John Message #7 “Cleansing of the Temple and Introduction to Nicodemus” by Ed Miller, Jan. 17, 2024

Listen to the audio above while following along in the transcript below which is also available for download at

As we gather to look into God’s word, I want to remind my heart and yours that we need the Holy Spirit to turn our eyes to the Lord Jesus.  It’s indispensable; every time we study the Bible, we need to know that only God can reveal God.  I have a couple of Bible verses I’d like to share.  Psalm 199:133, “Establish my footsteps in Your word.”  I want to focus on the “footsteps”, because the Lord longs to establish our walk, not our head; He’s not looking that we get a good theology; He wants us to have behavior, to walk in union with Him.  Ephesians 5:9&10, “The fruit of light consists in goodness, righteousness and truth, showing what’s pleasing to the Lord.”  We’re going to trust the Lord to show us Christ, and that it will effect our walk.  Maybe it will adjust our theology but God’s concern is to establish our feet.  Let’s pray together.

Father, thank You again for gathering Your people, and we just pray in this session that we might behold the Lord in a fresh way.  We know we’ve come to seek You, and we know You have a heart that seeks us.  We ask that You would meet with us.  You know our hearts, and you know where we are; meet us where we are, and take us where You’d have us.  We thank You in the name of our Lord Jesus, that You’re going to meet us.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Before I review, I just want to welcome you back and say that I hope you had a good Christmas, and I hope you have an excitement for the possibilities of living another year in union with our Lord Jesus, the possibilities of living in union with Him are just unlimited.  Not everybody, and I know some here, as well, and myself, the New Year started off a little rough.  Some of us were laid aside with illness.  I know I’m still a little weak.  It’s good that we’re back and we’re here where everything is redemptive, and the Lord wants to meet us.

When we left off before the Christmas break which was quite a while ago, we were looking at John 2, the wedding at Cana.  Let me review the entire message of the book, since it’s been a while, and then we’ll get into where we left off.  John is one of those authors that tells us exactly why he wrote.  We don’t have to guess when we come to the Gospel of John.  John 20:31, “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have Life in His name.”  If you break that down, he says, “I’ve given you this book, the Gospel of John, for three reasons.  I want you to know who the Lord is, and knowing who He is, I want you to trust, that you might believe, and believing, that you might enjoy Him.  I want you to have life in His name.”  That’s what we’re looking at as we go through the gospel.  How does this story help me know Him?  How does it help me trust Him?  How does it lead me into an enjoyment of Him?  We’ll look at every story in terms of that wonderful theme.

John 1 begins in verse 1, “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Then in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh.”  The Word is a title for Jesus.  And then in John 1:18, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  So, it begins with God’s communication, Christ the Word, and the Word became flesh, and the Word explains God.  Chapter one ends with the revelation of our Lord Jesus as the ladder, God above, longing to bless, and man at the bottom needing a blessing, and the only connection between the God who wants to bless and we who need the blessing is the ladder.  John 1:51 says, “Truly, I say to you, you’ll see the heavens open, and angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.”  Jesus is the ladder; He’s the connected link.  So, that’s chapter one, and we looked at it, God’s desire to communicate, to reach us, to speak.  He gives the Word, and the Word becomes flesh, and the Word explains God, and the Word is the ladder, the connecting link, and God’s great desire to make Himself known.

When we left off, we were looking at John 2:1&2, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  The mother of Jesus was there, and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  If you missed that discussion about the wedding at Cana, you can get that CD or it’s online.  I’m not quite finished with that first story, yet.  When we closed last time, I told you that there was a valuable lesson that Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, pondered in her heart for eighteen years, and because she finally learned that lesson at the wedding at Cana, and that’s why I don’t want to leave that story without discussing or at least calling attention to that great lesson that Mary learned at the wedding at Cana.

Let me give a little background, and we’ll pick up here.  This is the new material.  It all began when Jesus was twelve years old.  It’s recorded in Luke 2:41-51, and I’ll just read a passage to set it up, and then remind you of the story, “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of Passover, and when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast.” 

Let me remind your minds about the facts of the story.  When it got time to leave, about a week later, His mother and step-father assumed that their twelve year old son was in the caravan, that He was with them.  They made that assumption; but He wasn’t.  The twelve year old Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without permission from His parents, and without letting them know.  They just assumed that He was coming back with them.  The Bible says that they went about a day’s journey before they discovered that He wasn’t there, and they noticed He was missing.  They checked the whole caravan, and they’re still supposing He’s with friends or maybe neighbors or relatives, or maybe He’s with cousin John and Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zacharias, and they looked all through the caravan and they couldn’t find Him.  When they discovered that He was missing, the Bible says that they panicked, and they turned around and went back to look for Him. 

