Last week we considered the necessity of the new birth, without which not only is entrance into the Kingdom of God impossible, but even beginning to understand the Kingdom of God in its most elementary stages is impossible.
We saw that Jesus cut right through all the rhetoric of Nicodemus and drove straight at the most important need that this man had, indeed that any man, woman, and child has – that of the new birth. Yes, this man was a Pharisee, and a very important one at that, yet he was also outside the Kingdom of God, and stood in great need of this new birth as wrought within a person by the Holy Spirit.
No man, woman or child can ever hope to enter the Kingdom of God if they have not personally experienced this new birth – it is an absolute necessity. Without it there is no spiritual life, and has therefore no ability to enter the Kingdom of God.
This man had no idea of what Jesus was speaking about – it just all seemed too impossible to him. How could such a thing as being born again be possible, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born (3:4)?’
By his very answers to Jesus, both in verse 3 and in verse 9, Nicodemus proved to all human history from that time forward, that indeed his greatest need, as Jesus had said to him, was to experience the new birth, for ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).’
As a Pharisee, and as an important teacher within Israel, Nicodemus should have known this most important truth already. This truth of the necessity of the new birth was of course not absent from the Old Testament from which Nicodemus taught, and we considered for a moment an example given in Ezekiel 36, and verses 26 and 27, ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.’
With the Old Testament full of such allusions to the new birth, and with various types and illustrations of it, Jesus rebuked Nicodemus, ‘Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things (3:10)?’ These are things that someone who is teaching the Bible ought to know, indeed to have experienced, yet he knew nothing of them – he had no spiritual life to understand these realities.
This is no small matter – the most elementary, the most basic teaching concerning entrance into the Kingdom of God, the most necessary prerequisite to being able to keep the statutes of God successfully, was not known by the one who taught the common people within the land! What hope have such people got when their leaders don’t even know the truth!
And what a sad state it is, when the very ones who are charged with the responsibility of teaching people the truth as regards deliverance from sin, and entrance into the Kingdom of God, who are also accountable to God for what they teach, do not know the most basic of Biblical truths – to enter the Kingdom, you must first be born again from above. You cannot begin to move in the right direction without this new birth.
How many will perish for want of a faithful teacher, both then and now? The truth is not taught anymore, even in our own land – people perish, while they yet think they have the Kingdom of God in their very hands, while in reality they have not even experienced the new birth. They are told to repeat simple statements, or simple prayers, to utter strange sounds called tongues, to carry out certain rituals or observances – and with the completion of such things they are assured of a mansion in Heaven. It’s a tragedy, truly it is.
Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisaic teachers were teaching an entrance into the Kingdom based upon the merit of human effort and obedience, a system devoid of any saving merit whatsoever – and yet this is what they taught.
They had no real spiritual idea as to what they were doing. They were prepared to ‘compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves (Mt 23:15).’
What the Pharisee’s taught was in complete contrast to the testimony of Jesus, of the prophets, and of John the Baptist; for while the Pharisee’s taught what was the product of mere human interpretation and invention, Jesus said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness (3:11).’
When Jesus speaks there is an air of certainty, an authority that the Pharisee’s knew nothing of. This was a word to be trusted, a word that had real clout – for it was truth, and came from a source that is absolutely trustworthy, not the product of mere human invention.
And when I speak to you concerning this truth, I come with similar authority, not because I’m something special, but because I come with the very same words of Jesus – the authority is still in the words, ‘We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen …’
Jesus continues, ‘If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things (3:12)?’ If Nicodemus did not believe and understand the earthly things, what hope did he have of believing and understanding heavenly things?
What is Jesus talking about here? What are the earthly things that Nicodemus didn’t believe? The context points us to the answer – surely it is what Nicodemus has already rejected, what Jesus had already said.
Yes, being born again is a spiritual matter and is clearly from above, yet that which Jesus has already said must be what Jesus is referring to as an earthly thing in this verse. There is nothing else that he has yet pointed to, it must be this. He has said nothing else up to this point, except stressing the need of the new birth.
