Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 3

A Night Visitor

There are some people who have a lot to "lose," in an earthly sense, if they were to change their religious beliefs. Often such men have spent their entire lives building their businesses, developing their connections, establishing their reputations, and working their ways up the ladder in the spheres of their influence. A change in religious beliefs on the part of those men would result in the severance of some of those connections and the collapse of some of those spheres of influence. Thus those who operate in such heady realms are generally thoughtful and cautious about making any big spiritual shifts.

Such a man was Nicodemus. "Now there was a man of the Pharisees," avouched John the apostle, "named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews" (John 3:1). A ranking Pharisee, most likely a member of the Sanhedrin, and one whom Jesus called "the teacher of Israel," Nicodemus was well connected, a man of influence who had leveraged himself into those positions.

Nicodemus, feeling pressure from his peers, approached Jesus’ camp in the night, wanting confirmation that the Rabbi was from God. He got a lot more in response that he bargained for, and his head reeled from the time this encounter began.



Born of Water and Spirit

From the miracles Jesus performed, Nicodemus was able to conclude that Jesus had come from heaven as a teacher. But he was unprepared for the spiritual depth of the teaching that was about to come. The Lord rocked him with His first statement: "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Nicodemus, "the teacher" of Israel, and the epitome of the Jewish Rabbi, was locked in on the physical realm and not grasping at all what the Teacher come from heaven was saying. "How can a man be born when he is old?" he asked. "He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" (John 3:4). Jesus did not let him rest nor did He make it easy for Nicodemus. Rather than backtrack to Nicodemus’ level, the Lord looked beyond the cross and expounded upon a foundational spiritual truth, the nature of the new birth.

The words of Peter, delivered to the Jews on Pentecost, 30 AD, the first time the gospel was preached, still stand as the Biblical exposition of the words of Jesus to Nicodemus: "Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).



The Kingdom of God

Our Lord was emphatic, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Since the time of David the king, the Jews had looked for the coming of God’s kingdom. As Jewish independence was swept away by the successive oppressions of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, and no descendant of David sat on a throne in Jerusalem, the people of Israel increasingly longed for the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament prophets. Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel,  was one of those who was waiting for the kingdom of God  (Luke 23:51), and who was interested enough to approach Jesus personally.

At the time that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, the kingdom of God was a future event. There are those who assume that Nicodemus was born again  on the spot, but the kingdom would not come until the events recorded in Acts 2, the beginning of the church. Nicodemus was not born again in John 3, did not know what the kingdom of God was, and did not know when it would come.

The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and only those who are truly born of the Spirit  can see it. Those who misunderstand the way of salvation, who do not understand that one is born again through immersion in water into Christ, are blind, blind, blind; they cannot see.

Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,  was the final answer of the Lord. There are no exceptions, and no man-made schemes that will get anyone into this desirable kingdom. God saves His people, as the apostle Paul concurred, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit  (Titus 3:5). Only those thus saved may enter into the kingdom of God.



The Spiritual Birth

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh," stated our Lord, "and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Those who are born of the flesh are formed in the image of Adam and are, in the words of the apostle Paul, "earthy" (I Corinthians 15:47). Earthy man has his focus on his physical existence - his planting, his harvesting, his buying, his selling, his marrying, his giving in marriage. Adam was doomed to failure in the Garden of Eden, not because he did not have the capacity to resist temptation, but because he did not have sufficient spiritual interest to maintain his focus. God never intended the Garden as the final or ultimate home of man; it was a physical beginning place, being a figure or type of the spiritual reality to come for a properly prepared spiritual people.

What an awesome concept and awesome execution Jesus brought into the world. Those who were "of flesh" had nothing but futility in front of them, and in consequence sunk to biting and devouring one another. But the spiritual birth liberates the spirit of man, elevates him to another plane, and implants hope into his heart. "Do not marvel that I said to you," emphasized the Christ, "You must be born again" (John 3:7).



"How Can These Things Be?"

The things that are impossible for men are possible with God. When Jesus spoke of a second birth, Nicodemus was incredulous, exclaiming, How can these things be?  These are the things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him  (I Corinthians 2:9). Jesus had, as evidenced by His inspiration of Isaiah, anticipated a response such as was given by Nicodemus. Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?  He queried. Man should be humble, and let God instruct him.

People have a tendency to acquire their religious ideas from all kinds of sources. But there is only One who has seen the heavenly side of the picture, proven by His resurrection from the dead. The fact that most of this earth’s residents will continue to reject the information provided by Jesus and accept all kinds of weird religious beliefs is an amazing commentary on the moral rebellion of mankind. When Jesus told Nicodemus the truth about being born again of water and Spirit, he asked, How can these things be?  Mankind as a whole is still asking that same question, and refusing to believe the answer.



