John 3:1–21: How Do You Receive the Good News of Christmas? (from Sunday, 12/21/08)
**This is our final youth study.
I had thought about naming this message “Nick at Nite,” but Christmas is this week! It is the day when churches usually celebrate the birth of Christ, so this seemed a little more appropriate.
Luke 2, a passage often read by Christians this time of year, records the angels as say the birth of Jesus Christ is “good news of a great joy that will be for all the people” (v. 10). The passage announces that the good news is “peace among those with whom he [God] is pleased” (v. 14).
If there is “good news,” though, I suppose there is almost always “bad news,” and this verse seems to exclude people… people with whom God is not pleased.
This seems to have been the case last week. Jesus was attracting attention to Himself, and a good deal of people was placing their faith in Him. However, it was not saving faith.
Even so, religious talk abounded out this carpenter from Galilee, and the Pharisees took notice. He was performing signs according to John (John 2:23), though John does not feel the need to let us know what those signs were (cf. John 20:30–31). A certain group of the Pharisees called the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the people, began to wonder what they should do. We already know they would eventually arrive at the worst possible decision.
However, our story today is not about them. It centers around a particular member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. Under the cover of night, Nicodemus seeks out Jesus. The Q and A that follows is one of the most important portions of Scripture we have concerning our salvation.
Today, we will answer the question, “How do you receive the good news of Christmas?” Though we are tackling 21 verses today, there are only two main points I want you to note from the passage. To receive the good news, (1) you must be born into it, and (2) you must be a “whosoever” of it. This is kind of an odd approach, but hopefully it will make sense as we go along.
How does one gain the Good News of Jesus?
I. You Must be Born into the Good News (John 3:1–8)
Nicodemus comes to Christ under the cover of night. It seems that Nic doesn’t want others to know about His encounter with Jesus, which is a doubled-edged sword. On one hand, this means Nic doesn’t trust in Jesus enough to become a follower of Him. On the other hand, it means that he is not a hired spy for the Sanhedrin—he is there because of a personal motivation to check Jesus out.
Nic had no deep faith in Christ at this point—he sought Jesus because of signs much like the people at the end of chapter 2—but he continues to grow in his faith. He steps out daringly in John 7:50–51 to call for a hearing of Jesus, apparently affected by this encounter with Jesus. In his most bold move, he appears after the crucifixion to help with the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39)… something for which Christ’s disciples (except John) weren’t even present.
At this point, however, we don’t know how deep Nic’s curiosity is. What we do know is that he came to chat about the signs Jesus was performing. We also know that Jesus was interested in talking about something more important: rebirth.
The phrase, “Kingdom of God,” would have certainly grabbed Nic’s attention. He and his friends among the Pharisees were ready to see some kingdom action. But the idea of a rebirth to enter the kingdom was foreign. After all, the Kingdom of God is the coming earthly reign of the Son of David… what is Jesus talking about? Just like in college, where you have to pass “101” to move on to “201,” Jesus says being born again is a prerequisite for participation in the Kingdom of God.
The word for “again” in verse 3 really means “from above.” In order to see the Kingdom, one has to be born “from above.” Now, the New Testament makes no distinction between the requirements for people to go to heaven and those to see the Kingdom, though there is distinction between "heaven" and the Kingdom. The same requirements exist for both. Thus, those who are saved get to “see” the kingdom. In fact, this is the only time “kingdom” is mentioned in the book of John. This does not mean that the Kingdom is heaven, however; it only means the requirements are the same for both.
Christ's message is radical. Nic was a Pharisee of Pharisees; a tither of tithers; a Sabbath-keeper of Sabbath-keepers; a guardian of the Law. He kept his nose clean and probably expected to be a full participant in the Kingdom because of it. However, Jesus later calls the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27)—a spirit that is certainly displeasing to God.
Perhaps you think you are in good with God, scoring brownie points because of how well you behave or the Christian apparel you wear, how much Bible you read, or how much time and money you give to God’s work. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, maybe you look at the Pharisees and think, “If they couldn’t make it, I have no chance!” In either case, if you really want to experience the good news of Christmas, you must trust in the only one of whom God said He was “well pleased” (Matt 3:17; 17:5). We have to be born from above.
Specifically, we also have to be born of water and Spirit. Let’s start with water—what did Jesus mean in verse 5? Some people have suggested this means Christian baptism, but I’m not so sure. In verse 6, Jesus contrasts the physical to the spiritual. It would seem strange to have “water,” a physical element, instrumental in spiritual birth. Jesus contrasts these the physical and spiritual again in John 6—in verse 41, He claims to be “the bread that came down from heaven,” the “bread of life” (v. 48), calling His flesh food and His blood drink (vv. 51, 53–57). In verse 63, however, He says “the flesh is of no avail” and that the words He had been speaking were in reference to spiritual truths. If the water in 3:5 is spiritual, then it must refer to the water of Ephesians 5:26, which says that Christ has cleansed the church “by the washing of water with the word.”
What about being born of Spirit? “Water and spirit” seems to be the complete explanation of being “born from above,” as Jesus cites this expression again in verse 7. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, the one we will find out later who does the individual saving and sealing of the believer in Christ (as opposed to Christ, whose death saves the group known as the “whosoevers” explained below). The Holy Spirit is part of the sovereign Godhead—Jesus may be saying “The Spirit breathes where He will, and thou hearest His Voice” (Bernard, ICC, 107). Perhaps a cool, evening breeze was blowing at that moment, giving Jesus an illustration of the Spirit’s divine will, a will to save those who are born of the Spirit.
