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Lesson 4: Grace is All-Inclusive *

Introduction: John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. It is an offer of eternal life to "whoever" believes in Jesus. This week our study of John continues with the stories of two people who crossed Jesus' path. Proving the truth of "whoever," one who comes to Jesus is a rich, exalted Pharisee named Nicodemus. The other who comes to Jesus is poor, despised Samaritan woman. Let's jump into our study and find out how Jesus approaches these two!

  1. The Nicodemus Visit

    1. Read John 3:1. What does this tell you about the social status of Nicodemus? (He was a prominent fellow. A religious and political leader.)

    2. Read John 3:2. Nicodemus says "nice things" about Jesus, but does not reveal why he wants to meet. Why do you think Nicodemus wanted to have a private meeting with Jesus?

      1. Read John 2:23. Then consider our discussion last week about Jesus driving out the thieving "businessmen" from the temple. Add these two facts and then put yourself in the place of Nicodemus. Does this give you a different view about why Nicodemus would have been interested in talking to Jesus? (John 3:2 confirms that Nicodemus was aware of the miracles spoken of in John 2:23. Just like every other sincere Jew, Nicodemus was also looking for the Messiah. I recall discovering a clue in Josephus' writings that the House of Nicodemus was one of extraordinary wealth. Since Nicodemus did not need money, perhaps he was also offended by the money-grubbing crooks in the temple and he privately cheered Jesus.)

      2. Nicodemus came at night to see Jesus. What does that suggest to you? (He wanted to know more about Jesus. It would be smart for Nicodemus to avoid being publicly associated with this "trouble-maker/possible-Messiah" until he could learn more. Of course, considering the crowds around Jesus, coming at night allowed him to be able to speak privately with Jesus. It just made good sense all the way around.)

      3. Should Jesus have been insulted or complimented by Nicodemus opening line ( John 3:2)? (This is a "damned by faint praise" problem. Nicodemus meant it as a compliment. But, it is a "compliment" for a prophet, not the Messiah.)

    3. Read John 3:3. Wait a minute! This verse starts out, "In reply Jesus declared." How is this statement a reply to Nicodemus' statement Jesus was from God?

      1. Step back from this just a moment. What reasons did you decide Nicodemus came to see Jesus? Did he show up to tell Jesus "we know you are a teacher from God?" (No. I doubt that handing out compliments to people he did not know was very high on Nicodemus' list of priorities. Nicodemus wanted to find out if Jesus was the Messiah. If Jesus was merely a prophet, Nicodemus was still not wasting his time.)

      2. Now, let me ask again, is Jesus' statement in verse 3 a "reply?" (Yes. Jesus is "cutting to the chase." He knows Nicodemus is there to find out more about the kingdom of God. Jesus goes straight to the point by saying "You are not part of the Kingdom of God unless you are "born again." No need for us to be discussing the finer points of the Kingdom if you are not part of it." See, E.G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 171.)

    1. Let's continue and add verse 4 to John 3:3. Put yourself in Nicodemus' place again. Would you be insulted by Jesus' reply? (Irritated, if not insulted. Certainly, the conversation is not going the right way. You are a very important person. Jesus should be delighted to have a conference with you. Instead, Jesus seems to be questioning your salvation.)

      1. Do you think Nicodemus is serious in his question? (It is so obvious that a person could not literally be born again. I think Nicodemus is being defensive. According to several commentaries, Nicodemus would have understood the need for a "new birth" for Gentiles who wanted to be converted to Judaism, but it would not make any sense for Jews. The suggestion would be particularly inappropriate for an important person like him.)

    2. Read John 3:5. Jesus now makes plain what He means by being "born again." What is it? (To be "born of water and the Spirit.")

      1. Do you think Nicodemus understood what Jesus was saying? (Read John 4:1-2. Since Nicodemus had been keeping up with Jesus' miracles, he surely kept up with the reports of Jesus' conversions. My bet is that Nicodemus knew that being "born of water" meant baptism.)

    3. Read John 3:6. Would Nicodemus want to be baptized? (No. This would seem to be a huge admission he was unworthy. He was a religious leader, not part of the rabble. His proud heart would resist this. This is why "flesh gives birth to flesh." Human hearts naturally resist the gospel.)

