AGCC Sun. a.m. 2/6/00
"THE GOOD MAN"
TEXT: John 3:1-21
INTRO:Though the Pharisees were known as self righteous and legalistic there were some who were really good people. Even among the leaders there were those who had a genuine concern for their fellow man and cared a great deal about people's relationship to God.
Nicodemus was such a man. A ruling Pharisee on the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jewish people, he was a "good man" - one who seemed to care about the things of God and his fellow man. Unlike some of the other Pharisees who thought Jesus was a joke at best or an evil man at worse, Nicodemus really believed Jesus to be a "good man" too, someone whom God had blessed and used in mighty ways.
As a "good man" Nicodemus may have looked for a word of reassurance from Jesus, but instead was confronted with his need to know more than just the law. Though Nicodemus knew well the law of God there was an emptiness in his heart to know the God of the law.
ILLUS:Christianity is not, and never has been, about finding the right combination of words! It is about encountering the living and loving God. -- Alister E. McGrath in Understanding Doctrine: What It Is. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 3.
The fact that a "good man" went looking for Jesus says something about the real and deep need that he felt in his own heart.
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that being a "good man"or "good woman" is not enough to warrant eternal life in heaven, only a new birth by God's Spirit can open the entrance to heaven. The work of the Spirit comes by faith through Jesus Christ.
I. GOOD MAN'S OBSERVATIONS 3:1-2
A. Concern 3:1
1. Nicodemus was the kind of man every organization would love to have.
a. It is apparent from his brief conversation with Jesus and the few other texts that tell us about him that he was a man deeply concerned about his people.
b. Everything that can be deduced about him would indicate that he was not like other Pharisees that made a pretense of their spirituality and only loved to be admired by others.
c. He appears to be a man that cares about truth, justice, and the Jewish way.
2. There doesn't appear to be ambition for power, just a desire to know God and for his country to follow God..
a. There are a lot of people like this today too, people who only want to see a better country, a people that recognize there is a God.
b. Nicodemus was a man of integrity, compassion, and concern.
B. Complimentary 3:2
1. Nicodemus seeks out Jesus, but at night!
a. Why at night?
(1. Possibly afraid to be seen with Jesus since many of the members of the Sanhedrin hated Jesus.
(2. Wanted a lengthy conversation with him that daytime wouldn't permit.
(3. Wanted a private conversation, Jesus usually had crowds around him during the day.
(4. He may have simply lacked the opportunity during the day.
b. He may have felt cautious about upsetting the status quo, Jesus was considered quite controversial.
2. Whatever the reason, he comes at night. It seems clear that he has a need in his heart or why else would he come?
a. How could a "good man" have a need?
b. Though he was a trusted leader, a man who cared about his fellow man, a man who knew what he believed about life … there appears something still lacking in his life, the sense of God's presence in his heart.
c. He knew the Bible, he knew doctrine, he knew the laws … but he didn't know God!
3. Some of the Pharisees had accused Jesus of being demon possessed, but not Nicodemus, in fact, quite the opposite, he acknowledges that he believed God was behind Jesus' many miracles.
a. He sensed that God was with Christ.
b. He did not feel threatened by Jesus' ministry like some of his fellow Pharisees.
c. He just wanted to know the God behind Christ, this may have been what drew him to Jesus that night.
4. What Nicodemus didn't understand was that Christ was God!
5. He failed to see that Jesus was more than just a mere man, he only sees the flesh of Christ and not the Spirit of God!
ILLUS:Years ago the throne of Russia was occupied by two young boys. The co-czars were very young, yet daily they decided the gravest questions. The people marveled at their judgment; not knowing that behind the throne, hidden by a curtain, was the Princess Sophia. She was secretly supplying the answers. People marveled at the apostles because they did not know that within the apostles was the Holy Spirit supplying the knowledge, the wisdom, the power. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
6. God was not just behind the scenes of Christ's ministry, He was in Christ working His will in this world to bring redemption!
a. All that the Old Testament prophets had prophesied was found in Christ.
b. Nicodemus may have sensed that the need in his heart could be found in Christ, he just didn't quite know how to approach it.
II. GOOD MAN'S OBSTACLES 3:3-15
A. Clouded 3:3-8
1. Jesus decides to go right to the issue at hand, Nicodemus' need of salvation.
a. It was not a question of knowing the Bible.
b. It was not a question of being a "good man."
c. It was not a question of being compassionate about other people.
d. It was a question of knowing God, not knowing about God!
2. Nicodemus must have felt frustrated many times over the darkness that covered Israel, yet there was darkness over his understanding of salvation too!
3. Jesus may have seen a man who once born again could touch the Jewish people as a member of the Sanhedrin … it only takes one man to make a difference!
ILLUS:Saint Patrick is remembered as the great hero of Ireland and the man who brought Christianity to that island. On one occasion Patrick and his followers met head-on with the Druid priests much as Elijah met the priests of Baal at Carmel. Patrick said of those pagan Druids, "They can bring darkness but they cannot bring light." -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
4. Jesus tries to explain salvation, Nicodemus can only think in terms of the natural! Yet, Jesus says that anyone saved must be born of "water and the Spirit" a reference to both natural birth and supernatural birth.
a. How ironic that a man who had great theological knowledge could not see spiritual realities!
b. Doctrine, knowledge, and even a good heart is not sufficient for salvation!
c. Christ was attempting to reveal to him the need that was in his heart, the need to KNOW GOD and not just about God.
