John 3. 1-17
A Secret Interview.
AMONG the well-known evangelical passages of Scripture, possibly the third of John ranks among the best known; but should a reader of this chapter feel that because he is so well acquainted with the story, there can be no further message for him therefrom, may I earnestly invite him once more to give this most important record his undivided attention?
Hebrews 2. opens with these words, "Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" The implication is, that there is no escape for those who having heard the Gospel, neglect it; not necessarily determinedly reject it, but simply neglect it.
The method I propose for your examination of this Scripture is to ask your consideration, first of Two Persons; secondly of Two Imperatives; thirdly of Two Provisions; and lastly of Two Prospects.
(1) TWO PERSONS. These are Nicodemus and the Lord Jesus Christ. Following a statement of the circumstances of their meeting, verses 2-15, give an account of the conversation that followed. It is not clear whether verses 16 and 17 form a continuation of the conversation, or whether they are the commentary of the Holy Spirit upon it. Either view may be adopted.
The chapter records the meeting; we must look elsewhere for the result of that meeting; for the moment, I simply ask you to notice that they met.
Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme religious court of the Jews, and an influential member at that, a master, (ver. 10) literally, the master of Israel. But even so, we find him, though evidently seeking after light, spiritually blind. (compare verses 9 and 12).
By very virtue of his profession as an exponent of the Scriptures, he ought to have known from the reading of the Old Testament of the need and nature of the New Birth. If he didn't know such elementary things, how could he know and believe deeper things. (verse 12).
Now get hold of this first lesson; Nicodemus was like tens of thousands of people to-day, perchance like you; thoroughly religious and, I do not doubt, devout also, but outside the Kingdom of GOD, and that because of two negatives that completely disqualified him from a place in that kingdom. Look at them in. verses 10 and 12, "knowest not," "believe not." He knew not and believed not.
Before we go any further, will you quietly settle it before God whether those things are true of you.
First, then, there is Nicodemus, a man in authority as a teacher but with nothing authoritative to say; a man who should have known but was sure of nothing; a man absolutely in the dark (and the fact that he came to Jesus by night, may be a picture of the night in which his soul was found just then).
The man in the dark comes to the MAN in the light; the man who didn't know comes to the MAN Who did know (v. 11), the man without true authority comes to the authoritative MAN (verses 2 and 3).
Now look at this MAN, the One called Jesus, to Whom Nicodemus came.
First.—He was a recognized Teacher; "We know that thou art a teacher" ver. 2, but the authority of His teaching lay in the great backing that His deeds gave to His words; "We know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him." Here then was One Who had the authority of God behind His teaching, such authority being acclaimed by the wonder of His works.
Secondly, note His dual personality—
1. Son of Man (verses 13-14).
2._Son of GOD (verse 16).
The burden of the message of this unique Personality, this great Teacher was concerning heavenly things, and He has a right to be heard, for He came directly down from Heaven to declare heavenly things, and He came by the way of incarnation. The eternal Son of God became Son of Man! but in becoming Man, He never divested Himself of Deity, for note the attribute of Godhead ascribed to the Son of Man in verse 13. "The Son of Man which is in Heaven." In Heaven but talking to Nicodemus on earth! Omnipresence!
Thirdly, let us listen afresh to the ineffable music of His Name . . . JESUS, Saviour. He is the Saviour come down from Heaven, in touch with God, Himself God, in touch with man, Himself MAN, and He has come teaching the principles of salvation.
I submit, that you, like Nicodemus, would be well advised to go to Him; there is no authority apart from Christ upon heavenly things.
As we pass on to our next section, let us remember that we have seen, in this story, a sinner and the Saviour meet. May the Lord graciously grant that through the perusal of these pages, other sinners may meet the Saviour.
(2) TWO IMPERATIVES—ver. 7 and ver. 14:—
1. "Ye must be born again" (verse 7).
2. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (verse 14).
The subject of the conversation between Nicodemus and the Lord Jesus Christ was the kingdom of God, that is, that realm in which God is absolutely supreme; He always is of course, but I mean acknowledged as such. Where God is known and loved and honoured and obeyed; where loving and loyal allegiance to Him go hand in hand with intimate communion with Him.
Before entrance into that kingdom is possible, two things are absolutely imperative, the one is in relation to the sinner, the other is in relation to the Saviour.
Take verse 14 first—"so must the Son of Man be lifted up."
Before one guilty sinner could enter the kingdom of God, sin must be atoned for. One only could at once satisfy the claims of Heaven's justice and earth's need; the Son of Man, He must be crucified.
"There was none other good enough
To pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate
Of Heaven and let us in."
Thank God that great necessity for the vindication of the divine character and the justification of poor sinners is accomplished fact. "Christ died and rose and revived." Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; He bore the judgment due to our sins, thereby settling every claim that the outraged throne of God could demand.
But even so, the fact remains that our nature is evil, inherently evil, and—
"Nought that defileth, nought that defileth,
Can ever enter in."
"Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," (1 Cor. 15. 50). It is imperative that we have a new nature, clean and incapable of sin, and at the same time, capable of enjoying God, living in the realm of God, and understanding the things of God. "Ye must be born again."
Now may I ask your careful attention to several verses in our passage concerning the new birth:—
Verse 6. The Miracle of the New Birth. We are "born of the Spirit." New birth is nothing less than the creative act of the almighty Spirit; it is not something that we can work up ourselves; it is not the result of emotion; it is the work of God.
Verse 7. The Must of the New Birth. We have already stressed this; it is a tremendous necessity.
Verse 8. The Manifestation of the New Birth. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
We hear the tempest's roar; we see the giant oaks bow and strain before it, and the tranquil sea lashed into billows, mountains high. We cannot see the wind, but we hear the sound thereof, and we see the effects; they are the manifestation of an unseen power. So is every one that is born of the Spirit. When the mighty miracle has been wrought, the evidence of it
is seen in the person that has been born again; if there is no evidence in the life that the Holy Spirit is there, it may well be questioned whether the work has taken place at all.
Verses 15 and 16. The Means of the New Birth. The means whereby the New Birth comes in the experience of the individual is found to be through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, "Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." It is not believing about Him but believing in Him that brings life, just as it is not a drowning man's thoughts about a life-boat that will bring him life, in the place of a grave in the deep, but his response to those thoughts, getting into the life-boat.
(3) TWO PROVISIONS. First, there was the provision made for Israel, bitten by the serpents; and secondly, there is the provision made for mankind bitten by sin. The Lord Jesus Christ uses the former and physical as a type of the latter and spiritual.
Shall we examine the analogy?
1. As the Israelites were bitten by serpents, so all mankind has been bitten by that old serpent the devil, and the deadly poison of his sting is sin.
2. For Israel, God's remedy was a brazen serpent lifted upon a pole, but for sinners, the remedy is found in His Son lifted upon the Cross. The uplifted serpent set forth the death of the destroying serpents and through crucifixion, Christ vanquished Satan, the great enemy of our race.
3. But as the bitten Israelite must look in faith toward God's provision if he would be healed of his deadly bite, so the sinner, if he would be healed of the malady of sin and delivered from spiritual and eternal death, must look in repentance toward God and in faith toward His provision, Christ crucified and risen again.
4. In each case, note that the provision was made through grace and offered to those who were absolutely undeserving.
John 3. 16 has been described as the Gospel in a nut-shell, but Dr. Graham Scroggie has pointed out an acrostic of the Gospel in that nut-shell; may I indicate it?
For God so loved the world that He gave His
Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not
Perish, but have
(4) TWO PROSPECTS. These are simply stated but who shall fathom the depth of their meaning? Simply stated, they are to perish, verses 15 and 16, and to be saved, verse 17.
By nature, we are perishing; by the new nature we are being saved (1 Cor. 1. 18, R.V.). This denotes direction, but direction determines destiny, eternal perishing, eternal salvation. Where are you going, what is your prospect? May the Lord show you your direction, and if so be that revelation shows you to be on your way to hell, dear reader, turn to Christ and so start on the way to Heaven.
Nicodemus was a timid man; he came to Jesus by night, but he was a wise man, he came to Jesus; will you not?
See the sequel to that meeting—John 7. 50-52 records his raising his voice in the interests of the Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of His enemies; and John 19. 39 shows him entering into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. As you meet Him through the means of this chapter, what shall the sequel be in your experience?
May I close with a short story I read somewhere, leaving out the details, but giving just the outline. It is the story of a poor city waif, who having fallen under the influence of bad companions, was waiting about one night for them at a street corner to join them in a daring burglary.
A servant of God connected with a city mission, seeing the forlorn look of the lad, approached him and asked him if he would like to have a free supper, and a warm bed. This was something to which the poor boy was a stranger but realizing that the offer was too good to lose, he promptly replied that he would. He was told to go to a certain house, where, upon his giving the right pass-word, he would be admitted to supper and bed; the pass-word, said his unknown friend, is John 3. 16.
It seemed passing strange to the dark youth, but running off to put it to the test, he found that all that the gentleman had said was true. He had a warm welcome, a warm supper and a warm bed.
Morning coming, he must leave the mission, but in crossing a busy thoroughfare he was knocked down and taken in a critical condition to the hospital. For days he hung between life and death, and the voice of the lad in delirium rang through the ward, again and again, and this is what he was saying: "John 3. 16, it was to do me good and so it has." "John 3. 16, it was to do me good and so it has."
In time he came to consciousness and then loving lips explained to him the meaning of the wondrous verse. It had opened material blessings to him but was intended of God to open spiritual and eternal blessings as well.
To make a long story short, the outcome was that the lad was born again; he found in its deepest sense that John 3. 16 was to do him good and so it had. It secured for him a place in the comfort of the mission home, but better, infinitely better than that, it secured for him a place in the kingdom of God.
Dear reader may you also be able to say, not only that "it was to do me good," that is true whether you apprehend it or not, but "so it has." God grant it for Christ's sake.
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