Trying to Teach Worldly People Heavenly Truth

A sermon in dialogue from John 3:1-21 in the New Testament

Participants are the pastor and a worldly critic

Introduction with pastor starting to read the text from John 3:1- 21

“I’m reading from John 3:1-21. Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’(vss 1-2)

In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’” (vs 3)

from the congregation the worldly critic interrupts the pastor's reading “Excuse me. That’s ridiculous! That’s impossible! That doesn’t make any sense! What in the world do you mean?”

the pastor responds “You’re right. That does sound ridiculous! Even Nicodemus thought that such a thing was impossible. Hear his question and comments as I continue reading. ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ (vs 4) Let me go on reading their conversation and maybe we can make some sense out of this. OK? By the way, I’m Bob, what’s your name?”

critic responds “I’m (person gives his/her name) OK, go ahead, but I may interrupt you again if I don’t understand what you are reading or have some objection to it.”

“That’s fine. I welcome this opportunity to share with you in the examination of this important lesson from Jesus, a great teacher. Would you please come and join me here in front?”

“OK” (critic comes forward to join the pastor)

“I’m glad to meet you (using person's name)(and they shake hands)

More questions about Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus

“I’ll continue reading from this conversation that Jesus is having with Nicodemus. Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of god unless he is born of water and the Spirit.’” (vs 5)

“What in the world does that mean? What is this Spirit that you’re reading about?”

“Being ‘born of water’ refers to one’s natural birth in water from the womb of one’s mother. Let’s go on as Jesus tries to explain his reference to the Spirit to Nicodemus and to us. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (vs 6) Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus says, ‘You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.’” (vss 7- 8)

“I still don’t get it! What is Jesus talking about? What does the wind have to do with being ‘born again’ and being ‘born of the Spirit’? This doesn’t make any sense!” (tone of slight impatience and disgust)

(using the critic’s name), do you believe in the jet stream?”

“Yes I do.”

“Have you ever seen it?”

“No, not exactly.”

“Then how do you know that it exists?”

“The experts in weather talk about it all of the time. They chart its position and direction on the weather graphics that they use in their forecasts. Pilots use it as they fly from the west to the east across our continent to give their planes a boost. Nobody can see it, but it’s effects can be seen, measured in air temperatures and pressures, charted, and experienced as it pushes airplanes and drags the clouds and the patterns of weather across our continent.”

“That’s good. So they can assume that something like the jet stream exists because they can see and experience the various effects that it is apparently causing in the atmosphere.”

(pastor continues with his comment) “So Jesus is trying to teach Nicodemus that although some aspects of being born of the Spirit are discernable, like the sound of the wind, there are other aspects of it that may be somewhat mysterious, like the direction of the wind. Let’s go on; maybe we can make some sense out of this. (pastor resumes reading from text of scripture) ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked. (vs 9) See (using critic’s name), you’re not the only one that has some questions about what Jesus is saying. Even Nicodemus doesn’t quite understand what Jesus is trying to teach him.”

“I’m certainly glad to know that I’m not the only one who finds Jesus’ remarks somewhat difficult to understand.”

“Let’s go on, maybe we can shed some light on this so that it will become clearer. ‘You are Israel’s teacher’, said Jesus...(vs 10) You see (critic’s name), Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was especially trained in the Jewish laws and teachings of his people, so Jesus says, ‘and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.’” (vss 10–11) The ‘we’ to which Jesus is referring includes himself and all of the prophets and teachers of ancient Israel that Nicodemus and his people had studied for centuries.”

“Wow! So there was a whole bunch of people who apparently didn’t understand or accept what Jesus and these other teachers had been trying to communicate to them.”

“Right you are (critic’s name). I’ll go on reading their conversation. ‘I have spoken to you of earthly things... referring to the blowing wind and its sound that Jesus had just mentioned to Nicodemus. ‘and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?’ (vs 12)

“Oh boy; here we go again! What are these ‘heavenly things’? This is getting more and more confusing!”

“I think that Jesus is getting to the main point of his lesson for Nicodemus and for us. It may become clearer as I continue. ‘No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.’” (vs 13) In this statement Jesus goes back to Nicodemus’ comment that he regards him as ‘a teacher who has come from God’ as he continues to try to explain his statement about the necessity to be ‘born again’, to be ‘born of...the Spirit’, before Nicodemus or anyone else can really discern who has come from God.”

Jesus identifies himself as God’s Son

“I’ll try to briefly explain this. The ‘Son of Man’ was an unique individual who was described by the ancient Jewish prophet Daniel as one who would come to earth ‘with the clouds of heaven’ and the God-given authority, glory, and power that would cause ‘all peoples, nations, and men of every language’ to worship him as he ruled over a kingdom that would ‘never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14)

(pastor continues with his explanation) “Nicodemus would be familiar with this figure of ‘The Son of Man’ from his study of Daniel. So Jesus is trying to use images and ideas that Nicodemus would understand to explain to him why he must be ‘born again’ of God's Spirit. Does that help?”

“Yeah, a little bit; but this is really hard to understand!”

“I’ll go on. We’re just about at the main point of Jesus’ lesson, his teaching to Nicodemus and to us. Let’s see if we can make some sense of it and understand the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert...’ (vs 14) I’m sure that you don’t understand what that is all about. Right?”

“You got that right!”