Jesus is most likely saying that to be born from above, you have to be washed with the word and born of the Spirit. So, to be born into the Good News of Christmas, you must be born from above, meaning be born of water and Spirit. Of course, Nic is struggling to understand all of this, and you may be as well. As such, we are going to trace the conclusion of Jesus’ and John’s thoughts on the matter.
II. You Must be a “Whosoever” of the Good News (John 3:9–21)
Though I’ve been committed to the English Stand Version for all of my personal study and memorization since sometime in 2006, I grew up on the old King James Version. In that version, I memorized John 3:16 as “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Because of this, I don’t believe I can ever read the simplified “whoever” of the ESV without thinking “whosoever” of my KJV childhood. That is where I get the key word of this point.
Jesus has already used two earthly things to explain the mysteries of salvation: birth and wind. Nobody has lived without experiencing both, and Jesus used them to try to get His message across to Nic. We are at a bit of a disadvantage, because most of us don’t understand the Old Testament as well as the Pharisees did, and apparently not even being a Pharisee was enough to be a understand the depths of Christ’s message. So, Christ moves to another explanation. If you want to be a “whosoever,” pay attention so you can receive the testimony of Christ.
No one can go to heaven. Period. Well, okay, one person in history could go to heaven, and that is the one who descended from heaven (v. 13). That’s it.
But that is why Christ came. In the Old Testament, there is a story about a plague of venomous serpents that attack the Hebrews. So dangerous was the bite of one of these snakes that it would produce a rapid, painful death. God allowed this to happen to display His glory: those who sought God for a remedy could find it. That is, God purposed a remedy and let the people know what it was. Moses made a bronze serpent and lifted it for all to see. All the people needed to do was to gaze upon that symbol of God’s mercy and they would not perish.
Jesus compares Himself to that symbology. He tells Nic, “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” (John 3:14-15). Christ is the one we need to gaze upon in order to be saved from the wrath to come. Gazing upon Him and believing in the sufficiency of His work is the way in which we can be a “whosoever” of the Good News.
All of humanity is condemned, destined for God’s wrath. Yet, there is this smaller segment, a remnant, who calls upon the name of the Lord to be saved. The offer is free to anyone, and thus John 3:16 promises that “whoever believes” will “have eternal life.” The “whoever believes” separates, of course, indicating there is a “whoever won’t.”
As such, when I prayed to make Jesus my life at the age of 14 in the privacy of my room, I was making a conscious decision to make Him my God. I recognized the empty meaninglessness of living without Him, recognized my own selfish ways, and I wanted Him more than any life without Him. I didn’t care about being religious (though I did fall into religious traditionalism later, but that is another story) and I didn’t even care about escaping Hell anymore (before, I only wanted to escape Hell). I just wanted HIM. So far as I was concerned, I made a choice for Him and became one of the “whosoevers.”
There is a question of who these folks are, though. Why do some choose to believe and others don’t? This chart defines these folks, and what they learn about themselves after they are saved.
After I was saved by the Lord from my sin and destiny of wrath, I learned that I came only because I was drawn of the Father (John 6:37, 44). I also learned that I would not be lost, as it was the will of the Father and the promise of Christ to raise me up on the last day (John 6:37, 39–40, 44). I learned that Christ knew me before the foundation of the world, set out on a plan to save me and all of the other predestined, called me in my room that night, justified me at that moment, and (again) promises to glorify me (Rom. 8:29–30; Eph 1:4–5, 8–11, 13–14.) Such is true for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord.
I bring this up because there is, as Scripture reveals, a third group of people living in our dispensation. There is the saved and the lost, but this group overlaps both categories. We’ll call this group professing Christians: those who claim to be heaven-bound because of their faith in Jesus Christ. This would be most people in America and a sizable population around the world.
Heb 6:4f) who fall away. Here in John, they love darkness and wickedness more than light and life (John 3:19–20). Again, Hebrews describes them as continuing in sin (Heb 10:26f). These folks are deceived into thinking they have fellowship with Christ (cf. 1 John 1). Some are even liars (1 John 2:3). The odds are that out of every group of professing Christians, such as this church, there are some who claim to be Christian who are not.
One of the descriptions of these folks is that they will leave us (1 John 2:19). One example is Dan Barker, an atheist and co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an organization dedicated to removing all vestiges of the Christian faith from American life. The kicker is that he was a pastor for 19 years, and now his life is dedicated to attacking the faith he once professed as his own.
A study suggests that two-thirds of teens from a protestant church such as our own will drop out once entering college. Some young people return, but many only after starting a family of their own and wanting their kids to be in church. There have been so many content to profess Christ but simply hang around the edges of the faith.
Are you a “professing Christian” who is heading for Hell? Are you like the Pharisees who looked good on the outside but are dead inside? Or are you like the spectators of John 2:23–25, who were only interested in what Jesus could do for them? Are you really a “whosoever” of the Good News of Christmas?
This time of year is my favorite: there is great food, wonderful family time, beautiful displays, the cold provides ample opportunity to snuggle up with those you love, and the giving and receiving of presents is simply fun. But here is the question for all of us: is Jesus simply tacked on to give the holiday some meaning? What will Thursday reveal about your relationship with Him?
While I hope you receive excellent gifts this year, may they pale in comparison to the gift God gave us 2,000 years ago. May you be born into the glorious Good News of Christmas, a “whosoever” believing and receiving the eternal goodness of God!