When Religion Seeks to Meet With God

Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel narrative of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ as it was written and recorded by the apostle John. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the third chapter of this New Testament book. “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believed in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:1-21).

 

            “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptsized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receive his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not on the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:22-36).

 

            ENCOUNTERS WITH RELIGION! WHEN RELIGION SEEKS OUT JESUS! WHEN RELIGION INQUIRES OF JESUS! When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will encounter what is perhaps the most noted encounter Jesus had with a member of one of the religious groups of His day. The third chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John not only contains the narrative of what is perhaps the most well-known encounters between Jesus and a member of the religious class during that day, but also one of the most beloved and well-known verses in all of Scripture. Anyone who has studied the Scripture will undoubtedly be aware of the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the New Testament gospel written by the apostle John and how in this chapter we find the Lord Jesus Christ emphatically declaring unto Nicodemus, saying, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). In fact, this verse is perhaps one of—if not the most quoted verses in all of Scripture when a minister of the gospel seeks to call and invite men and women unto the Lord Jesus Christ and to experience a living, loving and lasting relationship with Him. More often than not you have not heard nor encountered an altar call where a minister has invited men and women to make a decision for Christ without and apart from this particular verse being quoted and used to draw men unto Christ. Having grown up in the church and specifically in a pastor’s home I have heard this verse used and quoted countless times throughout my life by pastors, by missionaries, by evangelists and the like. I can’t even think how many times I have heard this verse within my lifetime before I actually started reading the Scriptures for myself and read it on my own.

 

            It is actually quite remarkable and astonishing to read the words which are found in this particular chapter as one of the most beloved verses in all of Scripture is found in an encounter between Jesus and a member of the religious sect known as the Pharisees. I cannot help but think about and consider this particular reality as it forces me to encounter and come face to face with the tremendous invitation Jesus was giving—not only unto Nicodemus, but also unto religion itself. WHEN JESUS INVITES RELIGION UNTO HIMSELF! WHEN JESUS INVITES RELIGION TO COME UNTO THE FATHER! WHEN JESUS INVITES RELIGION TO COME UNTO HIM! There is not a doubt when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture that Jesus sought to speak directly unto Nicodemus for He knew and understood His heart and that which He was truly seeking. I cannot help but read the words found in this passage of Scripture and come face to face with the fact that Jesus deliberately and intentionally sought to speak to Nicodemus because He knew and was very much aware of the condition of his heart and soul. It is true that Nicodemus did in fact come to Jesus by night, however, we must understand and recognize that he did in fact come. What makes this so incredibly powerful when you take the time to think about it is that although Nicodemus came unto Jesus by night he still made the conscious and deliberate effort to come unto Jesus. He might have come unto Jesus in the cool of the night and yet there is something powerful and profound about the coming of Nicodemus which we must needs recognize and understand upon reading this passage of Scripture.

 

            I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are found in this portion of Scripture and I immediately get caught up in the encounters Jesus had during those three and a half years of public ministry—and not only the encounters He had, but specifically the encounters He had with religious leaders who came unto Him inquiring of Him what they would. The four gospel narratives are replete with examples of those from the religious system and community which did in fact come unto Jesus during those three and a half years—each with their own goal and their own objective. As you read the four gospel narratives you will find that there were instances where religion invited Jesus into its home, while there are other instances when religion deliberately and intentionally came unto the person of the Lord Jesus Christ with a very specific purpose in mind. The four gospels contain powerful accounts of religious leaders who would come unto the Lord Jesus Christ seeking to tempt Him with questions as they would seek to entrap and ensnare Him in His words. There were times when the religious leaders of Jesus’ day deliberately and intentionally came unto Him—not because they were sincere seekers of Him but because they sought to find means and a method to destroy Him. You cannot read the gospel narratives and not encounter certain examples when individuals would indeed and would in fact come unto Jesus for one reason or another. I would like to—for the purpose of this writing—forget about those who would come unto Jesus in their desperation and the needs which were present within their own lives. It is true there were countless men and women who came unto Jesus with their sicknesses, their infirmities, their illnesses, and that which they had been struggling with, and we know they desired that Jesus touch and heal them. We know that there were countless multitudes from Judaea, from Galilee, from Jerusalem, and from the surrounding regions which came unto Jesus desiring that He would heal and/or deliver them.

