Updated: Mar 24, 2020
There is an old church song that says, “We have heard the joyful sound. Jesus Saves, Jesus saves. Spread the tidings all around. Jesus saves, Jesus saves.” These two words, Jesus saves, make up the most consequential statement in the history of human existence. No other statement is as definitive as the statement Jesus Saves. No other statement has been verified by as many first-hand witnesses as the statement Jesus saves. And no other statement is as important to the eternal existence of billions of souls as is the statement Jesus saves.
In our text we see this statement made within the confines of a conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus. This conversation holds several of Jesus’ most famous quotes, chief among them being that which is found in verse 16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
This quote is fundamental to a believer because it gives us the who, what, how, and why of our salvation. God, the who, so loved the world, the what, that he gave his only begotten son, the how, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life, that’s the why.
Now it would be wonderful if everyone in the church knew, understood, and believed in the words of John 3:16. It would be wonderful if everyone in the church could testify that Jesus saves. But the truth of the matter is that on any given Sunday, there may be those in the building who don’t know what it is to be redeemed and washed in the blood of the lamb.
There may be some who have come right off the street. They’ve been invited by someone or they’re interested in seeing if there is anything to be gained from church. Those people need to hear that Jesus saves.
There may be some who refuse to believe in God and they’ve come to church only to prove to themselves that this is all nonsense. But while they are in the building they need to here that Jesus saves.
Still, there is another group of people who may be in church on any given Sunday. In fact they are in church every Sunday because for these people, church is tradition; church is status; church is fun.
But while these people may be in church, church is not in them. It doesn’t follow them home. It doesn’t impact their lifestyles. It doesn’t alter their decision making.
These are people who can carve out 2 hours of their time on Sunday morning, but won’t commit anything other than that. These are people who will tell you what the Bible says but can’t tell you where to find it and won’t make an effort to find it for themselves. These are people who love to be seen and regaled in all their finery, but would rarely if ever be seen serving those in need as Jesus commanded us.
These folks are religious, in that they participate in the traditions and culture of church, but they do not have a spiritual relationship with the Lord, wherein they would live for him and be made alive by him.
Now this is not to vilify such people, but rather to remind us of the urgency and necessity of the gospel message—those people especially need to hear that Jesus saves. Because being in the building is not enough. A person must be redeemed in order to reach the kingdom.
In our text Nicodemus is one of those people. Nicodemus was a member of the Pharisees, a group of religious leaders in Ancient Israel who fancied themselves as scholars of the Bible and whose opinions carried with them the authority of law amongst the Jews.
Jesus mocked these Pharisees as the blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14), because they had no clue of who God really was and what he requires, yet they wanted people to follow their lead. To become a Pharisee, one had to be trained for many years on how to interpret the laws of the Bible and how to execute judgement against those who were seen as lawbreakers. As such, they didn’t study the word for themselves and seek God’s wisdom but rather interpreted scripture based off the interpretations of previous so-called scholars. As God says in Isaiah 29:13, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
By the time Jesus came on the scene, the Pharisees had gotten to the point of making up rules. They would take a command, such as rest on the sabbath to keep it holy, and they would stretch that to mean that any action, even a good deed, was bad if it was done on the sabbath. This is what they used against Jesus when he healed people on the sabbath, such as in Luke chapter 13. Instead of praising God and marveling at Jesus for his miraculous works, they would accuse him of being a lawbreaker. They would frame a good work as bad in order to elevate themselves.
They would also publicly declare people guilty and punish them for things that the Pharisees themselves were guilty of doing in private. Such as in John 8 when they sought to stone a woman for adultery but could not carry out the act when Jesus challenged that whoever was innocent should throw the first stone.
The Pharisees, in a nutshell were hypocritical, ignorant and arrogant pretenders.
Quite naturally Jesus challenged the Pharisees a great deal, not because he hated them but because he needed them to see desperateness of their situation. That they were headed toward destruction and were leading others there also.
Yet in challenging them he became a target of their wrath. Even to the extent that they conspired to dispose of him.
There was one thing, though, that the Pharisees could not deny about Jesus. He was clearly operating with a power that was far above anything they possessed or had ever even seen.
And that’s what Nicodemus was coming to Jesus about in our text. We see that he came to Jesus under the dark of night as to not be seen by his fellow Pharisees. And when he met Jesus he called him Rabbi, which was a title of religious authority. He said “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.”
But Jesus interrupted him saying, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Now Jesus’ response had nothing to do with what Nicodemus had just said. Not only did Jesus interrupt Nicodemus but he changed the whole subject of the conversation.
Essentially Jesus was saying, Nicodemus you come to me, talking about how you know that I am of God, but you need to be concerned about whether you are of God. Because unless you have been born again, you are not going to make it into the kingdom.
Now Nicodemus was completely thrown off by this retort, to the degree that he forgot what he came to talk about, and he began engaging with Jesus about this being born again.
He asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus responded, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
Now it’s often thought that Jesus was referring to baptism when he said born of water, but it’s also argued that this is a modest reference to vaginal birth. He was perhaps describing the breaking of water, the rupturing of the amniotic sack, which allows the baby to be born. And he was saying that it’s not enough to be born physically. Because that which is born of flesh is flesh. But if you want to see the Kingdom of God, then you must also be born of the Spirit of God.
This being born again, this being born of God’s Spirit is another way of saying, you must be saved.
Jesus further said in verse 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.” In other words, everyone who has been born again, knows that they are saved, not because of they can dress it up on the outside, but because they are filled with the Spirit on the inside.
Now to this, Nicodemus was just incredulous. “How can these things be?” he asked.
And Jesus looked at him and said, aren’t you the teacher of the law. Aren’t the one who tells the people what is and what ain’t. And you don’t even understand this.
You see what’s going on here is that while Jesus is using a new phrase, “born again”, he is describing a theological truth that is central to biblical faith. And that truth is that every human being is neck deep in sin and needs to be saved from it in order to have a relationship with God and eternal life with him.
Nicodemus thought that in studying the Rabbinical teachings of those who had come before him, and in aligning himself with the Pharisees, he had accomplished righteousness for himself. But God has declared that our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Our attempt to make ourselves clean is like bathing with a dirty rag.
Much like some church folk today who think they get credit with God for being in the building on Sunday morning or think they can get to heaven by making sure their good outweighs their bad, Nicodemus thought he had earned righteousness for himself.
But you can’t earn righteousness by your own works. You can’t earn your way into heaven, because you can’t undo or cover up the bad that’s on your record, and that which you think is good might not be good in God’s eyes. So, trying to earn heaven by being part of the Pharisees, or by covering up your wicked deeds with a so-called good deed is like trying to get clean with a filthy rag. It doesn’t work. We can’t clean ourselves. We must be cleaned. We can’t save ourselves. We must be saved. We can’t make ourselves righteous. We must be made righteous.
Nicodemus did not understand this fundamental aspect of our faith because he had not really studied the word. He listened to what others said about the word. But if we want to understand God we must read for ourselves.
Because the Bible tells us that the moment Adam and Eve at the fruit of the tree, sin entered into the world. And along with sin, came the punishment of sin, that being death. God had previously told Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would surely die (Genesis 2:17). And so the moment that they ate the fruit, they lost fellowship with God, the life source, and they became spiritually dead. And their bodies, which were originally created to live forever, began to break down bit by bit until they went to the grave.
Being spiritually dead, their nature was also changed and they went from being Godly by nature to being sinful by nature. Their eyes were opened to wickedness and their brains began to calculate how to perform it. That’s why the first thing they did after they ate the fruit was hide from God and their first words were an attempt to obscure the truth and cover up their own personal guilt. Adam blamed the woman who had given him the fruit and the woman blamed the snake who had tempted her (Gen. 3:6-13).
This sinful state of existence was not isolated to Adam and Eve. It was passed down to their children and their children’s children. Which is to say, every human being has inherited Adam and Eve’s sinfulness. That’s why Psalm 51:5 says “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” We are born sinful, everyone of us. Born separated from God. Born with a mind to devise wicked things.
That’s why you don’t have to teach a baby to say no. You don’t have to teach a child to disobey an instruction or lie to get out of trouble. We are born in a sinful state with a sinful imagination, and as we grow we learn how to sin more and more.
But like our ancestors Adam and Eve, the wages of our sin is death. First the spiritual death of being separated from God, concluded by physical death which is the separation from the life God created us to have. The moment we are born we are inching ever closer to the grave—we are never really living, we are just dying over an extended period of time. And understand, death to sin is eternal. Its eternal separation from God. Its eternal separation from the life he created for us. We call it Hell.
So then Nicodemus, if you’re born dead, how can you make yourself alive. If you’re naturally inclined to sinfulness, how can you make yourself righteous. It’s not possible.
We learn very early on from the biblical text that God has to rescue us from the mess that we’ve created. God has to save us because we can’t save ourselves. In Genesis 3:15 God told Satan, who had tempted Eve to eating the fruit, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her seed and your seed, He shall crush your head though you shall bruise his heel.”
This was the first prophecy that God would send a savior who would rescue us from our pitiful state of existence and reverse our calamity.
As scripture unfolds, we see an ever-clearer picture of God’s plan of to save us.
He came to David in 2 Samuel 7 and told him, “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son.”
And he spoke to this Son in Isaiah 49:6 saying, “It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
And in Jeremiah 31 he said, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people… For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
A basic understanding of the Old testament from these few passages would conclude that God’s plan to save us was to send his son to be our savior, to forgive our sins, make us clean, and bring us into his eternal kingdom.
But when we fast forward back to John 3, we still see a confused Nicodemus saying how can this be. Nicodemus, the religious leader, lacked a basic understanding of God’s plan to save mankind.
And then we see an exasperated Jesus in verse 11 saying, “We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.
Jesus was saying, I’m telling you who I am and what I came to do, the scriptures back me up, but you still don’t believe me.
