“NIC AT NIGHT” (Part 2)

  1. The Sinner’s Crisis

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:1)

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Did you know that no one ever doubted Jesus’ power to do miracles? His enemies didn’t. Instead, what was their explanation for Jesus being able to do miracles, so they wouldn’t have to bow to Him as Lord? They said His power to do miracles came from the devil. This made them guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and committing the one sin that can never be forgiven – the sin of rejecting Jesus as Lord. In fact, it’s only now, 20 centuries later, that skeptics are so wise in their own eyes that they reject the testimony of eyewitnesses, saying to themselves, “Those ancient weren’t smart enough to know what I know today!”

So who was Nicodemus? He had a Greek name as many Jews did at that time. Nico means conquer and Demus means people. So put it together, and what do you get? Nicodemus, “victor over the people.” Don’t read too much into that. It was just a name. Nor should we read a lot into the fact that he came to Jesus at night. I’m not convinced, as some preachers suggest, that “night” is a metaphor for the darkness of his soul. I think he just hadn’t made up his mind about Jesus yet and was being careful because he knew the Pharisees were keeping a blacklist of those who followed Jesus. Instead, what we need to remember about him are these facts:

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1) He was a Pharisee. The word means “a separated one.” These were the ultra-conservative, Bible believers of Israel who interpreted the Bible literally. They believed in angels, devils, miracles, the six days of creation, heaven, hell – all of which made Nicodemus anxious because he knew he wasn’t ready to stand before God in judgment. They were also conservative in lifestyle. You know the ultra-orthodox, Hasidic branch of Judaism today? These were its founders, and they were absolutely rabid about keeping the Law, priding themselves not only in the fact that they kept all 613 commandments of the Old Testament (Remember the rich young ruler? “All these things I have kept from my youth!”); but they had also come up with over a thousand laws (mitzvot) of their own, to make sure they never came close to crossing the line.

For example, one thing a Pharisee would never do, or let his wife do, was look in a mirror on the Sabbath. Why not? She might find a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it, which was considered working on the Sabbath! A Pharisee could eat an egg laid on the Sabbath, but only if he killed the hen that laid it as a penalty for her work on the Sabbath. That’s how ridiculous it got. And all for nothing! Because as holy as they thought they were (We’re good at fooling ourselves, aren’t we?), Jesus called them whitewashed tombs who looked beautiful on the outside, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones and every kind of uncleanness.

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By the way, based on everything that’s said about the Pharisees in the Gospels, you might think they were a large group. Not so! There were only 6,000 of them in all of Israel at the time. But then it doesn’t take a huge group to change the world for good or bad, does it? Just a highly dedicated group! That’s what they were! The Pharisees believed if they could somehow get the entire nation of Israel to keep the Law for just one day, God’s Kingdom would come to earth. “But now, with this carpenter from Galilee defying our laws and challenging our authority, the Kingdom will never come!”

No wonder that of all Jesus’ enemies, they were the most vicious. They hated Him so much that only one Pharisee in the Bible, other than Nicodemus, ever came to Him. Who was that? The Apostle Paul who would have never bowed to the Lordship of Jesus if he hadn’t been struck blind on the road to Damascus! Later, Paul wrote of his life as a Pharisee, “I was a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless! But whatever things were gain to me…I now count as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:6)

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2) He was a ruler of the Jews, meaning that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council made up of its 70 most powerful leaders, including the high priest. It comprised what was in essence the Congress and Supreme Court of Israel. This means Nicodemus was a very powerful man. Church tradition says he was one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem at the time.

3) He was, according to verse 10, not just a teacher, but “the teacher of Israel.” Jesus uses the definite article to indicate that of all the rabbis in Israel at this time, Nicodemus was the best and brightest. He would have been like a walking Bible dictionary, able to quote the entire Old Testament by memory. That means when talking to him, all Jesus had to do was mention a topic and every verse on that subject would have come to his mind.

