Nicodemus, Part 2: Looking for Life

Scripture: John 3:6-21
Date: 01/12/2008 
Nicodemus was told by Jesus he needed to be born again. God invites us to be made new. That begins with a response to the Lord’s invitation to be baptized. We need not only to be born of water but of the Spirit of God.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Last week we began a brief series covering a subject that is, well, everything we talk about when we preach the word of God is sacred, but in one sense this is especially holy ground because in the story of Nicodemus, this will be part two in the subject of Nicodemus, Jesus is really getting into the essence of what does it mean to be saved, to be born again. What is the truth? How do we know the truth? How do we know if we’re converted? All of these issues are covered in this one very brief discourse. Now I’ve mentioned this is the second installment. We talked last week about verses one through five in Nicodemus being “Born Again”. This week we’re going to be talking about “Looking for Life”. I want to back up just a little bit, and again the subject of our study is in John chapter three. Overall we’re going to be covering verses one to about twenty-one. A little review in case you were not here in our first presentation. Who was Nicodemus? Well, we read in verses one through four. It says that he was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a specially dedicated, separated, group, a caste within the Jews. It came from the word parush; it means the separated ones. He was part of the Sanhedrin. That was the Jewish supreme court; they were the final voice of arbitration other than the Romans who had occupied the kingdom. He was a very wealthy man. We read from history he had great substance. When Jesus died he bought just a whole camel loaded with aloe and myrrh to bury Jesus. He was a wealthy man. He was a man of letters, educated man. Ultimately we find out he was a man who was sincere in searching for truth.

Now in order to pick up speed again we’re going to back up and just overlap a verse. I sort of had to stop abruptly because we ran out of time last week. In John chapter 3, verse 5, that’s where we’re going to take up our study, John 3:5, here Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus who has come seeking some understanding. I think principally he wanted to know, “Are You the Messiah?” but he never got to that because while he was asking if Jesus was the Messiah Christ interrupted and said, “You need to be born again.” He thought that just by virtue of being a Jew that he would automatically be saved. In verse 5 Jesus answers, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” We need to know what that means, and that’s why I don’t want to rush past that. Why do we need to know what it means? Those words “he cannot enter the kingdom of God” frighten me. If there’s something that’s going to keep me from entering the kingdom of God or if there is something I must do to be sure I do enter the kingdom of God, that’s something Jesus wants us to understand. Amen? What is it? Unless you’re born of the water and the Spirit, you cannot. You need both births. Well, John the Baptist was out baptizing. Every Pharisee understood the water cleansing.

Matter of fact, the group of Essenes, the dedicated religious Jewish believers, they had a settlement in Qumran where they wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. I told you we were in San Diego a few weeks ago. We saw some of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the exhibit down there. The Essenes had baptisteries. Every Jew understood the ceremonial cleansing of water that represented forgiveness for sin, but Jesus said it’s more than that. You need both. I don’t want to underemphasize the importance of baptism because you read Mark 16:16, these are some other words that ought to make us think. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Well, you need both, don’t you? You need belief and baptism. Why does He emphasize baptism? Are we saved by the H2O? Well, baptism is just as important to a Christian as a marriage ceremony is to a wedding. Baptism is the public declaration that I have made a choice. See, God gives us all freewill. He will not force anybody. We must choose to come to Him. Being born of the water is something we do by choice. God will not force us. Shotgun weddings often do not work out very well. You don’t want to be forced into a love relationship. It’s hard to feel love under those circumstances. The Lord says, “Come unto Me.” It’s an invitation. So we come to the Lord when we choose to be baptized.

It is something where we are reaching out for God, but being born of the Spirit is something we can’t choose. It’s something God does when He comes to us. So baptism represents our coming to God being born of the water, born of the Spirit, God coming to us. The Bible says if we draw near to God, first we make the choice. We draw near to God, James tells us, and then God will draw near to us. The Prodigal son came to his senses; he began to come home to the father. When the father saw him coming, he ran to meet him. This love relationship between you and God must be mutual. God will not force you. The Calvinistic way of thinking is that we don’t have a choice. God does it without your choosing. But you can’t force love on somebody; it stops being love. You cannot preprogram it. God gives us freedom; it must be our choice. They’re both just as important. A baby, before it is born physically, is in an envelope of water. If it’s going to be born it needs to come out of that water. It needs to be born of the water, but if that baby comes out of the water and it doesn’t breathe that first breath… Up until then it’s getting its oxygen through the placenta and the umbilical cord. It now must breathe. In the Bible pnuma, wind, breath is the word that Jesus uses when He says born of the Spirit. Born of the wind, born of the Spirit; they were used interchangeably. It’s not enough to be born of the water. If that baby is born and it comes out of the water, but it doesn’t breathe it’s not going to live. You need it to be both births.

