Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jesus and Nicodemus (Jn. 3:1-8)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 9th August 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 3:1-8

When Jesus was in Jerusalem, many people wanted to believe in Him because of His miraculous signs. These people were not the Pharisees, but the crowd. The Pharisess despised Him. But in John 3, there was one Pharisee who came by himself to Jesus at night. He was learned and experienced in life. In the gospels, there were only two persons who came to Jesus alone. The other person was a young ruler who came and knelt before Jesus. No other ruler would come to Jesus that way, generally all rulers despised Him.

Nicodemus was a very unusual Pharisee. The other Pharisees were angry with Jesus for clearing the temple as they thought they were the masters and Jesus had no authority. But not all Pharisees are like that. There are still the good among the bad. Nicodemus was observant of the incidents that happened. Although Jerusalem was the world for Pharisees and they were the expert religious rulers of the Jews, Nicodemus observed that Jesus performed things he never saw before. The miracles He performed was absent in centuries.

Nicodemus was a good person. An arrogant person is not able to accept others to be better than himself. Why do we always look at other people’s errors but not search ourselves and our own faults? Why can’t we appreciate others’ goodness? From this measurement we can discern a good from a bad person. Nicodemus is great. He discovered that despite all his achievements he could not compare to what Jesus had done. He admit that he was insufficient. It is difficult to step back and let others take over. It is difficult for an old person to let a young person take over the world.

Nicodemus’ life was not constrained by hatred. He appreciated what he lacked. He was happy that a younger person was better than him. This is how a great leader is like. Nicodemus was a scholar, a Pharisee, a leader of Israel, so he was a person of high status. But he humbled himself. Humility is not inferiority or mere courtesy. A humble person is a person who is not satisfied with what he has achieved in his life and seeks the truth endlessly. A humble person is willing to learn even from the young. Nicodemus was probably around 60 years old and he looked for Jesus who was 30 years old, and he called Jesus “Rabbi”. When we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, it makes sense. But Pharisees do not acknowledge that. He looked for Jesus at night because he knew that all the Pharisees despised Jesus. If he visited Him in broad day light, there would be a lot of misunderstanding so he was wise in his timing.

He knew that the Pharisees had been very hostile against Jesus and perhaps Jesus might reject him who came as a Pharisee. So he greeted Jesus with sincerity and respect and he acknowledged his need. He said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.” He said “we” referring to all people who recognised Jesus. But Jesus did not accept it just because people honored Him. When the young ruler said, “Good teacher.” Jesus said, “Why do you call Me good? There is no one good except God.” Was Jesus good? Why did Jesus ask that question when called as a good teacher then? When the young ruler called Jesus “good teacher” he should have known that only God is good and therefore he had used the term meant for God on a man. You could not address Jesus as good unless you know He is God. If you know that He is God, why call Him with a human term “teacher”?

Seemingly Jesus rejected the address “Rabbi”. Jesus accepted the addresses “the Son of God” and “Lord”, and He never rejected worship. All these mere men could not accept. What the Jews could not accept is the way Jesus equated Himself to God. Nicodemus said Jesus could not do those miracles unless He came from God. Should Jesus be comforted by the fact that among all religious leaders who despised Him finally there was someone who honored Him? Jesus did not. He said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus immediately touched on the most important point. Jesus only met Nicodemus once and this is the only opportunity to discuss an important issue with a Pharisee.

Jesus used the shortest time to declare the greatest words. Why did Jesus only preached once such an important teaching? And why was such an important sermon preached only to one person? Jesus only spoke to Nicodemus about being born again. The most self-righteous are the hardest to receive life. Nicodemus only believed when he was very old, after Jesus died. But the next day after that conversation, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman and she believed immediately. Why is it so hard for a religious leader to believe? Jesus told him it is not about doing, it is about being born again.

Nicodemus talked about knowledge, Jesus talked about spiritual life. Nicodemus spoke as the scribe and the expert of the law who was most equipped academically. But Jesus pointed out that he might have a lot of knowledge but he had no spiritual life. The Pharisees would boast of their knowledge, “We know!” to which Christ replied, “You have no life.”

After being born again, you will have a new way of seeing and thinking. You will see the kingdom of God. When Jesus mentioned about the kingdom of God, Nicodemus did not pay attention. Instead he paid attention to the ‘new birth’ and wondered how an old person could go back to his mother’s womb. He could not understand Jesus’ words. Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God and the Jews talked about the kingdom of God as well. But the same term has different meaning. The kingdom of God according to the Jews is how Israelites could be freed from Roman occupation.

Jesus did not want to change the topic. He kept pointing that being born again is necessary. If a person is not born of water and the spirit he could not enter the Kingdom of God. (To be continued …)


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