Here’s one of today’s great *Life Applications:
Most people, at one time or another, wish they could start life over again. But second thoughts usually bring us to the conclusion that another trip through life would involve just as many opportunities for mistakes as the first time. Jesus made the point that only way a person can really start over in life is by being “born again” by receiving God’s eternal life and the regenerating Holy Spirit. Starting over may be naturally impossible; but Jesus makes new life a supernatural possibility.
For more insights from John 3, Read on….
Nicodemus Visits Jesus at Night / 3:1-21
It would be difficult to find any other portion of Scripture as well known as John 3:16 or any other statement of Scripture more applied than “You must be born again” (3:7). When Jesus revealed the necessity of the new birth to Nicodemus, he exposed mankind’s ultimate hope. This evening interview is the first of a series of individual encounters between Jesus and persons who fit the description given at the end of chapter 2—those who approached Jesus with an inadequate faith. Nicodemus (3:1-15), the Samaritan woman (4:1-42), and the nobleman from Capernaum (4:43-54) illustrate a certain view of who Jesus was and what he could do. But meeting Jesus face to face changed their views. It also changed their lives.
3:1-2 Nicodemus was a Jewish religious leader, a Pharisee—the most strict Jewish sect of those times. The Jewish religious leaders were divided into several groups. Two of the most prominent groups were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees separated themselves from anything non-Jewish and carefully followed both the Old Testament laws and the oral traditions handed down through the centuries. As a “leader,” he was a member of the Jewish ruling council. Although the Romans controlled Israel politically, the Jews were given some authority over religious and minor civil disputes. The Jewish ruling body was the council made up of seventy-one of Israel’s religious leaders.
What motivated Nicodemus to come to Jesus? Very likely Nicodemus was both impressed and curious about Jesus and chose to form his opinions about him from firsthand conversation. It is possible that he did not want to be seen with Jesus in broad daylight because he feared reproach from his fellow Pharisees (who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah). But it may not have been fear that brought Nicodemus after dark; it is also possible that he chose a time when he could talk alone and at length with the popular teacher who was often surrounded by people.
Nicodemus respectfully addressed Jesus as a teacher who had been sent by God. While true, the title reveals Nicodemus’s limited understanding of Jesus. He was far more than just another rabbi. At least Nicodemus identified Jesus’ miraculous signs as a revelation of God’s power.
* LIFE APPLICATION: AT LEAST HE CAME
The meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus was not by accident. Nicodemus did not stumble over Jesus, but sought him out. He made it a point to find and be with Jesus. Often we are guilty of allowing our relationship with God to degenerate into occasional chance meetings where God has had to seek us out. Do we only turn to Christ in crises, finding little place or time for him in our daily lives? How often at night, when the hustle of the day settles down, do we think of Jesus in the silence and seek him out in prayer?
3:3 Jesus’ words are unmistakable and to the point: “Unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.” That a person must be born again speaks of spiritual birth, but Nicodemus understood Jesus as referring to a physical rebirth. What could Jesus expect Nicodemus to know about the Kingdom? From the Scriptures he would know that the Kingdom would be ruled by God, it would eventually be restored on earth, and it would incorporate God’s people. Jesus revealed to this devout Pharisee that the Kingdom would come to the whole world (3:16), not just the Jews, and that Nicodemus wouldn’t be a part of it unless he was personally born again (3:5). This was a revolutionary concept: the Kingdom is personal, not national or ethnic, and its entrance requirements are repentance and spiritual rebirth. Jesus later taught that God’s Kingdom has already begun in the hearts of believers (Luke 17:21). It will be fully realized when Jesus returns again to judge the world and abolish evil forever (Revelation 21–22).
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Kingdom of God was present with him (Luke 17:21). To “see” the Kingdom of God means, in part, to have a special perception or insight concerning God’s absolute control. But a sense of belonging, or citizenship, is also included. The “seeing” is not simply for purposes of examination; it represents participation. To “see,” then, is to be a citizen without yet being able to exercise all the rights and privileges of that citizenship. Nicodemus was being taught that Israel was a chosen people to be a vehicle of God’s message to the world, not to be the only beneficiaries of that relationship.
*LIFE APPLICATION: NECESSITY OF A SEARCHING HEART
Nicodemus was searching, and he believed that Jesus had some answers. A learned teacher himself, he came to Jesus to be taught. No matter how intelligent and well-educated we are, we must come to Jesus with an open mind and heart so he can teach us the truth about God. A searching heart is marked by several characteristics:
- Humility in seeking and admitting personal need.