See what Jesus is saying? We need to breathe that new life that God is offering us. So I just wanted to tie off that thought of the importance of born of the water, born of the Spirit. Born of the water is your choice. There are things that we can choose to do to follow the Lord by obedience, but we’re not saved by law, are we? It’s then ultimately grace, born of the Spirit. So you’ve got these two very important aspects here that Jesus is emphasizing. Go to verse 6 with me now, John 3:6, “That which is born of flesh is flesh…” We’re talking about the flesh and the Spirit now. “…that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You know we may first come to God for earthly reasons. We don’t want to be lost. We want to be saved, and you know that’s normal. God understands that. You may first have… that new birth may begin with labor pains, it may begin with sorrow, hopefully it ends with joy. So you first come for maybe selfish reasons. Wanting to avoid hell and wanting to go to heaven is a suitable starting point. When you first teach children and they’re very small, it’s hard to teach them principals of why you don’t want them to stick the metal object in the electrical outlet. They’re too young to understand it. You’ve got to work with them on self-preservation, and sometimes you’ve got to swat their hand or something like that or physically relocate them. You’re trying to save them on a very basic, primal level, but as they get older you can appeal to their reason. It’s something higher.

We start coming to the Lord as babies. I want to be saved. I don’t want to be lost. You’re thinking of yourself and babies typically do. But as you mature as a Christian it’s not about you anymore. You know the evidence that Paul was a mature Christian, he said, Lord, I’m willing to be lost if all Israel could be saved. Moses showed his maturity in his relationship with the Lord, he said, Lord, take my name out of the book of life if your people could be saved. What will happen to your name? you’re really growing with a Christian when you realize it isn’t about what’s in it for me, it’s about worshipping God. We all do it. I do it. People come to church, they go to a service. After the service they sort of critique the service, what did I get out of the service? Did I enjoy the service? How did I feel? It’s sort of, it’s immature Christianity when you do that. A mature Christian, when you come to worship service on Sabbath it has nothing to do with you at all. You are coming to glorify, to worship, to thank, to praise God. The focus of why you come is Him. One of the problems with religion in general in North America and Christianity in particular, so much of it is focused on what is the person getting out of it, what are the felt needs of everybody there? How are they going to get what they want? That’s a starting point, and we all have to consider that, but we’re really not growing as a church unless we come to the place where we say it isn’t really about us; it’s about God. He is the focus.

He is the object, He is the reason that we come to church. You’ve got the flesh and the spirit, there’s this constant battle we all feel between those two forces. I Peter 2:11, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul…” There is this tension between the flesh and the Spirit that we all sense. There are things you can do to feed the flesh and there are things you can do to feed the spirit. Now we all need a certain amount of physical nutrition to avoid low blood sugar and to feed out bodies. That’s important, but I’m not talking about that kind of feeding. I’m talking about this kind of feeding. There’s things you can do to feed the fleshly thinking, and there’s things you can do to feed the spiritual thinking. The Bible says to be carnally minded is death. To be spiritually minded, Romans chapter eight, is life. So that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. As Christians you want to starve the flesh. I’m not talking about your bodies; I’m not talking about eating disorders. I’m talking about those things that feed our lower natures, our selfishness, the carnal thoughts, the passions. You want to avoid that and you want to feed the spiritual nature, and I’ll tell you that takes work.

Everything in the culture around us is calculated to appeal to the selfish, carnal side of our natures. In the marketing, the advertising of products, it’s all accentuated. So in order for you to offset that, to compensate, we need to really feed the spirit. We need to take time to commune with Jesus, do like Nicodemus did, come to Jesus to study the word with Him. Again Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk after the flesh, but” what do they do? they walk “according to the spirit.” It’s a new life, a new walk, and feeding your mind on those things that are just and holy and good. Then Jesus goes on to say, John 3:7-8, we’re still moving through our verses here, that the new birth is something like the wind. “Do not marvel,” Jesus said, “that I say to you, ‘You must be born again.’

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Now sometimes I’ve seen kids out in the front yard on a day when there’s light breezes, and you’ve got what they call variable winds. When you’re a pilot and you’re getting ready to land, if you’re at a new airport and there’s no radio information available you might fly the pattern over the airport and any modern airport has something called a windsock. Even with all of our modern technology, the airports have a windsock so you can tell which way the wind is blowing when you look at the sock. Sometimes I’ll call ahead as I’m coming in and I’ll say, “What’s the status of the airport.” They’ll say, “Variable winds.” Well, variable means you always want to land into the wind. Variable means it might be blowing up three three or it might be blowing down one five opposite directions. You don’t know which way the wind is going, and unless you see the sock you can’t tell. You don’t want to land with a tailwind. It kind of pushes you down the runway and you could run off the runway. You want to land with a headwind so it’s something you’ve got to get right. I can’t see the wind, but I can see the windsock. I can see what it does.

About one week ago we had some wind. Can you say amen? Can I get a hallelujah? I’ll tell you, that was some wind! Man! Yeah, when you see Wells Fargo blowing by, you know it was a windy day. I looked out the window and the trees were not just coming down, they were going horizontal. I mean the trees that had left the ground were going horizontal. It looked like a clip out of “Wizard of Oz” last week, didn’t it? We still see, on the way to church you can still see the aftermath of that wind. That’s what you call a mighty wind. The Lord sometimes compares wind to the Spirit in the Bible. If you have your Bibles, you probably remember this passage. Acts chapter2, in Pentecost when God prepares to pour out the Holy Spirit, what symbol is used to signify this mighty filling of the Spirit? Acts 2:2 “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind…” Did you hear a mighty wind about a week ago? It wasn’t just like the rustling in the leaves that you hear. It was a roar like a train. It was kind of exciting until the power went out; then it was a nuisance. When my friends called and said their power went out I thought it was funny, but when my power went out then it wasn’t funny anymore. We’re all a little sinister that way, aren’t we? But this mighty, rushing wind of the Holy Spirit… If the gentle breezes represent the conversion, Jesus said the wind blows where it lists, you can’t tell where it comes from, or where you go. It’s like a variable wind. But before the Lord comes again I think there’s going to be a mighty, rushing wind. There’s going to be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will come in a tremendous way.

