Jesus’ Encounter with Nicodemus
If you have read the gospels, you know that a lot of times Jesus spoke to the masses. Jesus had quite the following during His time ministering on earth. But we also find in the gospels a few personal encounters with individuals. We’re beginning a new three-week series looking into key conversations Jesus had with individuals. This week we’ll learn about Nicodemus, the Jewish Pharisee in John 3.
If you are a believer in Jesus, you’ve had a personal encounter with Him! Having a personal relationship with Jesus because of His work on the cross is how we are able to become children of God. Chris will take us deeper into the story where Nicodemus was seeking to understand Who Jesus was and why He was there.
As we go through these three weeks, we’ll take Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” and break down how each encounter represents these three areas of the world: Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth.
Steve Conover: Welcome to the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. And with me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. While parts of the U.S. are opening up, we're still producing this program from our homes, and we're thankful that we've been able to continue to bring you new episodes of the Friends of Israel Today during this time of uncertainty.
And it's in these times of uncertainty we want to fellowship with you through prayer. Prayer is a gift from God that unites believers all over the world. And perhaps you, today, are feeling fearful or uncertain, and we want to pray for you. When you visit our website at FOIRadio.org, there's a prayer form you can fill out. And when we receive those prayers, we'll privately pray for you. These prayers will not be mentioned on air, but our team will bring them before our loving heavenly father. Thank you to all those that have contacted us and asked for prayer. It's been a real joy to bear these burdens with you.
Chris Katulka: Now today on the program, we're going to begin a new series called Encountering Jesus, where we're going to look at individual moments throughout the gospels, where Jesus speaks to a specific person and how Jesus ministers to that person to show them the power of salvation. We're going to show the power of forgiveness, to show the power of healing. We're going to look at this over the next three weeks. And I think that this is going to be an encouragement to you, especially during this time of crisis, to see how Jesus ministered, one-on-one, to people to really show his love, compassion, and his mercy.
Steve Conover: We're so excited to have you for this. But first in the news, it's anticipated that the Israeli government will lift more economic restrictions in the coming weeks after reports that the spread of the coronavirus appeared to be slowing. Under the new guidelines, malls and markets can reopen, along with gyms and sports facilities. Restaurants will remain closed until the middle of June according to Israel's health ministry. However, the ministries of economy and finance want to see restaurants opened by the end of May.
Chris Katulka: Now, first of all, there's a lot of stuff coming out of Israel right now when it comes to the coronavirus. For instance, the Israel Institute of Biological Research has actually isolated a key coronavirus antibody that would successfully neutralize this virus. And it's been touted as something to be looking out after, because Israel has been very influential in making sure that they could find a way to defeat the coronavirus. So this is very important to see, but also, Israel was one of the first countries to take very seriously the coronavirus. Western countries were still trying to figure out the severity of the coronavirus. And so really, the reopening of Israel, as Steve was talking about, is a positive step in the right direction, and hopefully a sign of better things to come for Israel and better things to come for us.
Okay, so we are going to start a new series here, and I believe it's going to be a blessing to you. I think it's going to encourage you and show you the more intimate side of Jesus from the gospels. Oftentimes, Jesus is speaking to his disciples or to a crowd or to a group. And for this series, I wanted to focus in on the one-on-one moments of Jesus, but I also wanted to do it in an interesting way to show you Christ's intimacy with everyone.
As the Book of Acts opens, Jesus commissions to the disciples to take the good news of the gospel to the whole world. Jesus says in Acts chapter eight, verse one, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria and the farthest parts of the earth." Jesus is telling the disciples that this message is starting in Jerusalem, kind of like the center of a dartboard, and that this message of the gospel will move outward in concentric circles from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth.
And here's what's amazing about Jesus's ministry. He did this, Jesus, on a very intimate, personal level ministered in his lifetime to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the rest of the world. So over the next three weeks, we're going to look at three moments in the gospels that are very personal. We're going to look at Jesus's interaction with Nicodemus, the Jewish Pharisee from John chapter three. He represents Jerusalem and Judea. And then next week, we're going to look at the woman at the well in John chapter four, the Samaritan woman who represents Samaria. And then we're going to look at the Syrophoenician woman, a woman from Tyre and Sidon, a place that really represents the world outside of the land of Israel. In each of these, we're going to see how Jesus's intimate moment with each of these individuals reveals his unique power to save, his unique power to forgive, and his unique power to heal.
