with Alan Bailey
John 2:12-25; 3:1-6
Welcome to this Bible Study. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.
It's a wonderful thing to be able to read what a first-hand witness saw and heard while keeping in the company of Jesus. No doubt the first miracle would have amazed John and his friends, but more surprises were to follow. Things no-one could have predicted. We take up the story in the middle of the second chapter.
After this He went down to Capernaum with His mother and brothers and His disciples. Here they stayed for a few days.
The town of Capernaum was not very far from Cana where He had been for the wedding. Why His mother and brothers were staying with Him we don't know. Other Gospels give us the idea that they were worried about Jesus, knowing that He was so very different. (Note that the Bible clearly shows that there were siblings in the family of Mary and Joseph. However, Jesus was not the son of Joseph. Jesus was the Son of God.)
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple court He found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at the table exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money- changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves, He said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"
We are sometimes given the idea Jesus was always meek and mild. Here we see that He was a person of power and authority. He was indeed angry with those who had used the temple, a place of worship, as a place to make a profit. Just one man, challenging scores of other men, yet they obeyed Him and fled.
Birds and animals were being sold because people offered these as sacrifices at this time of Passover. (Passover was celebrated yearly to remember their escape from Egypt many years before.) Merchants saw this as an opportunity to make money, selling to people eager to do what was expected for the occasion. No doubt their prices were inflated and for those who needed to exchange currency, crooked men waited to take them down. All this in a place intended for prayer and worship! We should note that this was the first of two occasions that Jesus cleansed the temple. The next time was some years later in the last week of His ministry on earth.
His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."
This statement comes from Psalm 69:9. It is a prophecy (forecast) telling of the passion of the coming Messiah for the temple of God and all it stood for.
Then the Jews demanded of Him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple. And are you going to raise it in three days?" But the temple He had spoken of was His body. After He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled what He had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
It is noticeable that these Jewish leaders didn't rebuke Jesus for what He did in the temple. They knew that He was right. But how did He have such authority, they wanted to know, and would only be convinced by a miracle. His reply was surprising. The temple had been built to its current size by Herod the Great and was seen as a highly valued edifice. John gives the secret by telling of Jesus bodily resurrection. This would be the convincing sign of who Jesus was and why He had authority.
Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs He was doing and trusted in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.
Obviously, Jesus must have done a number of healings and other signs which were witnessed by people who were then persuaded that He was a genuine man of God, perhaps a prophet. But as Jesus knew their hearts, He was not convinced that they had real faith. So He did not give them any assurances about their relationship with Him. It is true to this day that people can give some spoken acknowledgement of Jesus, but when the test comes, they fade away.
Chapter 3, verses 1-2
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 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."
The group called Pharisees were a strict sect, claiming to follow the law of God with exactness. They formed quite an opposition to Jesus throughout His ministry. But not all were hypocrites. (The name Jesus gave to many later in His ministry.) Here was a genuine man who thought clearly, coming to the conclusion that Jesus had come from God. This is something any right-minded person should conclude. The title "Rabbi" means, teacher.
In reply Jesus declared," I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." "But," said Nicodemus, "how can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"*Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Jesus' reply seems blunt and hard to follow for this man. What could Jesus be meaning? Having another birth seemed bizarre and impossible. Jesus was confronting this man because he was so learned and familiar with the Scriptures. He wanted to shock him so that he would begin thinking in a way he had never thought before. It is like that for all of us who would want to know Him.
Jesus was not speaking about a physical rebirth. But He was speaking of another birth, a spiritual one. It was a miracle of new life, a change that was a new beginning. A transformation that made a person over again. Old things passing away, new things taking their place. To be born of water and the Spirit refers to God's operation of applying the water of life, the Word of God, in the power of the Spirit of God.
We will need to take this matter further in our next study.
This encounter with Nicodemus opened up a very different approach to what we may call religious life. For so many, religion is keeping rules and trying one's best. Jesus is saying this is not enough. To enter God's kingdom something more radical must take place. It is an inward change that only God can bring about. We believe Nicodemus found life in Christ as he appears later in the Gospel story.•