    4. Those of you who have been following the GoBible lessons know that I love to look at the logic of the Bible. I ask you to put yourself in the story, consider what is being said and analyze it in terms of human nature and logic. Will that approach convert the heart? (All the logic in the world and all the insight into human behavior, will simply not convert the heart. It is all "flesh." The essential ingredient is the Holy Spirit.)

      1. Why not ask the Holy Spirit, right now, to come into your heart so that you view God's word not simply with your brain, but also with His Spirit?

    5. Read John 3:7. What does this tell us about the way Nicodemus was looking at the moment? (He must have looked shocked, or Jesus would not have commented on his surprise.)

    6. Read John 3:8. Is the Holy Spirit logical? (In God's great Creation we see order. Therefore, I'm reluctant to say that part of the Godhead is not logical. However, this text at least says the Holy Spirit is not predictable by humans. The Holy Spirit does what it wants, humans can sense the Spirit's presence, but they cannot tell if the Spirit is coming or going.)

      1. Will a particular style of worship encourage the Spirit to fall on people? (I wish I could say, "yes." I have definite views on worship. Services that are dry, boring and devoid of praise irritate me. However, the plain teaching of this verse is that being "born of the Spirit" cannot be tied to a certain type of worship because humans cannot predict the Spirit.)

    7. Read John 3:9-10. Can you sympathize with Nicodemus? He wants to know why logic and obedience are insufficient!

      1. Israel's teacher did not understand this idea that being "born again" involves baptism and regeneration(rebirth)by the Holy Spirit. Do you understand this? (Simply knowing the Bible and following the rules is not enough. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us to repentance. Forgiveness comes from the unmerited grace of God. We cannot earn these things. Pride is a barrier to accepting these gifts.)

    8. Read John 3:14-16. Why would Jesus compare Himself to a snake - the first symbol of evil (see Genesis 3)? Except for the "lifting up" analogy to the cross, doesn't this comparison seem all wrong? (Just like the people needed to look at the serpent, so we need to face our sins. In Luke 13:3 Jesus tells us that unless we repent we will perish. If you consider the context of Luke 13:3 you will find that Jesus says "don't consider others suffered, instead of you, because they were more sinful." We all must repent. We all must come face to face with our sins and acknowledge them - even valued, honored religious leaders like Nicodmus.)

  1. The Visit at the Well

    1. Read John 4:4-6. Let me give you a little background here. The most direct way for Jesus to go back to Galilee is to travel through Samaria. He has been doing that, it is noon and the disciples have gone off to buy food (John 4:8). Jesus is tired. He sits down at a historic well to rest.

      1. What kind of relationship did the Samaritans have with the Jews? (It was pretty bad. The Jews thought the Samaritans were inferior and the Samaritans had the kind of reaction you would expect.)

    1. Read John 4:7&9. What kind of an attitude do you sense in this specific Samaritan woman?

      1. Is she justified in her attitude? (It is about what I would expect.)

    2. Read John 4:10-12. What kind of an attitude do we see now with this woman? (It is not getting any better. She is getting annoyed with this "uppity" Jew.)

      1. How would you compare her attitude towards Jesus with the attitude of Nicodemus when he said "How can a man be born [again] when he is old?" ( John 3:3) (I think they sound very similar. They both seem a little irritated and they are uncertain what Jesus is telling them.)

    3. Let's skip down and read John 4:19. Who does this sound like? (Again, this is very much what Nicodemus said. It reminds me of an old movie I saw where people keep saying to the action hero "I thought you'd be taller." Jesus is the Messiah and people keep calling Him a mere prophet.)

    4. Read John 4:25-26. What truth is Jesus sharing with this Samaritan woman?

      1. Is this the same truth Jesus shared with Nicodemus?

    5. Do you remember that we started our study of John by saying that he wanted to "fill in the gaps" of the other gospels. By putting the story of the discussion with Nicodemus back to back with the story of the discussion with the Samaritan woman, what lesson do you think John is trying to teach us? (John takes us from the highest, richest, smartest, most scholarly and powerful segment of Jewish society to the poorest, least scholarly, least powerful segment of Samaritan society. Jesus makes the same approach to each. He truly is blind to class, race and intelligence. He desires all to have eternal life.

    6. Friend, how about you? You are not "too" anything to be beyond the love and care of Jesus. He calls you to acknowledge Him today, not as a prophet, but as your Messiah. Face your sins, repent, and turn to Him for life eternal.

  1. Next week: The Struggle to Be Real.
* Copr. 2004, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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