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LESSON 12 - CHRIST THE GREAT CONNECTOR (JOHN 2:23-3:22)

Copr. 1997, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to
the NIV unless otherwise noted. Suggested answers are found within
parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard.

INTRODUCTION: At the beginning of this quarter I promised you that
we would focus on a story of healing each week to illustrate the
point of the lesson.  This week we are going to look at an unusual
"healing:" the healing of the "religious" mind focussed on the
wrong things.  Let's jump in!

I. THE MIND IN NEED OF HEALING.

     A. Turn with me to John 2:23-25. Read.  What do you think
     Jesus is doing in v.23? (Probably healing.)

          1. What was the result of Jesus performing these signs?
          ("Many ... believed.")

     B. Is there a problem with the belief of these people?  What
     does v.24 mean when it says "Jesus would not trust Himself to
     them?"

          1. The Greek word translated "believed" in v.23 is
          "pisteuo."  The Greek word translated "entrust" in v.24
          is "pisteuo."  So look at this: the people "believed" in
          Jesus, but He did not "believe" in them!

          2. Let's write these key phrases on the blackboard: "many
          ... believed in His name;"  "Not entrust Himself to
          them;" and, "He knew what was in a man."

               a. What is the Bible trying to tell us in these
               verses?
 
               b. What is the problem here?

               c. Why doesn't Jesus trust these people?

               d. How can they believe in Jesus, but He not believe
               in them? (Something was wrong with their belief.
               Their minds needed to be "healed."  The problem was
               (and is) that we are not trustworthy because we
               have a hard time telling what is in us.  We may
               have a superficial religious belief and not realize
               it.)

     C. Verse 25 hands us another difficult statement. When v. 25
     says that Jesus did not need "man's testimony about man," what
     "man" are we talking about? (Apparently the people thought
     that Jesus was a remarkable "man."  Our lesson title says that
     Jesus is the "Great Connector."  Apparently these people did
     not "connect" Jesus with being God or with His Father.)

     D. So two major problems with these people are revealed in
     these three verses: first, that they did not know their own
     hearts (minds) very well; and, second, they did not know truly
     understand the nature of Jesus.

     E. Is it fair to just let us hang here?  To tell us what the
     problem is with this kind of superficial faith without telling
     us how to "heal" it?  To just end the chapter here?

          1. Or is it possible that our next story has something to
          do with an answer to this problem?

II. NICODEMUS

     A. Read John 3:1-2. Put yourself in Nicodemus' place. Why
     would you go see Jesus?  What is he looking for?  What is he
     hoping for? (At a minimum he is curious.  At a maximum I would
     bet he wonders if this is the Messiah.)

          1. Perhaps the first step to putting ourselves in
          Nicodemus' place is to understand his background and what
          kind of man he was.  What do you know about him? (Years
          ago I did some research on Nicodemus and found that the
          "House of Nicodemus" was one of the premier families of
          the day.  They were rich traders.  Whether this Nicodemus
          was from that family is not certain, but I imagine
          probable because John 19:39 reports that Nicodemus
          supplied 75 pounds of an embalming compound for Jesus.
          This would have been expensive.  According to Barclay's,
          The Gospel of John, (p.120) only a wealthy man could have
          afforded it.)
 
          2. What does it mean that Nicodemus was a member of the
          Ruling Council? (F.F. Bruce in his NIV Commentary
          (p.1238) suggests that Nicodemus was a member of the
          Sanhedrin which was the legislative and judicial body for
          the Jews.)

          3. What does it mean to be a Pharisee? (A Pharisee
          was a religious leader who believed the Bible. I read
          several commentaries and they were all generally
          favorable about the Pharisees in the sense that they took
          their obligations to God seriously.  Barclay's commentary
          (cited above) says (p.120) "they were the best people in
          the whole country.")

     B. With this background about a rich and prominent family, and
     what we are told in v.1, tell me what you think is going
     through Nicodemus' mind as he prepares to meet with Jesus? (He
     probably thought he was meeting an equal or an inferior.  He
     was "checking out" Jesus, so he clearly thought he was an
     evaluator, even if Jesus did turn out to be someone important.)