- Perseverance in overcoming obstacles that may keep us from finding and following Christ.
- Insight in recognizing that the gospel message relates to our lives.
- Willingness to submit to the lordship of Christ.
- Obedience in going beyond mental assent to active dependence on God’s promises and guidance.
3:4 Nicodemus either stopped listening after Jesus’ opening phrase, or he chose to address the first curious statement he heard. These questions that focused solely on birth—whether spoken sincerely or sarcastically—show that Nicodemus did not perceive the spiritual intent of Jesus’ words. He saw only the literal meaning and questioned its absurdity: “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” But with all his learning he should have understood that God can and will give spiritual rebirth. The prophets had spoken about this spiritual regeneration (see Ezekiel 36:25-27; see also Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-32).
3:5 This statement has perplexed and divided commentators for many centuries. Some traditions have taught that the water denotes physical birth (referring to the “water” of amniotic fluid or even semen) and Spirit to spiritual birth—in which case Jesus would be saying that a person has to have two births: one physical and the second, spiritual. This view builds upon the preceding context when Nicodemus referred to physical birth. It also points to the parallel Jesus makes in verse 6. According to this position, Jesus would have been granting the Pharisee’s point in order to highlight the nature of the second birth as spiritual. Two strengths of this interpretation are that it avoids making the physical act of water baptism a necessity and that it avoids bringing almost a “third birth” idea into the discussion. If water doesn’t refer to natural birth, say its defenders, then Jesus seems to be saying that a person must be born of their parents, born of water, and born of the Spirit.
Other traditions have taught that the water refers to baptism and the Spirit to spiritual regeneration—thus, Jesus would have been saying that a person must both be baptized and receive the Spirit in order to enter the Kingdom of God. This view is at times influenced by the belief that the sacrament of baptism is itself a requirement for salvation.
A parallel view makes water refer to baptism but places the emphasis on teaching two steps of baptism; one by water, the other by the Spirit. For support, these views point to the larger context in John where John the Baptist and water baptism are mentioned just preceding the events in Cana and following this encounter with Nicodemus. They also rely on the tendency of previous generations of believers to equate the mention of water with baptism. But in the first seven chapters of John, water appears in some way (naturally or symbolically) in each chapter. To associate water and baptism too closely makes baptism a higher priority than the Scriptures give it. Here, for instance, if Jesus was speaking of two completely separate acts, two baptisms, it is odd that the rest of the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus never again refers to the subject but revolves entirely around the work of God’s Spirit.
Still other traditions have taught that Jesus’ reference to water is not physical in either the sense of birth or baptism. The term water is simply another description of the Spirit—or the Spirit’s activity of cleansing and giving life (see John 7:37-39).
3:6 Humans can produce only more human beings; this answers Nicodemus’s question in verse 4. Only God the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. At the same time God puts his Spirit into us, we are given a new regenerated human spirit. It is God’s Spirit, not our effort, that makes us children of God (1:12). Jesus’ description corrects human hopes that we might somehow inherit goodness from parents, or earn it by good behavior, church background, or correct associations. At some point we must be able to answer the question: Have I been born of the Spirit?
*LIFE APPLICATION: STARTING OVER
Most people, at one time or another, wish they could start life over again. But second thoughts usually bring us to the conclusion that another trip through life would involve just as many opportunities for mistakes as the first time. Nicodemus saw only complications and impossibilities in Jesus’ challenge. But Jesus later made the point in discussing the possibility of salvation with his disciples that “with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27 niv). The only way a person can really start over in life is by being born from above—”born again” by receiving God’s eternal life and the regenerating Holy Spirit. Starting over may be naturally impossible; but Jesus makes it a supernatural possibility.
*LIFE APPLICATION: WHO IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?