 

            When I engage in this writing I feel it is absolutely necessary to highlight and underscore those particular accounts when it wasn’t sincere seekers who would come unto Jesus, but rather those who would come unto Him to tempt Him. There were times when sincere seekers would in fact come unto the Lord Jesus Christ and would experience a tremendous salvation, transformation and redemption within their hearts and souls. We know for a fact that Nicodemus was one who experienced a transformation as a direct result of this encounter with Jesus by night. Scripture makes it very clear that Nicodemus—although he was a member of the religious group known as the Pharisees—would indeed become a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, there would be an account of Nicodemus speaking up in the company and presence of the religious leaders on behalf of Jesus when the religious system and community of that day sought to destroy Jesus from their midst. It is absolutely astonishing and remarkable to read the words found in this passage of Scripture as we have a member of the religious group known as the Pharisees who would come unto Jesus by night seeking an audience with Him. What I so love about this passage of Scripture is that Jesus was more than willing to entertain this Pharisee who was a ruler of the Jews. What we learn and discover concerning Nicodemus is that he wasn’t merely a Pharisee, but he was also a ruler of the Jews. Undoubtedly this man would have been one who would have had tremendous influence—not only with the Pharisees, but also with the Jews themselves.

 

            WHEN MEN OF INFLUENCE AND REPUTATION COME UNTO JESUS! In all reality, I can’t help but find myself reading this particular narrative and consider certain accounts and narratives within the New Testament gospels and those individuals with influence, reputation, power and wealth who would in fact come unto Jesus. I immediately think of the rich young ruler who would come unto Jesus asking what good thing he needed to do to inherit eternal life. I also think about a man called Zacchaeus who was a chief publican and tax collector who sought to see Jesus as He was passing through the city of Jericho. There are two specific examples of those with influence and reputation sought an audience of Jesus because they desired to speak with Him concerning that which they inquired of or desired within their hearts. We cannot and must not miss and lose sight of these particular narratives as there is also the account of the lawyer and religious leader who came unto Jesus asking Him concerning what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. There is not a doubt in my mind that if we are to truly understand the words which are found in this particular passage of Scripture we must needs consider these particular narratives as they help serve as a foundation for the encounter which this Pharisee and rulers of the Jews would have with the Lord Jesus Christ. I am absolutely and completely convinced that if we wish to truly understand the words which are found in this passage we must recognize and understand those encounters Jesus had—not only with the rich, but also with the Pharisees, and with those who were experts in the Law. I can’t help but think about the narrative found in the seventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Luke when Jesus was invited into the house of Simon the Pharisee and what would ensue within the house of religion. It is with all of this in mind I would like to invite you to consider the following passages found within Scripture as they bring us face to face with the specific encounters Jesus had—not only with publicans, and not only with the rich, but also with the religious during those days.

 

            I would like to first call and draw your attention to the narrative found in the nineteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew concerning the rich young ruler who came unto Jesus inquiring of Him what good thing he needed to do to inherit eternal life. This is perhaps one of the most remarkable narratives found within the four gospels as this man perhaps came unto Jesus with all sincerity in his heart and yet that sincerity would be replaced with sorrow as he would leave the presence of Jesus sorrowful because of what Jesus had asked him. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the nineteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew:

 

            “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:16-22).

           

            It is within this particular passage of Scripture we find a rich young ruler coming unto Jesus—not only calling Him “Good” and “Master,” but also asking what good thing he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus would reply unto him by instructing him to keep the commandments if he desired to enter into life. The rich young men—perhaps willing to justify himself or perhaps simply wondering within himself—would not only declare unto Jesus how he had kept all those commandments from his youth up, but would also ask Jesus what he still lacked. This is actually quite interesting when you take the time to think about it for he would ask Jesus what—if anything—he still lacked. It is quite clear when reading this particular passage this man heard the words which the Lord Jesus spoke to him and sensed that there was something he was missing and something he was still lacking. This rich young ruler would ask Jesus what he still lacked and there is not a doubt in my mind that he was completely and utterly shocked with Jesus’ response to him, for Jesus would not speak to him concerning what he needed to do to inherit eternal life but rather what he needed to do to be perfect. If this man sought to be perfect he needed to go and sell all that he had, give to the poor and then come and follow him. What’s more is that not only would this rich young ruler be able to come and follow Jesus but he would also have treasure in heaven. What makes this passage so incredibly captivating and challenging is that while it was indeed true this rich young ruler would enter into the Jesus perhaps full of sincerity and genuineness he would depart from His presence sorrowful as he realized what Jesus had just asked of him. If there is one thing I can’t help but read when moving on in the scripture is whether or not this rich young ruler would ever take the instruction of Jesus to heart and actually carry out what He had instructed him to do. There are a number of times within Scripture when I either want to know the back story that leads up to a particular encounter with Jesus and/or the follow up to the encounter a man or woman would have with Jesus. Is it possible that although this rich young ruler departed from the presence of Jesus sorrowful he would at some point in the future recognize the importance and value of what Jesus asked him and would indeed do what He had instructed.