          1. Why did Nicodemus come at night to see Jesus?  What
          does this tell us about the attitude of Nicodemus? (It
          appears he did not want to be seen with Jesus.)

          2. I see another "clue" about the attitude of Nicodemus
          in v.2 were he says, "we know you are a teacher..."  Who
          is this "we" he is talking about? (He thinks he is
          speaking for the religious leaders; perhaps the Pharisees
          or the Sanhedrin!  If that is true he must have (at
          least) viewed himself as a leader of the Pharisees. He
          was speaking for other religious leaders.)

          3. What does the fact that Nicodemus even came to see
          Jesus tell us about Nicodemus? (That he was an
          intellectual adventurer: he was inquisitive and wanted to
          learn. His spirit of adventure was limited, though,
          because he came at night.)

     C. Consider Nicodemus' opening statement to Jesus in v.2. Do
     you find it to be complimentary or insulting?

          1. Do you think that Nicodemus thought it was a
          compliment? (Yes. From our discussion of his background,
          I have no doubt he thought it was a compliment. He was
          trying to start out on the "right foot" with Jesus.)

          2. From Jesus' point of view was this a compliment? (No.
          Nicodemus does not admit Jesus is the Messiah, he simply
          admits that He is a teacher. Further, this compliment
          assumes that Nicodemus is the superior, the authority! He
          is "granting" that Jesus came from God as if he were the
          one to judge.)

     D. Is Nicodemus like the people we looked at in John 2:23-25?
     (He seems exactly like them. He thought Jesus was a miracle
     working man.  His mind needed to be "healed" because he did
     not see Jesus as the "Great Connector." Nicodemus puts a face
     on the people in John 2:23-25.)

III. THE GREAT CONNECTOR

     A. Read John 3:3. The Bible says, "In reply...." How can this
     statement about being born again be in reply to what Nicodemus
     just said about Jesus' great works?

          1. Had Nicodemus said anything about "seeing" the kingdom
          of God? (Verse 2 is just Nicodemus way of trying to
          "warm" Jesus up by complimenting Him. By putting the best
          "spin" on what he knows about Jesus. When you first see
          someone that you do not know you talk about the weather
          and (if you are an extrovert) throw in a few
          compliments.)

          2. So Nicodemus is just tossing around and few
          superficial comments and Jesus drills him with a very
          serious and difficult statement. Does this have anything
          to do with what we just discussed in John 2:25 that Jesus
          knows what is "in a man?" (Jesus knows that Nicodemus did
          not come to compliment Him, he came for some deeper
          reason, he has a deeper need.)

          3. What were the Pharisees really looking for?  What was
          the Jews' highest priority? What did we discuss that
          Nicodemus was looking for at the very highest level of
          his imagination? (To have the Messiah come who would
          throw off the Roman yoke. See Nelson's Bible Dictionary
          under "Messiah" for more detail.)

          4. Do we agree that Nicodemus came (at least in part) to
          find out if Jesus was the Messiah? (John 7:31-32 reports
          that the "crowd" thought that Jesus could be the Christ
          and the Pharisees heard these rumors.)

          5. When Jesus referred to "see[ing] the kingdom of God,"
          in v. 3, what did He mean?

               a. What do you think Nicodemus thought He meant? (At
               this point Jesus and Nicodemus were talking at two
               different levels. Nicodemus was talking at a
               physical/external/superficial level about a Messiah
               who would overthrow the Romans and usher in the
               "kingdom of God."  Jesus was talking at an
               internal/spiritual level about knowing God. Getting
               beyond that superficial belief that we discussed
               the people had in John 2: 23-25.)

          6. In that context, why did Jesus say that Nicodemus
          would see the kingdom of God only if he were "born
          again?" (His mind need to be "healed.")

               a. Do you think Nicodemus began to see that they
               were talking about two different things?

               b. If they were talking about two completely
               different things, how is Jesus the "Great
               Connector" (to quote the lesson title)?

               c. If Jesus and Nicodemus are talking to each other
               but not understanding each other how is "the
               connection" made? (Jesus wanted to shock Nicodemus
               into paying attention. He wanted to change
               Nicodemus' point of view, heal his thinking.
               Nicodemus was talking about the great things that
               Jesus had done which was exactly what the Jews were
               looking for in a Messiah: a powerful miracle
               worker/warrior leader.  Jesus wanted to show
               Nicodemus that he was on the wrong track to focus
               on the miracles and an earthly kingdom.)