Now people’s conversions are variable like the wind. If I were to ask you, those of you who were born again, do you know what the date was when you were born again? I need to make a confession. You saw Jenni’s children’s story with the cake out here? Before she did the children’s story, she put the cake back in the dressing room. She said nothing to me. That’s where I change and sort of powder my nose. So I went back there and I saw a cake, and I said, “Bless their hearts! Our church is so good, they brought a birthday cake for the pastor!” I honestly thought that. I almost stuck my finger in it. I thought this is for me! I mean, who else would it be for? I really thought that, Jenni. You put it back in my dressing room; I thought you were giving me a birthday cake. I did wonder why it’s not my birthday, but just because I’m a nice guy. It had scripture on it; it must be for the pastor! When I saw her bring it out for the children’s story, I was devastated! I’m embarrassed to tell you that because it’s true. Yeah, now the truth is out. What was I talking about?

If I were to ask you if you could pinpoint the birthday (Most of us know our real birthday.) but the birthday of your born again experience. Don’t shout it out, but how many of you can think of a date when everything changed? Let me see your hands. Was there a date? Yeah. Some of you, you believe you’re born again, but it was more like a process. You can’t really pin it down. That’s kind of where I am. The word of God does it and just because you cannot pick the date when you were born again doesn’t mean you were not born again. Some have the new birth like Paul on the road to Damascus. If you were to ask Paul, “When were you born again?” Can he pick a date? Yeah, matter of fact, all through his life he shares his testimony, “There I was on the road to Damascus struck down. The glory of God, Jesus spoke to me. That was the day when everything changed.” But for some others it’s more like a process where the heart changes and it’s like the wind and you can’t tell. There is a quote from the book Steps to Christ, page 59, that illustrates this.

I just don’t want you to be discouraged if you can’t pick out the date; it doesn’t mean you’re not born again. “A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place or trace all the chains of circumstances in the process of conversion, but this does prove him to be unconverted. Christ said to Nicodemus, ‘The wind blows where it listeth and you hear the sound thereof, but you cannot tell where it came from and where it’s going’ so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. Like the wind which is invisible, yet the effects are plainly seen and felt is the Spirit of God and its work upon the human heart. That regenerating power which no human eye can see begets a new life in the soul. It creates a new beginning in the image of God. While the work of the Spirit is silent and imperceptible, its effects are manifest. If the heart has been renewed by the Spirit of God the life will bear witness of the fact.” Sometimes the changes are gradual. I’ve seen people who have a dramatic conversion and in one day, I mean, it’s phenomenal to me. It’s evidence of the power of God.

People who I know, they were drinking and cursing and smoking and using drugs and foul language and prodigal lives, the Lord got them and in twenty-four hours it’s gone. They throw away the alcohol, they throw away the cigarettes, they stop cursing, they stop frequenting the old places, they are converted; it’s just dramatic. I was on the phone with a friend like that yesterday. I think he’s going to be here in about a week sharing a little testimony. Just dramatic, just like that. For me it wasn’t like that. For me it was… Some babies, let’s just face it, they sort of pop out and others have a long labor, right? That’s kind of how it was with me. Little by little I became convicted on things and just one day I could finally look back and say… Now I know the day I was baptized, but I’d felt the new birth happening before that. As I said before sometimes a person might be born of the Spirit before they’re even baptized. Jesus was baptized in water and the Holy Spirit came down the same day. Then you’ve got those who were baptized in water like most of the apostles, but they don’t get the Holy Spirit until later, but you must have both births. Born of the water and born of the Spirit. It’s like the wind, you may not be able to peg it down.

We’re moving on here. We read verses seven and eight. We’re still in John chapter 3, go with me to verses nine and ten. “Nicodemus answered and said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’” He just seemed so mystified by it all. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?’” I want to talk a little bit about clueless teachers. I heard one time, Billy Graham tells a story about when he came into a new town. He was preparing for a series of tent meetings. He was a young evangelist, and he wanted to send a letter home to the family. He was away; he had written a letter.

As he was walking through this town he saw a young boy, and he wasn’t familiar with the area, he said, “Young man, can you please tell me where is the post office?” He gave him directions. Billy Graham said, “You know, we’re having a Baptist revival at that tent out of town. We’re going to tell you how to get to heaven. You think you’d like to come?” He said, “Mister, you don’t know how to get to the post office. How are you going to tell me how to get to heaven?” So Jesus says to Nicodemus, You’re one of the teachers; you’re the PhD in Israel. I’m talking about Christianity 101, I’m talking about God 101 the new heart, the new covenant, it’s not just in the New Testament. That teaching is in the Old Testament. “I will put a new heart within you” Ezekiel. Jeremiah says, “I will make a new covenant with you.” This says, circumcised, not touched your flesh, but circumcise your hearts. It was the heart changed. Truth goes back to Moses. He says, this is kindergarten. Here you are and you say how can this be? I don’t understand it. Now Nicodemus was a good guy.

