JESUS AND NICODEMUS
John 3:3, ESV
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
JOHN 3:1-4, NIrV
1 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He was one of the Jewish rulers. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. We know that God is with you. If he weren’t, you couldn’t do the signs you are doing.”
3 Jesus replied, “What I’m about to tell you is true. No one can see God’s kingdom unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “They can’t go back inside their mother! They can’t be born a second time!”
Nicodemus was a Pharisee: an expert on God’s laws in the Bible. Most Pharisees hated Jesus because of the things he taught. But Nicodemus was curious: how could this man perform so many miracles unless God was with him? So he met Jesus at night, probably so the other Pharisees wouldn’t find out! What did Jesus tell him? “No one can enter God’s kingdom unless they’re born again.” Now, Nicodemus was no dummy: he knew a person can only be born once. No full-grown guy can squeeze back into his mom’s belly! Next time, we’ll learn what Jesus meant by “born again.”
+ Why did Nicodemus think God was with Jesus? (vs. 2)
+ Nicodemus knew people can only be born once. On what day were you born?
JOHN 3:5-8, NIrV
5 Jesus answered, “What I’m about to tell you is true. No one can enter God’s kingdom unless they are born with water and the Holy Spirit. 6 People give birth to people. But the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised when I say, ‘You must all be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wants to. You hear the sound it makes. But you can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going. It is the same with everyone who is born with the Spirit.”
God gave all of us bodies with parts we can see and touch. But he also gave us spirits (or souls): the invisible part of us that makes us... us! When we’re born, our bodies are alive, but the Bible teaches that our spirits are “dead in sin.” To enter God’s kingdom, we need our dead, sinful spirits to be born a second time. But like our bodies can’t be born without a mom, our spirits can’t be born again on our own. We need God’s Holy Spirit to make them come alive. Being “born again” is a mysterious, miraculous thing. Like wind, you can’t see it with your eyes; you can only see how it changes things.
+ Besides having a body, what does each and every human being have?
+ Who is the one who can make our spirits be born again? (vs. 5)
NUMBERS 21:4-9, NIrV
4 The Israelites traveled from Mount Hor along the way to the Red Sea. They wanted to go around Edom. But they grew tired on the way. 5 So they spoke against God and against Moses. They said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt? Do you want us to die here in the desert? We don’t have any bread! We don’t have any water! And we hate this awful food!”
6 Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the Israelites. The snakes bit them. Many of the people died. 7 The others came to Moses. They said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake. Put it up on a pole. Then anyone who is bitten can look at it and remain alive.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake. He put it up on a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake remained alive.
Before continuing the story of Nicodemus, we must zoom back 1,500 years further into the past. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God fed them each day with a miracle bread from heaven. Before long, his ungrateful people grew tired of it. When they complained, God punished them with poisonous snakes and many people died. The survivors asked Moses, their leader, for help. As he prayed, God gave Moses some weird instructions: “Shape a snake out of bronze metal and lift it up on a pole.” It was an odd plan, but it worked – anyone who looked at the bronze snake survived.
+ Why did God send poisonous snakes among the people? (vs. 5)
+ What actually made the people live: the bronze snake on a pole or God?
JOHN 3:9-15, NIRV
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus. “Don’t you understand these things? 11 What I’m about to tell you is true. We speak about what we know. We are witnesses about what we have seen. But still you people do not accept what we say. 12 I have spoken to you about earthly things, and you do not believe. So how will you believe if I speak about heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven. He is the Son of Man. 14 Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. In the same way, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. 15 Then everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Can you see why we studied the story about Moses lifting up a bronze snake? When Nicodemus couldn’t understand how someone could be “born again,” Jesus talked about someone he called the “Son of Man.” This “Son of Man” would one day be lifted up high for all to see, just like Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness. Those who looked at Moses' snake were saved from deadly venom. In the same way, everyone who believed in the Son of Man would be saved from their sins and live forever. Here’s the big secret: this special “Son of Man” guy – it was actually Jesus!
+ When was Jesus “lifted up high” like the snake on a pole? (Hint: think of how he died)
+ What does everyone who believes in Jesus receive? (vs. 15)
JOHN 3:16-18, NIRV
16 God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world. He sent his Son to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not judged. But anyone who does not believe is judged already. They have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
The first verse you read today, John 3:16, is probably the most famous Bible verse in the world. Why is it so famous? Because it contains the good news of what God did to save us from our sins in just a single sentence! There are four parts to this verse’s good news message. First, God loved us, even though we were sinners. Second, he sent this only Son to rescue us. Who was that Son? Jesus! Third, we don’t have to do anything to save ourselves from our sins. All we have to do is believe in Jesus. And fourth, those who believe receive eternal (forever) life instead of forever death!
+ Who did God love? (vs. 16)
+ Why did God send his Son, Jesus, into the world? (vs. 17)
PSALM 51:1-5, NIRV
1 God, have mercy on me
according to your faithful love.
Because your love is so tender and kind,
wipe out my lawless acts.
2 Wash away all the evil things I’ve done.
Make me pure from my sin.
3 I know the lawless acts I’ve committed.
I can’t forget my sin.
4 You are the one I’ve really sinned against.
I’ve done what is evil in your sight.
So you are right when you sentence me.
You are fair when you judge me.
5 I know I’ve been a sinner ever since I was born.
I’ve been a sinner ever since my mother became pregnant with me.
The book of Psalms is a songbook. It contains the lyrics of songs God’s people sang. In fact, the word “psalm” means song! This Psalm was written by King David after he committed a very serious sin against God. With these words, David confessed (or told the truth about) his sin to God. He asked God to forgive him: to not punish him and no longer be angry with him because of the evil things he had done.
In his song, David taught us something very interesting. He said, “I’ve been a sinner since the day I was born!” He even said he was a sinner as a baby growing in his mom’s belly! This isn’t only true of David, though. It’s true of every single human being who has been born since Adam and Eve (except Jesus, of course).
If we’re sinners from the time we’re born, what Jesus said makes perfect sense. If we’re born sinners, we can’t enter his kingdom and receive forever life. Sin-filled people can’t be a part of our sin-less God’s forever kingdom. In fact, sinners deserve the exact opposite – Jesus describes it as a forever, fiery death!
If this makes you think, “We’re all doomed!”, you are almost right! Without the love of God, we’d all have a date with destruction! But hold on – there’s good news, too. You see, God loved sinners like you and me. And because of his love, God sent his son into the world to save us from doom!
To save us, Jesus was nailed to a wooden cross. His cross was lifted up high for everyone to see, just like Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the desert. All who looked at Moses’ snake were saved from their fiery snakebites. In the same way, everyone who believes the good news about Jesus will be saved. We'll be rescued from a forever fiery death. Even better, God gives them the gift of forever life in his kingdom!
You might be wondering: how can I be born again? I want to be a part of God’s kingdom! Well, do not worry! Think about when you were born the first time. Did you do anything to make yourself be born? No, of course not! Instead, God grew you inside your mother until it was time for you to come out!
Likewise, we can’t make ourselves be born again. It’s a special mysterious miracle that God does inside of our sinful spirits. God changes our hearts so that we can believe the good news and receive eternal life. So don’t worry: God has done all the work for us to enter his kingdom! All we have to do is believe that good news!
+ What did David want God to do? (vs. 2)
+ How long did David say he’d been a sinner? (vs. 5)