Let’s study one of the most well-known sections in the Bible. Please read it in your own Bible or click on this text and open the link – John 3:1-21.
As I said, this is one of the most well-known sections of the Bible, parts of it anyway. Everyone knows John 3:16. Everyone has heard about being “born again.”
We’re going to work our way through this conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus, but don’t think that you’ve actually heard everything that’s there. You may not have heard enough.
John says Nicodemus went to see Jesus “at night.” He’s telling us that Nicodemus was in the dark. So there are things he cannot see. No doubt about that. He’s aware of Jesus’ work – teaching and performing miracles – but he doesn’t really understand it; he hasn’t been able to make a personal connection with it. He sounds very official – “we know” this and that – not “I,” it’s not personal. He’s being very logical – Jesus’ miracles are obviously signs that he’s doing God’s work. Nicodemus knows the right things about Jesus, but it’s all very shallow. He has knowledge without experience. He still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. Nicodemus is in the dark, but he’s searching for the light.
How about you? Are you in the dark about God, about Jesus Christ? Maybe you don’t know much of anything about it. Or, maybe you know a lot, but do you really know? Have you gone beyond the shallow level and really made a deep connection with God? It’s okay to be in the dark, as long as you’re willing for some light to come.
Jesus interrupted Nicodemus’s speech. It’s time to get real. Let’s cut to the chase, Nic. Here’s the bottom line: you’re not going to see the kingdom of God unless you’re born again. The kingdom of God. That means God’s work in you and your part in his work; it means God ruling over your life and changing it; it means living in a faith and love relationship with God. The kingdom is the environment consisting of the things of God which influence, motivate, and support new life and new living. It’s the system of God’s Spirit and God’s word and God’s purposes and God’s mission and God’s resources shaping how we live. It’s where disease is healed, death is overcome, and Satan is defeated. The kingdom is where greatness is measured in terms of humility, reconciliation, and forgiveness. It’s the environment of righteousness, peace, joy, and power. It’s where morality and ethics and justice and goodness and beauty thrive. It’s where the royal law is love. It’s where all things are possible with God. It’s the system that will replace all other systems and there will be no end to it. The kingdom is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Sounds exactly like what we need. You’re not going to see that, you’re not going to experience any of that unless you’re born again. You have to go back to the drawing board. You have to reboot. You have to start life all over.
Nicodemus – still in the dark – doesn’t get it. So Jesus explains. He’s not talking about a physical rebirth; you don’t become a baby in your mom’s womb again. This is a spiritual thing. You start over inside. You reboot your beliefs and ideas and feelings and values. The core of it is that God’s Spirit does something in you. The Spirit makes the rebirth happen. The Spirit takes you back so you can start over, this time as a part of God’s kingdom.
You don’t do it yourself. You don’t add something to what you’ve already got. You don’t add religion to your way of living. You don’t add faith onto all your other characteristics. You don’t add Christianity to the beliefs and values that you’re already living by. No, you don’t add to what you’ve got. You get born again; you start over. The Holy Spirit takes you back to nothing and makes you a new person in God’s kingdom. God put it this way, in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you…”
Nicodemus wants that, but he doesn’t know how to get it. “How can this be?” How can I get born again? What does it take for me to start over? What button do I push to reboot? He’s really in the dark. He sees something of God’s kingdom, but he doesn’t know how to get there.
Ever been there? You can see something of what God wants, but you don’t know how to make it happen. Oh, yeah, still in the dark. I’ve been there many times.
All I can say is do what Nicodemus did – ask. Then listen. I’ve noticed that in the gospels people don’t go on and on telling Jesus what’s wrong and what they need and what he should do for them. By far, Jesus does most of the talking. People ask then Jesus answers – sometimes very long and detailed. So we have to listen – more listening than talking. Ask, listen, then wait, for as long as it takes, for the answer.
Jesus told Nicodemus the answer. How can you be born again, start over? Here’s how.