I don’t want to be disrespectful. Amen? I think Jesus was frankly disappointed because Jesus spent a lot of time talking to the poor and the uneducated. He spent a lot of time talking to shepherds and fishermen and the poor classes that flocked around Him and He had to, pardon me, but He had to simplify things for them and put it in parables so they could understand. Now He’s arranged a private audience with someone who ought to be able to mentally challenge Jesus like when he was twelve years old. At least he had some interaction with the scholars back then. He’s talking to Nicodemus, and they have this, and he said, “Boy, you’re a teacher.

I’m just talking about the basics and you don’t get it.” I don’t want to be disrespectful, but you know things haven’t changed much. You might have a proliferation of degrees and letters behind your name, that doesn’t necessarily mean… You could be a theologian officially, a scholar and I’m amazed sometimes how many people that would be defined as that that just don’t understand the basics of Christianity. This week watching a group of scholars, I like to watch some religious programming, sitting around the table dissecting the Bible, all of them doctors of theology. They were talking about a very basic passage about getting into heaven, and they’re saying, “Well, it can’t really mean that. I don’t think it means this. What do you think it means? I’m not sure what it means. That’d be discouraging. It couldn’t mean that.” How clueless they were was mindboggling to me. Now I’m not saying this because I are one. I’m a pastor. I’m not saying this to, like I said, be disrespectful. I don’t want to say these things. I’m very cautious about saying this.

I want to qualify it because I’m not trying to diminish your respect for pastors. Frankly, you all need to raise your respect for the office of pastor, I think people are very derogatory about ministry and pastors. The reason I’m saying it is because you cannot depend on the theologians to find heaven. This is what it says in the Bible. You remember reading in John chapter 7, verse 15, the Jews said speaking of Jesus, “How can this Man have letters having never studied?” How can He know these things? Then again they said, “Have any of the scribes and the leaders, have they believed on Him? Let’s find out what they believe and let’s follow them.” Be very careful about saying well, someone gets up on TV and it says Dr. So-and-so, some pastor, it says Dr. So-and-so, and so I can trust him because he’s studied these things. I think study and education is very important, but I’ll tell you, back in the days of Jesus there were a lot of very educated people that rejected Him. Even Nicodemus, who accepted Him, Jesus said, “you still don’t get it so do not trust your eternal destiny to people that may have a degree. You need to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and understand the new birth, and if you’re not born again no amount of knowledge or bickering about theology is going to save you.

I’ve sometimes noticed that people, I’ve had people come to evangelistic meetings, they’re very bright, very educated, sophisticated, intelligent and I’ll meet them at the door and I’ll say, “Well, did this make sense tonight?” “Well, yeah, but…” and then they distract me with some nuance of theology that isn’t clear. They want to engage me in some deep philosophical argument and I’m saying something to them like, “Did you understand the part about Jesus coming again and that you’re going to die if you don’t accept Him?” “Well, but you know there is this verse in the book of Zephaniah…” and it’s a diversionary tactic for the basics. There is this verse in the Bible that says if you can’t keep up with the footman, then how are you going to run with the horses? If we don’t understand the basics of being born again then all of the higher theology is useless. I’d rather be uneducated and born again than sophisticated and educated and lost. I’d rather be a dumb (pardon me) Christian than a brilliant sinner. The Lord wants us to at least have the basics of accepting Him.

Jesus marvels, “Are you a teacher in Israel and you don’t know these things? How are you going to teach others?” That was one of the big problems in Christ’s day and it’s a problem today. If the blind lead the blind then you’ve got everybody falling in the ditch. You can ask Karen, ever now and then I’ll be watching one of these religious programs, and I’ll confess, friends, it breaks my heart. I’ll see some preacher dressed up like Elvis and he’s in an audience with fifty thousand people that have come to hear him and he’ll say the most absurd, bizarre things. I say, oh, how can they believe that? People are desperately looking for leadership. They’re looking for light and sometimes showmanship is the substitute for basic theology. Make sure and have a personal relationship.

I heard a story. There was a young man who dropped out of USC. He was taking aerospace engineering and he wanted to get involved in the space program so he dropped out. He didn’t get his degree. Well, they invited him back a few years later when he was thirty-nine to dedicate the science building. His name was Neil Armstrong. He never did get his degree. They finally gave him an honorary degree, but he did walk on the moon. That ought to make you worth something in space, right? While everyone else is on earth studying space, he’s up walking on the moon so who deserves the degree? That makes my point. I can move on. Okay.