 

            With this being said I can’t help but be reminded of the words which are found in the seventh chapter of the New Testament gospel written by the beloved physician Luke. It is in the seventh chapter of this New Testament gospel we find Luke writing of a Pharisee by the name of Simon who was a Pharisee. What’s more, is that not only did Luke write about this man named Simon who was a Pharisee, but he also wrote of how this man invited Jesus into his home to partake in fellowship and break bread with him. What would ensue within this particular encounter, however, would be something Simon would have never anticipated as there would be a powerful display put on demonstrating the difference between religion and one who was a sinner. You cannot read this particular passage and not encounter the awesome and tremendous truth surrounding Simon’s invitation of Jesus into his house and how it would quickly transition into something he could have never expected—namely, a woman from the city who was a sinner entering into the house with an alabaster jar of costly ointment and perfume that she might demonstrate and exercise worship before the Lord Jesus. It is truly something worth thinking about and considering this particular passage as Scripture is entirely and altogether silent on the expectation Simon had when inviting Jesus into his home and how whatever his expectation was would indeed be eclipsed by this woman who dared show up uninvited that she might engage in worship before and in the presence of Jesus:

 

            “And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with theiars of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debotors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answer and said, I supposed that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast righly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:36-50).

 

            This is perhaps one of the most remarkable encounters between Jesus and a member of the religious class during those days as He would be invited by this religious leader into his own house and yet there would enter into the house a woman from the city who was a sinner. This woman would anoint the feet of Jesus with the fragrant perfume and ointment from the alabaster box she brought with her, as well as washed His feet with her tears before drying them with the hairs of her head. Not only this, but this woman also kissed Jesus’ feet repeatedly while she was there in the house of religion. Simon—that one who had invited Jesus and that one in whose house this woman had entered uninvited—spoke within himself concerning Jesus and this woman as he would not only speak of Jesus being a prophet and allegedly not knowing what type and what manner of woman this was. Simon would speak within himself, saying, “This man if he were a prophet would know who and what manner of woman was that she was a sinner.” Jesus would respond to Simon—not only with a parable of two individuals who owed a debt but also two individuals who were both forgiven the debt which they owed. Not only this, but Jesus would also continue to speak to Simon of all that he didn’t do for and unto Jesus having invited Him into his house and that which the woman herself had done unto and for Jesus. There was on full display here in the house of religion a powerful difference between how this woman who was a sinner responded to and treated Jesus and how Simon who was a Pharisee responded to and treated Jesus.

 

            It is with this in mind I would like to call and draw your attention to the words we find in the tenth chapter of this same New Testament gospel, as what we find in this particular chapter is an account of a religious expert and master of the Law of Moses coming unto Jesus—not only seeking to tempt Jesus, but also seeking to justify himself. What makes this particular narrative so incredibly unique when you take the time to think about it is that it contains the parable Jesus spoke concerning the good Samaritan. It is in this particular passage of Scripture where we find Jesus using and delivering the parable of the good Samaritan to help illustrate the truth—not only surrounding who is our neighbor, but also how we ourselves can and should be a neighbor unto others. I am absolutely and completely convinced that this parable is not only meant to show and reveal unto us how we are to be a neighbor unto others, but also how we are to be a neighbor. In all reality I am absolutely and completely convinced that what we find within the parable found in this chapter is not only a powerful picture of the victim being the neighbor, but also the healer being the neighbor. There is not a doubt in my mind when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture that both the victim who was beaten, robbed and left for dead was the neighbor, and the Samaritan was the neighbor. This must needs be understood when reading this particular passage of Scripture as we have a great need to recognize and understand that the concept of being a neighbor not only touches that which we do for and unto others, but also that which we might very well need from others when we find ourselves in a place of need. Both the priest and the Levite had an opportunity to be a neighbor unto this man who was found on the side of the road beaten, bloodied, naked and left for dead, and yet both of them chose to continue walking past this man without giving any thought, care or concern for him. Consider if you will the following words which are found in this particular passage in the tenth chapter of the gospel written by Luke:

 

            “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was a neighbour unto him that fell among thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:25-37).

