The Two ‘Musts’ of Salvation

 
I believe that John 3 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible with regard to the salvation of the sinner. The chapter is built around two great ‘must’ statements—both of which are essential for salvation.
 
The chapter begins with a man who wanted to speak with Jesus privately, so he comes to Him by night—the man’s name was Nicodemus. This gentleman was a ruler in Israel, which meant that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council—it also tells us that he was a Pharisee.
 
The Pharisees were ultra-conservatives and lived by the strictest possible religious rules, and even though the term ‘Pharisee’ has become synonymous with hypocrisy—not all of the Pharisees were hypocrites.
 
Many Pharisees, like Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus, were very sincere in their desire to obey God and live a life of separation from the pollution of the world—in fact the word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘to separate.’
 
John 3:2 (NKJV)
This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
 
He came to Jesus by night probably to keep his interest in Jesus a secret from the other Pharisees who hated the Lord. The fact that Nicodemus used the plural pronoun “we” in v.2 indicates that he was representing a group of Pharisees who were all open to Jesus and His message.
 
“Signs” is the word used in the NT for miracles.
 
I believe Nicodemus was saying that he and some of the other Pharisees had come to believe, based on the miracles Jesus had done, that He could be the Messiah—and that meant the kingdom was near.
 
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t even respond to the praise or flattery of Nicodemus, but simply responds with—“Most assuredly, I say to you…” (The ‘most assuredly’ is meant to emphasize the importance of what Jesus is about to teach.)
 
I. The ‘Must’ of the Sinner—v.7
 
Since the coming kingdom was on Nicodemus’s mind Jesus gets right to the point—
 
John 3:3 (NKJV)
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
 
This really took Nicodemus back—
 
John 3:4 (NKJV)
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
 
I don’t think Nicodemus was being sarcastic or flippant—I think he sincerely wanted to grasp what Jesus was talking about, but he was genuinely confused. Seeing that Nick was confused, Jesus patiently tries to explain to him that He is talking about another kind of birth.
 
John 3:5 (NKJV)
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
 
What did Jesus mean when He said, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”
 
There are those who interpret ‘born of water’ to be a reference to water baptism which they believe Jesus is saying is essential for salvation—but let’s let the passage speak for itself. Remember that verse 5 is a response by Jesus to Nicodemus’s question in v.4—and Nicodemus’s question in v.4 was in response to what Jesus said was necessary for a person to enter the kingdom of God in v.3
 
John 3:3-4 (NKJV)
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
 
You see at this point Nicodemus thinks Jesus is saying that to be a member of the kingdom of God a person needs to be born twice physically. In response to Nicodemus’s question Jesus says in v.5—
 
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
 
Now I believe that what’s in view here are the two births necessary for salvation—one physical and the other spiritual. When it comes to physical birth we know that before a child is born he or she lives in their mother’s womb in a “bag of waters” which is the amniotic fluid that surrounds and protects the baby in the uterus.
 
When the time is right the bag of waters breaks and the baby is born—this I believe is what Jesus meant when He talked about being ‘born of water’—physical birth. That interpretation is bolstered by how Jesus qualifies verse 5 with verse 6—
 
John 3:6 (NKJV)
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
 
But what does it mean to be “born of the Spirit”?
 
God’s Word tells us that being born of the Spirit means to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior at which time you escape the judgment of God upon the family of Adam (“in Adam all die”—
 
1 Corinthians 15:22
by being born into the family of God—there is no other way for a person to go to heaven.
 
Which is why Jesus emphasized this truth in our first great ‘must’ statement in verse 7—the ‘must’ of the sinner:
 
John 3:7 (NKJV)
Do not marvel that I said to you (not just Nick but all sinners), ‘You must be born again.’
 
Notice how definitively Jesus speaks in this passage about the way a person enters into God’s kingdom.
 
John 3:3 (NKJV)
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
 
No one, no matter how religious they are or how moral they might be will enter into heaven apart from believing in Jesus Christ and being born of the Spirit. However, before we could be born of the Spirit and go to heaven Jesus had to first die for our sins, which brings us to our second great must statement spoken by Jesus.
 
II. The ‘Must’ of the Savior—v.14
 
John 3:13 (NKJV)
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
 
A. “No one has ascended to heaven…”
 
No one ever ascended into heaven by his own power—or in other words by his own human goodness and hard work as the Pharisees sought to do. To ascend into heaven a person would have to be as perfect as Jesus (sinless)—for that is the only righteousness that God will receive up into heaven—the righteousness of Christ. (John 16:10)
Every religion on earth, apart from Christianity, is based on human achievement where man endeavors to make a ladder of good works by which he can climb up into heaven—but Jesus said that no one has ever been able to reach heaven that way.
 
B. “…but He who came down from heaven, the Son of Man…”
 
Since, we could not go up to where God is, He came down to where we are—He condescended to us to rescue man out of the pit we had fallen into through sin and lift us up to heaven someday. But before we could be lifted up, first Jesus had to be lifted up.
 
John 3:14 (NKJV)
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
 
Sin had to be judged and paid for before God could offer sinners forgiveness and salvation—this was illustrated in the O.T. story recorded in Numbers 21:4-9—which Jesus is alluding to in verse 14.
 
As the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness to the Promised Land, they became discouraged and impatient. They complained against the Lord and to punish them, the Lord sent fiery serpents into the camp of Israel to bite the people and many of them died.
 
When the survivors cried to the Lord in repentance, the Lord told Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it on a pole and lift it up in the center of camp. The idea was that anyone who had been bitten by one of these snakes if they looked upon the brass serpent on the pole by faith—they would be miraculously healed.
 
Jesus quoted this OT incident to illustrate how the new birth takes place.
 
Mankind has been bitten by the serpent of sin and as such is now dying from the venom that has been injected into the human race by the sin of Adam. Anyone not healed in this life will be condemned to eternal death in the life to come—i. e. ‘eternal separation from God in hell’.
 
The serpent of brass was a type or picture of Jesus, who became sin for us—brass, in the Bible, speaks of judgment. The Lord Jesus was sinless and should never have been punished, but He took our place and bore the judgment which we deserved (Isaiah 53:5-6).
 
The pole speaks of the cross of Calvary on which the Lord Jesus was lifted up.
 
It’s important to understand that those who were bitten by the fiery serpents were provided only one way from God to be healed—they had to look upon the brass serpent lifted up on that pole by faith.
 
If anyone bitten refused to look upon that brass serpent by faith (“what will that do!?”) then they died—needlessly.
 
The same is true for you and me—our sins are not automatically forgiven because Jesus was lifted upon that cross—we must look to Him by faith (i.e. ‘believe in Him and receive Him as our Lord and Savior’). Those that refuse die needlessly in their sins and spend eternity separated from God.
 
John 3:15-16 (NKJV)
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Pastor Phil