So let's turn to John chapter three, where we meet Nicodemus for the first time. The Gospel of John is really the only place where we find Nicodemus. John chapter three, verses one and two says this. "Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night." So when we talk about Nicodemus representing the center of the circle, Jerusalem, Judea, we're actually talking about a very prominent Jewish man. He was a Pharisee who was in the ruling council of the Jewish people as the text says. And that means he was a part of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the ruling class of the Jewish people, and they served as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all in one council. Of course, the Romans had ultimate authority over the land and the people, but the Jewish Sanhedrin still had a lot of power to rule and to judge the people.
Okay, so we established who Nicodemus is. This isn't just some random guy chatting with Jesus on the streets of Jerusalem. He's got some serious pull as a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. Nicodemus approaches Jesus at night the text says. Now the question is this, why does Nicodemus come at night to talk to Jesus? Was he worried? Did he fear the pressure from the rest of the Jewish leadership? Just like it says about Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea later in the gospel, they feared the Jewish leadership. Or was he looking for some alone time with Jesus to discuss some questions that he had? Or was John contrasting the darkness and the light that he likes to do throughout the gospel?
This is definitely a question that continues to be debated by scholars. I personally don't think that Nicodemus feared the backlash of meeting with Jesus since he actually seems to be the spokesperson for the Sanhedrin as he approaches Jesus in this moment. It was probably that he wanted to meet with Jesus without any interruption.
So Nicodemus greets Jesus with an honorific title. He says this, Rabbi. He says, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the miracles and signs that you do unless God is with him." Now for Nicodemus, it was just one Rabbi talking shop with another Rabbi. Do you hear what I'm saying? Nicodemus is a Rabbi. He's a religious leader. So for Nicodemus to approach Jesus. It's like these two Rabbis just talking shop with one another. That's the way Nicodemus is approaching Jesus.
So Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is definitely someone special, that he has done these miraculous signs from God. But again, for Nicodemus, these two guys are just seeing eye to eye having a chat. But see that's when Jesus says to Nicodemus, he says this, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
So he was saying to Nicodemus, "You and I, we're not the same. You must be born from above to see the kingdom of God." Jesus was saying, "You might honor me as a Rabbi, but I'm so much more, Nicodemus." Oftentimes the text says that you must be born again. It's not wrong that it says that, but the actual Greek, the context there gives more the idea of being born from above. That's the way it should be understood. You should be born of God. But see Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus. He thought Jesus was saying that you have to have rebirth again in an earthly sense. Nicodemus says to Jesus, "How can it be that a man be born when he's old? He can not enter his mother's womb and be born a second time, can he?"
It's interesting, in first century Judaism during the time of Jesus and Nicodemus, when a non-Jewish person, a Gentile would convert to Judaism, that Gentile convert to Judaism was said to become a new born child. When they left behind their old ways, their pagan ways, and embraced the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, these Gentile converts to Judaism would go through even the baptismal process that involved water. They would be baptized and identifying themselves with the Jewish community.
And this is the reason Jesus goes even one step further with Nicodemus. And he says, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person be born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of flesh is flesh. And what is born of the spirit is spirit. Don't be amazed that I said this to you. You must be born from above, Nicodemus." A person, listen, is born once through flesh. And that's a good thing. I think oftentimes when we hear Jesus talking about flesh here, we look at it as a bad thing. That's not a bad thing that a person is born in the flesh.
That's a good thing. It's the way God created it to be. But see, in order to acquire eternal life to enter into the kingdom of God, you must be born of the spirit as well. You must be born from above, as Jesus says. And the prophet Ezekiel mentions this in Ezekiel chapter 36 when he writes, "I will sprinkle," speaking of Israel, he writes, "I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will remove the hardest stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you. I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations."
See really Jesus has challenging Nicodemus and the Sanhedrin saying, "Even though you claim to be Jewish and a very religious Jewish man at that, you cannot enter the kingdom of God or acquire eternal life unless you are born from above, unless you have the Holy spirit, just as the prophet, Ezekiel talked about. Nicodemus was still having a hard time understanding what Jesus is saying to him when he said, "How can these things be?" That's how Nicodemus responds to Jesus.
And Jesus answered, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don't understand these things?" Jesus is saying of all the people in Israel to understand this concept of being born from above, to have the Holy spirit, to be regenerated in order to have a relationship with God, it should be you Nicodemus. You're the teacher of Israel. I think this moment between Nicodemus and Jesus, it really represents the whole of the Jewish people in the first century. They liked signs and miracles, this Rabbi and prophet or whatever they thought he was, was doing. They definitely associated it with God.