Then Jesus, getting back to the verse. We’re just taking this study, I like doing this. I like just going verse by verse through what Jesus said. It’s so important that I don’t want to rush through it. John 3:11 Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say to you…” Now we’ve learned when Christ says verily, verily, He’s saying underscore this. This is a truth you can count on. “We speak what we do know, and testify what we have seen; and you receive not our witness.” I want to just pause right here. Everybody really can only testify to and speak of what they’ve experienced, what they know. In order for us to be effective Christians and disciples you have to have an experience. If you are trying to convert somebody to Christ by virtue of relaying someone else’s experience, that never works very well. You have to have a personal experience.

Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, “Look, we have been giving you evidence of what we know about God firsthand, and you (meaning the Pharisees) do not believe our testimony.” He says we’ve given you plenty of evidence. Matter of fact, if you remember last week, Nicodemus begins the conversation by saying, “We know You must be a teacher of God because no one else could do these works that You’re doing unless God is with them.” Jesus is saying, “Why are you doubting? Why are the religious leaders doubting these things? We’ve given you evidence.” “If I’ve told you of earthly things and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” Now this is a very important truth. How many of you would like to grow in your knowledge of God? I want you to participate. Simple principal, a dynamic. You walk in the light He’s given you; He’ll give you more light.

If you want to get into second grade, finish kindergarten. Some have not grown for years and you think that God is just obscuring Himself from you, and you wonder why you’re not growing, it could be He has showed you something years ago and you never took the next step, and you’re stuck. If we do not walk in the light then the light then the light doesn’t get brighter. Peter talks about the Christian experience as a light that grows brighter and brighter until the day dawn and the spirit of God arises in our heart. That was a paraphrase. It’s to be a growing light in being a Christian. It’s not to be stagnant. The Christian experience should get better and so many people are stagnant because God reveals the next step to them and they go, “No, Lord, let’s skip that. I don’t want to do that. I have to accept this? I can’t accept this.” Some people sop. It’ll be something like if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither your Father in heaven will forgive you, and that’s as far as they get. They just can’t forgive and they have been stymied on that for years.

Or it may be some other point of truth. They might have gotten stuck on some simple truth about giving God their time every Sabbath, faithfulness in tithes and offerings. Whatever the principal of truth is, I’m just naming some obvious elementary things. But when God reveals truth to you, if you’ll say this is truth. If you know these things happy are ye if you what? Do them. You take the next step, God will unveil, He’ll unfold more and more. Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, “Look, I’m telling you about earthly things. I’m talking to you about wind and birth. I’m trying to relate to you on a human level, and you’re wanting me to tell you about heavenly things.” Can you imagine how frustrating it was for Jesus leaving the throne of God? Remember what Paul says about heaven? “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has entered into the mind of man the things that God has prepared for them that love Him.” That means that when it comes to heavenly things, you and I can’t even fathom what’s going on up there. It is so much brighter and bigger and better and different.

So Christ leaves that kind of dimension, the realm of heaven and living with eternal beings. He comes to earth and He has to basically simplify the truth for humans. So Jesus tells parables about sheep, about sowing seed, about fishing for fish, and He tries to talk to us like little children on an earthly level so we’ll understand spiritual things. He’s saying I’d like to open up, I’d like to part the heavens for you. Paul says, I knew a man, whether in the Spirit or out of the Spirit, I don’t know, that was caught up to the third heaven and saw things that cannot be uttered. Can you imagine being John taken away, chapter four of Revelation, into vision, seeing heavenly things and then coming down to earth and trying to put into human language the tongue of angels? So Jesus says, I’m just talking about simple things. If you want me to reveal spiritual, these ethereal things then you need to embrace the simple things I’m telling you. Some of us just can’t comprehend it. Most of us can’t comprehend most of it, but I’d like to have glimpses of the divine revelations, wouldn’t you?

I want to get out of the earthly things of the world. I tell you, you know, it’s very stimulating when you sit down with some bright Christians that are consecrated and let them start grappling with the deep things of God. Nothing will invigorate you more than when you hear a group of people who are not only intelligent, but are consecrated and their minds are getting out of the earthly, and they just keep rising higher and higher in their discussion talking about the themes and the science of salvation; it’s inspiring. I think Jesus must have been frustrated so much of His earthly ministry because He wanted to open to all of us the great things of God but we can’t get out of the playpen. You’ve got these little bright Fisher-Price toys He has to relate to us with, simple things, earthly things. “If I have told you earthly things and you believe not, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” I Corinthians 2:14 “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Sometimes when you’re relating your Christian faith with someone who may be in the world, they kind of laugh at you, “Do intelligent people really believe this?” Because they have been educated by the world and carnally minded. You begin to tell them spiritual things, it’s foolishness to them. Sometimes I’m offended because I’ll try to relate to somebody something spiritual, and those principals are so absurd to the world they just wave it off. Then I remember that verse. They can’t see it because of what? Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Don’t be frustrated. Well, I’ll move on.

John 8:43 Jesus said, “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.” Then Jesus tells us in John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice,” that’s just saying that some people are not His sheep; they don’t hear. I think it’s interesting, I’m going to take a little detour. We’re talking about hearing Jesus. Do you realize that Nicodemus appears three times in the Bible, all in the gospel of John, most of it in chapter three? He has this Bible study with Jesus. What a privilege. Won’t you want to sit down with Jesus in heaven and have a Bible study? Wow! What a privilege! Then he also appears later on when the enemies of Christ are trying to get some decree to execute Him. Nicodemus sits with the Sanhedrin. Listen, John 7:50, got your Bibles? John 7:50. They’re getting ready to condemn Jesus.