 

            We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of what is found within this particular passage of Scripture for within it we don’t find a rich man entering into the presence of Jesus but rather we find a certain lawyer or religious expert in the Law. Within this passage of Scripture we find a powerful picture of one who would have been an expert in the Law and one who have undoubtedly been very familiar and acquainted with the Law coming unto Jesus with and for one very specific purpose—namely, to tempt Jesus. This religious leader had absolutely no interest or desire in the eternal life he was asking for and only came into the presence of Jesus seeking to tempt Him. When entering into the presence of Jesus this lawyer asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, to which Jesus responded by asking him what he read in the Law of Moses and what it said unto him. It’s actually quite interesting when reading this particular passage for when Jesus spoke unto this rich young ruler he would turn it back on him and ask him how he read the law and what he understood within the Law. It’s quite interesting to read the words found in this portion of Scripture as Jesus would turn the question of this lawyer back unto and back onto himself asking him what was found in the law and how he read and interpreted it. This lawyer would respond to Jesus by declaring that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. Not only this, but we were to love our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus would respond unto this lawyer and instruct him to do that which he had spoken of and he would have eternal life. The lawyer, however, sought to justify himself in the presence of Jesus and would ask him who his neighbor was. Oh we dare not and must not miss the importance of what this man asked, for instead of asking and being concerned with how he himself could and should be a neighbor unto others, he sought to ask who was his neighbor and who could be a neighbor unto him. Instead of this lawyer being interested in being a neighbor unto others he instead asked who was indeed qualified and who was indeed positioned to be his neighbor. This question which was asked by him was in and of itself meant to segregate and separate individuals during those days by suggesting that there were some who quite possibly weren’t and couldn’t be his neighbor.

 

            Before I move any further into this writing I find it absolutely astounding when reading this particular passage that the question this lawyer asked concerning who his neighbor was is actually one that does a great disservice—not only unto himself but also unto those who are before and around him. The question which this lawyer asked seemed to suggest that there were those within that culture and society who were and who could be his neighbor while there were others who potentially weren’t his neighbor. This question is one which we must needs recognize and understand as it was meant to draw a dividing line in the sand and classify certain individuals as being his neighbor while separating and casting out others from any possibility of being his neighbor. Oh we must needs recognize and understand this question as it is an incredibly dangerous thing within our hearts and souls when we have to ask who is our neighbor and when we have to search for and look for those who are our neighbors. In all reality, we must needs understand and recognize that absolutely everyone before and around us is and can be our neighbor. There is a great danger within our hearts and minds when we engage ourselves in society and think and consider how there are some who can indeed and can in fact be our neighbor while there are others who aren’t and can’t be our neighbor. This man thought that there were those present within his day who were his neighbor, and by very nature of this question suggested that there were others who weren’t and who couldn’t be his neighbor. That which Jesus sought to demonstrate and reveal unto this man was not merely an understanding of who was his neighbor but rather how he himself should and ought to be a neighbor unto others.

 

            Knowing all of this I feel it now necessary for us to turn and direct our attention to the nineteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the physician Luke, for within this chapter we find one who was a chief tax collector within the city of Jericho learning and hearing that Jesus was going to be passing by that way. Eager to see and behold Jesus this man named Zacchaeus would run ahead of the crowd and the multitude and would climb into a sycamore tree that he might see and catch a glimpse of Jesus. What makes this particular passage so incredibly intriguing when you take the time to think about it is when you consider the fact that Zacchaeus merely sought to see Jesus. There is absolutely not indication that Zacchaeus had any desire or intention of saying of speaking anything to Jesus—only to see, look upon and behold Jesus. As you read this passage, however, you will find that as much as Zacchaeus sought to look upon and behold Jesus it would be Jesus who would look upon and behold him. There in the sycamore tree Jesus would look upon and behold this chief tax collector and would instruct him to make haste to come down from the tree. The reason and purpose for his coming down from the sycamore tree was because on that day Jesus needed to be a guest in his house. I am sure Zacchaeus was eager to come down from the tree and to invite Jesus into his house and viewed it as an opportunity to deliver himself from that which he had been bound and captive by throughout the years. Scripture is very clear that it would be while Jesus was in the house of Zacchaeus that this chief tax collector would not make the declaration that he would give half of his goods unto the poor but would also restore four fold unto those whom he had extorted by false accusation. Jesus—upon hearing these words and this declaration from Zacchaeus—would emphatically declare unto this chief tax collector that on this day salvation had come unto his house because this man was indeed a son of Abraham. With this in mind I invite you to consider the actual narrative found in the nineteenth chapter of this New Testament gospel:

 

            “And Jesus entered and passed through. Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was of little stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this. House, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

 

            It is absolutely necessary that we pay close attention to the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, for the words we find here are a powerful picture of this man who was not only a publican, but was also a chief publican. This man who was a chief publican sought to see Jesus who He was as he had undoubtedly heard so much about him. This man named Zacchaeus was undoubtedly one who had heard how Jesus healed the blind man on the road into Jericho, and perhaps had heard of how Jesus was a man of compassion, grace, mercy and forgiveness, and perhaps thought that he himself could be a recipient of that forgiveness. Eager to simply see and behold Jesus Zacchaeus would run ahead of the press and would run ahead of the crowd that he might behold this Jesus whom he had heard so much about. What we must needs realize when reading this passage is that Jesus would indeed enter into the home of this publican—perhaps knowing full well the ire, the angst and the animosity that would ensue when the multitude witnessed His willingness to do so. Jesus was willing to enter into this man’s house knowing what those before and around Him would have thought when they witnessed and beheld Him doing so. Jesus knew full well that His entering into this house would have drawn the murmuring, the grumbling and the complaining of those which were present during that day within the city of Jericho and yet He would do so anyway. What we find when Jesus entered into the house of this chief publican is his bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance as he was not only willing to give unto the poor, but he was also willing to restore four-fold that which he had taken by extortion and false accusation within the city of Jericho. It is absolutely incredible that not only did Zacchaeus seek to restore the damage he had done within the city of Jericho, but he also sought to minister unto the poor within the city. Stop for a moment and think about how absolutely incredible this truly is as this chief publican was not only willing to minister and give unto those in need, but he was also willing to undo and repair the damage he himself had done to others within the city. Oh how absolutely wonderful it is to see and witness this man’s repentance as he would not only give unto the poor and be a conduit of giving but he would also be a conduit and vessel of restoring.

 

            Bearing all this in mind I would like to call and draw your attention now to the words we find in the third chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John. It is here in this particular passage of Scripture we find the apostle John writing about a certain Pharisee named Nicodemus who was not only a Pharisee but who was also a ruler of the Jews. Undoubtedly this man named Nicodemus was a man of prestige, reputation, and perhaps even power among the Jews during that time. This man named Nicodemus wasn’t simply an ordinary Pharisee during those times, but he was one who would have had tremendous influence among the religious, as well as among the people within Jerusalem and Judaea. It would be this man of great influence and reputation among the Jews who would seek an audience with Jesus and who would come unto Jesus by night. This man named Nicodemus was a member of the religious class and system during that day and yet he desired to have an audience with the lord Jesus Christ. Not only this, but this man named Nicodemus would speak unto the Lord Jesus Christ about the miracles which He had wrought and performed among them during those days. Having been able to meet with Jesus during the night Nicodemus would declare unto Jesus, saying, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” Clearly this man named Nicodemus was one who was very much aware of the public life and ministry of Jesus and had heard of the great miracles He had wrought and performed during those days. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews and was a Pharisee and as a direct result of his hearing great reports of the works and miracles Jesus would do sought to have an audience with Him by night.