But Jesus was more than just a Rabbi or prophet, he was the Savior of the world. And this intimate moment with one of the key leaders of Israel shows that they still couldn't see the bigger picture. But it's from this conversation that we actually get one of our most popular New Testament verses. It's from this intimate moment with Nicodemus, Jesus explains how he is going to provide a way for us to be born from above. Don't leave my friends because after this break, we're going to see the power of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ, that all originates from this brief encounter with Nicodemus.
Steve Conover: As we've been learning about Jesus and his time here on earth, we wanted to share with you a way to walk with Jesus and to see for yourself where he journeyed. Knowing the rich background and details of the land of Israel deepens their meaning.
Chris Katulka: Charlie Dyer's book, 30 Days in the Land of Jesus, will take you through the land of Israel and give you insights into Jesus's point of reference to better appreciate the ways of our Messiah while he was here on earth.
Steve Conover: To purchase your copy of 30 Days in the Land of Jesus, visit us at foiradio.org. That's foiradio.org. We'll have the link on our homepage, or you can call our listener line at 888-343-6940, and someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's 888-343-6940.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back, everyone. We're looking at some intimate moments Jesus has with individuals throughout the gospels, and we're doing it in a fashion that follows the model Jesus leaves the disciples in Acts chapter one, to take the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the earth. Well, today we're starting in the bullseye, Jerusalem, with the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus in John chapter three. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, a very religious man who was challenged by Jesus to understand that you cannot inherit eternal life or enter into the kingdom of God without being born from above, or in a very Jewish sense, to be born of God. You're born once of the flesh, which is good. You need to be born of the flesh. When Adam and Eve were created, God said, this is good, but it's not good enough.
You must still be born of God. You must be born from above. You must have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. And this whole conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus really spearheads at John, chapter three, into this moment where Jesus wants to get us to this place where we realize we cannot earn the kingdom of God. We can not earn eternal life on our own. We can't earn our own salvation. We can't acquire eternal life or earn the kingdom of God on our own merit. You must be born from above. And Jesus takes this concept of being born from above and explains early on in the gospel of John, how one can accept the gift of eternal life. It's a gift.
Listen to what Jesus says in response to Nicodemus's confusion in John chapter three, verse 13, and on. He says this, "No one has ascended into heaven except the one who has descended from heaven, the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." See Jesus is saying that the Son of Man, that's him. Jesus is talking about himself, the Son of Man, when he uses that title. And that concept of the Son of Man actually comes from Daniel chapter seven, verses 13 and 14. "He's the one who ascends to the ancient of days and receives glory and power and dominion over everything. That Son of Man also descended from heaven to earth." That's Jesus, the incarnation of Jesus, God coming in flesh, the person of Jesus Christ, the idea of descending from heaven to earth, but he will be lifted up for all to see so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
So now we have some new information here from Jesus that's coming from this intimate moment with Nicodemus. How does one acquire eternal life? Jesus says that everyone who believes, faith in Jesus, the Messiah, is what enables you to receive the Holy Spirit, which is how you are born from above. See, Jesus goes on to say this as a result of Nicodemus approaching him. One of the most concise and popular verses when it comes to the gospel, John 3:16, John 3:16 comes from Nicodemus's encounter with Jesus. And Jesus says this, "For this is the way God loved the world. He gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life."
The one conversation in Jerusalem between a Pharisee and Jesus gave way to how one can find eternal life. As Nicodemus probably thought you have to earn God's favor to go to heaven when you die, you have to keep the law. You have to be a perfect person in order to be justified to enter into the kingdom of God. But see, Jesus challenges Nicodemus. "You can't earn eternal life, Nicodemus. It's a gift from God." It's God's grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. You must be born from above.
Steve Conover: That's wonderful, Chris. I can't help but think about how that gift, each of us, over centuries, all over the world, we've each had an individual encounter with Jesus. You have, I have all those that follow Jesus have. And that is what makes us a community, isn't it?
