Jesus: God’s Son Given For Us (3:1-16)

Bible Passage: John 3:1-16

This passage tells the story of a conversation between Jesus and one of the religious elite of the day, a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Though the Pharisees are largely portrayed negatively in the gospel accounts because of their legalism, judgmentalism and opposition to Jesus, Nicodemus is somebody who is genuinely interested in learning more. He does not have the courage to ask his questions in public view (perhaps he was worried about what the other Pharisees might have thought) so he approached Jesus at night. The darkness of night plays a symbolic role in John’s gospel that contrasts with Jesus as the one who brings light, and the setting is described to emphasise the idea that Nicodemus doesn’t ‘get it’ at this point.

The Need to Be Born Again: Nicodemus starts by communicating with Jesus a basic level of understanding because he has seen some of the signs that Jesus was doing and recognised that God was in them. However, this ‘understanding from afar’ was not enough. Many people admire and respect Jesus, but to truly ‘see’ or ‘get it’ there is something deeper that must happen that Jesus describes as being ‘born again’. Nicodemus gets a bit stuck on this imagery, but Jesus explains that just as a person is born physically of the flesh, they need to be born spiritually by the Holy Spirit. It is not a case of just trying harder, signing up to a few beliefs or changing a few practices. What we need is a work of God on the inside of us.

The Son of Man Lifted Up: When Nicodemus still doesn’t get it (v9), Jesus is shocked because Nicodemus was supposed to be a teacher and hadn’t grasped this truth that the Old Testament scriptures pointed to. Jesus compares himself to the serpent that Moses lifted in the wilderness in Numbers 21:3-7. At that time the people had sinned against God, and then found themselves under judgment, attacked by poisonous serpents. As the people turned back to God, Moses was instructed to make a serpent on a pole and hold it up so that anyone who would look to it would live and not die. The link here is a straightforward one to the cross, as v16 makes clear (see the next point). Jesus expected the teachers of his day to pick up on these foreshadowings and see the spiritual truth as well as the earthly truth in the Old Testament narratives.

God So Loved: John 3:16 may be the best known verse in the whole Bible. It puts the gospel across in very simple terms. Because of God’s great love for the world, he did not want people to perish in judgement for their sins and so he sent Jesus his Son to give his life on the cross in their place. Because of this, whenever anyone puts their trust in him, Jesus takes their sin and the punishment that was due for it and gives them his righteousness and the rewards of eternal life that go with it. This offer is open to anyone who chooses to believe in him. It is worth lingering on this verse and the incredible truth that it teaches.

Potential Applications:

  • This passage is a classic articulation of the gospel and is a great opportunity to invite people to respond by putting their trust in Jesus for the first time.
  • You can also apply it to people who are already Christians. It is easy to drift from the simple truth that it is through faith we are saved, and we can often start to add other things. This is a nudge back to the simple gospel.
  • There is an application to our evangelism. However near or far someone may seem to God, what is needed is a work of the Holy Spirit that they would be born again. This means nobody is too far from God to be saved and it should encourage us to pray for friends, family members and others who do not know the Lord.