The Lifting Up Of Jesus

The sting of a serpent is generally fatal. This is true in the material realm, and God uses this material truth to teach that the same is true in the spiritual realm; anyone who is bitten by the serpent of old dies.

Israel had this lesson really impressed upon them. Moses recorded some major whining against God and against himself, noting this complaint of the people, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food" (Numbers 21:5). God didn’t like whining any more then than He does now, so He "sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died." With thousands of people dying, and family after family struck by very visible tragedy, Israel temporarily came to their senses, and asked Moses to intercede on their behalf. "Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live" (Numbers 21:6-8). After Moses had made the bronze serpent and placed it on a pole in the presence of Israel, the Lord was true to His word, and "if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived" (Numbers 21:9). Jesus then used this lesson.

Satan has run a "sting" operation on all who are old enough to be responsible for their own actions. Jesus was lifted up on the cross publicly, in the sight of the world, through the preaching of the gospel, that all who truly look at Him thus crucified might be healed from the sting of death.



That They May Not Perish

Even the golden verse of the Bible cannot avoid a reference to the hellfire. "For God so loved the world," stated the Savior, "that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, by have eternal life" (John 3:16). That man would perish in the eternal fire apart from the tender and costly intercession of Jesus is the greatest possible indictment of man. Many have said, "I don’t believe that God would send a person to hell just because they aren’t baptized the way your church teaches," or somewhat similar remark. Such a statement indicates ignorance of what the real problem is - God does not send a person to hell because there was some item like immersion he neglected to do; God sends a person to hell because he personally has transgressed the law of God and thus actively committed sin.

The mission of Jesus was not to condemn man but to rescue the willing. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge [condemn] the world, but that the world should be saved through Him" (John 3:17). The analysis of our Lord was that each soul that had sinned would perish forever. He therefore came to provide the only way of escape from such punishment.

The Lord Jesus, through whom all things were created, knew what was at the end of the line for each human being. As the tee-shirt says: "It is not that life is so short…it is that eternity is so long!" There are only two places to spend that eternity - living in heaven with God or perishing in the fires of hell. God paid an immensely high price to rescue the lost; who of honest heart could spurn Him?



The Judge of Hearts

There are evil people in the world, and there are those who truly want to do what is right. The flawless judgment of God is that even those who want to do right have fallen into sin and are held captive by the devil to do his will. "For I am not practicing what I would like to do," observed Paul of the sinful man who wanted to do right, prior to his conversion to Christ, "but I am doing the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). "Blessed are the poor in spirit," Jesus similarly noted, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). The one who wants to do right knows the anguish of falling short of the glory of God; the one who wants to continue to do evil becomes hostile to the message from God.

"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him," stated the Lord Christ, noting that the whole world lay in the power of the evil one, and that only Jesus Himself could successfully carry out the rescue mission. "He who believes in Him is not judged [condemned in judgment]; he who does not believe has been judged already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God" (John 3:17-21).

In the will of God the judgment of God is exhibited in each man’s response to the message of Jesus the Christ, the only begotten Son of God. The eyes of the Lord roam to and fro throughout the whole earth, and where there is a man or woman of honest heart any place on earth, He who delivered up His only Son will ensure that the message of light will reach him. Those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil. Such is the analysis of Him who judges the hearts.



The Coming of Light

One of the great themes running throughout the gospel account of John is light. The Holy Spirit and the apostle do not use the terms "light" and "darkness" simply metaphorically, referring to mere understanding or lack of it. God Himself is light, and that is far more than understanding. Satan is the prince of darkness, and that is far more than lack of understanding. The sons of the kingdom will shine as bright as the sun, and that is far more than a mere symbol or metaphor. Those who will not obey the gospel will be cast into the outer darkness, and that is not metaphorical. There is spiritual light and spiritual darkness, and one of the purposes of evening and morning in the physical realm is to communicate the stark, stark contrast between the two.

This is how the light is come into the world - first through Jesus, shining in glory; then through the church, which is His body. Because men as a whole love darkness, warfare is inevitable. Those who do evil - who form denominations, who become humanists, who are anarchists, who are locked in one of the pagan religions - hate the light, and will aggressively attempt to shut out the light. But light pushes back darkness. "You are the light of the world…Let your light shine …" (Matthew 5:14-16).