Jesus came from Heaven and was “lifted up.” That’s talking about the cross. Jesus was lifted up on the cross and died for the sins of the world. Anyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God sent his Son in love for that to happen. Through Jesus, God pulls us to himself instead of pushing us away. If you believe in Jesus, he’ll save you, give you eternal life, take you into his kingdom, put a new heart in you.
Now, don’t stop there. Jesus didn’t. Don’t stop before you get to the end of the conversation. There’s more, and it’s vitally important.
It’s time for a reality check. We think that there’s not much to it: Jesus comes, dies on the cross and rises from the dead, and all we have to do is believe – so simple, so easy. But wait. Here’s what really happens: Jesus told him, “ This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people 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 their deeds will be exposed.”
See that word “verdict” – “condemnation” – “judgment” – it’s our word “crisis.” When Jesus comes into the world and dies on the cross and offers to take you into his kingdom and give you a new heart, you face a crisis, a crucial decision
Jesus is the light that came into the world. To be born again, to start over and be part of God’s kingdom, you have to come out of the darkness into the light. But we don’t want to do that because we know what will happen: our evil deeds will be exposed. We’re afraid of that. We’re afraid for the things that are wrong with us to be brought out in the open. So people hate the light; they stay in the dark where you can’t see how bad your old heart is, can’t see how much you’re hurting. People think if believing in Jesus means exposing my wrongness and weakness, I won’t do it. Some people try to believe without coming out of the dark. They try to accept Jesus so they can go to Heaven without turning their lives over to him. They want to keep the bad stuff in the dark. They won’t come into the light to be born again.
Jesus tells us how it can be: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done through God.” You come into the light with the evil. You know the evil is there in you, but you need to come out of the dark. You come to Jesus with everything that’s wrong with you. You come to Jesus with all the ways you’ve been hurt and all the ways you’ve been trying to take care of yourself. You bring it all into the light.
I bring him my evil, everything that’s hurting me – my anger, my self-centeredness, my pride, my fear – and I know he hates it; I know he despises my evil. I bring it all to him. He hates it, yet he takes it as his own. That’s what him being lifted up on the cross is all about. Jesus takes my evil as his own! He hates it, he despises it, it repulses him, yet my old heart becomes his old heart. Whatever I’m willing to bring into the light, whatever I’m willing to bring to Jesus, he takes it as his own and kills it on the cross.
So, when I’m in the light, I don’t see my wrongness and weakness. That’s dead. I see what “has been done through God.” I see life. I see love and grace. I see rightness and wholeness. I see power and wisdom. I see freedom and joy. Finally, I see the kingdom of God.
When you come into the light with your wrongness and weakness, you get born again. Jesus takes away the evil, so you go back to nothing. You start over. Only this time you have the Spirit of God working in you. This time you’re in God’s kingdom. This time you have eternal life. You start over and this time you have a new, good heart.
So, we have hope. If there’s a chance to start over, then we’re not stuck with what we’ve got. We’re not stuck with our wrongs and failures. We’re not stuck with our weaknesses and limitations. We’re not stuck with our addictions and routines. We’re not stuck with trying to make it on our own or with the boring and senseless ways of a world still in the dark. We have hope. We have promise. We have confidence. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is the glory of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
When you start over by faith in Christ, you start to live in his Kingdom, in God’s environment. So you have the possibility for shedding your guilt and condemnation and becoming the person God created you to be. You have the possibility for letting go of your self-centeredness and taking up a life of genuine love. You can break out of your fear and self-protection and live in freedom and joy. When you start over in the Kingdom of God your marriage and family can be shaped by God’s kind of goodness and rightness and most of all by God’s kind of love. Even your job and your school and your daily responsibilities can have holy, transcendent purposes. Your decisions can be chances to receive God’s wisdom and guidance. In the Kingdom, your struggles and challenges and needs can be opportunities to experience God’s love, power, provision, and blessing. There’s hope.
You can start over, anytime – come to Christ with your evil, with whatever is wrong with you, whatever is hurting you, and trust him to take it, kill it, and bring you into his Kingdom.