It was still crowded with many pilgrims, because at Passover the population of Jerusalem swelled to between one and two million people, according to Josephus, the historian.  The Bible says that they searched frantically for three days.  Finally, they found Him, Luke 2:46, “After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.”  And as you would expect, they were both happy and upset; happy because they found their twelve year old son safe and sound, and upset because they were left in the dark.  He didn’t inform them that He was going to linger behind, and they were worried.  They felt that Jesus was wrong by not letting them know, because they had a relationship with Him, and depending upon that relationship, they had certain expectations for their son.  Luke 2:48, “When they saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us this way?  Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.’”  They felt, and probably there’s a good reason, that Jesus didn’t honor the relationship that they had.  He was the child, and they were the parents, and He failed to submit to them, or at least let them know.  Based on that relationship, they expected a certain behavior, as Lillian and I did when our children were twelve years, and as you probably did as parents when your kids were twelve years old.

The lesson I’m calling attention to that took Mary eighteen years to finally understand, is found in the answer that twelve year old Jesus gave when He was in the temple.  Luke 2:49, “He said to them, ‘Why is it that you were looking for Me?  Did you not know I had to be in My Father’s house?’”  The next verse tells us that they did not understand the statement which He made to them.  They didn’t get it; they didn’t understand that statement, and it’s going to take Mary eighteen years before she finally understands it, and she’s going to get that gestalt, that light come on at the wedding of Cana.

Although they didn’t understand, we read in verse 51, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”  She didn’t get it, but she treasured it.  Another translation says, “She pondered it.”  Wuest, in his Expanded Translation, says, “His mother carefully guarded these words in her heart, pondering over them, and comparing them one with another.”  I want you to picture Mary with Jesus at twelve years old, “Did you not know I had to be in My Father’s house?”  She doesn’t get that; she doesn’t understand.  She weighed those words for eighteen years, turning them over in her heart, turning them over in her mind, brooding, pondering, wondering, treasuring.  She knew it was precious but she didn’t get it.  The statement again from verse 49, “Why is it that you were looking for Me?  Did you not know I had to be in My Father’s house?”  King James Version says, “Did you not know I had to be about My Father’s business?”  In the American Standard you’ll notice that the word “house” is in italics.  When you’re reading the Bible, in many translations when it’s in italics, it means it’s not in the original language, it’s not in the Greek.  But when they put it in italics, it’s to help you get the idea of what was being said. 

Different translations are interesting.  One says, “Did you not know I’m must be about My Father’s business?”  Another says, “I must be in My Father’s house.”  Another says, “I must be about My Father’s concerns.”  Another says, “I must be about my Father’s affairs.”  But there’s no noun in the Greek.  In the original language He said, “Did you not know that I’m must be about My Father’s.”  My Father’s what?  The answer is, My Father’s everything; My Father’s business, My Father’s house, My Father’s purpose, My Father’s pleasure, My Father’s will, My Father’s concerns, My Father’s interests, My Father’s people, My Father’s temple.  “Don’t you know that I have a relationship with you, but I also have a relationship with My heavenly Father God, and My relationship with My heavenly Father God is higher than My relationship with You?”  She didn’t get that at that time, but she pondered it in her heart. 

Why did it take eighteen years for that to finally click and finally let her understand?  I think the answer is in Luke 2:51, “And He went down with them and came to Nazareth,” this little expression, “and He continued in subjection to them, and His mother treasured these things in her heart.” I want you to notice that expression, “He continued in subjection,” and that was the reason for the confusion.  Mary and Joseph, as I said, had expectations for their son, because they had a relationship with their son; they’re the parents and He’s the child.  They assumed that where they were, He would be.  That’s a good assumption; where the parents are, there the child would be.  Now, they’re going to go in a certain direction; they’re going back to Nazareth.  They assume where they are, He’s going to be; He’s going back to Nazareth.  Where the parents are, that’s where the children are; that’s how it had been, and now that’s how it continues, and we’ve got the idea that for the next eighteen years He just lived in subjection to them.  Now He had a higher relationship with His Holy Father God, and He had to be about His Father’s everything; He made a difference between His relationship on earth with His parents, and His relationship with God.  But Mary treasured these things in her heart.

