Closing the Gap – Week 35 Study Guide

By September 9, 2018 Small Group Study Guide

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Commentary—

John 3:1-2 1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

 

“Nicodemus” (3:1). He was a member of the “ruling counsel” (the Sanhedrin, the governing body of religion and state under Rome). He was a Pharisee, zealous in his dedication to God’s Law. He was “Israel’s teacher.” So he held high religious office that involved interpreting Scripture authoritatively. He did come to Jesus with an open mind, ready to listen to this Man whose miracles suggested God intended to give a new revelation through Him. He would later become a disciple (7:45–52; 19:38–42).[1]

“Born again” (3:6). God acts supernaturally to make us His children (John 1:12–13). The spiritual life He infuses leads to moral transformation (1 John 2:29) and enables us to love God and others (1 John 4:7; 5:1–2). As natural birth begins our life on this earth, so spiritual birth brings us into the spiritual world and makes us God’s “born ones.”

You do not understand (3:10). The O.T. foresaw a coming day in which God would change the heart—the inner personality—of His people (cf. Ezek. 11:19). Nicodemus was Israel’s teacher, but did not understand the principle underlying new birth.

“Lifted up” (3:14). When God’s sinning people in the wilderness were devastated by deadly serpents, Moses put a snake, the symbol of their judgment, on a pole. All who looked at that symbol were promised life. All people are helpless before the deadly curse of sin. In lifting Christ up on the cross, also a symbol of judgment, God makes Him the object of faith.

“God so loved” (3:16). In the 1st century one word for “love,” agape, was quite weak, expressing only fondness. The N.T. writers picked up this word and infused it with new and stunning meaning. That meaning is defined in God’s giving of His beloved Son, for us. First John 4:9 says, “This is how God showed His love … He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.” God chose to love sinners. God expressed His love in self-sacrifice. Christ incarnate and crucified forever gives meaning to the phrase, “God is love” and fills us with awe as we realize, “God loves me.”

Verse 16 serving as the most familiar single verse in all of the Bible. There is good reason for this, for John 3:16 presents the clearest, simplest statement of the good news Christ came to bring to the world. What is that good news? First, that God loves you. Second, that God’s love was so great that He sent His only Son to tell the world about God’s love. Third, that anyone who will believe in God’s Son will never die but will live forever with God. Belief, of course, means far more than mere intellectual assent. Rather, it means placing one’s life and trust in complete surrender to the one in whom you believe.[2]

3:17. Though light casts shadows, its purpose is to illuminate. Though those who do not believe are condemned, God’s purpose in sending His Son is salvation (to save), not damnation (to condemn). God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23, 32). He desires that everyone be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).[3]

“Condemned” (3:18). Lost sinners stand condemned already. People aren’t lost because they don’t believe in Jesus. They simply remain lost unless they put their trust in Him.[4]

3:18. 3:18 As light penetrates and exposes the world’s darkness, God’s judgment on the world has already begun. Those who see this light and recognize the tragedy of their own situation have the responsibility of believing in God’s Son. [5]

 

Study Guide – Use whichever questions below work best for your group!

Read—the passages.

John 3:1-18 1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

 

Reflect—Unpacking/going deeper

  • In John 3 we find a man named Nicodemus coming to Jesus. What do we know about Nicodemus?
  1. In what ways is he both an authentic seeker and simultaneously confused?
  • We have seekers all around us who are like Nicodemus. How did Jesus respond to Nicodemus? What can we learn from Jesus’ response?
  1. Think for a moment about the people God has placed around your life. Have you “written them off” as being unreachable, uninterested? Why?
  2. Do you need to ask God to open your eyes to what might really be happening in their lives?   What can you do today to make sure you seek the seeker?
  • The Idea of being born again was confusing to Nicodemus. Jesus is not vague, or trying to be difficult…he doesn’t play “hide and seek” with people. In fact Jesus is using a very common analogy, one that is in fact, universal in its experience. Take some time and think about what it means to be born again… How would you explain being “born again” to some one who was not a believer?
  • To be born again is something that can’t just simply be reasoned out by a person – it must be revealed by God. This can be difficult for some people to grasp.
  1. How would you explain this to someone?
  2. Why is the idea of revelation vs. reason an affront to some people?
  • Nicodemus took part in one the greatest conversations any person has every had on planet earth…Jesus spoke what are arguably the most famous words ever spoken:

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Then he went on… “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

  1. What is the truth that Jesus is telling us in these verses?
  2. What does “believe” mean and how is it different from merely acknowledging the existence of Jesus? Do you believe the Gospel is true? Do you believe Jesus is the Savior of the world?
  • Many people who are close to the Kingdom on the “inside” look far away from it on the “outside.” Think for a moment about the people God has placed around your life.
  1. Who have you “written off” as being unreachable, uninterested?
  2. Do you need to ask God to open your eyes to what might really be happening in their lives? Seek the seeker; pray for eyes to see them as they are.

 

[1] Richards, L. O. (1991). The Bible reader’s companion (electronic ed., p. 680). Wheaton: Victor Books.

[2] White, J. E. (1998). John. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (pp. 468–469). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 282). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Richards, L. O. (1991). The Bible reader’s companion (electronic ed., p. 680). Wheaton: Victor Books.

[5] NLT Study Bible (Kindle Locations 199989-199991). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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