Now, when Jesus said this, he was referencing Isaiah 53:1, which says “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
By referencing Isaiah 53 Jesus is leading us to the passage of scripture that gives us the greatest detail of God’s plan to send us a savior. The rest of Isaiah 53 reads thusly: “For He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely, He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; But the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. But when You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.”
God’s plan to save us was to send his son to take the punishment for our sins. He planned to pour out his full anger upon his only Son for the crimes that we commit. Because sinfulness carries with it the punishment of death, the son was sent to die in our place so that we could be released from sinfulness and a be released from punishment. Our sinful nature being changed into holy nature. Our eternal death being reversed into eternal life with God. “Therefore, just as through one man, sin entered the world, and death through sin—even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by Adam’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by Jesus’ obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5).
Nicodemus, if you had studied the word you claim to live by, you would understand the lengths that the Lord has gone to in order save your soul.
Because God loves you so much, he sacrificed his only son. How he allowed his son to beaten and whipped until flesh hung off his bones. He allowed him to be lifted up on a pole, hung high and stretched wide; nails driven through his hands and through his feet; a spear plunged in his side; forsaken by the Father; left to die for the sins we commit.
God made his only son pay our debt in order to free us from the grip of death and give us everlasting life.
We can’t save ourselves. We can’t clean ourselves. We can’t make ourselves righteous. And we can’t earn everlasting life. It’s a gift, given to us through the blood of Jesus Christ.
And in order to be saved by this blood the only thing we have to do is believe that he is the son of the living God, God in flesh, come down to be our Lord, to take away our sinfulness and pay our debt.
And if we truly believe that Jesus is who he said he is and that he did what he said he did then we have been saved from the punishment of sin. We shall not perish in hell for Jesus said in John 5:24 “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.”
If we truly believe he is who he said he is and that he did what he said, then we’re being saved from the power of sin. Sin has no more control over us that we should obey it. The Spirit of God has changed our nature from a sinful nature prone to evil, into a holy nature attracted to goodness. That’s why 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold all things have become new.”
And if we truly believe that he is who he said he is then we will be saved from the presence of sin, and we will live forever with God in paradise. For Revelation 7 says, “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
It's necessary Nicodemus, that you hear and understand the fundamental truth of the human experience, that Jesus saves, so that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit and be made clean.
But that word isn’t just for Nicodemus. It’s for the one who is wondering if this church thing is really worth anything. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Believe on him and see that he will take away the power that sin has over you. See that he will take away the wicked desires. See that he will fix your heart, fix your home, fix your relationships, fix your mind.
And that word is also for the nonbeliever. Take a step out on faith. Take a chance on the Lord. And let him fill you up with joy. Let him fill you up with peace, let him fill you up with a love that is greater than anything you’ve ever imagined.
But there is also a word for the saved and the sanctified folks—we who know what it is to be born again of the spirit. We can testify to the truthfulness of that statement, Jesus saves.
But are we doing so?
Are we testifying to the world that God loves us all so much that he gave his only son to die for all of our sins?
Are we making it known that Jesus saves?
If not then we need to start right now. We need to make it known in the church. Make it known in our homes. Make it known with our children. Make it known with our friends. Make it known at our jobs. Make it known in our political circles. Make it known to our candidates. Make it known in our social groups.. Make it known on the group chat. Make it known on Facebook. Make it known on Instagram. Make it known on Snapchat.
But if we really want to be of some good, we have to get out to margins of society and make it known to the orphans and the neglected, to the drug addicts and the drunks, the homeless and the beggars. Don’t just tell them. Show them. Make it known. Make it known to the convicts and the drug dealers, to the racists and the oppressors, to the rapists and the murderers. Because, Isaiah 59:1 says, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short that it cannot save.”
There is no pit that God can’t reach into, there is no darkness that his light can’t penetrate, there is no distance that he won’t travel. The blood of Jesus has the power to save anyone.
And not only does it have the power to save, but it has the power to keep. Because John 10 tells us that nothing can snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. Once we are claimed by God we belong to God. No sin or devil in hell can remove our salvation. Because “He who has begun a good work in you shall complete it until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
That means when we fall, he picks us up. When we make a mess, he cleans us up. When we drift away, he pulls us back in. Because we belong to him and he is going to make us what we ought to be. As Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since he always lives to make intercession for us.”
So awesome is salvation that Peter tells us even angels seek to look into the mystery (1 Peter 1:12). Angels, who have never known sin, look with wonder at the fact that a drop of Jesus’ blood and faith the size of a seed can fundamentally change a human being and bring him from death into life. Angels celebrate when we get saved but they can’t relate to the experience. And so we have a song that the angels can’t even sing: We have heard the joyful sound. Jesus saves, Jesus saves. Spread the tidings all around. Jesus saves, Jesus saves. To the utmost, Jesus saves. To the utmost, Jesus saves. He will pick you and turn you 'round. Hallelujah, Jesus saves! Hallelujah, Jesus saves.