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4) But above all, he was a lost and desperate soul. After all, what do you do when you’ve spent your whole life scaling the ladder of self-righteousness and reached the pinnacle of your religion only to learn that it’s gotten you nowhere and has all been in vain? The only thing left to do that point is to turn to Jesus! So that’s what he did. He came to Jesus lost, fearful, and wondering how to be saved. That’s the sinner’s crisis. Tomorrow we will continue with the Savior’s counsel for sinners like you and me.

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“NIC AT NIGHT” (Intro)

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Did you know there are some things God cannot do? Let me name three. First, He cannot lie. Number 23:19 insists: “God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” God cannot lie because that would violate His holy character.

That’s why many of the questions posed by skeptics are silly. Have you heard this one? “If your God is all-powerful, can He create a rock too big for Him to lift?” That’s silly talk, isn’t it, because what they’re trying to do is pit God’s creative power against His power to do miracles, asking Him to violate His character, something He said He will never do. God cannot lie, nor will He ever contradict His own holy, immutable character.

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One more question while I’m at it! Are there any sins God cannot forgive? Only one! That’s rejecting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, for other than that one unpardonable sin, Jesus died for every sin and blasphemy we commit. That means if you have Jesus, your every sin has been forgiven—past, present, and future! But if you do not “believe that I AM,” Jesus warned, “you will die in your sins.” Because He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – our Only Hope of Salvation! But except for these things, nothing shall be impossible for God!

Now let’s talk about ourselves. Is there anything we can’t do if we put our minds to it? “Absolutely not!” the New Agers, humanists, and cults tell us. “You can do anything if you’ll learn to believe in yourself!” Fools! The list of what we can’t do is endless. But the one that tops the list is the one before us in this study—the impossibility of being born again!
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Let me remind you where we left off in our last study. We were in Jerusalem where Jesus performed countless miracles for over a year, proving that He’s God, with hundreds of people saying to Him, “I believe in you, Jesus, I believe you’re the Messiah!” John 2:23 explains, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many were believing in (pisteuo = believe) His name when they saw the signs He was doing.” But verse 24 adds, “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself (pisteuo = entrust) to them.” It is a play on words. As for the people, they were believing in Jesus, but Jesus, on His part, wasn’t believing in them!

Why not? John explains, “He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” And what He knows isn’t good! For as the Bible makes clear about us in many places, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9) And again in Romans 7:18 we read: “In me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing!” The only good thing about you, if your faith is genuine, is that Jesus now lives in your heart and has given you a new nature.

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That brings us to chapter 3 where we meet a man from Jerusalem who has just seen the miracles of Jesus and concluded, “This is a teacher sent by God!” By the way, do you think that’s a coincidence, that John now introduces us to someone who exemplifies what he wrote at the end of chapter 2? Of course not! John is a fisherman, and if anyone knows how to tell a good story, it’s a fisherman. In this case, it’s true and inspired by the Holy Spirit who, Jesus said, is the Spirit of truth. That means whatever you find in this Book, you can trust.

Unfortunately for this man, he isn’t a believer yet because he doesn’t have the right kind of belief. That’s something John warns us again and again in his Gospel. There is a belief that is not a belief because it’s a belief that’s superficial, self-serving, and refuses to give Jesus the glory He deserves as God the Son.

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Open your Bible, then, to John chapter 3 where we’re about to meet “The Original Nic at Night,” discovering both what it means and why it’s imperative to be “born from above.” The first study will address the Sinner’s Crisis. The second study will explore the Savior’s Counsel. The third part will display the Spirit’s Conversion. But before we jump into the first study tomorrow, why not take time to prepare by reading John 3:1-18?

The Lord Jesus Cleans House (Part 4)

(Download all four parts of this study by clicking WRITTEN. Download or listen to the spoken message by clicking SPOKEN.)