 

            I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are found in the third chapter of the gospel written by the apostle John and I can’t help but find it absolutely incredible that this apostle of Christ would take the time to write concerning this event which would take place within the life and ministry of Jesus. The apostle John was the only gospel author who would write about this particular encounter and would deliberately and intentionally take the time to present his readers and audience with this nighttime meeting between this ruler of the Jews and Jesus of Nazareth. In all reality it’s actually quite remarkable when you read this passage of Scripture that you have before your eyes an encounter between a ruler of the Jews and the King of the Jews. If you remember and recall the superscription that was placed atop the cross upon which Jesus was crucified clearly stated “The King of the Jews,” which was meant to describe the crime for which He was crucified and sentenced to death. This concept of Jesus being the King of the Jews would even be the highlight of the trial which would ensue against Jesus as there were those who seeking to accuse Him would claim that He called and referred to Himself as the King of the Jews. What makes the nighttime encounter between Jesus and this religious leader so incredibly unique is when you consider how it was one which took place between a ruler of the Jews and the King of the Jews. This encounter was not some random one which took place and was one which was perhaps carefully planned and orchestrated by Nicodemus. Oh there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder how Nicodemus actually managed to secure this meeting with Jesus. Did Nicodemus go directly through Jesus Himself and invite Him to this particular spot where he would speak with Him, or did he perhaps go through Jesus’ disciples inquiring of a. meeting with this Rabbi among the Jews? Scripture is entirely and altogether unclear how this meeting came to be, however, two things we know for sure—Nicodemus desired to have an audience with Jesus and Jesus was willing to sit down and meet with him.

 

            Perhaps one of the most remarkable truths surrounding the gospels was Jesus’ willingness to entertain those who diligently and genuinely sought Him. We know there were those from the religious sects of that day who came unto Jesus desiring to tempt and accuse Him, however, there were others who came unto Jesus with full sincerity and genuineness within their hearts. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews and he earnestly and eagerly desired to have an audience with Jesus that he might speak unto Him. That which I find to be incredibly unique about this passage is that within this encounter Jesus seems to do much of the talking. The apostle John would indeed write and record how Nicodemus would refer to Jesus as “Rabbi” and would then speak of Him as a teacher come from God as no man could do the miracles He did except God be with him. Jesus would hear this initial opening comment and statement spoken by Nicodemus and would declare unto him that except a man be born again he could not see the kingdom of God. We must needs pause for a moment and consider the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, for Nicodemus spoke unto Jesus concerning the miracles which He performed among men and He spoke of God being with Him, and yet Jesus would declare unto him that except a man be born again he would not see the kingdom of God. Pause and consider how incredibly powerful and awesome this truly is when you actually consider it, for Nicodemus would speak of the miracles which Jesus would perform and Jesus would speak of entering into the kingdom of God.

 

            As you read the words found in this passage of Scripture you will not only find Jesus declaring unto Nicodemus that unless a man be born again he would not see the kingdom of God, but Jesus would also go on to declare that unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit he could not enter into the kingdom of God. We must pay close and careful attention to the words Jesus spoke here on this particular occasion as He not only spoke of being born again, but He also spoke of being born of water and of the Spirit. There is a great need to recognize that which Jesus spoke unto Nicodemus on this particular night as Jesus would emphatically declare unto this ruler of the Jews the great need to be born of both water and of the Spirit. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle John wrote in the first and opening chapter of this gospel narrative concerning the Word which was made flesh and dwelt among us. If you turn and direct your attention back to the first chapter of this gospel you will find the apostle John describing how the Light of the world which was the Word made flesh and dwelt among us came unto his own and his own received him not. Despite the fact that his own received him not the apostle John would go on to declare that as many as received him were given the power to become the sons of God. Those who were given power to become the sons of God believed on His name and were not born of blood, nor of the fill of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. As early as the first chapter of this New Testament gospel we find and encounter the apostle John not only speaking of becoming the sons of God, but those who are born of God and not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor even of the will of man. In other words there was a birth that would take place that has absolutely nothing to do with the physical and natural realm but rather that which takes place in the spiritual and supernatural realm. It is with this in mind I invite you to turn and direct your attention to the words which are found in the eighth chapter of the New Testament epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the Roman saints, as well as the words which are found in the New Testament epistle written unto the churches in Galatia:

 

            “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spirituall minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are. Not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:1-11).

 

            “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (Galatians 4:21-31).

