"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
We are introduced to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John in chapter 3. As a Jewish leader in the community, Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Yet those often self-righteous hypocritical men who loved to display themselves as great pious ones walked the streets and practiced their superior virtues for all to see. Those notable ones that many of the days looked to for spiritual guidance. The very ones who would stand in the public places and give long prayers to the great God and showed important thankfulness that they were not as the poor sinners of the common stock. "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector." (Luke 18:11) Such was the likes of Nicodemus, as he was a member of the Sanhedrin.
The Pharisees, of which Nicodemus was, placed their salvation on the law found in the first five books of the Bible known as the Torah. They believed that to please God, you had to keep His law to perfection. As it was on that day and certainly to this, no one can keep God’s Law perfectly. One cannot enter into the gates of heaven only at 99.9%, for God requires righteousness. If we stumble on one point of the law we are guilty of all. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:10) The Pharisees had a penchant for making the law more palatable by adding statutes that were more physical than spiritual. Difficult enough but manageable. But the Pharisees missed the mark, which is part of the definition of sin, by not truly serving God and man but serving there own lust for self-recognition. Jesus warned the people with these words, "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them." (Matthew 23:2-3)
Nicodemus was more than an ordinary Pharisee, as he was a member of the prestigious Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin was the supreme council, or court, in ancient Israel. No doubt, Nicodemus was aware that Jesus had entered into the Temple that day and cleansed it of the money changers and those who sold animals for sacrifice. This time was the first Jesus had traveled to Jerusalem in His years of ministry. It was a fitting place to start His three-year ministry in the house of His Father. He drove the den of thieves out of the Temple and caused quite a stir among the people.
The overall belief of the Sanhedrin, and the Pharisees, was that they could live the good life, good enough to reside in the Kingdom of Heaven ultimately, but no man is perfect, and no man is capable of living a perfect life. (Romans 3:23) I do not believe in the total depravity of man, but I do believe that all men have wickedness in their hearts by the nature that they were born into. "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
There are many in the world today, as well as in the Church of Jesus Christ, who believe that they can accomplish that which the Pharisees tried to accomplish. That is to live a life good enough that they can stand before God in perfect righteousness. Some think that if they do more good, that a loving God will forget justice and allow partially good people to live in a righteous Kingdom. Somehow the evil deeds are done in the flesh, and the evil thoughts conjured in the heart with be erased by the outpouring of good as we near the end. Some believe that Church attendance, or contributions of time, talent and treasure will pay the way for salvation. That is like standing in the mass of humanity and thinking that if God takes the top ten percent you will make it. You would have a better chance at the lottery.
Salvation is not a game of being ahead of the Jones’s. The mark is higher than that of being a chosen Marine. The target is not being as good as the Reverend Billy Graham. The measure is set by God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ, Righteousness. The only way that a man will stand justly before an almighty God is in the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ. There is no other standard, there is no other way, and this is the key, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)
When I was growing up in my father’s house, I came to realize that he was a minister of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. As I watched my dad and how he lived his life in the world, I realized his beliefs were not just a philosophy but a way of life. I do not consider my dad to be greater than your father or parents or the person you grew to aspire to be like. But in my own life I could never reach the mark that he achieved. The fault in my life is that if I cannot reach the standard set before me, then I chose a lower standard. When I grew older and faced with the standard of a perfectly righteous life found in Jesus Christ I rebelled and went off to the far country. The mark that we must reach is Jesus Christ, and it was hopeless for me to try. The Pharisees thought they had, my father strived to achieve it, and I didn’t even try. None of us have and none of us will while in this world.
Hope was not lost at the fall in the Garden of Eden. God, in His omniscience, had a plan to restore man through His Son Jesus. We are spiritual beings living in physical bodies. We are equipped to live in this world, but our destination is in a spiritual realm, and that is where life will be everlasting. Man’s trouble is that he spends too much time feeding the flesh, which will die, and not enough time feeding the spirit which will live through eternity. If we want to live in the Kingdom of our Creator, then we must make provision for that moment now. Jesus came, paid our debt for the sin in our lives, and pointed us to the right food that secures life. "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
We were born of the flesh into this world, but to be able to live in the Kingdom of God we must be born of the Spirit. (John 3:3) Our flesh is only meant to get us through this world and into the next. The question is this, where we will spend eternity and where in eternity should be of the utmost concern to everyone who is here in the world. Nicodemus knew that something was missing in his life. He knew that he had not made the mark and that all of his good religious work had left him empty inside. He came to Jesus, and Jesus gave him the truth, we are spiritual beings, not physical creatures. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6)
To be born again, to be born of the Spirit, we must accept Jesus for who He is. The Apostle Peter answered this very question as so. "Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16) It is a personal question that must be answered from the heart. Who is Jesus, and what do you believe Him to be in your heart?. Do you want to know God, then believe in Jesus, as He is the only way to find God? Jesus testified this of Himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6)
Once you believe that Jesus is God’s grace to man and is your personal Savior, then there are two actions you must take on faith, based upon what you profess to believe. "Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)
Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3) We must humble ourselves before God, He is the Creator, and we are the creature. We must acknowledge that we have been living in rebellion to His word and turn away from our sinful acts. We are asking Him to have mercy upon us in spite that we have not shown mercy towards Him. We are turning away from the old way of living for the desires of the flesh and setting our path on the new way by living in the Spirit of Truth. It is a new way of thinking, a new way of living, our perspective is now on the things of God, and this is repentance.
Then we must be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a public profession of the personal decision we have made to follow Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote, "That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." (Romans 10:9-10) By baptism you are symbolically washing the old life away and rising to a new life through Jesus Christ.
Through acceptance of the atoning blood of Jesus shed on Calvary to pay the sin debt that we owe our baptism points to the purifying work of the Holy Spirit within. God in His mercy has removed our sins, "As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:12)
The answer for Nicodemus was faith, this was the answer for my dad, this was the answer for me, and it is the answer for all, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." (Romans 3:28) We can make the mark, we can meet the measure, that by our faith in Jesus Christ we will stand justified by His righteousness before a Holy God in His Kingdom. Yet we may falter, as we are but men, but on that day we will stand before God sanctified for on that day we will be as our Savior is. "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11)
Thomas N Kirkpatrick
First Baptist Church of Durant, June 18, 2015