TO SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Key Verse: 3:3
“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’”
Some people make jokes about Heaven and Hell, saying “I prefer to go to Hell because my friends are going be there too; because Heaven would be boring.” Some even love to sing a song “I am on the highway to Hell.” People do so because they cannot see the kingdom of God. I wonder if they could do such joke even when they actually stand before God. All men must appear before God in death. They shall be divided as a shepherd would divide the sheep from the goats; one into everlasting punishment, into everlasting hell and torment where there shall be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, where the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever: and they have no rest day nor night, and the other into everlasting glory - the kingdom of God where God himself will be with his people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death nor morning or crying or pain. (Rev21:2-4); there will be wonderful wedding banquet.
“Are you going to the Kingdom of God?” If so, how can you enter the Kingdom of God? In today’s passage Jesus meets a man named Nicodemus. He seemed to have everything. But he lacked the most important thing; the kingdom of God. Jesus humbly teaches him how to enter the kingdom of God by being born again. The only way to enter the kingdom of God is to be born again. Let us accept Jesus’ truth by faith in our hearts; let us look at Jesus lifted on the cross by faith, so that we may see the kingdom of God today.
First, unless one is born again (1-8)
Look at verse 1. “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.” Who was Nicodemus? First, he was a “Pharisee.” When you hear the word “Pharisee”, you might immediately think of legalistic hypocrites. In Jesus’ time, they were highly respected group known for their knowledge of the scriptures and their devotion to obey God’s law. To be a Pharisee was hard as much as one gets PHDs in Princeton University. To be a Pharisee, a young man had to start on a strict training course at the age of six to master the Old Testament and its ritual practices. By age ten, he mastered the Torah and the intricacies of the oral law; by age 13, he was considered a responsible covenant bearer of the law of God. That was not the end. After that, he had to learn under a great teacher of the law, but also learned the classic subjects of oratory, philosophy, history, medicine, and politics and so on. This was such a demanding life that only few thousands finally became Pharisees in Israel. Nicodemus was such a man, a Pharisee, the elite of the nation. Second, Nicodemus was also a member of the Jewish ruling council, known as the Sanhedrin which was Israel’s congress and Supreme Court. It was like being a U.S senator. He was the man of authority and power as a member of the Sanhedrin. Third, he was also the teacher of Israel. In verse 10, Jesus refers to him “the teacher of Israel.” He was probably the most popular and respected teacher of Judaism at the time. Do doubt, he was wealthy and well-connected. Consider his life! The wealth, the honor, and the power to do anything. He has fulfilled the Jewish dream. He had everything a man could hope for. He needed nothing. He also needed no one. Nicodemus had no reason to come to Jesus. But to our surprise, he snuck away at night and payed Jesus a visit. This visit is like “Chris Christy, NJ Governor, comes to Sh.David’s Bible Study.” Why?
Look at verse 2. “He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the sings you are doing if God were not with him.” Why did he come to Jesus? He saw something in Jesus that he never had experienced nor seen from others. Watching as Jesus did his work – preaching, teaching and healing, he saw God who was with Jesus. Comparing himself to Jesus, he realized his spiritual poverty. He had all things in the world, but he was empty and miserable. However, Jesus was full of grace, truth and life from God though he had nothing in this world. The emptiness in his heart was so dreadful that he came to Jesus at night. He could not find anything else in this world to make him fully satisfied.
What did Jesus say to Nicodemus? Let’s read verse 3. “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’” As soon as Jesus saw Nicodemus, Jesus knew what was on the inside of him. (2:25) Jesus understood his deep agony and got right to the point. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” What is his problem? Nicodemus needed to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus did everything according to the principles of this world. He served and established himself well in this world -- as if there were no God, nor the kingdom of God. Still He felt the empty and meaningless pangs of life. Nicodemus had everything this world could offer. But Nicodemus really had nothing, because he did not have God, nor the Kingdom of God. Here we learn very important truth. The things of this world can never satisfy a human being. In his pursuit for things of the world, Nicodemus ignored the truth that man is not only flesh but he is a soul as well. As Jesus once said: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Lk.9:25) Nicodemus lost his soul, though he gained things of the world. Like him, many people live as if there is no God, nor the kingdom of God. They will never experience the fullness of life in God and the everlasting joy in God and his kingdom. They are always thirsty and hungry. They are always driven by something, such as greed or lust or desire for power and honor. In order to get what they want, they compete with each other and hurt each other. They try to forget about their agonies by enjoying bits of fun and pleasure, but always feel empty, lonely and meaningless. Indeed, mankind must see the kingdom of God. Those who have the kingdom of God in their heart can have life to the full, the eternal life. In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” They can rejoice always for their joy is not rooted in temporal things, but in God and his kingdom. They are thankful to God in all circumstances. They work hard for the glory of God for they have the living hope in the kingdom of God. We must see the kingdom of God.
