Stephen Caswell © 2005
Today there is so much confusion on how to get to heaven. How can we be saved? Can you know for certain that you are going to heaven? People give various answers to this question. Some say that baptism is essential and baptize infant children. Others stress the importance of good works. Many people follow the golden rule or the 10 Commandments. Does the Bible have anything to say on the matter? Did anyone ask Jesus Christ how to get to heaven? Yes they did. Jesus shared the way of salvation with a religious leader who came to see Him at night.
Searching For Heaven
John 3:1-2: 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.
Nicodemus was an important man in the Jewish nation. He lived as a Pharisee and taught the people God's law. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night to find out how he could get to heaven. He knew that Jesus was a remarkable teacher and called Him Rabbi, a term of respect. He recognized that God was with Jesus because of the miracles He performed. Nicodemus didn't know how to bring up the question of salvation directly, so He praised Jesus first. Jesus told Nicodemus two things about salvation. It requires a New Birth from a New Belief.
Firstly, A New Birth
a. Born Again
John 3:3: Jesus answered and said to him, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 2:25 says that Jesus knew what was inside a man. As the film shared, He knows the hearts of all men. Jesus told Nicodemus what he really wanted to know: How do you get to heaven? Jesus emphasized the importance of His statement by starting it with truly, truly. Christ gave one requirement to him, you must be born again. What did Jesus mean by born again? A number of things. To start with He emphasized a new beginning. Birth is the beginning of human life. Tragically we are born spiritually dead because of our sinful nature. We need a new birth to enjoy God's fellowship again. Only a new birth can bring new life. The Greek word ajnwqen is translated again in verse 3 and verse 7. But this word has more than one meaning. The New Testament translates ajnwqen in these ways, again, anew, from above and from the beginning.
John 3:31a: He who comes from above is above all; James 1:17a: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. I believe that both of these meanings are relevant here. We need to be born again and this new birth is from above. William Barclay gets the best of both worlds with, unless a man is reborn from above he cannot see the kingdom of God. Our first birth on earth made us citizens of earth. Adam was taken from the dust of the earth. It takes a new birth from above to make us citizens of heaven. Jesus emphasized a supernatural birth.
Not Moody but God Said So
A woman who was a very busy church worker waited for D. L. Moody after he had told a group of church workers some very plain truths from God’s Word. Mr. Moody, said the angry woman; Do you mean to tell me that I, an educated woman, taught from childhood in good ways, and all my life interested in the church and doing good, must enter Heaven the same way as the worst criminals of our day? No, madam, said Mr. Moody. I don’t tell you at all: God does! He says everyone who would enter Heaven, no matter how good they think they are, or how well-educated, or zealous in good works, must be born again.
b. Come Again
John 3:4: Nicodemus said to Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?
Nicodemus responded to Jesus' requirement with two questions. How can you be born when you are old? It doesn't make sense. The second question starts with a negative mh particle. Literally it reads, He cannot enter a second time and be born can he? Nicodemus took Jesus' words literally and asked Him to explain how this new birth was possible. Jesus response in verses 5 to 7 highlights the difference between physical birth and spiritual birth. We will look at these two kinds of birth and the life that follows each of them.
c. Physical Birth
John 3:5-6: Jesus answered, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Jesus repeats what He said before. Even if people find it hard to understand, He won't change the conditions of entrance to heaven. In fact the word born is used 8 times in 8 verses. Jesus again starts, truly, truly, to emphasize the veracity of what He's saying. To enter the kingdom of God we must be born again. This time however Jesus gives more details about the second birth. He contrasts physical birth and spiritual birth to make his point. Jesus compares physical birth with water in verse 5 and flesh in verse 6. I believe that water here relates to physical birth. A baby is protected in the womb by water. The waters break at an infant’s birth. Our bodies are made up of 98% water. Water corresponds very well to physical life.
In verse 6 Jesus refers to this as a birth of flesh. Human life consists of flesh and blood. What does this physical birth accomplish? Our physical birth means we become part of the human race. Nicodemus was proud of his physical lineage. His name Νικόδημος means conqueror, victor of the people. He was a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. Nicodemus was a religious leader and a teacher of the Law. If Gentiles needed a new birth to enter heaven that was reasonable, but surely not one like himself. However, Nicodemus had missed the fact that he was also a descendant of Adam. We are all a part of Adam's family since we descended from him. Children receive their nature from their parents. Adam and Eve are our parents.