God has revealed himself as three persons in one—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God became a man in Jesus so that Jesus could die for our sins. Jesus was raised from the dead to guarantee God’s offer of salvation to all people through spiritual renewal and rebirth. When Jesus ascended into heaven, his physical presence left the earth, but he promised to send the Holy Spirit so that his spiritual presence would still be among his people (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spirit first became available in this special way to all believers at Pentecost (Acts 2). Whereas in Old Testament days the Holy Spirit empowered specific individuals for specific purposes, now all believers have the power of the Holy Spirit available to them. For more on the Holy Spirit, read 14:16-28; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; and 2 Corinthians 1:22
3:7 Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus that evening has been heralded to all the world ever since. Both Jew and Gentile have heard the divine mandate: You must be born again. Without the new birth, one cannot see or enter into the Kingdom of God. In those words, millions have heard Jesus speaking directly to their hearts. Behind Jesus’ challenge is his invitation to each of us—“You must be born again; allow me to do that for you.”
*LIFE APPLICATION: IN OR OUT
Just as earthly citizenship is a right of birth or is granted to a person, so citizenship in the kingdom of God is a right of new birth. A person can take steps toward citizenship in the kingdom, but one’s actual position is either in or out. Jesus told one perceptive man, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). Evidently, a person can approach yet still not “see” or be part of the kingdom of God. We need to prayerfully consider before God the exact location of our citizenship. If we have not been born again into God’s kingdom and submitted to his rule in our lives, we cannot assume that we are citizens.
3:8 Perhaps at this moment in the evening a soft wind rustled the leaves outside the house or in the garden where they were talking. Jesus used the illustration of the wind to depict the effect of the Spirit in the person born of the Spirit. In Greek the same word (pneuma) can have several meanings: “Spirit,” “wind,” and “breath.” God’s Spirit, like the wind, has free movement and, like reviving breath, has power. Jesus used this illustration to show that the reality of the Spirit living in a person is evidenced by the effect of the Spirit on that person’s life. People can control neither the wind nor the movement of God’s Spirit. The image Jesus used describes the wonderful experience we can have of realizing that God actually moves in and through us by his Spirit. Just as we do not know the origin or the destination of the wind, we do not know or control the Spirit. What we do know are the effects of the wind and of the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is as radical and unexpected as being born of the Spirit.
*LIFE APPLICATION: QUESTIONS/ANSWERS
It is quite common to find people treating spiritual questions as if asking them was a perfectly valid pursuit, even if they had no real hope of getting an answer. That kind of treadmill leads to despair. If we are not serious about answers, questions—even hard questions—are a waste of time.
We don’t know exactly what questions Nicodemus planned to ask Jesus, but we do know he went to the right source. If all we want to do is ask questions, any ear will do. But if we are hungry for answers, God will be our source. He has provided his Word, his presence, and the freedom of prayer to place any question before him. Others who have brought their questions and quests to God can also provide valuable help to us. Jesus wants to be more than just an item of discussion. He has answers for the heart and soul.
3:9-10 In response to Nicodemus’s continued question, Jesus called him a respected Jewish teacher and expressed amazement at his lack of understanding. Having such a position, Nicodemus should have known what Jesus was talking about, for the new birth is not a topic foreign to the Hebrew Scriptures (see, for example, 1 Samuel 10:6; Isaiah 32:15; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:25-27; 37; Joel 2:28-29). Jesus’ question must have exposed Nicodemus, who perhaps thought that he and Jesus were teachers who would discuss spiritual matters from an equal level of learning and understanding (see 3:2). This Jewish teacher of the Bible knew the Old Testament thoroughly, but he didn’t understand what it said about the Messiah.
*LIFE APPLICATION: DON’T GIVE UP ON PEOPLE
It must have seemed unlikely to the disciples that Nicodemus would believe in Jesus. Are there people you disregard, thinking they could never be brought to God—such as a world leader for whom you have never prayed or a successful person to whom you have never witnessed? Don’t assume that anyone is beyond the gospel. God, through his Holy Spirit, can reach anyone, and you should pray diligently for whomever he brings to your mind. Be a witness and example to everyone with whom you have contact. God may touch those you think most unlikely—and he may use you to do it.
3:11-12 Commentators do not agree as to whom the pronoun we refers to. Most likely, it refers to all those prophets who have spoken to Israel; it may also refer to Jesus and his Father. Things that happen here on earth such as the wind, can be “sensed”—that is, felt and heard. Jesus has spoken in an “earthly” analogy, and if Nicodemus could not believe that, how could he possible believe if Jesus were to tell him what is going on in heaven? These are the truths that pertain to the heavenly realm and heavenly Kingdom (for example, the more abstract theological topics such as the Trinity or Jesus’ coming glory).