 

            In all reality the single greatest question I would dare say was at the forefront of most of those who came unto Jesus was what they needed to do to inherit eternal life. There were those who would come unto Jesus with their needs for healing and deliverance, while there were others who would come unto Jesus with their brokenness and with their humility. The woman who dared enter into the house of Simon the Pharisee came unto Jesus with her humility and her brokenness and before she ever broke the alabaster jar which contained the precious ointment and perfume she was first broken herself. Before this woman ever entered into the house and broke that alabaster jar at the feet of Jesus she first had to break herself and to be broken. There is not a doubt in my mind that this woman was not only broken when she entered into the presence of Jesus but was also broken in the presence of Jesus. I am absolutely and completely convinced that this woman was indeed broken as she entered into the presence of Jesus and was broken in the presence of Jesus. The tears which she cried, the ointment which she poured upon Jesus, and the kisses which she lavished upon His feet were all symbols of the brokenness which was present within her own heart and soul within the very presence of Jesus. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this, for within the gospel narratives we encounter and come face to face with encounters Jesus would have with those who would enter into His presence asking about eternal life—and not only eternal life, but also the kingdom of heaven. We have the rich young ruler who came running unto Jesus and kneeling before Him in His presence asking what good thing He needed to do to inherit eternal life, and we find the lawyer from among the religious group coming unto Jesus also asking and speaking of eternal life.

 

            I am absolutely and completely convinced we must needs recognize and understand this particular truth for within this passage of Scripture we do indeed find Jesus declaring unto Nicodemus that whosoever believes in the Son would have everlasting life, however, we also find Jesus speaking unto Nicodemus concerning the need to be born again. Moreover, Jesus would go on to declare unto Nicodemus that those who were born of water and of the Spirit would be the ones who would enter into the kingdom of God. This truth is one which we must needs recognize and understand as it would even be expressed within the ministry of John the Baptist. It would be John the Baptist who would in fact speak of this baptism of water as He would speak unto the crowds and masses of people who came unto his baptism concerning the need to be baptized in water unto repentance for the remission of sins. With this being said we must needs recognize and understand that John the Baptist would also declare that while it was indeed true that he baptized with water there was coming one mightier than himself who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It is absolutely necessary we pay attention to the words which John the Baptist spoke unto the crowds which came unto his baptism, for that which he spoke unto the crowds was a powerful witness and testimony of that which Jesus spoke concerning being born of water and of the Spirit. There is not a doubt in my mind that when Jesus spoke of being born of water He was referencing the baptism of John, and when he spoke of being born of the Spirit He was referring to the baptism which He Himself would offer unto those who believed on His name and who came unto Him. It is with this in mind I invite you to consider the following passages found in the New Testament gospels which demonstrate John the Baptist’s understanding of this baptism of water and the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire:

 

            “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I INDEED BAPTIZE YOU WITH WATER UNTO REPENTANCE: BUT HE THAT COMETH AFTER ME IS MIGHTIER THAN I, WHOSE SHOES I AM NOT WORTHY TO BEAR: HE SHALL BAPTIZE YOU WITH THE HOLY GHOST, AND WITH FIRE: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:7-12).

 

            “And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:6-8).

 

            “And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable” (Luke 3:15-17).

 

 

            “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34).

 

            Each of these passages bring us face to face with the understanding John the Baptist had concerning two different baptisms that would take place within the lives of those who believed. John the Baptist knew and understood that he did indeed baptize with water unto repentance for the remission of sins, however, he also knew that there was a second baptism that would be offered as well. This mighty man of God and prophet knew and understood that his baptism was essentially an initial work which would take place within the life of one who desired to come unto God and that there was a second baptism that would be entirely and altogether different. John knew and understood that his baptism was one of water but that there was coming a second baptism which was of fire. In all reality I can’t help but be absolutely captivated with this truth of water and fire as in the Old Testament book of Genesis we find the work of water and the flood, but we also find the work of fire. If you take the time to read the sixth and seventh chapters of the Old Testament book of Genesis, as well as the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters you will find that the LORD would destroy everything that had breath upon the earth with the waters of the flood save Noah, his wife, their three sons and each of their wives. The LORD would cause it to rain upon the earth for forty days and forty nights, as well as cause the fountains of the deep to be broken upon and come upon the face of the earth. It would be during the days of Noah that the LORD would accomplish a work beneath the waters of the flood as He would destroy all wickedness and iniquity under the flood. When you think about and consider the days of Lot you will find the Lord destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah—not with waters of a flood but with fire. In the very first book of the Scripture we encounter the tremendous presence of water and fire which was used by the Lord to purge, to purify, to cleanse, to judge, to destroy and to execute His divine will.

