JOHN 3: Humility and Love

By Stephen W. HiemstraMrPersonality

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,

you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3-4 ESV).

Have you been born again?

The Apostle John actually uses the enigmatic expression, born from above, to talk about spiritual rebirth (vv 5-6).  Commentators often wonder why Nicodemus was surprised by Jesus’ teaching because the prophet Ezekiel wrote something similar:  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezekiel 36:27).  Nicodemus was perhaps surprised, not because he does not know his scripture; he is surprised because the usual Jewish teaching focused on complying with the Law of Moses.  Pharisees taught that the law could be obeyed if the proper rules were known and followed—God’s intervention was not required to comply with the law.

Being born again implies that God comes to us—we do not come to him.  Following the law; being good; attending the right church will not bring you closer to God.  God is not far from us in terms of physical distance; He is far from us in terms of holiness—moral distance.  He is infinite; we are finite.  God must choose us; because we cannot choose him.  And when God chooses us, we are radically changed.

The discourse with Nicodemus is the first of three sections in chapter three.  The other two are Jesus’ teaching on love and further comments by John the Baptist.

The dialog with Nicodemus ends with a series of statements by Jesus which ends in verse 21.  Among these statements is the familiar passage:  John 3:16—For God so loved the world…

God’s love of an unholy world is unexpected.  The rebellion of the created order from God sets the world in opposition to God.  This was, for example, the reason for God sending the flood but saving Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-7).  Jesus, as God’s son, is the champion promised in Genesis 3:15 who would defeat Satan.  God’s love in Christ not only allows God to keep his promise, but Christ’s example also sets God’s people apart from the world—when they pay attention.   By looking to that example, we are saved (Numbers 21:9).

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45 ESV).

In our own lifetime, Bishop Desmond Tutu applied this principle of love for enemies when he formed South Africa’s Truth and Justice commission.  The abolishment of Apartheid accordingly became an opportunity for healing rather than an excuse for genocide.  John the Baptist, who recognized the power of God in Christ, voluntarily gave up his own ministry to make room for Jesus saying:  He must increase, but I must decrease (v 30).  In like manner, the people of South Africa gave up their legitimate claim for revenge to make room for Christ’s love and became an example to the entire world.

Do you want to love the world?  Give up your rights and practice Christ’s love.


How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. Who was Nicodemus? (v 1)
  2. Why might he have come at night to see Jesus? (v 2)
  3. How does Nicodemus describe Jesus? (v 2)
  4. What is a sign? (v 2) How does it differ from a wonder, a miracle, or healing?  For example:  And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people(Acts 6:8 ESV).
  5. What does Jesus say? Why is it surprising? (v 3)
  6. Why does Nicodemus respond the way he does? (v 4)What does he say?
  7. How many times does Jesus repeat the phrase born again (v 3, 5, 7)? Why?
  8. What does “born again” mean? What does it imply?
  9. What is said in verse 6? Why is it important?
  10. 10.Does Nicodemus understand? (v 9)
  11. What do verses 10 through 21 have in common? Is Jesus speaking throughout this section?  For example, who is speaking in John 3:16?  Why?
  12. 12.Where does Jesus go in verses 22-23 and what does he do?
  13. Why is verse 24 interesting?
  14. 14.Who is carrying on the discussion that starts in verse 25?
  15. 15.What is discussed in verses 26 through 36?

JOHN 3: Humility and Love

Also see:

JOHN 4: The Evangelist of Samaria 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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