Johnny had a hard life growing up. Things were never easy for him, & it started at his birth. He was unfortunately born early, with some tumors on his brain & neck that needed to be operated on. While the surgeries were successful, they took a heavy toll on his body. The surgeries damaged his fine motor skills & effected his cognitive abilities. Even walking was not easy for the boy. As a result, it was hard for him to make friends & to fit-in. It was common for him to be left out at recess, not invited to birthday parties, & to be picked on by other children. Johnny knew what it was like to be left out. He knew what it was like to feel alone, forgotten, & unloved by others. Those are never easy things to feel, or to experience. As we look at Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, we see a message that is for all people. You aren’t left out of it, & neither is Johnny. Jesus includes everyone in the points that He makes.
Our passage starts by introducing us to Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, & he is an important one at that. He is a ruler of the Jews, & he sees and views Jesus as a special teacher. Nicodemus tells Jesus that Jesus must have come from God because no one could do the signs & miracles that he is doing unless God was with him. The conversation then takes a strange turn, because Jesus tells him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anothen he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Jesus says that if you wanted to be saved, you have to be born anothen. The Greek word anothen has two meanings. It can mean “born again,” & it can also mean “born from above.” John deliberately uses an ambiguous word. And Nicodemus seems to understand it as meaning born again, for he tells Jesus, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? He doesn’t seem to understand what Jesus is saying here. Nicodemus thinks that a literal, physical rebirth is necessary to see & enter into God’s Kingdom. However, he is not sure of how one can be born again when one becomes old. So Jesus expands the discussion. He teaches us about human beings, & our true nature. He tells us about being born from above.
Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water & the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, & that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ Jesus doesn’t leave anyone out here. When He says, You must be born again, the “you” is plural! It is not just Nicodemus, or the disciples, or Johnny or the Gentiles that need to be born from above. Everyone needs to be born from above if they are to enter God’s kingdom. Why is that? Because flesh gives birth to flesh.
Just as an apple tree will only produce apples & not oranges, so will sinful flesh only give birth to sinful flesh. When sinful human beings give birth, they give birth to those who are likewise sinful, fallen, corrupt, dead, blind, alienated, and hostile toward God. We cannot go to God or please God in our natural state. We all begin in the same boat. We all need to be completely changed & born from above. We all need to be born of water & the Spirit. No one is left out!
Jesus points to baptism with his words. Titus 3:5 says, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth & renewal by the Holy Spirit. Baptism is where we are born of water & the Spirit. Baptism gives us new birth, & it renews us. It gives us new life, forgiveness, & the Holy Spirit. Our mind, heart, & will are directed toward God & what pleases God. Baptism gives us entrance into God’s kingdom through faith.
And Jesus points to more than baptism. What Jesus is speaking of in this passage is more than a one-time action; Jesus is also speaking of how we live out that action. Jesus speaks again with a word that has a double meaning, pneuma. The Greek word means both “wind” and “spirit” – much like the Hebrew word ruach. Not only does Christ forgive us for past sins when we accept him as our Savior, he also gives us new life – a new life to live differently. Not only does Christ deal with the guilt of our sins, he also deals with the root problem that causes us to sin. New birth is the beginning of the holy life.
And this is all God’s work. Being birthed is a passive experience. It was true for your physical conception & birth, & it is the same for your spiritual one. Being born from above is something that we cannot do, nor do we have an active part in. No one can will themselves into heaven. This rebirth is God’s work & gift. Jesus tells Nicodemus that He is not making this up. The Old Testament Scriptures bear witness to these truths. We all need to be born from above. We are all included in this.
Jesus tells Nicodemus one other thing that we are all included in. Jesus says, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. Jesus compares his upcoming death on the cross & its benefits with the lifting up of the bronze serpent in the desert. In the desert, the people complained against Moses & God. And they complained about food & drink. So God sent poisonous serpents among the people that bit them, & many died from the snake bites. The people pled with Moses to pray for them, & he did. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent & to set it on a pole, so that whoever looked upon it would live.
Jesus says that the same will happen w/ Him. All who look upon the crucified Lord in faith will be saved from sin, death, & the devil. They will live eternally. The gospel writer yet again uses a double meaning word here – hypsoo. The Greek means both “lifted up” & “exalted.” In fact, more often than not, Bible translators use exalted. So another translation of our Scripture is: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be exalted, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life
This promise is for whoever believes in Him. It is for all people. It is a universal, timeless, & personal promise. No one is left out of it. This promise is not just for some, & not others. It is not just for Germans or Americans. It is not just for “good” people. It is for whoever believes in Him. It is for Nicodemus, the disciples, Johnny, you, & me. It is for all people, regardless of race, culture, or gender. It is for the dumb, smart, rich, poor, healthy, sick, prisoners, pure, young, & old. All who look upon J in faith will be saved from sin & death. Eternal life is theirs. But how can J make such a great promise?
Our text says, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. I remember the first time that Johnny heard the story of Jesus’ death & resurrection. He was amazed & shocked at what he heard. When he heard that Jesus died & rose for him, he said, “Who, me? He did that for me?” I said, “Yes, you!” And He did it for you & you & you & you! He did it for all people. He did it for the whole world! No one, I repeat, no one, is left out. God gave His prized possession for all of us, & He did it out of love.
His love was more than a feeling, it was an action. It wasn’t a dream, but an intentional plan. He didn’t give His Son because of anything that we did, would do, or might one day become. It was because we needed it. It was not a self-serving love, but a sacrificial one. Jesus was given to death for us because we needed to be saved from sin & brought back to God. This was the only thing that could do it, & Jesus didn’t bat an eye. Through faith in Christ, we escape condemnation & have eternal life. This salvation is for all people that believe in Him. No one is left out.
As Johnny grew older, he still was excluded from games, friends, & birthday parties. He was still forgotten & often bullied. However, as we see in this Scripture, there were some things that he was not excluded from, nor could he be. He was not excluded from God’s immense love that was shown to him in Jesus Christ. He was not excluded from Christ’s saving death for him that gives eternal life. He was not left out of Jesus’ promise, & neither are you. It is for all. Now let’s go share the message! In Jesus’ name, Amen.