 

            I cannot help but think about this two-fold work which took place in the Old Testament book of Genesis as a powerful picture of the baptism of water and the baptism of fire which are spoken of in the New Testament. There is indeed a baptism of water which is unto repentance for the remission of sins and when we are not only considered crucified with Christ, but also buried with Him in baptism. It is this initial work of baptism in water which is an outward declaration, demonstration and manifestation within our hearts and lives of an inward reality—namely, that we are both crucified with Christ as well as buried with Him. Baptism in water is literally for all intents and purpose a declaration that our old man is buried in baptism and buried in death with the Lord Jesus that our new life in Christ might come forth. Just as the old earth—so to speak—was buried underneath the waters of the flood, so also would there be a new earth which would be reborn once the waters of the flood had receded. It would be on that new and cleansed earth that Noah and his family would emerge with the command to be fruitful and multiply thus creating and experiencing new life. With this being said, however, we must needs recognize that while baptism is indeed an outward declaration and profession of our being buried with Christ in baptism there is a secondary work that must needs take place—namely, a work of fire and of the Holy Spirit. It would be this secondary work that would initially be manifested within the lives of one-hundred and twenty men and women who were present in the upper room in Jerusalem fifty days after the Passover on the day of Pentecost.

 

            As I prepare to bring this writing to a close it is absolutely necessary that we recognize this two-fold work of being born of water and born of the Spirit, for Jesus would declare that unless we were born of both we would not enter into the kingdom of God. It would be Jesus who would declare unto this ruler of the people that except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God and He would go on to declare how that which was born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. We must needs recognize this dichotomy that exists between that which is born of the flesh and that which is born of the Spirit—a reality which is evidenced and manifested within the life of Abraham. Ishmael who was born unto Abraham through the Egyptian handmaid Hagar would represent that which was born of the flesh while Isaac who was born unto Abraham through Sarah would represent that which was born of the Spirit and of promise. It was this reality the apostle Paul sought to instill within the hearts and minds of the churches in Galatia as they were giving themselves to a thinking that they could somehow be justified by the Law and that flesh somehow profited them in this life. The apostle Paul was incredible clear and forthright with the churches in Galatia and clearly laid out the contrast between that which was born of the Spirit and that which was born of the flesh. The apostle Paul would highlight and underscore for these churches the difference between that which was born of the Spirit and that which is born of the flesh and would express the importance of being born of the Spirit. It is absolutely necessary that we understand this particular truth as it brings us face to face with the fact that we have a great need within our lives to not only be born of the Spirit but also of water. There must be the initial work and demonstration of being baptized in water as the first work and evidence within our lives which is subsequently followed by a second work of being baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit.

 

It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and pay close attention to the words which we find here in this passage of Scripture for the words Jesus spoke unto Nicodemus are a powerful invitation into this life of being born of water and of the Spirit. We know that there were Pharisees and Sadducees who did indeed come unto John’s baptism and I can’t help but wonder if Nicodemus had come unto the baptism of John and been baptized by him. We know that Nicodemus came unto Jesus by night and there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if he had also come unto John the Baptist by night seeking to be baptized by him. Scripture makes it very clear that Nicodemus would in fact become a disciple and follower of Jesus and there is a part of me that wonders if he had in fact been baptized in water by John the Baptist. We know that John the Baptist was still alive at this time for the third chapter would conclude with John the Baptist speaking unto his disciples concerning the Lord Jesus Christ and how he himself must decrease that the Lord might increase. Is it possible that after this encounter with Jesus Nicodemus would seek out John the Baptist and be baptized by him, or is it possible that he would even come unto Jesus and be baptized by His disciples as we learn took place towards the end of this chapter? Scripture is unclear what Nicodemus’ spiritual journey was like after this encounter with Jesus, however, we do know that Jesus didn’t merely speak to him of being born of water and born of the Spirit, for Jesus would also speak to him about the love of God that would allow Him to send His only begotten Son into the world that the world through Him might have eternal life. Jesus would reveal unto Nicodemus the true heart of the Father which would not only send His only begotten Son, but would also give His only begotten Son that whosoever would believe on Him would have everlasting life. The question we must needs ask ourselves is not only whether or not we are those who are born of water and of the Spirit, but also whether we are those who have truly come unto the only begotten Son of the Father that we might experience eternal life and enter into the kingdom of God.

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