Jesus in John 3: Two Kinds of Believing

But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through His name.

John 20:31

There are two conversations taking place in John chapter 3: one between Jesus and Nicodemus, and another between John the Baptist and some of his disciples. Many sermons have been preached on this passage, but I am going to attempt to cover only the topic of Jesus’ deity, and do so in one relatively short blog post. I will merely be scratching the surface of the truths found here, but hopefully this little scratch will open the way for clarity for you who are in need of it.

1-10 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 You are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that You do, except God be with him.” Jesus answered and said unto him, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said 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 you, 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 you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell where it comes from, and where it goes: so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said unto him, “Are you a master of Israel, and you know not these things?

Chapter and verse divisions did not come until long after these books were written, and were added to help us navigate through the Scriptures. Therefore, let us step back just a little bit to see the context of this night-time encounter with Jesus and Nicodemus.

Jesus had performed many miracles, and many people believed on Him (2:23-25), but He did not commit Himself to them because He knew their hearts. He knew that they believed He had come from the Father, because He was able to perform miracles, but they did not yet have the kind of faith that saves their soul from sin. They had not yet accepted Christ as God.

Nicodemus, no doubt, had been in that crowd, and had witnessed the miracles. He too believed that Jesus had come from God (v. 2), but his faith only went that far. Jesus may well have acknowledged the remark Nicodemus made to Him, but that is not recorded here. What is recorded is evidence that Jesus saw past what Nicodemus said aloud to read his thoughts, the words he had not spoken. Jesus knew that Nicodemus wanted to know how he could be sure that he was on his way to heaven. He was a religious man, and a teacher of religion. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin (similar to our Supreme Court). In other words, Nicodemus was well respected and had earned a place of prominence in the Jewish community. But with all his training and experience, with all his keeping of the Law and the traditions of men, he felt an emptiness inside, and he believed that Jesus held to key to filling that void. He was right, but he was not yet ready to receive the truth. Jesus, nevertheless, gave him the truth, planting the seed in his heart that would later germinate into saving faith.

11-21 “Verily, verily, I say unto you: We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and you receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man has ascended up to heaven, but He who came down from heaven, even the Son of man who 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 believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes 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 who believes on Him is not condemned: but he who believes not is condemned already, because he has 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 everyone who does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he who does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”

Jesus foreshadowed His own death, comparing it to when Moses raised the serpent of brass upon the pole for all to see. Back then, all they had to do to be healed from the snakebite was to look upon the serpent of brass: “Look and live.” Even so, the only thing necessary to be delivered from the power of sin is to look to Jesus and His redemptive work on the cross. There is no law we can keep, no deed we can perform, that will make us good enough in the sight of God. We must come to God through faith in His Son.

22-24 After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judea; and there He tarried with them, and baptized. 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.

I never fully understood the purpose of baptism in the Gospels until I began to study for this article. In the epistles (letters to the churches and certain individuals) we are commanded to be baptized after salvation as a symbol of our new association with Christ our Savior. It points back to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (which is why it needs to be baptism by immersion). It does not save anyone, it only shows the world that you identify with Christ.

The baptism of John the Baptist and Jesus was different, however. This baptism represented Old Testament teaching and pictured a person’s desire to have their sins washed away by the redeeming work of the Messiah. They wanted Him to come, and they wanted to be clean—purified—when they greeted Him. Again, this baptism cleansed no one; it merely showed a picture of their desire for cleansing, identifying with the Messiah and pointing toward His coming.

25-26 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 who was with you beyond Jordan, to whom you bore witness, behold, the same baptizes, and all men come to Him.”

Remember from chapter 1 that John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ. His sole purpose in life was to announce the coming of the Messiah and prepare the way for people to accept Him. And this is exactly what he did. He had a prime location for baptism, and he had been ministering there a while. Then Jesus began to grow in popularity in that area, and He too assumed the role of baptizing believers in His name. (Granted, Jesus Himself never baptized anyone, but His disciples baptized them in His name.) This was all a part of God’s perfect plan. John understood it and quietly moved on to another location. He was not in competition with Jesus. In fact, he knew that his ministry was coming to an end, for the Messiah whom he had been called to announce was here. Jesus’ ministry of baptism helped to transition people from following John to following Christ.

But John had some extremely loyal followers who were jealous for him when Jesus came on the scene. In fact, they were so jealous that they couldn’t even speak His name. They simply referred to Him as “that man of whom you spoke.” But John set them straight, as we shall see as we read further.

27-35 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but that I am sent before Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all: he who is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth: He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no man receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set to his seal that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for God gives not the Spirit by measure unto Him. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.”

John affirmed once again that Jesus is the Messiah, God in the flesh, come directly from heaven. Jesus came from above, and He is above all. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” What a humble statement! John is already beginning to step back and let Jesus take the spotlight, for he knows that this was the plan of God from the beginning.

36 “He who believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he who believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.”

In conclusion, John affirms that the only way to have eternal life in the presence of God is through faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Where does your faith stand? Do you believe in Jesus the way Nicodemus and many others did, that He was a good man, but nevertheless just a man? Or do you believe the way John the Baptist did, that He is God made flesh to identify with us and pay the penalty of our sin? The devils also believe and tremble (James 2:19), but the devils have no place in heaven. Your faith has to extend beyond His goodness to His God-ness. You must believe that Jesus is God. To believe that He was sent by God is not good enough. He is God, and He became a man without losing any of His deity. He did this so that He could be worthy to open to us the way to eternal life.

This week’s reading

John 4

NOTE: I use the term “week” rather loosely here. Due to my schedule, I’ve come to find out that I cannot write every week. But I’ll write as often as I can, for this message is important. Please comment below with your own thoughts on this subject. I would love to know where you stand in your relationship with Christ, and if what I have written has helped you in any way. Until next time, may God richly bless you!

This week’s memory verse

Jesus said unto her, “I that speak unto you am He.”

John 4:26

Photo taken at Princess Beach in Destin, Florida, 2019

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