“This is another reference to something from Jewish history. Jesus is referring to an incident when the ancient people of Israel were once again engaged in a rebellion against God and Moses, their leaders, while they were wandering in the desert for 40 years under the judgment of God because they had refused to enter the land that God had promised them. This time God sent some ‘venomous snakes’ to bite them in his act of deadly judgment. When the people repented and Moses prayed for them, God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole and lift it up. Then those who had been bitten but hadn't yet died could look upon it and they would live.” (see Numbers 21:4–9) Of course, Nicodemus and others in Israel knew the story of this incident in their history. Does that help?”

“I’m not sure. It is still pretty confusing.”

“I’m sure that it is, but let’s go on with Jesus’ lesson. the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (vss 14–15) Jesus was trying to teach Nicodemus and his fellow Jews that if he and any of them wanted to be able to recognize who came from God and to see God’s kingdom and to experience ‘eternal life’ they must look upon and believe in the ‘Son of Man’ who would be ‘lifted up.’

“I still don’t get it! What does Jesus mean when he says this ‘Son of Man must be lifted up’? Is that like the bronze snake that Moses put on a pole and lifted up?”

“That’s right. You are getting it! Being ‘lifted up’ was a commonly understood reference to the act of being crucified in which a person was nailed to a cross beam and the shaft of a pole that was then placed into the ground so that he was suspended up above the ground and left there until he died a slow and agonizing death. This was observed in Jerusalem and throughout the Roman Empire as the Roman’s method of capital punishment for anyone who rebelled against them, so Nicodemus probably understood what Jesus was saying.”

“I’m glad to know that I’m beginning to understand a little bit of what you are reading, but I still don’t get the main point that Jesus is trying to make in his conversation with Nicodemus.”

Jesus states the heavenly truth

“OK. We’re at that point right now as Jesus makes his basic statement of truth to Nicodemus and to us. Will you listen and give it your careful attention?”

“I sure will.”

“Hear this heavenly truth from Jesus, a teacher whom Nicodemus acknowledges had ‘come from God’ (pastor resumes reading from the Scriptures) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.(vs 16)

“OK. Who is this ‘Son’ whom Jesus has now mentioned?”

(critic’s name), that is the key question in this entire conversation about Jesus’ lesson for Nicodemus and our dialogue with each other! Jesus is connecting the reference of Nicodemus that he came ‘from God’ with Daniel’s image of the ‘snake’ that was ‘lifted up’ in the wilderness to God’s offer to give ‘eternal life’ to everyone who ‘believes in him’ and then specifically to his ‘Son

(pastor continues with his explanation) “According to another Jewish image that Nicodemus would understand, the Son of God is the one who would come from heaven into the world to carry out a special work of God as he would do God’s will. Let’s go on with Jesus’ lesson. OK?”

“Ok. This is very interesting!”

“Listen as Jesus states the special work that the Son was to do. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (vs 17) So the Son was not sent to judge or to punish the world, but to ‘save the world’ as he would be crucified or in other words be ‘lifted up’. Is this beginning to make some sense?”

“I think so, but Jesus’ lesson is still somewhat of a mystery to me.”

“I’ll continue as Jesus tries to clarify the point of this lesson to Nicodemus, and try to further clarify his teaching as I go along with the reading. Will that help?”

“It might.”

“Listen to this. Whoever believes in him is not condemned... (vs 18) Like those who looked upon the ‘lifted up’ snake were saved and those who would look upon the crucified ‘Son of Man’ would be saved when they believed, those who believe in the Son are ‘not condemned’. Then Jesus explains the opposite position in his lesson on heavenly truth.”

(as the pastor resumes reading the Scripture)but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (vs 19) So the person who does not believe in God’s Son is ‘condemned’, not in the position to receive ‘eternal life’, not able to ‘enter the kingdom of God’ or to understand its heavenly features because he or she hasn’t been ‘born again’ of the ‘Spirit’.”

(and the pastor continues with his explanation) “And notice that Jesus got specific in his lesson to Nicodemus and to us when he indicated that ‘God’s one and only Son’ had a name that was to be the focus, the center of one’s belief. We know that name to be the name Jesus, the Rabbi or teacher to whom Nicodemus had come. So (critic’s name), can you now understand the point of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, his lesson on heavenly truth for him and for us?”

Being born again and believing in Jesus is the key to understanding heavenly truth

“I think so. I really need to believe on Jesus if I ever hope to understand the truths of heaven that come to us from God and to avoid his condemnation and receive eternal life.”

(critic’s name), you got it right; and the experience of expressing that belief is the experience of being ‘born again’ by God’s Spirit. But not everyone understands this or is willing to accept it. Note these concluding remarks of Jesus in his lesson. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been through God.(vss 19–21)

(pastor continues his explanation) “What we have been reading and discussing this morning is our effort to bring people like you and me and all of these other men and women, youth and children who are gathered with us into the light of God’s truth that they might understand how much he loves them and how they can be ‘born again’ by God’s Spirit through belief in his Son, Jesus. But some people don’t want to come into the light, to consider heavenly truth, to plainly see what God has done for them in his Son, Jesus, because then their own sin would be exposed and they would realize that they were subject to God’s condemnation.”

“Thanks Bob for your patience with me and your thorough answers to my questions. I certainly have a lot to think about and to study. Can we discuss more of these readings pretty soon? I want to learn more about Jesus.”

“Praise God! (critic’s name), thanks for your sincere pursuit of truth and understanding and your thoughtful attention to my readings, responses and words of explanation. Come back next week as we continue to try to help each other and our visitors to know more about Jesus in our scheduled services and educational classes.”

The above Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.