Discussion on Purification

The entrances of John the Immerser and Jesus Himself on Judea’s scene stirred the pot of religious discussion among the Jews. Probably thousands became disciples of the Harbinger, and multitudes more became followers - in varying degrees of comprehension and commitment - of the Lord. After Christ’s participation in the festivities of His first Passover following His immersion, "Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and immersing" (John 3:22). [Later scripture notes that Jesus personally did not immerse anyone, but that His disciples did the immersing for Him.] This time with the disciples was time well-spent; the stage was being set for eventual world evangelism.

The apostle John recalled the scene at the lower Jordan. "And John [the Immerser] also was immersing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and being immersed. For John had not yet been thrown into prison" (John 3:23,24). The news of this activity had spread throughout the land and the throngs arrived at the place in the Jordan deep enough for those immersions to occur, making it clear that the ancient practice was indeed immersion of the body rather than sprinkling or pouring. "There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is immersing, and all are coming to Him" (John 3:25,26).

May the discussion about purification continue!


Stepping Aside for the Bridegroom

In the days of John the Immerser, more than the waters of the lower Jordan were being stirred. The ministry of John had struck Israel like a thunderbolt, undermining the restrictions imposed by the scribes and Pharisees, and offering liberation to the common people. John’s immersion was entitled "the immersion of repentance," and it was for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). Multitudes came into the wilderness of Judea to be immersed by John, being set free from the yoke of those who had seated themselves in the chair of Moses, and being offered a new start under the Law. When the Sadducees and Pharisees tried to regain their leadership position by being immersed also, the Herald refused them, saying, "Bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance" (Matthew 3:8). No repentance forthcoming, "the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been immersed by John" (Luke 7:30). While the waters of the Jordan were being stirred by all these immersions, the Jewish hierarchy was being stirred to action as they perceived a threat to their pompous power and politics.

Then Jesus Himself arrived on the scene. A more powerful and insightful preacher and teacher even than John, He began to influence more people than the Harbinger, and through His disciples multitudes more were being immersed into John’s immersion. With the controversy swirling and the talk going on, some of John’s disciples engaged a Jew in a discussion about purification. The Immerser’s disciples seized this opportunity to meet with their master and pose their concern to him. "Rabbi," they said, "He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is immersing, and all are coming to Him" (John 3:26). Their concern was that their master’s influence was waning in the face of the Newcomer from Galilee.

The Immerser, like all true servants of God, was a humble man and willing to set aside any personal desire or agenda for the sake of Christ and the gospel. All who have that same attitude also step aside for the bridegroom, and say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).


The One from Above

While Jesus’ feet touched the earth, His head was fixed on heaven. As the Son of God, appearing as the Son of Man, He was a heavenly being come to dwell among the sons of men, whose purpose was to declare the glories of the realm above to those whose affections were often rooted on the realm below. John the Harbinger, as the one sent before the face of the Lord, had an awareness of who He was, and what His mission was. When John’s disciples expressed concern about the apparent rising star of Christ and the diminution of John’s, the Immerser took the time to explain what was happening.

Jesus is the One who has come from above to bear testimony about heaven. His credentials are verified by the Spirit, and wise men will heed the witness Jesus has borne.


Jesus Is Above All

The disciples of John the Immerser were concerned that John was losing his influence to an upstart from Galilee. "Rabbi," they said, "He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is immersing, and all are coming to Him" (John 3:26). The Harbinger indicated to his disciples that it was no problem for Jesus to be increasing while he personally was decreasing in influence. John knew who Jesus was, having stated repeatedly, "I have seen, and have borne witness, that this is the Son of God" (John 1:34).

Jesus, as the Son of God, was not of the earth; He came from heaven. "He who comes from heaven," was the pronouncement of the Forerunner, "is above all" (John 3:31). Because Jesus was above all, John was willing to step aside as a servant of the King, and let the King have all the glory. May his example be emulated!

John, of the earth, spoke of the earth; Jesus, from heaven, spoke of heaven, and, having seen and heard the things of glory, was the only competent witness of the things above. Given the Spirit without measure, Jesus spoke words from God, but, even so, the bulk of the Jews did not receive His witness. The ignorance and rebellion of mankind was not going to deter the plan of God, however.

Eternal life or the abiding wrath of God rests in the balance. Jesus is from above and has been given all authority by the Father; and the inspired assessment of the Immerser is that disobedience to the Son will result in eternal condemnation. The charge, issued from the lower Jordan by the Harbinger, has echoed off the walls of the deepest chasm on the surface of the earth and continues to resound throughout the whole world. The terms are: believe in the Son, with all that includes, to eternal life; disobey the Son, and go to a Christless hell for all eternity.