3. The Omniscience of Jesus

In the last chapter of John’s Gospel, John writes: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” For he adds that if all the miracles of Jesus were written down, “I suppose even the world itself could not contain all the books that would be written.”

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I mention that because many of those unwritten miracles take place here in verse 23 where John closes the chapter like this. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” Jesus performed countless miracles in Jerusalem before, during, and after the Passover with countless people coming up to Him and saying, “I believe in you, Jesus. I believe that you are the Messiah.” Do you know what today’s preachers would do if they got a response like that? “Quick! Count how many hands were raised, take an offering, and add their names to my email list!” But Jesus didn’t do that.

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Instead notice John’s play on words in verse 23. Underline the key words: “believed” and “entrust,” because they’re the same word in the Greek—pisteuo meaning to believe or trust in someone. In other words, what John is saying is that the people were believing in Jesus, but Jesus wasn’t believing in them! Why not? Because Jesus knows what’s in each one of our hearts, and it is not good. Jeremiah 17:9 warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Paul later admitted of himself in Romans 7:18, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.”

Have you recognized that about yourself, that apart from Jesus, there isn’t one good thing in you? For within your flesh are the seeds of every evil thing under the sun! In fact, John says even your faith in Jesus may not be the right kind of faith. Again and again he will warn us in his Gospel that there is a belief which is not a belief, a belief that is superficial, self-serving, and likely to betray our Savior just as Judas. And Jesus knows the difference between the two. That’s why Peter, who denied Him 3 times and was later asked by Him 3 times, “Do you love Me?” finally blurted out, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you!”

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We need Him to test our faith as well, because the sad fact is there are millions of souls in hell today who thought they were believers and were not. They will say to Him on Judgment Day, “Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, cast out devils in Your name, and do good works in Your name?” And He will say to them, “I never knew you. Depart from Me, you evildoers!”

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How do we make sure that doesn’t happen to us? By cleansing our temples now before His anger flares up and He does it Himself! Some of you may have heard the story of my little sister’s party when I was in college and she was in high school living at home. My parents were gone for the weekend, but I stopped by on Friday night to pick something up only to find 50 to 100 teenagers in their house drinking beer, smoking marijuana, and doing others things my parents would not have approved of. So what did I immediately do? I drove them out and helped my sister clean up the mess before the neighbors called the police and my parents found out about it.

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Likewise, just at I knew my parents would be returning soon, we know Jesus is also coming back very soon! When He does, will He find your heart clean and ready to be His home? As you may know, John the Apostle also wrote us a letter with this warning. In it, he begged, “Little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming. For if you know that He is righteous, you know it’s only those who practice righteousness who are born of Him.” So let’s stay close to Him and keep ourselves righteous, for He is coming sooner than we think.

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The Lord Jesus Cleans House (Part 3)

The Authority of Jesus

What came to the minds of Jesus’ disciples when they saw His anger? They may not have been book smart, but they knew their Bibles. That’s how they spent almost all their time in synagogue school—memorizing the Old Testament Scriptures. So that’s what came to their minds as they watched Jesus, the Son of David, cleanse the Temple . . . David’s words in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for Thy house will consume me.”

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In other words, this could destroy our Master if He’s not careful. And they were right, for notice what John goes on to write in verse 18! He says, “The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” You see, there was no question in the minds of the religious rulers. This was a direct challenge to their authority, for they were the ones who ran the Temple and made the rules for others to obey.

By the way, critics of the Bible have a heyday with this passage because when they read the first three Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke – they put the Temple’s cleansing at the end of Jesus’ ministry, whereas John puts it at the beginning. “So what’s the deal?” they say. “Let’s see you explain that. This is just one more example of a contradiction in the Bible!”

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So here goes. This is the explanation, and it isn’t at all complicated. Jesus cleansed the Temple two times—once at the start of His ministry and again just days before His death. In fact, His second cleansing of the Temple is what finally forced their hands and fulfilled His promise that He would die for our sins. For when the high priest and his cronies saw Him cleanse the Temple a second time, there was still no admission of wrong on their part. Repentance never crosses the minds of the unrepentant! Their only question is: Who gave you the authority to do these things?

