John 3:1-21
From Darkness To Light

Authored By Keiichi Nakajima, Seminary Student

1. Nicodemus is the character that comes on the scene in John chapter three, which I read you today. He was a member of the Jewish "Parliament." In addition, another source says he came from a family of very noble lineage.  He belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. The term, Pharisee, means "a separated person."  In order to observe the strictest rules of  the law they made distinctions for themselves in normal every day living. They were people  who lived with the conviction that putting into practice a lifestyle like this made God  pleased with them.

2. It is surprising how this man came to visit Jesus to ask about a need concerning his own soul. "I have wealth and honor to the hilt, as a Pharisee I offer my life in strict observance of the law, and I believe that this offering of myself is pleasing to God; I have achieved this level, so why is it that I am not satisfied?" When he visited Jesus wrapped up in such thoughts, it was the middle of the night. He came at night because of the caution to not be seen by the public eye, but it could be said that at the same time in the midst of the evening darkness the condition of his soul was being symbolized which was in dire search of light.

3. Nicodemus visited Jesus and right away Nicodemus made a greeting to Jesus like this (verse two), "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. Because if God was not with you, the kinds of signs which you perform could not be accomplished by anyone." With such words he admires the signs and miracles of Jesus and against this background he recognizes that Jesus has the authority of God. However the reply of Jesus to that was (verse three), "Clearly I say this to you. If a person is not born anew, he can not see the kingdom of God." This answer does not click with the initial greeting given by Nicodemus. If things were normal here, after receiving a greeting of admiration from Nicodemus he would have given an answer that matched it like a "Yes, that's right," or a "No, that just t'ain't so." But abruptly and quite out of tune here he said, "In order to be in the kingdom of God, a person must be born anew." In one sense, it could be understood as though he were ignoring Nicodemus' greeting. But when Nicodemus heard Jesus' words, he did not act confused, "What are you so abruptly saying?" He received them. When he sees himself answering Jesus like this, "How can an old man be born? Can he be born after entering once more into his mother's womb?," then Nicodemus understood even more why he had come to question Jesus. He had not come to Jesus for the purpose of making chit-chat. Rather, he came to question Jesus about the kingdom of God and this matter of being newly born, and for this very reason he came to Jesus hiding himself from the public eye. Since Jesus himself favorably agreed with the purpose of this visit, he delivered this message, "Clearly I say to you. If a person is not born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God," which at first glance one may feel was an out of whack kind of message.

4. Jesus said that in order to be in the kingdom of God there is to be an important change in the interior of a person, which is "to be born anew." And what Nicodemus asked about was exactly this.

5. In the Gospel of John the word "the kingdom of God" appears only two times. They only appear here in this chapter in verses three and five. However, usually in John's Gospel the words "eternal life" are expressed as a right and new relationship with God. So, in order to get eternal life, Jesus says a person must be born anew.

6. However, when Jesus said, "Clearly I say to you. If a person is not born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God," Nicodemus was not able to fully comprehend these words. When Jesus said, "If a person is not born anew," he understood the word "anew" to mean "one more time, again." That's why he gave the answer "How can an old man be born? Can he be born after entering again into his mother's womb?," which sounded incoherent in a certain sense.

7. However, when Nicodemus spoke like that, it was more than this literal question bouncing within his heart. This is what he felt in his heart. That is, he felt that "You are talking about being born again and you are declaring how fundamental change is necessary. I know that I need this for myself. But, speaking from experience, that is a complete impossibility." What Nicodemus is facing, as he hopes to be changed, was the problem of humanity which cannot change by himself or herself. [Mere flesh cannot change by itself to a spiritual level.]

8. However, the word "anew, newly" which Jesus used had other definitions beside the meaning "once more, again." These definitions are "from the very beginning" and also "from above, that is from God above." When Jesus said, "If a person is not born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God," all of these meanings were included therein. That is, "to be born anew" means the experience of fundamental change of new birth in the soul. It means that it is neither something given by a human being nor something obtainable by human effort, but rather it means it is "from above" or something given by God.

9. Nicodemus was especially lacking in the perspective "from above." He was a man who by keeping God's laws in every detail as a Pharisee tried to be pleasing to God and maintain a right relationship with God. He was always trying to acquire the state of "being born anew" on his own power and by his own effort. However, without reaching this state and in deep longing of heart to know by some means or another the way to be born anew, he called on Jesus in a visit. Since he lacked this perspective "from above, he could not sufficiently understand Jesus' words, "If you are not born anew, you cannot see the kingdom of God."

10. Then, Jesus continued his perfect message for this particular Nicodemus. "Clearly I say to you. If anyone is not born by water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God," (verse five). With this Jesus speaks and exchanges the previous word "newly" with "by water and the spirit." As for the water he speaks about here, it symbolizes "purifying, cleansing." It expresses the forgiving of our past sins and our being cleansed. And the spirit symbolizes "power." The past is simply forgotten through water and it is not just being forgiven. If it only meant being forgiven, a person would just return to his failures once more. But, through the Spirit we are given new power, a power which enables us to do what we never were able to do by ourselves. As for the phrase "by water and the spirit," it expresses the cleansing power of Christ which sweeps away our past and gives victory to our future.

11. As Jesus continues he takes up the simile of the wind. That is, he says (verse eight), "The wind blows as it so pleases. Although you hear its sound, you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. That is how it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." In both Greek and Hebrew, the word that means wind also means spirit at the same time. This is what Jesus is saying, "You can hear and feel the wind. But, you will not understand where that wind comes from and where it is going. The wind itself cannot be seen by the eye. However, the wind is certainly blowing there because it is clear by the sensation hitting upon your cheeks and as you see the rustling of the trees and the vibrating of the tree leaves. So the Spirit's work is exactly the same. You don't know how the Holy Spirit works. But, you can see the work of the Holy Spirit when it has been manifested in the life of a person."