*LIFE APPLICATION: HEAVENLY MINDED
These “heavenly things” cannot be sensed; they must be revealed by God and believed in faith. They are not conclusions to which we are naturally drawn. Quite often Jesus did not speak of these things directly because his listeners would not be able to understand. Instead, Jesus used parables to help those whose ears and hearts were open to grasp God’s revelation.
Even today the depths of Christ’s teaching escapes the bored and inattentive. As Jesus pointed out, many of us have ears to hear, but do not listen. Sometimes the simple discipline of repeatedly reading a chapter of Scripture can help us see and receive what God has stored there for our benefit.
3:13-15 This statement, following the last part of verse 12, tells us why Jesus was uniquely qualified to speak about heavenly matters. His authoritative message about heaven was based on personal experience. He came to earth and will return to heaven. Heaven was the home he left on his mission to rescue us. No other man could claim the same. The Son of Man is the term Jesus always used as his self-designation (1:51; see also Daniel 7:13; Matthew 26:64).
The Son of Man came from heaven and became flesh in order to die—but his death would have special importance. That significance had been “taught” by God throughout the experiences of his chosen people. To illustrate this, Jesus compared his coming death to a story well known to Nicodemus, for it came from Jewish history. According to Numbers 21:6-9, while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God sent a plague of snakes to punish the people for their rebellious attitudes. But God also gave the remedy for the poisonous snakebites—he told Moses to erect a pole upon which he was to attach a bronze snake. Those bitten by the poisonous snakes could be healed by obeying God’s command to look up at the elevated bronze snake and by believing that God would heal them. Their healing came when they looked upon this lifted-up, bronze snake.
Jesus used this incident to picture his coming salvation work on the cross. To be lifted up in Jesus’ time—according to the usage in John (see 8:28; 12:32-34)—was a euphemism for death on the cross (the victim was literally lifted up above the earth); it also spoke of his subsequent glorification. In Numbers 21:6-9, the perishing Israelites looked upon the lifted-up snake and lived. Similarly, salvation happens when we look up to Jesus, believing he will save us. God has provided this way for us to be healed of sin’s deadly bite. The Israelites were spared their lives; the believer in Jesus is spared eternal destruction and given eternal life.
*LIFE APPLICATION: THE REQUIRED RESPONSE
Three times in this context the idea of “believing in him” is used to describe the required response by a person to Christ. The way this word is used means more than mental assent. Rather, it has been paraphrased: to have a firm faith; to accept trustfully; to be fully convinced; to place confidence in; to wholeheartedly accept. There is a danger, however, in emphasizing only the idea of “belief,” since belief without an object is merely wishful thinking. The importance of a Christian’s belief is not in the believer, but in the one believed. A person may have a strong belief in a lie, but that faith will not change the lie to truth. Believers anchor their trust in Jesus Christ, who identified himself as truth (14:6). Does our faith depend on our ability to trust or does it rest on the trustworthiness of Jesus?
3:16 The entire gospel comes to a focus in this verse. God’s love is not just to a certain group of individuals—it is offered to the world. God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. Here God’s actions defined the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships—when you love someone, you are willing to sacrifice dearly for that person. Sacrificial love is also practical in seeking ways to meet the needs of those who are loved. In God’s case, that love was infinitely practical, since it set out to rescue those who had no hope of rescuing themselves. God paid dearly to save us; he gave his only Son, the highest price he could pay.
This offer is made to everyone who believes. To “believe” is more than intellectual agreement that Jesus is God. It means putting our trust and confidence in him that he alone can save us. It is to put Christ in charge of our present plans and eternal destiny. Believing is both trusting his words as reliable and relying on him for the power to change.
Jesus accepted our punishment and paid the price for our sins so that we would not perish. Perish does not mean physical death, for we all will eventually die. Here it refers to eternity apart from God. Those who believe will receive the alternative, the new life that Jesus bought for us—eternal life with God.
*LIFE APPLICATION: LIVING FOREVER DOESN’T SOUND SO GREAT . . .
Some people are repulsed by the idea of eternal life because their lives are miserable with pain, hunger, poverty, or disappointment. But eternal life is not an extension of a person’s mortal life; eternal life is God’s life embodied in Christ given to all believers now as a guarantee that they will live forever. Not only will we be changed, almost everything else will also be changed (Revelation 21:1-4). In eternal life there is no death, sickness, enemy, evil, or sin. When we don’t know Christ, we make choices as though this life is all we have. In reality, this life is just the introduction to eternity. Receive this new life by faith and begin to evaluate all that happens from an eternal perspective.