Chris Katulka: It's what binds us together. I always like to look at the community of believers as like a family tree. We all have a legacy that's rooted back to the origins of the gospel. Somebody shared with somebody who shared with somebody and it's this legacy. My legacy is connected to my mom sharing the gospel with me and taking me to church. And everybody has a legacy that's connected and rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gift that he's given to us. And we all share in the exact same thing. It's grace through faith. We all share that one thing, no matter what language we speak, what race we are, what our socioeconomic background is. We all share the same thing in common, grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Steve Conover: Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenage Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the holy land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his Savior, his collected writings from well over 50 years of ministry, continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: Recently, I unintentionally walked home by a different route to Mea Shearim, the most religious quarter of Jerusalem. I was shocked when I saw three young religious Jewish men gambling on the street. I asked them, "Am I dreaming? Or is it true what I see?" The three looked at me with surprise and one asked, "What do you think you are dreaming?" I answered, "Because the Bible says you cannot serve God and money." They said, "Who you are that you think you can tell us what to do? We have our heads covered, but your head is uncovered like the goyim." They were calling me a Gentile. I replied, "You think you must please God by covering your heads, but he desires your hearts to be covered with flesh and not stone." At this one said, "Tell us who you are."
"I am a Jew who is saved and believes in the living God," I said. Someone responded, "You think you must tell us how to live. We have enough teachers." I said, "But there is no one to tell you the truth about the Lord." They began to curse me, but the Lord had told us, bless those that curse you. As they were shouting, an elderly Rabbi walked by. He was ashamed of their behavior and invited me to sit with him. The Rabbi said, "Tell me who you are." I responded, "I believe in God and have been born again." "What," he exclaimed, "you cannot mean you were dead and are alive again." "Yes, I was dead in sin and now I am alive because I am born again to the spirit." He leaned close and said, "Please speak quietly. Even the walls have ears in this place." He seemed thirsty for God's Word.
He continued, "I was born in Mea Shearim. I know every stone in this place because I've never left this area. I am the seventh generation of my family to be born in Israel. And I was educated here in Jerusalem." I told him, "I am sorry that you have lived all your life in darkness. Without God man walks in darkness. You can see with your own eyes the picture before you. Now they are gambling. And after that, who knows?” “How can we stop this?” he asked. “By trusting Messiah Jesus and following him in the waters of baptism." "What?!," he exclaimed, "Never. This is what the traitors do." "To become born again and receive the Holy Spirit," I told him, "You must give your heart to the Lord. Baptism is a sign that you have received Jesus as your Savior." He did not want to care about the Holy Spirit, so I asked, "Would you like to hear what our prophets have written about the Holy spirit?"
"Yes," he replied. I gladly read Ezekiel 36, verses 25 through 27. "How do you know these things," he asked. "Because I am walking in the light," I replied. He told me, "I have lived my whole life here. Do you want me to leave this place now?" I responded, "How long will you continue in darkness? Do you want future generations to live in darkness also? Remember that Moses went to Pharaoh, even though he was afraid because the Lord promised to go with him." He was close to crying and wanted to hear more. I pleaded, "My dear friend, leave all this darkness behind you and let us walk together in the light of the Lord Jesus who died for you." Before he left I said, "Remember, no more darkness." To which he replied, "Only light." I thanked the Lord. He was with me and directed my path to that place. I pray this dear old Rabbi and the three young men will come to know the true light of the world.
Steve Conover: Thanks for being with us today. Chris, next week we continue our series “Encountering Jesus.”
Chris Katulka: We're going to be actually going one chapter forward from John chapter three to John chapter four. We're going to move from Jerusalem, Judea, as we were looking at Nicodemus, and now we're going to go to Samaria and we're going to go to the woman at the well in John chapter four to see really the power of forgiveness. I hope that you all come back and listen.
Steve Conover: Yes, join us next week. And as a reminder as we close, to purchase your own copy of 30 Days in Land with Jesus, visit us FOIRadio.org. That's FOIRadio.org. We'll have the link on our homepage, or you can call our listener line at 888-343-6940 and someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's 888-343-6940. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione. Co-written by Sarah Fern. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
30 Days in the Land with Jesus
By Charles H. Dyer
Walk with Jesus and see for yourself where He journeyed! Knowing the rich background and details of the land of Israel, deepens their meaning.
30 Days in the Land with Jesus by Israel expert Charlie Dyer will take you through the land of Israel and give you insights into Jesus’ points of reference to better appreciate the ways of our Messiah while he was here on earth.
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Apples of Gold: You Have Never Seen the Light
As Zvi was walking home, he happened to take a different route. He walked through the most religious area in Jerusalem. There he saw three young religious men gambling on the street. When he confronted them, they started heckling him. An elderly rabbi came up and asked Zvi to come with him. As Zvi and the rabbi talked, Zvi was able to share his beliefs. Like Nicodemus, the rabbi hungered for God’s Word. Listen how God used Zvi to speak the Truth of God in this rabbi’s life.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.