     B. Read John 3:4. Did Jesus have Nicodemus full attention?
     Was the "superior" Nicodemus mentally stuttering here? (Yes.
     He is completely confounded.)

     C. Let's read Jesus' explanation: John 3:5-8. What does Jesus
     mean when He says we must be born of "water and the spirit?"

          1. What is meant by "flesh gives birth to flesh ...
          Spirit gives birth to spirit?" (Write "water" on the left
          and "Spirit" on the right side of the blackboard. Under
          water write "flesh" and under Spirit write "spirit.")

          (What Jesus means here is the subject of much
          discussion and debate. Let me suggest to you that when
          Jesus refers to "water" He primarily means a physical
          birth (which seems to answer Nicodemus' question about
          going into the womb a second time).  So Jesus is setting
          up this parallel dichotomy. One the one side we have the
          physical side of this and on the other side we have the
          spiritual side of this.)

     D. Is the physical side of this representative of what
     Nicodemus was looking for when he came to see Jesus?  Is Jesus
     trying to tell Nicodemus he is looking at this from the wrong
     angle?  That the kingdom of God is spiritual and not physical?

          1. Would Nicodemus have any inkling that he needed help
          on the spiritual side of things? (I doubt it. Being a
          leader of the Pharisees, he was likely to think that his
          spiritual life was certainly in order.)

     E. If the kingdom of God is spiritual and not physical, how is
     Jesus the "great connector?" (He is the "physical" link for a
     spiritual issue.  His physical death gave us spiritual life.)

     F. Let's move down a few verses. Read vv. 13-15.  Do you
     remember the story in Numbers 21:9? Tell me about it.

     G. Did the people in Numbers 21:9 have a physical problem?
     (They had both. They started out complaining about God. This
     was a serious spiritual problem.  A mental attitude that
     needed to be "healed."  When the snakes bit them the problem
     also became a physical problem.)

     H. Did the people of Numbers 21:9 have a physical or spiritual
     solution? (They had a physical healing. But it came only from
     looking at the snake, and that should have caused a spiritual
     healing.  If you look carefully at the Numbers 12 story, the
     people's problem was that after all God had done for them they
     still did not trust Him.  God now taught them that the mere
     look at the snake (as He had commanded) could heal them.)

     I. How is Jesus like the snake? (Jesus was lifted up on the
     cross as the snake was lifted up on the pole. Both "liftings"
     gave life to the people who looked and believed. Jesus death
     shows more than anything that we can "trust" Jesus.)

     J. The question is, can He trust us? Consider again the
     problem of the people who Jesus did not trust in John 3:23-24.
     Was Nicodemus like them? (Yes. He began by looking for the
     miracles. The Messiah that would triumph in power. As a
     personally powerful leader Nicodemus could trust power.)

          1. Was Nicodemus being "born again" by this conversation
          with Jesus? (Yes. Jesus was hammering home just a hard as
          possible that He was to save His people by giving Himself
          up.  It was a spiritual victory, not a military victory.
          He won by giving up Himself just as surely as the people
          were saved by looking at the snake.)

          2. Is the same true for us?  Do our minds need to be
          healed if we depend in any way on the
          superficial/physical/material side of things?

          3. How can we be healed? (To be "born again," to put
          aside and give up our trust in our own religious "status"
          or social "status," and trust only in Christ being
          "lifted up" to save us.)
 
     K. How about you friend? Do you need to be born again?  Are
     you a religious leader like Nicodemus who is focussed on the
     physical side of life?  Do you trust in your great knowledge
     of religion or your "status" in the church?  Do you truly
     trust God whatever happens and believe that "just a look" will
     save you?

          1. Read in closing John 3:14-17.

IV. NEXT WEEK: ETERNAL RESTORATION. Study!