Then, how can we see the kingdom of God? Look at verse 3 again. We must be born again. What does it mean to be born again? It means to be born of God (1:13). Only way to find what Nicodemus is looking for – the Kingdom of God; the fullness of life – is to be born again from above. He was a Jew, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, and a highly respected teacher. Still all of these are not enough to get him into the Kingdom of God. Elite education, hardworking, Power, Money, Knowledge, nor being good cannot make anyone to see/reach to God.
We must be born again. As babies are born into the world with physical life, so God’s children are born into God’s kingdom with spiritual life. It is not the mere improvement of our condition. This is spiritual birth; the beginning of a new life as a new creation. That is why Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone! The new is here” (2 Cor 5:17) As natural people in Adam, we were alive physically, but dead in sin spiritually – living in darkness with petty desires of the world – condemned and hopeless. We must be born again – our soul need to take on a spiritual birth and begin a whole new life – a new life in Christ Jesus – new life for the glory of God. Nicodemus needed to be born again. Then how?
Secondly, how to be born again (4-8).
How did Nicodemus respond? He said, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!” (4) Trying to figure what Jesus said out by reason, Nicodemus could not understand Jesus’ words at all. Out of his compassion, Jesus taught him once again the way of the new birth – the way of salvation and the kingdom of God.
In verse 5, Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” How can one be born again? He must be born of water and the Spirit. Here ‘water’ refers to the water baptism, the baptism of repentance. Being born of water is about repentance. Repentance is necessary for the new birth. Repentance is to confess our sins, renounce our sins and turn way from our sins. Sinners will not repent of their sins by chance. Making a sinner to repent of its sin is difficult as like moving a mountain. However when a sinner accept one word of God in his heart and hold on to it, he comes to realize his sins. By the power of the living and enduring word of God, he confessed his sins, renounced his sins and made new decision to live by the word of God. 1Peter 1:23 says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”
But we need to be honest. No one by his own effort can be born spiritually. (Jn1:13) We need to be born of water and also we need to be born of the Spirit.
Being born of the Spirit is what God does when we repent of our sins. It is the work of Holy Spirit. To be born spiritually, only our God can give us life; just as our earthly father gave us physical life. This glorious birth happen when we repent of our sins and trust God by putting our faith in Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit gives us new birth, and then we begin to live a spiritual life.
Born of water and the spirit are working together for new birth. Ezekiel 36:25-27, which says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you...I will put my Spirit in you....” In Titus 3:5b Paul says, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit....” When God works in us in this way, we are transported into a new world, the kingdom of God; we have crossed over from death to life. (Jn5:24) God rescues us from the dominion of darkness and brings us into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Col 1:13-14).
In verse 6, Jesus explains that just as there is physical birth, there is also spiritual birth, saying, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (6). The flesh has nothing to do with the birth of the spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can give birth to new life in a person.
Nicodemus was surprised at Jesus’ words, “You must be born again” (7). He needed to understand the work of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus explained using the metaphor of wind in order to help him. Verse 8 says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. No one knows where it comes from or where it is going. Modern science tries to figure it out, but cannot really. The wind is mysterious. We cannot see the wind, but we can feel it and see the evidences of it. In the same way, the Holy Spirit works as he wishes. Just as the wind may blow gently or violently, so the Holy Spirit may work gently like a dove or powerfully, like a hurricane. Though we cannot see the Spirit, he always leaves the evidence of change. We can recognize the work of the Holy Spirit through changed people - through their words, behavior and lifestyle. In fact, the Holy Spirit bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us – such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. One girl hated her father for his irresponsibility and gambling habit. After she experienced Jesus’ love for her, she began to pray for his salvation and loved him all the more. One young man was full of selfish ambition. When he learned God’s compassion for him, he resigned his job in Apple and worked in Honors Review to coworker for World mission together with his parents.
The work of the Holy Spirit is a divine mystery. We cannot control it. But we can learn to pray and wait.
After his resurrection, Jesus visited the disciples and said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my father promised… For John baptized with water, but in few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”(Ac1:4-5)
They prayed and waited. Then, on the day of Pentecost, the wind of the Holy Spirit blew with great power. The disciples were transformed into bold witness of Jesus. Their gospel message was so powerful that it shook Jerusalem. Where there is repentance by faith in the word of God and pray, the Holy Spirit is pleased to work.
