritual experience, even though he thought he was doing fine. In spite of the fact that most people in Jerusalem would have thought that Nicodemus was a master in Israel, as Jesus called him. The tragedy is that even many of Jesus' own followers didn't quite understand what Jesus told His nocturnal visitor.
Let's look at what Jesus said. This is John 3 and verse 3: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'" That phrase "born again" also means "born from above". A person, Jesus said, needs to be born from above, which, of course, is to be born again. But it seems Nicodemus took the meaning as "again" as he tries something you might call righteousness by ignorance. "How can a man be born when he is old"? Nicodemus asked. "Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born"? He needn't have been so puzzled. In order for a non-Jew in that day to become a Jew, it was said that that person had to become a son of Abraham. Be born again, as it were. He undoubtedly knew that Jesus wasn't suggesting a physical impossibility or a physical absurdity. But Nicodemus is shocked. Jesus is suggesting something far deeper.
Nicodemus, as righteous as he thought he was, as important as he was, as respected as he was, now, this is the kind of man who, if he went to the local church, would be considered a good man. He would be asked, no doubt, to serve the church in a leadership position. And yet Jesus is telling him, "Nicodemus, you're here talking about my miracles, you've addressed me respectfully, but what you really need to know is that you are not as righteous as you think. Everything is not okay with you spiritually". What a shocking thing for a Pharisee to hear! But the fact is, Nicodemus did need to be born again. And so does everyone. I remember years ago hearing about born-again Christians like they were a different breed, like they were a separate strain of Christian. But Jesus says that anyone at all who intends to be saved must be born again. And let's put that another way. Anyone at all anywhere in the world may be born again, and that's really good news. More in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. John 3:16 is said to be the best-known, most loved verse in the entire Bible. Today we're looking at the chapter it comes from in our ongoing series, "Great Chapters of the Bible". This is John chapter 3. Jesus spoke to a man named Nicodemus, a leader in Israel, and He said in verse 4, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God". He went on to say, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit". Now, it's one thing to be born once, but it is imperative that a person be born twice.
You know how you hear people say, "I was born this way"? Well, okay. Heredity maybe gave you certain tendencies or leanings or weaknesses or characteristics. Your father was an angry man; you have a short fuse. Your mother was an alcoholic; you're born with a weakness for alcohol. Your parents or your grandparents were immoral, and so immorality comes easy to you. The truth is, we're all born with a fallen nature. Once Adam sinned way back then, the best we could hope for was a nature that was bent towards sin. And that weakened nature can only bend in one direction. It's like water that runs downhill. You can be born this way or that way, but the beauty of what Jesus tells Nicodemus is that a person can be born again. That means the old you may die and a new you may be born and then exist in the place of the old you.
Paul wrote to the Romans about the "old man" being crucified so that we no longer serve sin. He wrote to the Ephesians about putting on the "new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness". Like Jesus, Paul is talking about being born again. Now, you can look at this as a requirement, but if you did, you'd be doing yourself a disservice. Jesus is talking about a privilege, a blessing. We must be, we may be born again, born from above. Born of water? Now, that's Bible baptism, baptism by immersion. Born of the Spirit? Conversion. Jesus said in John 3 in verse 8, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit".
Just like you can't see the wind, but you can see its effect, you cannot see the Holy Spirit, but you can see the way it impacts a life. When you're born again, the Holy Spirit comes into your life and changes you. The Holy Spirit brings the presence of Jesus into your life. This is the power of God, the righteousness of God, the strength of God in your life. When you're born again, things change. I remember as a kid spending the weekend staying at a friend's farm. It was a dairy farm. We were walking out there around the farm, and he told me I should grab hold of an electric fence. I said, "Man, even though I'm from town, I'm not crazy". So he grabbed hold of the electric fence, and nothing happened. He told me I should do the same thing; I'd see that there was nothing to it.
So like a...gullible person, I grabbed hold of the electric fence. Of course, he'd been holding a wire that wasn't live. I held a wire that was very much live. Did I feel it? Well, what do you think? Oh yes, I did! Did it have an impact on me? Oh yes, it did! Did it change me? Very much changed me, as long as I was holding onto it. The Holy Spirit is like that. When the Holy Spirit comes into your life, your life can no longer be the same. No, it doesn't mean that all of a sudden you're an Enoch or a Daniel, and you've got everything figured out. But it does mean God has you, and you're growing, and you're becoming more and more like Jesus, and the old habits are falling off you like those last stubborn dead leaves fall off a tree at the beginning of spring when new life starts coursing through its limbs.
When new life runs through you, the new life Jesus brings, the old, dead things in your life start to fall off because you have possession of Jesus by faith and because He has possession of you. You are new. You are born again. And to explain this even further, Jesus took Nicodemus back to an Old Testament story to explain what it means to be born again. Jesus said this: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life". Now, keep in mind, before John 3:16, Jesus explains what it is to be born again. Really, He's explaining what that "whosoever believeth in Him" means. And He goes back to that curious story in Numbers 21 when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. Remember that story? They'd come out of Egypt; the people began to complain.
"Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread". Ouch! That's about as ungrateful as you can get. They literally say, "We hate the manna God is giving us to eat". And to get their attention away from their complaints, away from their hardships, as they saw it, God sent venomous snakes into their midst. Many people were bitten, and they came to Moses and asked him to pray that God would take away the snakes. "We have sinned," they said. God instructed Moses to make a serpent out of brass and put it on a pole.
Now, who did that serpent represent? It represented Jesus. Now, why a serpent? That's because Jesus was, according to the Bible writer, made "to be sin for us". And God said in Numbers 21 in verse 8, "And it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live". And this is important because this is what Jesus used to illustrate what it means to be born again. You've been infected by venom? Look to the representation of the crucified Jesus and live. Or, you've been infected by sin. Look to Jesus and live. To be born again is to look and live. To really look to Jesus, to look to Him in faith, to claim Him as your Savior, to keep Him in view. Peter looked to Jesus, and walked on water. He took his eyes off Jesus, and he sank. Listen, if you keep your eyes on Jesus, the Holy Spirit will do great things in your life. The power of God will flow through your existence. You wonder why you sink? It's because you're not keeping Jesus in view. You look to Jesus, and you'll live. You'll be born again. Back with more in just a moment.
When Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of darkness, Jesus saw sincerity in him. So He laid it all out for Nicodemus: Nicodemus, you're not as holy as you think. You need to be born again, born from above, born of water and born of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit taking over your life as you surrender your life to God. And today, far too many people, even people who call themselves believers, haven't learned the meaning of surrender. You can call yourself whatever you want, but when you're looking at websites you shouldn't be looking at, when you're getting drunk, when you're yelling at your spouse out of anger, when you're cheating on your taxes, when you're...whatever, it's evidence that there's something not quite right. It's more than likely evidence that you are not born again.
I'm not talking about the occasional mistake a person might make when he or she is growing in God and learning more of what it is to be kept by God's grace, not that. When this is the tenor of your life, Jesus would say to you just what He said to Nicodemus: "You must be born again". But the great thing is Jesus is saying, whatever your issues are, whatever they are, you may be born again; you can be. He'll do in your life what you cannot do in yourself. When you surrender and say, "Not my will but Your will be done". After taking Nicodemus back to that story in Numbers 21, Jesus, talking about what it is to be born again, said these famous words: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life".
Believe. Believe in Jesus as your Savior. The alternative is to perish. Lost people will be lost. Those who don't want to be saved won't be dragged to heaven against their will. But if you're willing to believe, you're willing to trust God, if you're willing to allow God into your life, if you're willing to be born again... And notice John 3:17. It's as powerful as John 3:16. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved". What fantastic words! Jesus didn't come to condemn but to save. How's that working out for you? Sin is deadly, but Jesus didn't come to this world to condemn you or me or anyone else. He came to...save. And if we want to be saved, we'll be saved.
Now, notice what Jesus said in verse 19: "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil". In John 3, Jesus offers the world life. And He really tells us that salvation is a matter of the heart. If we love darkness when light has come, that's a dead end. And let's be honest. Sin is darkness. A self-centered life, where we want what we want and take what we take and have what we have and live how we want to live without reference to the God who created the world, just doesn't buy happiness. And it definitely has eternal consequences. From verse 22 down to the end of the chapter, John the Baptist features. It's no coincidence that early in John 3, Jesus speaks about being born of water, as now we see John baptizing where there was much water, baptizing by immersion, the biblical practice. A dispute arises. And like Jesus, John isn't getting bogged down in it.
This is interesting: They tell John that everyone is following after Jesus now. An earthly-minded person might be worried about the number of followers that he or she has. "John, Jesus is getting more likes than you". But John is humble, not proud. He calls himself the friend of the bridegroom, and says that he's glad people are being attracted to Jesus. That's all any of us are on this earth to do: to point people to Jesus, to attract people, not to ourselves, but to Him. You know, these are the last recorded words we have of John before he was imprisoned a year or so later.
John's last words in Scripture, and they are powerful. John 3, verse 30: "He must increase, but I must decrease". How's that? John says, "It isn't about me. I'm to become smaller. It's Jesus who's to get bigger". Be good for us to remember that, wouldn't it? He says, "He who comes from above is above all". And then he goes on to say this: "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure". That's verse 34. Now, don't miss that. God doesn't give the Spirit sparingly. I want you to remember that. There are a lot of people who are discouraged. "I know I'm falling short". "I know I need to be born again".
Well, now's your chance to do something about it. "Me"? someone asks. Yes, you. What did Jesus say? "...that whosoever believes in Him...", anyone. That's what makes John 3 so beautiful. It's what makes John 3:16 so beloved. The invitation is to all. If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, yes, God will forgive your sins. But don't leave it there. God will do more. He'll change you. He wants you to be born again. And you can be. See, we can't change ourselves. But we need to be changed. You can't change your temper, your thoughts, your disposition. But God can change you. Born this way? Okay. But you can be reborn, born again, born from above.
"I've gone too far". Jesus didn't come into the world to condemn anyone. And that would be you He's referring to. He didn't come to condemn you but to save. This great chapter of the Bible ends with John the Baptist saying, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him". This Savior who came to the earth to save, this Savior who healed, who uplifted, who loved, who helped, who gave hope, He wants to be your hope. And this is real hope, the real thing, a blessed life in this world and, through faith in Jesus, eternal life in the world to come.