But it is not so much the new birth that is earthly, though it be something which happens within a person, and occurs on the earth. The way that Jesus sought to teach Nicodemus about the new birth, with these various simple earthly illustrations, in order to simply explain the truth being taught is what Jesus means here. Jesus says in effect, ‘Nicodemus, if you can’t understand these simple illustrations that I have used to point to the truth, then there is no way known that you will understand the truth simply stated without the illustrations.’
The idea behind all this is that these things are basic things – how can you understand anything further if you can’t get what I’ve already told you, and pointed to with earthly pictures and illustrations? If you can’t even get beyond these illustrations regarding the basics, then you won’t understand the bare facts of spiritual life, and how to enter in upon it. If I state them without the illustrations – that is well and truly beyond you.
Though the Old Testament clearly speaks of this truth concerning the new birth, and though it should have been obvious by Nicodemus’s inability to keep the law that he proclaimed as the way to salvation, Nicodemus still could not see the reality of the new birth, and of its need. All screams out to Nicodemus of the need of some other way – yet he will not believe. And why, because he can’t work it out in his own mind, because it doesn’t seem possible to him.
These people would rather persist with there flawed methods of achieving entrance into the Kingdom, then to accept the way of one whom even they recognized as ‘a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him (3:2).’
What is it that you are sticking to this morning – will you continue to stick to methods and ways of salvation that are based upon the interpretations, inventions, and wisdom of man – things that you are able to accept in your own mind? Or will you believe what the Lord Jesus Christ has to say? What is more believable to you?
Do you think you have the way of salvation worked out? Is your little system right? Perhaps it’s a system of belief you have inherited from family, friends, or some religious teacher – is it right? Have you been in the presence of God and had it approved by Him?
‘And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven (3:13).’
Well Jesus has been in heaven, in fact He came from there. He knows the way of life, and He tells it as it is. If there is anyone who has the words of life, surely it must be Jesus. He is the only one who has had such special access to the Father, who indeed is God Himself.
‘Are you prepared to rest all your faith and hope for eternity upon those teachings that you have received Nicodemus? Have any of those men whose teaching you accept above mine ever been to heaven, into the very presence of God, and there received their doctrines and theology? They haven’t been there have they?’ So runs the argument to Nicodemus.
No one on earth has gone into the Presence of God and received the ability to teach the heavenly truths, not one. Not one person has been and done that. To teach heavenly, spiritual things you need first hand information, and that’s received from God Himself – its right outside the experience of man until its revealed to him by God.
But Jesus has come from there, the Son of Man who has come from the very Presence of God has most certainly been there; don’t you think what He has to say is more trustworthy, and that it should be heeded to? Don’t you think that you ought to pay more attention to what Jesus has to say then to the doctrines of men?
And we could quite obviously apply this same idea to every other teaching couldn’t we? Does what you believe and teach measure up to the teaching of Jesus in this Book? If it doesn’t then it should be dropped.
The phrase that is in the text at this point in verse 13, ‘which is in heaven’, is thought to be an addition to the text that was not in the original text, it being absent from the oldest existing manuscripts. But whether it be there or not, it does nothing to add to, or take away from the point that Jesus is making here, ‘I alone have trustworthy information about entrance into the Kingdom.’
If Jesus says something about how one is able to enter into the Kingdom of God, then what he has to say should surely be listened to – who cares what anyone else has to say, whether it be Billy Graham, Louis Palau, or Kevin Matthews. If Jesus says entrance is upon such and such a condition, then you had better believe that it is upon those conditions.
And I would ask you this morning – are you prepared to back the flawed interpretations and inventions of men rather than the truth taught by the Son of Man? The Pharisaic method of earning their place in the Kingdom by their obedience and their own merits was no good – and all methods of obtaining the Kingdom today by human effort and merit is of no value either.
It matters not whether it be by some form of church ritual, be it baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or Church attendance; whether it be some form of attempted obedience to the Word of God; even whether it be a dependence upon the exercise of faith itself – these things will not grant you entrance into the Kingdom – its God’s way, or its no way!