Third, the Son of Man must be lifted up (9-15).
In this part Jesus teaches us what we should do in order to see the kingdom of God. First of all, accept the testimony of Jesus by faith (9-13).
Nicodemus should have said “Amen,” to Jesus' teaching. But to our surprise, he again said, “How can this be?” This time, Jesus exposed his spiritual pride and ignorance.
Look at verses 10-11. “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.”
Jesus said three times, “Very truly I tell you,” which means “I am telling you the truth of God.”
Nicodemus’ lack of spiritual understanding was not an intellectual problem, but due to his pride.
Nicodemus needed to humbly accept Jesus’ words by faith, for Jesus testified to what he knew and had seen.
He needed to first believe what Jesus had told him, and then he could begin to grow more. But since he did not believe what Jesus had said, he had not even begun to grow.
Jesus really wanted to reveal heavenly things to Nicodemus. But he was too proud to accept Jesus’ word.
He needed to curb his pride and realize that Jesus was uniquely qualified to teach about heavenly things.
So Jesus said in verse 13, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven - the Son of man.” Accept the testimony of Jesus by faith – Jesus is testifying what he knows; what he’s seen.
Secondly, look at Jesus lifted up on the cross (14-15). Jesus did not give up helping Nicodemus. Jesus told him the most beautiful story of love and truth regarding his sacrificial death on the cross for our sins.
Let’s read verses 14-15. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
After God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and led them into the wilderness, they should have been thankful always. But whenever they faced troubles they revealed their slave mentality and grumbled, and complained against both God and Moses.
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people, especially on their complaining lips, and many Israelites died.
Then they acknowledged their sin and asked Moses to pray to take the snakes away from them.
What was God’s answer? Instead of taking the snakes away, God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole and promised that anyone who was bitten could look up at the bronze snake and live.
God instructed them to look at a bronze snake on a pole. It was ridiculous.
Usually, people who are bitten by a venomous snake take immediate steps to deal with the attack. They stop the blood flow by compressing …, make an incision above the bite and try to suck the poison out of their bloodstream.
At the same time, they have to watch out for other snakes which might be about to strike them. Dealing with these snakes required their full attention and concentration.
“Look at a bronze snake on pole.” It was ridiculous.
But it was God’s way of salvation. It took faith. It was unthinkable to turn away from the problem and look at a bronze snake on a pole.
God’s way of dealing with this problem was unreasonable and beyond understanding. It required their full trust and faith, as a matter of life and death.
Only those who fully trusted God more than their own ideas and thinking could look up at the bronze snake.
In the same way, Jesus wanted to help Nicodemus experience salvation through faith in him.
Nicodemus needed to look at Jesus on the cross and believed in him. Jesus said, “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (14-15).
The phrase “must be lifted up” means it was the only way of salvation that God provided. He needed to trust God’s way of salvation in looking at Jesus. He did not have to understand God’s way of salvation. What he needed was to have faith to be born again of God – born again to a spiritual life.
In his great mercy and love, God sent his one and only Son Jesus to be lifted up on the cross - to die and shed his blood for our sins.
God promised that everyone who believes in Jesus may have eternal life in him.
Let’s look up at Jesus on the cross with full trust in God.
Jesus on the cross is the only way to the Kingdom of God.
Did Nicodemus ever get saved? I think he did. He appears twice more in John’s gospel. In John 7:50-51, Nicodemus defends Jesus before the Sanhedrin and is rebuked for it.
Then, in John 19:39-42, Nicodemus appears at the cross to help bury Jesus’ body. Nicodemus publicly identified with Jesus. Humanly he risked everything: his position, his wealth, his fame–everything. But he could do so freely. He was no longer bound by the things of the world.
He could see and enter the kingdom of God. He looked at Jesus on a cross and lived.
Let us read verse 3. What all people really need is to see the kingdom of God. We can see the kingdom of God when we are born again.
Let’s remember that God loves us and really wants to give us the kingdom of God.
All we have to do is repent of our sins and look at Jesus with faith in God’s promise. May God help you to look and live.
We come to see God and the kingdom of God; we come to seek God and his kingdom first; we see the value of obedience to God / seeking …
However sinners deliberately choose not to believe.(it) becomes a matter faith.
Jesus taught him the way of salvation (born again) form the historical point of view - mainly to trust and obey God.
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