Why such a reaction on their part? You’d think the religious leaders would be among the first to welcome Him as Messiah! Not so! They had at least five reasons for rejecting Him: 1) He was a “nobody” who lived in humble obscurity the first 30 years of His life with no credentials for what He did. He wasn’t a priest. (Nor did He ever try to join in their “reindeer games.”) Nor did He look special. No Superman or Messiah logo under His shirt.

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Of course, they could have asked John the Baptist to vouch for Him or checked their Temple records to see where He was born and what His lineage was. Born in Bethlehem of the House of David and the Tribe of Judah, just as the prophets predicted! “But don’t confuse me with the facts! I’ve already made up my mind!” Besides, credentials didn’t matter to them. John the Baptist was a priest’s son, and they didn’t listen to him!

2) They were sure when Messiah came He’d attack their enemies the Romans. But instead He attacked them for failing to keep God’s commandments! Of course, if they had read their Bibles, they would have known what to expect. Malachi 3:1 warned them, “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple…and who can stand when He appears!

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3) He hit them where it hurt. I heard another preacher say that there’s a major nerve running from the pocketbook to the pain center in the brain, which is why people start to squirm when you talk about money in church. But Jesus didn’t hesitate to do so. He talked more about money than any other topic, for what we do with money is the #1 indicator of what’s important to us. And money was of utmost importance to the high priest and his cronies. For they didn’t just tolerate buying and selling in the Temple; they were the ones behind it—rich Jewish thugs who got a kickback from everything that was bought or sold in the Temple, and ready to break legs if they didn’t get their cut.

4) But the most infuriating thing Jesus did was call the Temple “My Father’s house.” Don’t get confused about this! Jesus didn’t come to set an example for us or teach us a new way of relating to God. He came to assert a new truth about Himself, and He did so from the outset of His ministry. What truth was that? “I am God manifest in human flesh!” And they knew He was claiming that. That’s why they wanted to kill Him, because He, a mere man (they thought), was claiming to be God.

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That will become even clearer in John 10:33 where Jesus says to the same religious thugs, “I and My Father are One.” To which they respond by picking up stones to stone Him. Jesus will say to them, “I showed you many good works from My Father, for which of them are you stoning Me?” And they will answer (John 10:33), “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy because You, a mere man, make Yourself out to be God.” They knew what He was claiming, and they were right! He was claiming to be God.

So they ask for a sign. John 2:19—The Jews said to Him, “What sign do You give us, seeing that You do these things?” Jesus said to them, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews therefore said, “It took forty six years to build this Temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” Herod’s Temple had taken 46 years to build at this point and, in fact, when it was finally destroyed by the Romans 40 years later, it still wasn’t finished.

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But as John explains, that isn’t what He was talking about. Jesus was referring to the Temple of His body. The Jews misunderstood that and misquoted Him and the gossip, as it usually does, went viral, so that three years later at His kangaroo trial, false witnesses were still accusing Him of saying, “I will destroy this Temple and raise it up in three days.” But that isn’t what He meant. He was referring to His body, and notice – He didn’t say that He would destroy it. He said they would destroy it—another evidence of His Deity in that He knew they were going to kill Him even before they knew they wanted to.

5) He also claims to be omnipotent. For He adds, “Destroy this Body, and I” (Not the Father, though you can never separate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) But “I will raise it up!” How can a dead man raise himself from the dead? Not a problem if you’re God, and that’s who He is! Jesus is God! That’s becoming more and more obvious to His disciples, and I hope to you as well, especially as they witness the third mark of His Deity. We’ve seen His anger and His authority. In the final part of this study, we will take a closer look at His omniscience! Be sure to join us for it.

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