They’re talking about how all of the people are following Him and that He’s deceiving the people. Nicodemus speaks up in Christ’s defense. Nicodemus defended Jesus. He says to them, “Does our law judge any man, before it hears him, and knows what he does?” See, Jesus had talked to Nicodemus about can you hear My word? Nicodemus took that principal back to the Sanhedrin. He said let’s not condemn him before we’ve even heard him. I mean, if we’re going to condemn someone bring him here, let them testify, let’s hear them firsthand. That’s part of any court. Give them a chance to defend themselves. We’re condemning him and we haven’t even invited him here to explain himself. They didn’t like that. They made a little note there on their scrolls. They said Nicodemus is for Jesus. There were others in the Sanhedrin that were for Jesus, do you remember?

Nicodemus said, “Master, we know that you are from God.” There were others there. Why do you think Nicodemus was not invited to the final trial of Christ, that evening trial, that kangaroo court that was called? Because they made a note that he was in favor. Listen, I’m not even done yet. Moving on there, Nicodemus says, “Does our law judge any man before it hear him and know what he does?” They said to Nicodemus, “Are you also from Galilee?” They’re being sarcastic because Jesus was believed to be from Galilee. “Search the scriptures and look for out of Galilee arises no prophet.” Now were they right? They’re wrong. They made a statement and here you’ve got the scholars of the country. There are scriptures that talk about the prophet coming from Galilee. I’ll read you one of them. Isaiah 9:1-2, “by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”

It said that the Messiah, this great prophet will come and show great light from Galilee. So if they’d been searching the scriptures Nicodemus was right. The religious leaders didn’t know. So Nicodemus heard what Jesus said about hearing and he took that same principal to the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ defense. Back to John 3:13. Now Jesus makes a statement that has been a challenge for many scholars through history. “No one has ascended up to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” Now wait a second! No one ascended up to heaven? Well, if you stop right there on an elementary level, are there any people in the Old Testament that ascended to heaven? Who? Well, where is the scripture in the Old Testament that says Moses ascended to heaven? No, you’re thinking about Jude. That’s New Testament.

It wasn’t written yet. But I’m with you, Moses was in heaven at this point. One reason we know that, does Moses appear to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? Yes. That probably happened after his interview with Nicodemus. But Elijah went to heaven. Who else? Enoch, so there’s at least two, including Moses that’d be three. So how can Jesus say “no man has ascended to heaven”? Well, first of all, I think that He’s speaking in bigger terms of nobody has gone up to heaven. Moses went up the mountain, but he didn’t go into the presence of God back then. Elijah even went into heaven, but the Bible says, even in the same gospel, “no man hath seen the Father” so picture heaven as an aura of light that gets brighter and brighter until you get to the middle. The dwelling place of God, the presence of God with those seraphim that flank the Lord with their six wings and cry, “Holy, holy, holy!” has any man been in that presence? Isaiah saw it in vision, but he was on earth when he saw it.

It was a vision. When Jesus said, “No man has seen the Father…” No man, I think had, at this point, ever been into the presence of the Father face to face. Men had been in the presence of God the Son, Jesus. No man had come from the Father with the knowledge of the Almighty; nobody was a better example of the knowledge of God than Jesus. That’s all He’s saying. He’s saying, “Nobody can tell you about what God is like like Me because the mind of God is in Me.” Think about this. Didn’t Christ say all the fullness of the godhead dwelt in Him bodily? Did I make that up or is that or is that what the Bible says? All the fullness of God the Father dwelt in Christ bodily. Jesus said if you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen who? You’ve seen the Father. So here you’ve got a perfect representation of the truth and the mind of God in Christ.

That’s what He means. He’s saying the men on earth have not ascended up to heaven and brought down this knowledge. I am the One who is to bring this knowledge of God, the perfect knowledge of God. Matthew 11:27 Jesus said, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father,” and catch this, no man “know(s) the Father except the Son…” Only Jesus has that perfect knowledge of the Father. That’s what He’s talking about when He says ascend into heaven.

Now the central focus of my message is this next couple of verses. The title “Looking for Life” is based upon this. John chapter 3, verse 14 and 15. These verses are especially important. They are the preview for John 3:16 that will be our next study. He says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have (everlasting) life.” There are only two choices that we all have. I think it’s very important to realize there are only two choices. Jesus said perish, everlasting life. Do you know that you have everlasting life? You know the apostle John said that we might know that we have everlasting life. If you don’t know you have everlasting life you only have one other option. There are not five options, multiple choice. Perish is death; everlasting life is life.

By the way, for me that has always been the best evidence of the truth about the state of the dead and the punishment of the wicked. You’ve got two choices: everlasting life/everlasting destruction; everlasting living/everlasting perishing. Isn’t that right? There are just two choices that we have. It’s not Abraham’s bosom and purgatory and limbo and all of these multiple choices. It’s life and death. You either get a glorified body or you get judged in your old body. You’re either in heaven or you go to the lake of fire. You live forever or you burn up. Those are the verses of the Bible that I’m quoting. Then he says, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him might not perish.”