3:17 All people are already under God’s judgment because of sin—specifically the sin of not believing in God’s Son (16:9). The only way to escape the condemnation is to believe in Jesus, the Son of God, because God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. He who believes in him is saved from God’s judgment. And God wants people to believe (2 Peter 3:9).
When we consider ways to communicate the gospel, we should follow Jesus’ example. We do not need to condemn unbelievers; they are condemned already. We must tell them about this condemnation, and then offer them the way of salvation—faith in Jesus Christ. When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.
*LIFE APPLICATION: GOOD NEWS
The gospel truly is good news! It is not always seen as good news because people are often afraid it is too good to be true. Moments of honest reflection usually confront us with the hopelessness of our lives. We know we are far from perfect. The bad news is so bad that we can hardly stand it. So we try to protect ourselves from our fears by putting our faith in something we do or have: good deeds, skill, intelligence, money, possessions. Since perfection is far out of reach, we are tempted to settle for effort. We end up living barely a step ahead of despair. To those who can see their predicament, the gospel is welcomed good news. Only God can save us from the one thing that we really need to fear—eternal condemnation. We believe in God by recognizing the insufficiency of our own efforts to find salvation and by asking him to do his work in us.
3:18-20 What follows describes the grounds for judgment. Those who trust in Jesus have no judgment awaiting them. But those who don’t believe have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God. The arrival of the light from heaven signals that with the coming of Jesus we have: (1) an absolute source of truth; (2) condemnation of sin; (3) guidance for our daily decisions; and (4) illumination to learn about God more clearly.
What a tragedy that people have turned away from God’s offer, embracing instead the darkness in hopes of covering up evil actions. There is probably no more painful moment than when we honestly confront our tendency to love darkness, to twist or withhold the truth. The Son did not come to judge, but in the light of his character the sharp shadows of our sinfulness stand out. The people who hate the light are those who want to sin in the darkness. Evil deeds are revealed by the light, so people who want to do evil must do it in the dark so they cannot be exposed and caught in the act.
*LIFE APPLICATION: TURN OFF THE LIGHTS!
Many people don’t want their lives exposed to God’s light because they are afraid of what will be revealed or because of the demands the light places on them. They don’t particularly want to be changed. We should not be surprised when these same people are threatened by our desire to obey God and do what is right—they are afraid that the light in us may expose some of the darkness in their lives. Rather than giving in to discouragement, we must keep praying that they will come to see how much better it is to live in light than in darkness.
3:21 According to the context, to do what is right is to come to Christ, the light; the result of coming to the light and living in the light will be clearly seen in believers’ lives. Christ’s life in us will make our lives able to stand exposure to bright light, for our deeds will be honest, pure, and truthful. John wrote about this at length in 1 John 1:5-7.
*LIFE APPLICATION: LIVING IN THE LIGHT
Graciously, God does not reveal everything about us that needs changing at once. But as we move toward the light, as our lives become filled with God’s presence, we become more aware of sin as well as more aware of the benefits God brings to us. Like people in a dark room when the lights suddenly come on, it takes time for our “eyes” to grow accustomed to seeing. But as Jesus points out later in 16:7-11, the presence of the Holy Spirit in us will make us specially sensitive to sin and the need for continued cleansing. Once we are in the light, we must also guard against the temptation to “close our eyes tight” when God is showing us something by the light of his Word (Psalm 119:105).
John the Baptist Tells More about Jesus / 3:22-36
This section begins with an abrupt change of scene to Aenon, near Salim, in the land of Judea. Both Jesus and John—the two prominent figures in the new movement of God—were gathering disciples; but more were coming to Jesus than to John. This seems to have troubled John’s disciples. As for John, he was perfectly aware of what his position was in God’s plan. He was the herald of the Messiah-King—to put it in his own words, the friend of the bridegroom (3:29). John was content to prepare for the bridegroom and then fade quietly into the background while the bridegroom received all the attention. John knew that he would become less important and less noticed and that Jesus would receive increased recognition and importance. John rejoiced to see this happen.
3:22-23 These verses tell us that two groups were baptizing at the same time: one in Judea, the other at Aenon, near Salim, which may have been in northern Samaria. Aenon, which means “a place of many springs,” helps explain the statement, there was plenty of water.
