DHD: Six takeaways from John 3
I’m beginning a new series within my weekly Doyle’s Half Dozen. For the next few weeks (or longer, depending how many passages I want to analyze) I am going to offer six points about different Biblical texts.
Please know, I’m not a Bible scholar. I have about 12 hours of seminary work that have figuratively been placed on the shelf, plus two courses of Biblical Greek that were audited (I know just enough Greek vocabulary to maybe comprehend some words my pastor pronounces during his sermons).
I’m just a guy who fell in love with teaching Sunday School about 15 years ago, and mostly that was due to realizing that you actually do learn more about a subject when you teach it, and I’ve loved studying the Bible since I was a wee lad.
With that being said, these will be observations I offer about my favorite Bible passages. I start off with John 3, which features a fascinating conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus.
- A meeting between two community leaders
John 3 begins with a brief introduction of Nicodemus, who is identified as a religious leader. Today, nobody would consider Nicodemus as somebody significant, but at this time, he had much influence and was considered to be a very educated man. I picture Nicodemus to be somebody whom, if he walked into a place, everybody would stop what they were doing and give him their full attention. Whatever he said would be considered golden.
Jesus, of course, is considered an outsider at this time, but he was gaining influence. People were amazed at his teaching and watching him perform miracles. Nicodemus also was amazed by Jesus. Other Pharisees were jealous of Jesus because he challenged their views and would undermine their authority when it came to their ridiculous, unnecessary rules.
Nicodemus, however, had a curiosity about Jesus and wanted to find out more about him.
- A meeting after dark
I’m always fascinated by little “nugget” passages of Scripture, the kind that don’t tell everything but just enough to offer an intriguing description. In John 3:2, Nicodemus visits Jesus “at night,” and it’s mentioned in sort of a parenthetical fashion.
Why did John just throw in the timing of when Nicodemus chose to meet with Jesus? The most common conclusion would be to imply that Nicodemus did not want his peers to find out that the great Jewish leader was meeting with a rebel rouser.
I would agree with this conclusion, but I also believe Nicodemus wanted to have a setting where there would be no distractions. Obviously, nobody did business at night because it was hard to see. No electricity, just fire torches or oil lamps that didn’t give off much light, so people were more accustomed to be in their homes and would not venture out in public after dark. This offered a prime setting for Nicodemus to approach Jesus privately.
- Jesus got to the point
Nicodemus starts his conversation with Jesus in a respectful manner. He calls him “Rabbi,” a title of an educated teacher. Nicodemus seems to be establishing a rapport with Jesus, complimenting him as a teacher from God who performs miraculous signs.
When I read Jesus’ response in verse 3, I conclude He isn’t buying the “fluff” Nicodemus offers. He basically said, “Let me be honest with you, unless you are born again you will never see the Kingdom of God.”
Much could be discussed on what Jesus means when he talks about the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven. For the sake of this DHD, I’m not going to elaborate, but Jesus bluntly told Nicodemus if he wanted to be a part of God’s Kingdom, he must experience a spiritual rebirth. Specifically, Jesus told him, “You must be born again.”
What’s fascinating about all the recorded conversations Jesus had with different people is they all are so different. He didn’t follow a script. His overall message was the same, but He applied different approaches. For next week’s DHD, I’m planning to offer takeaways from John 4, which features Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, a total opposite method He uses from the way he deals with Nicodemus.
- Is Nicodemus being ‘sassy’?
One of the reasons I like Nicodemus is I can see a lot of myself in how he is presented in John’s narrative. A few of my co-workers have said I can be a little “sassy,” regarding some comments I make once in a while. It’s understood I’m being funny and making light of a situation (at least I hope so).
When Nicodemus responds to Jesus’ imperative of being born again (vs. 4), he asks how is it possible for someone to be born again and refers to the physical birth process? I love this response because Nicodemus gives a ridiculous notion that a grown man must get back into his mother’s womb.
Maybe there’s an element of disrespecting Jesus or maybe Nicodemus literally doesn’t understand what Jesus means when talking about being born again. If Nicodemus would have asked his question on social media, I wonder what kind of responses he would get. Sarcasm doesn’t always translate well on Facebook or in email or text messages.
Because of the setting at night, with no one else around, I conclude this is a light-hearted situation. I don’t believe Nicodemus is trying to make Jesus appear foolish. I believe he sincerely wants to understand but couldn’t fully grasp the terminology Jesus was using.
- Jesus stayed on point
Here is where Jesus overlooks the possible sassiness of Nicodemus’ question and gives him a complete explanation (vs. 5-7). He explains how there is a difference between physical birth (born of water) and spiritual birth (born of spirit), but both are needed to enter the Kingdom of God.
I like the New Living Translation of verse 6: “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven.”
All humanity experiences physical birth, which is flawed because of sinful nature (Rom. 3:23), but only through the Holy Spirit providing a spiritual rebirth can someone experience new life. This is why everybody falls short, and nobody is able to “live a good life.” Also, this is why Jesus reiterated in verse 7 to Nicodemus that being born again is essential to experiencing eternal life in Heaven.
Jesus continues his teaching on rebirth, how it involves faith in believing in the Son of God, using the example of Moses in the wilderness lifting up a serpent on a pole for the Israelites to gaze upon to receive healing from snake bites. Salvation from a life of sin comes when we look upon Jesus who was lifted up on the cross.
- The greatest message is pronounced
The last takeaway from this conversation at night between two community leaders is this is where the most popular summation of the Gospel is first communicated. Otherwise known by its reference, John 3:16, Jesus shares for the first time with Nicodemus what many consider the most popular Bible verse:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
This describes the pattern of true love, that it’s formatted sacrificially, and God lovingly sacrificed His own son Jesus as a demonstration of His true love for the world. And we who believe in Jesus will have eternal life that is possible through the penalty Jesus paid on the cross.
I conclude with a commentary on John 3:16 from the Life Application Bible:
“When we share the Good News with others, our love must be like Jesus’ – willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.”