What do we inherit from Adam? Firstly, a sinful nature because Adam sinned against God. Secondly, separation from our creator. Adam was expelled from Paradise because of sin. Sin separates us from God's presence. Thirdly, death because the wages of sin is death. The day that Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they died spiritually. This can be seen by their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Our first birth gives us physical life but not spiritual life. Our physical birth will never make us part of God's family and won't get us into heaven. Being born into Adam's family makes us sinners before God.
1 Corinthians 15:50: Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.
Monkey In A Lion Skin
I love reading the Jungle Doctor books to our kids. In one of them Toto the monkey dresses up in a lion skin. He climbs a tree and begins to roar at all who pass by. His friends Boo Hoo the hippo and Twiga the giraffe recognized him immediately and told him to stop playing around because it could be dangerous. What would happen if he met a hungry leopard? But he wouldn't listen to them. He just kept pretending to be a lion. He continued to deceive himself.
Shortly after Toto met a real leopard and had to climb a tree to save himself. It was only then that Toto listened to Twiga. Twiga told him that pretending to be something else doesn't change you. To become a real lion Toto needed to be born again as a new creature. Pretending to be a Christian doesn't make you one. You must be born again. You can't fool God anymore than Toto could fool Twiga, Boo Hoo and the leopard.
d. Spiritual Birth
John 3:7: Do not marvel that I said to you, you must be born again.
Jesus told Nicodemus not to be amazed about his need for a second birth. The Lord made it very personal this time telling Nicodemus, you must be born again. To receive spiritual life we need a spiritual birth. This birth comes from above. Only the Holy Spirit can give us spiritual life. When a sinner believes the Gospel and receives Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit comes into their lives. He gives them a new beginning. The slate is wiped clean. All of their sins are washed away. They are now clean in God's sight. This new birth makes them a child of God. They become part of God's family. They receive a new nature from their heavenly Father. Sin, separation and death are removed by Christ’s blood. The Holy Spirit enters in to those who believe. He gives them new life, eternal life. The new birth is a work of God. It is mysterious like the wind. The wind is invisible even though it's very real.
2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
John 3:8: The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Jesus compared this life giving work of the Spirit to the wind. You can't see the wind. We can hear it moving through the trees and feel it's presence against our face, even though we can't lay hold of it. We don't know where it comes from or where it goes. But we can observe what it does. The wind from the sea cools and refreshes. The wind after the storm dries the ground. The wind of a storm or tornado is irresistible, powerful.
So to is the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot see Him or touch Him. But we do know when He convicts us of sin. The life He brings to people is just like the refreshing of a cool breeze on a hot summer's day. The Holy Spirit gives life to creation. Genesis 2:7: And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. It was God's breath that gave Adam life. It is the Holy Spirit that gives dead sinners like us spiritual life. The word translated spirit, in the Old and New Testaments means wind or breath.
Jesus told Nicodemus very clearly how to enter the Kingdom of God; Nicodemus must be born again. Only the Holy Spirit can bring new life to dead sinners. Have you been born again from above? Or are you trusting in your first birth? Have you received the new life that the Holy Spirit gives? Do you know how to be born again? Nicodemus didn’t!
Secondly, A New Belief
How Can This Be?
John 3:9: Nicodemus answered and said to Him, How can these things be? Nicodemus responded in amazement. He didn't understand the new birth. John 3:10: Jesus answered and said to him, Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Nicodemus should have known about this from the Old Testament. Jesus rebuked him for his ignorance of the Scriptures.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27: Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Jesus taught Nicodemus three things he must believe about the Savior, about Sin and Salvation. The word believe is used 7 times in 10 verses.
a. About The Savior
John 3:11-13: Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
Firstly, Nicodemus needed to believe Jesus Christ was telling the truth. Again Jesus started truly, truly. Jesus was the only One who knew the way to heaven because Jesus had come down from heaven to start with. The word heaven is mentioned 4 times in verses 12 & 13. No one else knows the way to heaven. Jesus is the only one who can save sinners and take them to heaven. Jesus told Nicodemus that He was revealing things that He personally knew and had seen. His testimony was reliable because He’s the Son of Man. If Nicodemus wanted to go to heaven he must believe in Jesus, God's Messiah. The word believe, πιστεύω is a verb requiring our action. We must choose to believe in Christ. There is no other Savior. There is no other way to heaven.
The Way To Heaven
A traveler engaged a guide to take him across a desert area. When the two men arrived at the edge of the desert, the traveler, looking ahead, saw before him trackless sands without a single footprint, path, or marker of any kind. Turning to his guide, he asked in a tone of surprise, Where is the road? With a reproving glance, the guide replied, I am the road. So, too, Jesus is the Way to heaven. In fact, Jesus said that He was the only way to the Father. Isn't that being narrow minded? It is; but it is also the truth. Jesus Christ came down from God to start with. He knows where the Father dwells. Witnesses saw Him ascend back into heaven. No one else has come from heaven or gone back there. Jesus is the only way to heaven. He’s the only Savior!