While John was baptizing in northern Samaria, the disciples of Jesus under his direction (for Jesus himself did not baptize, according to 4:2) were also baptizing. Since John’s baptism prepared the way for people to come to the Messiah, we can postulate that Jesus’ disciples carried out the same kind of baptism as did John—one that prepared people to receive Christ and enter into his Kingdom.
3:24 This was occurring before John was put into prison, clarifying the chronology of events. At the time John wrote this Gospel (a.d. 90s), his readers may not have known when John the Baptist’s ministry ended—especially in relationship to Jesus’ ministry.
3:25 Given the immediate context, the argument over ceremonial cleansing probably involved some debate about the authority of John’s baptism and how it related to the baptisms connected with Jesus. This topic was still controversial years later during one of the final confrontations between Jesus and the teachers of religious law (Luke 20:1-8). The Jews sought cleansing through various sacrifices and washings prescribed by God through Moses. But centuries of human “adjustments” had transformed the way of humility before God into a hopeless maze of human effort. The huge system was bent on self-preservation rather than in truly serving God. Thus, for many religious leaders, John’s effrontery in preaching simple repentance and requiring public baptism was unacceptable as a form of cleansing.
3:26 John’s disciples exposed their competitive spirit—this is certain because of the way John responded to them in the following verses. These disciples of John must have lost sight of their mission—which was to join John in preparing people for Christ. They should not have been surprised (much less, dismayed) that people were going to Christ—they were supposed to!
Why did John the Baptist continue to baptize after Jesus came onto the scene? Why didn’t he become a disciple too? John explained that because God had given him his work, he had to continue it until God called him to do something else. John’s main purpose was to point people to Christ. Even with Jesus beginning his own ministry, John could still point people to Jesus.
*LIFE APPLICATION: “CHRISTIAN” COMPETITIVENESS
We Christians must always remember the primary focus of our ministry: to exalt Christ and point people to him. Healthy relationships with other Christians will include our recognition of certain leaders, pastors, and teachers. But we must always remember that they, too, have the same commission. We should not allow ourselves to become prideful of the particular church, group, or leader with which we are associated. And we must do our utmost to resist any kind of competitive spirit. All of us are under the sovereignty of God. Envious or bitter comparisons make us ineffective. Our task is to follow Christ and see that he is exalted.
3:27 John’s reply to his disciples was the response of a man who knew his place in God’s plan. He knew that a person is not able to do anything unless it has been given to him or her from God: “God in heaven appoints each person’s work.” If all the people were going to Christ, if Christ’s ministry was expanding, then it must be God’s plan. John exemplifies the kind of exuberant endorsement that ought to come from us when we hear that someone is being effective as a servant of Christ.
*LIFE APPLICATION: REAL SUCCESS
To what degree is success the mark of God’s blessing or approval? If God guarantees success to those who really serve him, is he limited to fulfilling their expectations of success? The answer in both cases is clearly no. Both John and Jesus were successful in their missions, but the first lost his head; the second was crucified. God’s idea of blessing is quite different from ours. God calls us to be faithful where we are, with his plan for us. We are not to carry out anyone else’s plan. Someday we will probably be amazed at the variety of people to whom God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21 niv). Let’s make sure we share in the delight of hearing those words directed at us. That objective will require that we center our living on what God directs us to do through his Word rather than trying to live up to the expectations of neighbors or our culture.
3:28 Here John reiterated what he had told the disciples earlier: “I am not the Messiah” (1:20). John had always been forthright in declaring his position; he did this so that the distinction between himself and the Messiah would be unmistakably clear. His job had always been to prepare the way for him—that is all.
3:29 John employed a beautiful metaphor to depict the way he saw his relationship with Jesus the Christ. He described himself as being the bridegroom’s friend—or, as we would say today, “the best man.” As the best man, John enjoyed seeing his friend, the bridegroom, honored. He insisted that all the attention should go to the bridegroom and his bride.
3:30 What a realization John had! He knew that his work was destined to become less and less—he himself would have to decrease. John’s willingness to decrease so that Jesus would increase reveals unusual humility. It also reveals how much he was like Jesus in character.