Now to get the whole story, go back with me to Numbers 21:5. The children of Israel are going through the wilderness. They get tired of eating manna, manna, manna every day. When they first got the manna they were thrilled, but then after eating the manna every day… We’re so spoiled here in America. When I get together with my friends, and even though I’m a vegetarian there’s lots of options. Periodically in the office we’ll get together and say, “Let’s go to lunch together. What do you want to do?” Well, I did Mexican yesterday so let’s do Italian today. Or I did Italian. Let’s do the Thai food or the Vietnamese food or I mean, let’s face it, Greek food. We’ve got all of these options, Indian food, and we wouldn’t want to do two in a row.

Matter of fact, I’ll come home and say, “Karen, thanks for the stir-fry tonight, but I had Thai food for lunch so I’m going to eat cereal.” Wouldn’t want to eat the same thing twice, right? You’re laughing because you’re the same way. We’re spoiled. You know you go to a lot of the world and, “What’s for lunch?” Beans. What’s for dinner? Beans. What’s for breakfast? Beans. And if it isn’t beans, then the other part of the world, what is it? Rice. Well, the children of Israel, they couldn’t even live with that for a few months, but after a few years, manna, manna, manna.

Some of them had lingering memories of at least some onions and fish. There were no fish in the desert. Finally God gave them some quail. They started to complain about the manna. “And the people spoke…” I’m in Numbers 21:5, “…the people spoke… against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’” Oh, be careful about calling any bread that God gives you worthless, because the bread that God gave us is very expensive. Moses gave you not that bread that comes down from heaven. Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven. That was very expensive. When they ceased to appreciate the bread that God gave them... The Bible says it was like angel wafers. It was good. It tasted good. They just wanted variety. They started complaining.

Some people stop reading their Bibles because they say, “Aw, it’s boring! But I’ve got a hundred and five channels on the Dish Network.” Variety. They think the Bible is bland compared to the other. Be careful about craving after the fleshpots of Egypt and losing your appetite for the word of God because this is the foundation for our diet here. As they complained you read in verse eight, it tells us that the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people. What does a serpent represent? The devil. Sure. The first medium through which the devil spoke was a serpent. Whenever they wanted to excoriate the hypocrites they said, “Venomous pit of vipers and scorpions.” Serpents represented the devil. “The dragon, that old serpent called the devil and Satan.” Revelation chapter 12 There’s no guessing about that.

So when He sends the serpents among them, you notice what? They reject the bread and what comes in? What keeps the serpent away? The manna. When did the devil, what’s the first question in the Bible? It’s asked by a serpent. What does he question? The word of God. The first thing out of the devil’s mouth, first question, to create doubt about the word, dissatisfaction with the word, “Hath God said that you’re not supposed to eat from…” Hath God said? As soon as he questioned the word of God, the serpent took control of our planet, didn’t he? So the people started to get bit and obviously these serpents had a venomous bite because they’re dying. You can get bit by gardener snakes all day long and it’s annoying, but it won’t kill you. These are venomous serpents. God gave some interesting instructions to Moses.

I’m in verse eight now, Numbers 21. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent,’” fiery meaning these serpents either had a bright fiery looking color or the bite felt a burning sensation. We’re not sure why they’re called fiery serpents. “…and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” Hence “Looking for Life”; look and live. “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” He was healed.

The Bible tells us when God sent out the disciples you’ll have power over serpents. It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to go take them up. It means if you were bitten, that He would miraculously heal them. I think that’s even more spiritual in that when we’ve got the word of God we’ve got power to conquer the venom of the devil. Paul was bitten by a serpent. Do you remember that story? He shook it off in the fire. It was a deadly snake. They were waiting for him to fall over and nothing happened. What is it that gave them faith and forgiveness and power from the venom of the serpent? They looked and they believed. What is it that gives us victory over the serpent? Jesus said, “If I am lifted up I will draw…” What does lifted up mean? Put in a position of visibility. When Christ is lifted up where we can look to Him that’s when people are drawn, that’s when people are saved.

Another story, similar, Moses is up on the mountain. Joshua and the Israelites are fighting against the Amalekites. When they look and they see Moses on the mountain interceding for them the battle goes in their favor, they win. When they can’t see Moses, when his arms got tired and he ceases to intercede, they lost. As long as they could see him interceding they win. Is our Savior, our Jesus, is He in heaven interceding, spreading out His nail-scarred hands in our behalf? Can we look by faith and see that and be healed? Putting a serpent on the pole, you know, people struggle with that because they say, “As Moses lifted up the serpent, so must the Son of Man be lifted up? Is Jesus a snake? Is Jesus the devil? How could?” You’ve all seen that symbol for the medical institution, the serpent on the pole. That borrows from this ancient story in the Bible.