5. Jesus is surprised that such a man like Nicodemus would fail to see the spiritual realities, even the Old Testament had spoken about being "born again" in Ezekiel 36:26-27 about getting a "new heart."
a. Nicodemus needed to see through spiritual eyes, not natural ones.
b. Jesus was talking about being born again spiritually, not physically.
B. Careful 3:9-15
1. Nicodemus was a cautious man, he came to Jesus at night so as to avoid a public scene perhaps ….
2. He was a man who would question everything, and look for the good - he found Jesus' miracles to be good and from God.
3. He was a man careful in his beliefs, and behavior.
4. If Nicodemus is going to struggle with the concept of new birth when Jesus uses natural things to explain them how will he ever grasp spiritual realities and relationships that must be accepted by faith when they are unseen?
5. Nicodemus' caution could leave him without God, even after God has done so much to trumpet His reality to him and all Israel!
a. After all, even he admitted that Jesus had God's power at work in the miracles that Christ had done!
b. How could he not believe after all the evidence physically that was before him?
c. And especially the actual person of Christ standing before him in the flesh!!
d. It was all there, he only needed to believe and be born again rather than be so concerned over how the Spirit can do all this, or where the Spirit of God is moving … like the wind which could not be fully understood as to its nature, it was still accepted as real!
ILLUS:Omnephris lived in the year A..D. 60. Madly in love, he hired a trumpeter to walk before him and a crier to walk behind him. As he paraded through the streets, the crier shouted, "The noble Omnephris doth love the beautiful Dionysia." She married him saying, "How can I doubt the love of him who hath trumpeted me abroad?" When we read all the Bible says and think of all that Christ has done, how can we doubt the love of God?" -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
6. God had revealed Himself through His son Jesus Christ, Nicodemus must be born again … everyone must be born again to enter heaven, even "good people!"
III. GOOD MAN'S OPPORTUNITY 3:16-21
A. Confession 3:16-18
1. One of the greatest verses of the Bible is given to us by Christ Himself, as He explains to Nicodemus God's love for him and all people.
a. Whoever believes in Christ will not perish, they will have everlasting life.
b. The opportunity was there for Nicodemus, he must take it however.
c. It is there for us too, have you taken that opportunity yet?
2. God went to great lengths to bring us salvation, forgiveness of sins, and a new life, but we must avail ourselves of this great gift and do it His way!
ILLUS:One of the most touching stories concerning Pope John XXIII is about the day after Christmas several years ago when he visited one of the worst prisons in Rome. It was the first time in ninety years that a pope had gone to a prison, and in greeting the prisoners, the Pope said, "You could not come to me, so I have come to you." And that, I command to you, is the spirit of Christ's love. He came to rescue us because he loved us, and his love never ends. -- W. Frank Harrington, "The Love That Brought Him," Preaching Today, Tape No. 51.
3. God came to us … wrapped in human flesh like us, to enable us to be "born again!"
4. Good men don't get preferential treatment by God, and in fact, like bad men they too must be born again to see heaven.
a. Being good won't earn him salvation.
b. Belief in Christ as God's son will open the door to the Spirit of God working in his life, and while he may not understand everything about the Holy Spirit, he needs to know that He is real and will enable him to be born again if he has faith in Christ.
B. Commitment 3:19-21
1. Nicodemus like all others will have to accept the light of Christ's revelation here to enter.
2. Some people will not like this light, they would rather stay in darkness where their sins won't appear - or so they think.
3. Though in darkness even as a "good man," Nicodemus has the opportunity here to make a commitment to the light, to step out of darkness.
a. In darkness we not only think our sins our hidden, we also think that God is nowhere near us, but the truth is He is there, we are just blinded by the darkness!
ILLUS:From 1986 to 1990, Frank Reed was held hostage in a Lebanon cell. For months at a time Reed was blindfolded, living in complete darkness, or chained to a wall and kept in absolute silence. On one occasion, he was moved to another room, and, although blindfolded, he could sense others in the room. Yet it was three weeks before he dared peek out to discover he was chained next to Terry Anderson and Tom Sutherland. Although he was beaten, made ill, and tormented, Reed felt most the lack of anyone caring. He said in an interview with Time, "Nothing I did mattered to anyone. I began to realize how withering it is to exist with not a single expression of caring around [me]. ... I learned one overriding fact: caring is a powerful force. If no one cares, you are truly alone." Christians, who are never truly alone, are also fortunate to receive God's gracious care through the church. This care can provide the strength to endure. -- Lynn H. Pryor, Snyder, Texas. Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 1.
b. Christ is waiting for us to take our blinders off to see Him!
4. Oddly, we are not told what Nicodemus does … but there are clues:
a. Later in John 7:50-52 Nicodemus is seen defending Christ before the Sanhedrin … a bold step that would indicate his heart was for Christ.
b. Even later, after Jesus' crucifixion, he is one who helps provide for Jesus' burial - he helps Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus' body - hardly an act of one who would reject Him. (see John 19:39-42)
5. What will you do with the light of the world? Will you be born again? You must choose!
a. Not even a "good man" can escape the need to be "born again"
b. Have you been born of the Spirit through Christ?
CONCLUSION: Nicodemus was a "good man," a man who cared about his people, who cared about God, but was clueless as to how to have a real relationship with God. Jesus' call to be "born again" brought Nicodemus out of his comfort zone … but only if he opened his heart to receive Christ could he know the salvation that the Jews had long hoped for. You can't be saved if your not born again by the Spirit … are you reborn?