Look with me at the last chapter of the gospel of John. It’s not merely an interesting add-on. This chapter is an important bridge from the facts of Jesus’ life, teaching, death & resurrection to our lives.
After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.
So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
Some of Jesus’ disciples went back to fishing. To the way it had been before Jesus came along. Back to the same old same old – people, home, work, lake, tackle. John is showing the tendency we humans have to default, to return to the same values, habits, patterns, behaviors, & lifestyles. He’s showing this so he can show the difference Jesus Christ makes with his dying & rising, defeating the enemy kingdoms, & becoming King. Now that he’s alive, what differences will there be? What differences will we accept? Did Jesus go through all that & there not be anything different come out of it? Can we believe Jesus is the Messiah & Son of God and that not make anything different? Now that he’s alive – what?
Fishing was not sport or recreation for those men. It was sustenance – how they kept themselves and their families alive. It was their career – their purpose, their reason to get up every morning, the way they produced something worthwhile. It was their lifestyle – what they did 6 days pretty much every week. Maybe they went back for safety, thinking if they stick with fishing maybe the people who killed Jesus won’t come after them. Maybe they went back because it was comfortable – Jesus has risen but maybe they’re not sure what’s going to happen next, so they go back to what’s comfortable. Fishing gives them meaning, security, control; it gives them life – physically, emotionally, psychologically, & spiritually. We all have those – like family or job, something of your own – which makes you happy. Does Jesus being alive make any difference in those things?
They caught no fish. John is saying there’s no real meaning, security & control in the same old same old. There’s no real life in all that.
On shore, Jesus yells: “Fish on the right side!” They take in a huge haul. One of them realizes: “It’s the Lord! The King is right here in Galilee!” Peter swims to shore, the others row the boat. What’s John saying? Get to Jesus.
They make it to shore. Jesus greets them: “Breakfast is ready. Let’s eat!” He already had the fish that had been trying all night to catch! John’s showing that Jesus has what we’re looking for, he provides what we need. Life. He’s been saying that all through this book: the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Door, the Way & Truth & Life, the True Vine, the Resurrection & Life. Jesus is & has what you need. And now it’s ready for you. That’s the difference made by his sacrifice on the cross, rising from the dead, taking the throne & bringing the Kingdom into this (your) world. Breakfast is ready. You can have what you need. You can have meaning, security, & control. You can have life. Take it in. Take in God’s love & be accepted, take in God’s mercy & be forgiven, take in God’s righteousness & be good, take in God’s wisdom & be competent, take in God’s healing & be renewed, take in God’s peace & be secure, take in God’s joy & be satisfied, take in God’s hope & be confident. Now that he’s alive, it’s all ready.
Don’t go back to fishing. Don’t stick with the same old same old. Get to Jesus – swim, row, bicycle, 4-wheel, run, walk, crawl – get to him by faith & take the life he has ready for you.
They finish breakfast. Jesus starts a conversation with Peter. Peter’s the one who led that fishing trip. He’s a born leader, and he had led back to same old same old. But he also led the way getting to Jesus on shore. Peter had always been one of the 3 closest to Jesus, with James & John. Then he was the one who denied he even knew Jesus. In this conversation, Jesus taking all those pieces of Peter’s life and putting them together so Peter becomes a new man – he has a new relationship with Jesus, he has a new mission, he has a new destiny. He’s actually going to be a partner with the King building the Kingdom until the day he dies.
That’s a difference for us. The risen, reigning King takes the pieces of our lives & builds us into new people. Some pieces, he throws away. Some pieces, he repairs. He brings in some new pieces. He puts us together in a way that we can live in his Kingdom & work as his partners.
I wish I could say that all this is working smoothly in my own life. To tell you the truth, I have a lot of same old same old. A lot of the same sins, fears, & distractions.
I can say this. I know there can be a difference. I know that Jesus’ dying & rising was not just to add something religious to the same old same old so I can go to heaven. I know that Jesus being the risen King brings about the difference that I and every person (you) are looking for. Now that he’s alive, we can live. Get to him.
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