The Moral Inquirer - John 3:1-36

Expositions by H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


The third chapter of John contains two distinct messages, and each of these is a clear-cut testimony to the Deity of Jesus. The first message is Jesus' testimony to a sinner, and the second message is John's testimony concerning Jesus. In the first message we find vital teaching for lost men, and in the second message we find a God-given goal for the believer.


John 3:1-22

Nicodemus was a very religious man. He was a Pharisee and was ruler of the Jews, — a member of the Sanhedrin. He doubtless boasted in his lineal descent from Abraham, and in his strict observance of Jewish ordinances. But he was unsaved. When Jesus deals with a soul He uses more wisdom than His servants many times display, for He goes right to the heart of that soul's need. Nicodemus perhaps thought that he would flatter Jesus by telling Him that he knew that He was a teacher sent from God. Jesus paid no attention to this statement but immediately put his finger on the need of Nicodemus' soul, and held before him God's wondrous grace in providing for that need. He taught him at least three essential truths concerning his greatest need, the birth "from above." Note. The word translated "again" in vss. 3, 7, means literally "from above."

I. Jesus taught the necessity of the new birth. The Pharisees were doubtless the most moral people living. Their punctilliousness in observing the traditions was notorious, and Jesus many times referred to it in scathing terms. He called them whited sepulchres, indicating the outward morality, accompanied by inward unbelief, which characterize these people. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and boasted with the others in his morality. He, with them, shared the erroneous belief that all God required was a strict observance of the law, and like them strove to observe its letter, but disregarded its spirit. Jesus points to him and dashes to ruins the foundation on which he had been building. He says, "Ye must be born again!" "Except a man he born again he cannot see the kingdom of God!" What a rebuke to the proud Pharisee, but He is speaking to men today in the same words. Probably no living man could exceed the morality of the Pharisees, but if he could, God's ultimatum is still the same, "Ye must be born again." Man's morality, his efforts to live a godly life, his philanthropy, and even his religiousness are all worthless in God's sight. Men are naturally children of wrath, children of the Devil, and in order to be saved must be born again. Isa. 64:6; Matt. 5:20; Rom. 3:22; Jno 8:44; Eph. 2:3; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5.

2. Jesus taught the mystery of the New Birth. He did not try to explain it. He did not try to answer Nicodemus' question, "How?" He frankly stated that men could not comprehend the new birth, any more than they could understand some of the most common phenomena of nature. For Jesus knew that Spiritual things are beyond the knowledge of natural men. God does not ask men to understand but to believe. And how happy it is for us that this is so. If it were necessary for us to understand in order to be saved, we must be lost. Men of God, after years of study and service, confess that the operation of God's Spirit is just as mysterious and just as marvellous to them, as when they first believed. We may learn much about what the Spirit does, but cannot understand, even if God should attempt to explain it to us, how He does these things. God knows our limitations, and so He has not attempted to explain the infinite. He asks us to believe and be born again, but has left the "how" of the New Birth a mystery. I Cor. 2:14; I Cor. 13 :9-i2.

3. Jesus taught the ground and means of the New Birth. Though He assured Nicodemus that it was impossible for him to understand how God's Spirit operated to give the soul life from above, at the same time he told him how he might receive this marvellous gift and be born again. He first pointed back to an Old Testament type, the serpent on the pole, God's means of escape from judgment. He interpreted this type, telling Nicodemus that His coming death on the cross was the fulfillment of it. He then told the Gospel story in the simple words of John 3:16, saying in effect "Nicodemus, God gave Me to die for your sins on the cross. If you will believe in Me He will give you eternal life, — He will give you the New Birth." God can give men eternal life because Jesus died for all their sins on the cross. He has paid the price and God's justice is satisfied. Now He offers the New Birth, His own eternal life, as a free gift to all who will believe. The ground of the New Birth is Jesus' death on behalf of the sinner, and the means of the New Birth is the faith of the soul in Him as Saviour. Rom. 6:23; Jno. 10:28-29; Num. 21:6-9; I Pet. 2:24; I Pet. 3:18; Gal. 3:26.

4. In this teaching Jesus demonstrated His Deity. He manifested authority in Spiritual matters, and knowledge of the secret activities of the Spirit which could belong to no mere man. These things belong to God alone. Because Jesus had such authority, and because He had such knowledge we must believe that He is God.


John 3:22-36

John's testimony was a testimony to the pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus Christ. He should be pre-eminent in the life and message of the believer as He is preeminent in the salvation of men.

1. Jesus' pre-eminence should be the goal of His servants. John had foremost in his ministry the desire that Jesus might be exalted. When the Pharisees asked him to talk about himself he talked, instead, of Jesus. (Jno. 1:19-27). When his disciples came, jealous because of Jesus power, he pointed them to Him and said, "He must increase but I must decrease." (vs. 30). Truly this is a worthy goal for God's servants. Too many times we are tempted to magnify self. The old nature makes us itch for popularity, or for some kind of recognition for ourselves. But the men God has most used have always been men who desired above all else that Jesus might be magnified. How many sermons would be discarded if all had this as their goal. How many ambitions would be sacrificed, how many pleasures would be surrendered if God's children would take this attitude. And how much happier those lives would be where Jesus was thus enthroned. How much more power God's servants would have if they would thus surrender to His will and seek His preeminence. May God help us all to say with the heart, "He must increase but I must decrease." Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:17-18; Rom. 12:1-2; I Cor. 10:31.

2. Jesus is pre-eminent in the salvation of the believer. This is why He was preeminent in John's message. This is why He should be pre-eminent in our messages. None other than Jesus can save. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." (vs. 36.) Here we find John giving the same testimony which Jesus gave to Nicodemus. (vs. 18.) The thing which determines the salvation of the soul is not morality. It is not church membership. It is not education. It is not good works of any kind. Salvation lies only in Jesus' shed blood. The one who believes in Him is saved. The one who believes not is condemned already. Oh! How sorely we need to keep this truth constantly before us! Even those who know it are tempted many times to lean upon human argument, or some other weak substitute for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Preaching should ever set forth His person and work. Our conversation should always be about Him. Only as we magnify Jesus and give Him the pre-eminence in our message can we expect to see souls saved, for He alone can save. I Cor. 1:17-18; Rom. 1:16-17; Acts 4:12; Tit. 3:5.

3. The need of giving Him preeminence in life and message proves the Deity of Jesus. Because He is God He can give us a power in Christian service and in personal life such as is beyond our brightest dreams. Because He is God He can give power to our message which will work the greatest of all miracles, the salvation of the souls of men. The utter helplessness of the servant or the messenger who fails to magnify Him, contrasted with the power of the one who does give Him the pre-eminence proves that He is God. Let us then learn the lesson and magnify Him. John 12:32; Rom. 1:16-17; John 15:5; Psa. 127:1; Zech. 4:6.