*LIFE APPLICATION: BECOMING LESS
We may be tempted to focus more on our success than on Christ. Others may project a false humility or even a destructive self-hatred. Healthy humility, as modeled by John, defines itself in truthful comparison. John did not say he was nothing. He identified himself in relation to the most important person in his life. Because of John’s profound understanding of his purpose in life, he eagerly pointed to the greatness of Jesus. John welcomed the success of Jesus’ revelation as the Messiah even though he realized his own moment in the spotlight was passing. The more Jesus was recognized, the more John could enjoy his own success. Humility combines the persistence to do and be what God has called us to be, the wisdom to recognize those things we cannot do and be, and the vision to always see ourselves in relation to God’s greatness.
3:31 John’s statement revealed his attitude about Christ’s superiority and preeminence over him. The same word (anothen) that appears here was used in 3:3. Jesus is the one who has come from above, while we are people who must be “born from above” if we hope to see the Kingdom of God. John, whom Jesus himself called the greatest man born among men (Matthew 11:11), was still a man of the earth (see 1 Corinthians 15:47). Christ’s heavenly origin gives him superiority over every person.
3:32 Throughout his Gospel, John emphasized the fact that Jesus spoke what he had seen and heard from the Father (8:14-30). He was the Father’s representative in word and action. But few would believe what he tells them. This is a great condemnation upon mankind—especially upon the people who lived when Jesus did, for they were the ones who heard his testimony and rejected it (see 1:10-11; 3:11; 12:37ff.).
3:33 By way of contrast with verse 32, this verse indicates that some did receive Jesus’ testimony. Those who believe him discover that God is true. They believed that he was the Son of God come from heaven, the Messiah. Their belief in his testimony was their “stamp of approval” on the truthfulness of God’s action (sending his Son). In other words, they tested the testimony and found it to be true. It was true whether or not anyone else ever witnessed to its truth. The gospel is the invitation from God to add ourselves to those who have staked their lives on Christ, the Truth.
- LIFE APPLICATION: TOLERANCE
Jesus did not accept the mere tolerance of others in his own day, and neither will he in ours. Jesus helps us recognize that tolerance is often nothing more than thinly veiled rejection. Nicodemus’s opening words can be read as complimentary tolerance. Jesus’ response pushed Nicodemus to declare himself plainly, to make a choice. Jesus received the open acceptance or rejection of people, but he refused to be simply tolerated.
Repeating the absolute claims of Jesus today is liable to bring heated responses not unlike those Jesus himself experienced. Doubts about this can be easily settled by mentioning in social company that Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 nrsv). Responses will almost always vary from “Really?” to “He must not have meant it like it sounds,” to “”That’s just narrow-minded, fundamentalist thinking!” The world persists in wanting to categorize Jesus as nice, wise, or even great—almost anything short of bowing before him in repentance and worship.
When truth is sacrificed on the altar of tolerance, no one hears the truth of what God did for us by sending his Son to die on the cross.
3:34 This statement authenticates what was said in verse 32. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is sent by God and speaks God’s words because God’s Spirit is upon him without measure or limit. God gave the immeasurable Spirit to his Son. As such, the Son was the recipient of the immeasurable Spirit for his prophetic ministry (see Isaiah 11:1ff.). But unlike the Old Testament prophets who were anointed with the Holy Spirit only when they were speaking for God, Jesus always had the Spirit and therefore always spoke the words of God. We can trust the words of Jesus.
3:35 The Father committed all of his divine plan to the care of his beloved Son: The Father loves his Son, and he has given him authority over everything. What a glorious privilege and awesome responsibility! By the end of his ministry, Jesus told the Father that he had accomplished everything the Father had wanted him to do (17:1-4).
3:36 Believers need not wonder whether or not they have eternal life (or wait for the future judgment to see if eternal life will be granted or not). All who believe in God’s Son have eternal life. Thus, eternal life begins at the moment of spiritual rebirth. The question for individual believers, then, is: How does our way of living demonstrate the fact that we expect to live eternally?
In contrast, those who don’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life. There are only two groups in the end—those who have eternal life, and those who do not. To disobey the Son is to reject him. To reject the Son’s testimony and the gospel is to cut ourselves off from the benefits available only through him. Those people will experience the wrath of God.
John, the author of this Gospel, has been demonstrating that Jesus is the true Son of God. Jesus sets before us the greatest choice in life. We are responsible to decide today whom we will obey (Joshua 24:15). God wants us to choose him and life (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). God’s wrath is his final judgment and rejection of the sinner. To put off the choice is to choose not to follow Christ. Indecision is a fatal decision.
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