12. Once a lone drunkard believed in Jesus Christ and converted. Thereupon, an associate from work said jokingly, "Surely not you! You don't believe in miracles and stuff, now do you? Like, when master Jesus changed water to wine or something, surely you aren't believing this kind of thing, I wonder." I heard that the converted man responded to that like this. "When master Jesus was in Palestine, I'm not for sure how the water was changed to wine. What I am for sure about is master Jesus is changing my beer to his furniture inside this house of mine."

13. So, we don't understand how the Holy Spirit works. But the effect is clear how the Holy Spirit reaches into people's lives. And through the work of this Holy Spirit, Jesus said a person is born anew.

14. However, Nicodemus (verse nine) said, "How could such a thing be?" He still didn't understand. There is a piece of advice for us here. You can't obtain salvation by just trying to intellectually grab hold of Christianity. Of course, it is important to intellectually grasp hold of an outline of the truth of Christianity. However, the most needed thing is to personally experience "power." It is quite necessary for us to see with these eyes and hear with these ears the state in which the power of Jesus Christ is vividly being manifested and full of life.

15. Jesus rebuked Nicodemus like this. That is (verses ten through eleven), he said, "Though you're a teacher in Israel, you don't understand this matter? Clearly I say to you. Although we speak what we know and we testify to what we have seen, you all still are not receiving our witness." Although wind is not visible to the eye, if you see the shaking of the tree leaves it is clear the wind is blowing there, so in the same way, if you can read the Bible and go to church and see a person full of life and changed by the Holy Spirit, and if you can hear his testimony then even though the Spirit is invisible to the eye, his work is clear to you. And what's important is you are neither remaining a disinterested spectator over it nor seeing things as an outsider does, but you take hold of it as your personal business and put yourself in the middle of things and so you try to feel that Wind for yourself.

16. The most important verse in the Bible is verse sixteen. "God loved the world in as much as he gave his only child. The person who believes his only child, does not perish alone, because he obtains eternal life." I was taught to check it out and place my own name in this verse and read it there. When you personally place yourself here in experiencing the power of Jesus and grabbing hold of it as your own, it is just the right thing to do. "God loved Nicodemus so much that he gave his only child. Nicodemus, who believes in God's only child, will not perish, because he obtains eternal life." So what was necessary for Nicodemus was not being in the posture of a spectator, but this posture of placing himself into the text John 3:16 and into the power of God.

17. We deserve to go to hell, but God brought down a response from heaven in order to grant me eternal life. That is, on the basis of his loving me he gave up his only child, Jesus. This point is neither academic theory, nor is it some wishful too-good-to-be-true ideal; it actually took place in history and it is already an accomplished fact.

18. So this matter of "believing in God's son" is recorded as passing judgment on a person. (Verse eighteen), "A person who believes on God's son will not be judged. A person who does not believe is already being judged. It is because he does not believe on the name of God's only child." To the person who believes on God's son he is given eternal life, but to the person who does not believe he is given eternal hell, and there is no middle ground. As light and darkness are incompatible, as only a shadow just stretches out in front of a person who turns his back towards the light [and darkness is seen], whether a person believes on God's son or whether he doesn't believe will determine that person's "eternity."

19. (Verses nineteen through twenty-one) "Though light has come into the world, people care more for darkness rather than light as their deeds are evil. This one is already under judgment. All who practice evil hate light and  are afraid of their deeds going out to the clarity of light, so they do not come towards the light. But the person who practices truth comes towards the light. Their deeds have been guided by God and so they are brought to the clarity of light."

20. Nicodemus was seeking light and asked Jesus questions the entire night long. But he was not able to understand much of what Jesus was relating to him. After this, we don't know how the conversations between them continued. But it is recorded in the same Gospel of John that thefigure of Nicodemus later was right in front of the cross of Jesus. I will read you the verses in John 18:38-42 [sic 19:38-42]. "Afterwards Joseph of Arimathea, although a disciple of Jesus who kept that fact hidden, went to ask Pilate saying he wanted to take down the corpse belonging to Jesus. Since Pilate authorized it, Joseph went to take down the corpse. Nicodemus also, who once came to Jesus at night, came to the cross bringing one hundred "litras" [one Roman litra is about twelve ounces] of solution mixed with ointment and aloes. They received the corpse of Jesus and according to the customs for burial of a Jewish person, they attached spices and wrapped him with linen. In the place where Jesus was fixed to the cross was a garden. There was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried. On that day it was the Jews' Preparation Day [the day before the Sabbath], and as this tomb was close by they buried Jesus in it."

21. Being afraid of the Jews he purposely paid a visit to Jesus in the middle of the night. However, when Jesus was executed by crucifixion even his disciples were afraid of the Jews and deserted in flight hiding their characters, but Nicodemus magnificently came and prepared ointment with aloes for the burial of Jesus.

22. He changed from a night time visitor to a person walking in broad daylight. While he had been in absolute darkness, he continued seeking the light and came to visit Jesus who is light; so, he found out the light and moved from darkness to light. Today I would have you to be people who change from persons depending on self-power to persons waiting expectantly on power from above; I would have you be persons who go from being a spectator of the work of the Holy Spirit to a person who places himself in the midst of the Spirit's wind. I would have you be a person who is born anew, a person who walks in the midst of the light and not in the depth of of darkness. Let's pray.

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