And here Jesus moves on from the new birth to that which follows on after that, to further teaching on how one enters into the Kingdom of heaven. If there has been no new birth, then this next stage will never happen.
To be able to move onto the next stage, that first stage that man is aware of, he must first be born again from above. And though he may not be immediately aware of this new birth having occured within him, this next stage he will be aware of.
‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (3:14,15).’
What is God’s way for entrance into the Kingdom of God – it is the way that has been foretold in the Old Testament illustration of Numbers 21:4-9. Let’s just read that for a moment:
‘And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived (Num 21:4-9).’
Here as usual the people had sinned against God, and to punish them the Lord God sent serpents in among them to bite them and kill them. The snakes were the just consequence of their sin, and an expression of the wrath of God against sin.
The only escape open to the people of Israel was to look at the serpent that Moses had made, placed on a pole, and lifted up for all to see. This was God’s way of escaping the wrath that had come upon the people of Israel – if you didn’t look at the serpent, it mattered not what else you did, you died.
Now this illustration was used by Jesus to teach an important truth to Nicodemus – that the only way into the Kingdom of God was by Jesus, in a similar way as recorded in this Old Testament story from Israel’s history.
In order to escape the wrath of God that abides upon men, women and children because of sin, men do not need the inventions of men, but the provision of a way of escape provided by God Himself, and Jesus was that provision.
As the serpent on the pole was lifted up, and set up in a prominent place so that everyone could look at it and live, and thereby escape the wrath of God that had descended upon the people in the form of these snakes; so to Jesus would be lifted up as God’s provision for men so that they might escape the eternal wrath of God for sin.
As the people of Israel looked at the bronze serpent as God’s means of escape, so to people would need to look at Jesus by faith in order to escape God’s wrath.
Salvation is not to be found in any human method, but only in the method that God has set down for salvation. If those people bitten by the snakes had decided to set themselves on finding some anti-venom serum, they would have died. If they decided that they would try some religious activity in order to pacify God, they would have died. There was but one way to escape open to them, to look at the God-appointed means of escape.
And this is the point of the illustration from the Old Testament; Jesus is the only God-appointed means to escape the wrath of God, and to gain entrance into the Kingdom of God.
‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me (Jn 12:32).’ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (Jn 14:6).’
The clear teaching of this Gospel, and of the Word of God, is that Jesus alone is the way of entrance into the Kingdom of God. He is the way to eternal life, the Kingdom life – He and no other. And so you see in this place, the Northlake’s Reformed Baptist Church, we will teach and preach no other way of salvation but ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2)’, ‘Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).’
‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (Jn 17:3).’
If you are to know this eternal life, then you need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the way to the Kingdom, and to rest in Him as that way. There is no other name given as a way of salvation – not from God there isn’t.
As the people of Israel needed to first believe in the promise of the bronze serpent being the way that God would restore them to health, before they actually looked in its direction – so it is with Christ.
To exercise faith in Christ is to believe that the way to salvation through Christ is true, and then to act upon that belief with confident action. That is the belief that is needed.
But I might not yet have experienced the new birth? The new birth is something that you are unable to perform, the Holy Spirit works it within a person, and you are not called upon to perform it.
But you are called upon to believe, ‘what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (Acts 16:30,31)’
If you believe, then you can rest assured that you have also experienced the new birth, for without that you could never have believed. If you believe then the Kingdom is yours, you have eternal life, you have already experienced the new birth.
It is a promise not only of the Kingdom life to come, but entrance into that life already – for you already have it, you are already part of that heavenly kingdom.
But of course, if you do not believe then the obvious implication of this verse is that you will perish – not annihilation, but everlasting punishment in Hell.
So far in John 3 then we have seen the necessity of the new birth, and the way of entrance into the Kingdom as being Christ Himself. Next week we will consider more of this important passage, and just how Jesus is the way of entrance into the Kingdom.