John 14:6: Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
b. About Sin
John 3:14-15: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Secondly, Nicodemus needed to believe Jesus could save Him from his sin. Nicodemus like all of us was a sinner. He couldn't get to heaven by good works. Jesus referred to the time when Israel sinned against God in the wilderness. The Lord punished them by allowing serpents to bite them. After this, Israel acknowledged their sin to God. The Lord graciously provided a way for them to be saved from the serpent's bite. God told Moses to put a brass serpent on a pole and place it in the middle of the camp. When the children of Israel looked at the serpent on the pole they were healed. The brass serpent on the pole was a picture of sin. By placing it on a pole God showed them that sin must be punished.
Jesus said that He too would be lifted up on a cross to die. John 12:32: And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. All who come to the cross of Jesus Christ and believe in Him will be saved from the sting of sin and death. God placed the sins of the world upon Jesus when He was nailed to the cross. 1 Peter 2:24: who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. The Israelites that didn't believe God's Word and look at the brass serpent on the pole died. So too those who don't believe God's Word and look to Jesus on the cross will die from their sins. We must believe that we're sinners and look to Christ to save us.
Look And Be Saved
On January 6, 1850, a snowstorm almost crippled the city of Colchester, England; and a teenage boy was unable to get to the church he usually attended. So he made his way to a nearby Primitive Methodist chapel, where an ill-prepared layman was substituting for the absent preacher. His text was Isaiah 45:22 - Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For many months this young teenager had been miserable and under deep conviction; but though he had been reared in church he did not have the assurance of salvation.
The unprepared minister didn't have much to say, so he kept repeating the text. A man need not go to college to learn to look, he shouted. Anyone can look. A child can look! About that time, he saw the visitor sitting to one side, and he pointed at him saying, Young man, you look very miserable. Young man, look to Jesus Christ! The young man looked by faith, and that was how the preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted. The difference between perishing and living, and between condemnation and salvation, is faith in Jesus Christ. Have you looked to the cross of Christ to be saved? Have you believed in Jesus Christ?
c. About Salvation
John 3:16-18: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Thirdly, Nicodemus needed to believe that only Jesus could save Him. God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son to save us. God doesn't want anyone to perish. He wants people to repent of their sin and believe in His Son. God promises eternal life to all who believe in Jesus. Is there any other way to be saved? No! Acts 4:10, 12: Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
What does it mean to believe in Christ? It means that we believe we are sinners who can't save ourselves. It means that we believe that Jesus is God's Son who died for our sin and rose again. It means that we ask Jesus Christ to come into our lives to become our Lord and Savior. When we do this we are born again of the Spirit.
John 1:12-13: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. If we want to be born again of the Spirit we must believe in Jesus Christ!
What happens if we don't believe in Christ? God condemns us for not believing the truth.
Settle Out Of Court
In our society there are two ways that justice can work. The first way is for the convicted person to allow justice to run its course. The charges are presented and the person makes their plea. After this the evidence is presented by the prosecution and defense lawyers. When everything has been evaluated the jury or judge hand down there sentence. If the defendant is guilty the full weight of the law is applied against them.
The second way is for a defendant who is guilty to settle out of court. They appear with their lawyers before the judge. At this time they confess their guilt and plead for the mercy of the court. Because they own up to their crime the judge is more lenient. The convicted criminal receives a degree of mercy for telling the truth. This is because they have accepted the consequences of their crime.
God's justice works like this in an even greater way. Those who wait till the judgment day will indeed have their day in court. But tragically they will be found guilty. No slick lawyer will get them off. They will receive the full punishment for their crimes against God. Everyone that stands at this judgment will be condemned and cast into the lake of fire, also called hell. There will be no parole or pardon from this judgment. Wise people settle out of court and receive a full pardon for their sin. God declares those who believe in His Son righteous.
John 5:24: Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Will you believe the Gospel? Will you acknowledge your sin and believe in Jesus Christ?
Have you been born again by believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Firstly, do you believe that Jesus Christ is telling the truth about salvation? Do you believe that He is the only way to God? Secondly, do you believe that He died for your sins? Do you believe that you can't save yourself? Thirdly, have you believed in Jesus Christ to save you? Have you received Him into your life? There is no other way! You must be born gain? Will you do this?
2 Corinthians 13:14: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.