Did you know that? Looking for healing because ultimately those that did it realized that healing is ultimately a gift of God. Jesus said, “If I am lifted up I will draw all men…” The power comes through looking and faith. How many in the Bible were saved by a look of faith? Seeing God. Well, let’s think of some examples. What brought about the conversion of Paul we talked about? Paul saw the Lord. What about Isaiah chapter six. What brought about his conversion? “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord…” he said. Not only Paul, and not only Isaiah, the thief on the cross. What brought about his conversion? Did he see Jesus lifted up? Was he converted? He looked in faith and he was saved. You can go all through the Bible. Zaccheaus wanted to what? See Jesus, and he was converted. So how can looking at a serpent on a pole?

You know, the Bible tells us Christ became sin for us. Jesus took the venom of the devil in Himself, and it’s even more important than that. This is happening to a nation of what was the principal occupation of the Israelites? Shepherds. Shepherds carry staffs. Matter of fact, one time Moses threw down his staff and it became what? Matter of fact, he did that twice. He did it once when he was at the burning bush as an illustration. God showed him. He did it again before Pharaoh. Now he’s being told to take a serpent and put it on a pole. When I lived up in the mountains and we had rattlesnakes everywhere, I had a snake stick because periodically I’d see a snake around the cave or on the trail. I’d grab my snake stick and I’d thump the snake. Then after you try to dispatch him or kill him or hit him with a rock, you don’t grab a snake with your hands and walk off with him. I’ve heard stories. There was one taxidermist, he pulled a snake out of the refrigerator, a big rattlesnake someone had caught, and he was going to make a belt out of it, he cut into it and it wasn’t quite dead.

It had warmed up on the table, turned around and it bit him. Amphibians (and reptiles) are famous for being able to go into this almost frozen condition and revive. So you don’t go grab a snake. Sometimes it’s just a reflex. You pick it up with a stick. This nation of shepherds seeing a snake on a stick, for them it was a very clear symbol of a defeated serpent. What is the first prophecy in the Bible? There is going to be, and this is Genesis 3:15, the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head, but the serpent would attempt to bite the heel to slow down the progress. But the crushed head, then you pick it up and you carry it off and you bury it. So when he held up that serpent on a pole, when Jesus hung on the cross, it was a symbol for you and me that the devil has been defeated. The antivenin for the problem of sin is our faith in Jesus. We’ve all been bitten, amen? And we’re all doomed unless we look and live. It’s through seeing Christ that He, on the cross, took our sin. We get a transfusion of His blood and His blood is the antivenin for the disease of sin. We are forgiven and we live. So much happens by looking and living, looking and believing, and that’s what He’s calling us to do.

We become like what we look at. II Corinthians 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” That new birth is as you look the character of Jesus is impressed like light on a photographic plate on our souls, and we are transformed in His image. But we’ve got to be looking. Is it one look? Do you think those who looked, they were bit by the serpent, they looked at the snake, do you think they quickly looked up or do you think they gazed? They wanted to make sure they saw it. It’s a constant gazing at Christ that transforms us, that heals us, that gives us that new birth. Would you like to have that experience? You’ve got two choices: everlasting life (that’s my choice), or perish. I thought it would be appropriate to sing that hymn 290, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”. Amen? As we close, let’s stand together as we sing.

O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free! Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.

A little boy went to a revival meeting, twelve years old, and he came forward and accepted Jesus during the altar call. That next week at school he told his friends, “I’m a Christian now. I’ve been born again.” They said, “How do you know? Can you be sure? What did you see?” He said, “Well, I didn’t really see anything, but it’s kind of like when you go fishing and you’ve got your pole in the water and you feel the tug on your line and you know that you’ve got a fish. I felt that tug, and I know the Lord got me.” Do you feel the tug of the Holy Spirit on your heart?

Do you know that you’re born again? Have you looked at Jesus and realized that He’s cleansing you from the venom of sin? Have you been born of the water and born of the Spirit? You make a choice and then you empower God to do His part, but you’ve got to come like you are. Maybe there are some of you who have not made a decision to be baptized. Some of you young people have been praying about that and not yet been baptized. As we sing this next verse, I love this song, don’t you? This chorus, as we sing verse two in this song, if some of you have not yet made that decision to come to Jesus or perhaps you have and you need to renew your commitment; if you have not yet been baptized and you’d like to talk to myself or one of the pastors about that, come as we sing verse two. We’ll be praying for you.

Through death into life everlasting He passed, and we follow Him there; Over us sin no more hath dominion—For more than conquerors we are! Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.

His Word shall not fail you—He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well: Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell! Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.

How many of you would like to say right now as we close with prayer, “Lord, by Your grace, I want to know that we have that new birth. I’m going to read that manna every day; I’m going to feed the Spirit and starve the flesh that I could be transformed into Your image,” and then pray that He’ll do what only He can do in that grace of giving us a new heart. Let’s pray.

Loving Lord, thank You for the powerful truths that You communicated to Nicodemus. We know You did not do it, Lord, just for Him, but it’s also for us that we might have a personal relationship with You, that we might know that we have new hearts, that our names are written in the book of life. It’s my prayer, Lord, that every person here, those who are watching and listening, that they will choose to come to Jesus as they are and that they might have that new birth born of the water and that breath of life, born of the Spirit. Be with each person. Bless us in our hearts with the very trials of life that come. Help us remember You’re with us always, Lord. Sustain us. Thank You again for this Sabbath day and Your presence here. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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