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As we head towards Easter we are going to move through a series titled “The Centrality of the Cross.”

Today is part 4 The Serpent and the Saviour.

Text

John 3:14-15 (ESV)

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 

15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Scripture Reading

John 3:1-21 (ESV)

Prayer

Father, we we confess to you today our sin of ungratefulness. 

Too often Lord we forget that every moment we live is a gift of you divine grace.

Lord we recognise our unworthiness, and we know we are undeserving recipients of your goodness.

The gifts we bring to you today are expressions of our love and thanksgiving.

Through us Lord may the message of your love spread to the farthest ends of the earth.

In Jesus name we pray.

Amen.

Introduction

In all the Gospels, no conversation is so carefully recorded in regard to detail as the one between our Lord and Nicodemus in John 3.

The reason for this thoroughness in obvious, Jesus was relating to Nicodemus the very essence of the good news.

When conveying God’s truth, our words must be clear and understandable, and they must find their way into the hearts of people just as Jesus’ words penetrated the heart of Nicodemus.

Jesus’ words were so explicit that everyone who has read them in the generations since Nicodemus have found them to be clear signs marking the way to eternal life.

Nowhere else in Scripture is there any more concise, easily understood presentation of the new birth,

And, as with practically everything Jesus did, across the beauty and symbolism of these words spoken to Nicodemus, there was the shadow of the cross.

  1. The Visitor
  1. Who was it that came calling on Jesus?

Most often in the Gospels, we find Jesus surrounded by ordinary people, the peasants. 

They didn’t need to take care of who saw them in the company of Jesus. 

But Nicodemus was associated with the aristocracy of Jerusalem.

Along with Nicodemus social rank, the timing of his visit was surprising.

He visited Jesus after Passover week, the first Passover Jesus had attended since starting His public ministry.

Following His cleansing of the temple, Jesus had remained in Jerusalem for a time teaching and healing people.

His name had spread far and wide, and multitudes gathered to hear Him, bringing their sick and afflicted for healing.

There is no doubt the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, was seething with anger and hostility towards Jesus by now.

But because of His popularity with the people, their hands were tied, at least for the moment.

It was in this setting that Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus. 

B. We know a certain things about Nicodemus from this visit and two other things about him recorded in the Bible.

Obviously, he was wealthy.

When Jesus died, John said in John 19:39 (ESV)

39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.

Only a wealthy person could have afford that much.

Also, Nicodemus was a Pharisee.

The Pharisees were considered by the Jews to be the best people in the land.

There were more than six thousand of them, they had become a Pharisee by taking a pledge before three witnesses that they would spend all of their lives observing every detail of the scribal law.

So for Nicodemus to be part of such an elite brotherhood, and wish to talk with Jesus at all was bewildering.

C. John records that Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews.

This means, as we have already said, that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, which had seventy members.

Though its powers had been limited under Roman rule, it still played an important part in the government and lives of the people.

Specifically, the Sanhedrin had religious jurisdiction over every Jew in the world, not just Palestine.

One of its duties was to examine and deal with anyone suspected of being a blasphemer, a false prophet, or a heretic.

And again, it is remarkable that Nicodemus, being a member of this high ruling body, would dare visit Jesus.

2. The Encounter.

  1. John records that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night.

We don’t know for certain why Nicodemus chase to come at night.

It may have been a cautious move on his part, and he shouldn’t be condemned for this.

He was a religious leader who many looked to for spiritual guidance.

Since he was an honest and straightforward man, he would likely have accepted his investigation of Jesus as a tremendous responsibility.

He could not afford to enthusiastically endorse every prophet who came along without careful investigation first.

B. There may have been another reason for this night time visit.

Since Jesus was usually surrounded by great crowds of people during the day, Nicodemus may have come at night so they could be undisturbed.

We can sense from the course of the conversation that Nicodemus was troubled.

Even though he was an expert of the law of Moses, he was not satisfied with his religion.

Something was missing, and something about the authority and manner of Jesus attracted him.

C. Nicodemus’s opening statement to Jesus revealed his honesty.

John 3:2 (ESV)

2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

No flattery was intended here, it was simply a positive statement expressing a conclusion that he had reached.

There is no evidence that Nicodemus had not come to Jesus because of hearsay.

It is more likely that he had heard Jesus teach and had seem Him perform miracles.

D. Jesus did not rebuke Nicodemus as a Pharisee, nor did He soften the requirements of the new birth for this respected leader of the Jews.

Jesus laid down the same requirements for Nicodemus that He would have for the most openly recognised sinner!

He did not say, “Now, Nicodemus, you are already a good man.

You are sincere in what you believe and in what you are trying to do.

God will honour these good works you have performed.

Just keep doing them, and God will bless you for it!”

If Jesus had said that, Nicodemus would have left with the same dissatisfaction and longing in his heart that he had when he came, for his good works did not bring contentment.

Therefore, plainly and to the point, Jesus said, “If you are not born again, Nicodemus, you will never see the Kingdom of God!”

E. A lesser man that Nicodemus would have been offended by Jesus’ words.

He would have considered them an insult to his intelligence.

Instead, Nicodemus pressed on.

“How can a man be born when he is old?”

Then Jesus talked to him about two births, the physical and the spiritual.

Obviously, to exist, one must be “born of the flesh.”

Bu anything that is “flesh” grows old and dies.

To be “born of the Spirit,” that is, of God, is to have a new kid of life existing simultaneously with the physical life.

Then Jesus shifted to the analogy of the wind, of which one can see only the evidence.

3. The Revelation.

  1. Nicodemus had listened to what Jesus said about the necessity of a new birth and about the Spirit, and he was caught up in the wonder and glory of it.

Perhaps half to himself and half to Jesus, he asked, “How can this be?”

Jesus masterfully turned to the Old Testament Scriptures that were so familiar to Nicodemus.

He told from the book of number an account of God’s judgement that fell on the disobedient Israelites.

Fiery, poisonous serpents invaded the camp and bit the people.

God told Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it on a pole in the middle  of the camp.

He was instructed to tell those who had been bitten to look at it, and they would be healed.

B. The serpent was a despicable thing.

It was a reminder of satan because he appeared in the form of a snake to Eve in the garden of Eden.

Jesus explained to nicodemus that He would be lifted up on an instrument of shame, and He would be considered an accursed thing because of the cross.

But because He was willing to submit to that shame, millions of people would be able to come to God!

The key to God and eternal life could not be achieved by good works or by keeping rules and abiding by regulations, it would be achieved by a hated and shameful cross on which Jesus would become a sacrifice for sin for the whole human race.

C. In effect, Jesus said, “Nicodemus, if you will believe in me and believe that I have taken your sins on myself, you will not perish.

You will be saved and have eternal life.

You will be assured of living forever with God.”

Conclusion.

Nicodemus basically was saying, “I would like to become a Christian, but I do not understand it!”

Jesus said, “You cant understand the miraculous workings of the Holy Spirit.

When you can see and understand the wind, where it comes from and where it is going, then you can understand the Spirit of God.”

But just as we can feel the wind, we can also experience the transforming presence of God in our lives.

Until next time

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I really want to encourage you to be diligent with your Bible study time, because God has so much more for us than we can get from just going to church once or twice a week and hearing someone else talk about the Word.

When you spend time with God, your life will change in amazing ways, because God is a Redeemer.

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