When Jesus submitted to them, that caused confusion.  That submission, that relationship; He had a relationship with His Father, that relationship was so different and so much higher, that you couldn’t even compare it.  It had to be contrasted, not compared.  Later on in His ministry He made this amazing statement.  People still scratch their heads over it, Luke 14:26, “Jesus said, ‘If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.’”  He used the word “hate”.  Does the Lord expect me to hate my Lillian?  Does the Lord expect you to hate your mother, your father, your brothers, your sisters, your husband, your wives and so on, your siblings?  So powerful is that contrast between an earthly relationship and a heavenly relationship, that He uses the illustration, the contrast between love and hate.  He’s not literally saying that I’ve got to hate Lillian, but compared to my responsibility to Him, it’s going to look like love and hate.  That’s the idea. 

So, the servant is not greater than his Lord.  He tells me to hate my wife, and hate my mother, is there a sense in which Jesus hated Mary?  You see, in this sense, yes, because of that contrast between the relationship.  It’s only a figure of speech; He didn’t really hate her, but compared to His response to His Heavenly Father, it looked like hate.

Now, that relationship continued.  I, also, like Mary pondered that in my heart.  It didn’t take me eighteen years; it only took me seven years, from 1958 to 1965, but it’s a puzzling thing—now try to understand what I’m trying to communicate here—when the Lord Jesus submits to you, when He lets you call the shots.  That’s puzzling, when Jesus goes where you go and does what you want to do and follows along with your agenda.  When Jesus was growing up, Mary said, “Next weekend we’re going to visit Uncle Zacharias and Aunt Elizabeth and Cousin John, and Jesus just saluted and said, “Alright, you’re the parents, and you say it and that’s where we’re going.”  Then Mary and Joseph would say, “You know, it’s summertime, and we’ve commanded to go to Jerusalem; it’s the time of Feast of Pentecost,” and off to Jerusalem they went.  “It’s autumn now, and we’ve got to go celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles,” so off they went.  “It’s spring, it’s Jerusalem and time for Passover; we’re going to Jerusalem,” and off they went.  Jesus lived submitting to their requests, wherever they wanted to go, and they thought, because of their relationship, that’s how it would always be.

I remember those years after I got saved, I had a new relationship with the Lord, and He promised He would always be with me and He’d never leave me.  Based on that truth, I lived some of my early Christian life and Jesus was constantly submitting to me.  I told the Lord Jesus, “Hey, I got accepted at Bible college and we’re going to New York,” and Jesus said, “Alright,” and off to New York we went, to Bronxville.  Then I said, “Lord, I think I’m going to go to Moody Bible Institute, so we’re going to Chicago,” and so Jesus said, “Alright,” and off to Chicago we went.  And then I transferred and said, “Lord, guess what, we’re going to South Carolina, and I’m going to Columbia Bible College,” and Jesus said, “Alright, let’s go on to South Carolina.”  After I graduated, I got an invitation to be pastor in Massachusetts, and I said, “Lord, we’re going to Massachusetts, and Jesus said, “Okay,” and we went to Massachusetts.  And then later, when we found out we had a deaf child, we said, “Lord, we’re going to Rhode Island, and the Lord said, “Okay, let’s go to Rhode Island.”  While I was at Rhode Island, now we’re in ministry, and I said, “Lord, this week we’re going to the homeless shelter, and next week we’re going to the prison.”  And then I got involved a little bit with the Open Air Campaigning, and we did some street preaching, and Jesus said, “Okay, then we’ll go there.”  “Lord, we’re going on a mission trip,” and Jesus went on a mission trip.  Then I got a couple of invitations to go on conferences, “We’re going to California,” “We’ve going to Northern Ireland,” and He said, “Alright,” and off we went.

Those were the days that where I was, Jesus was, and I expected Him to be there, and He was there, and He blessed, and He honored all along the way.  But one day for Mary, eighteen years later, at the wedding of Cana, everything changed.  She was so used to having it that way.  John 2:3, “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’”  She had some expectation.  We don’t know what it was.  It’s not spelled out, but she went to Him for some reason, and said, “They have no wine.”  She expected Him to do something.  His response to her shook her to the core.  John 2:4, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does that have to do with us?  My hour has not yet come.’”  Wuest translates it, “What is that to Me and to you, woman?”  Imagine being a mother and hearing her son say that!  And it all came back, Luke 2:49, “Did you not know that I had to be about My Father’s everything?  I’ve got to wait for His hour.  I can’t do anything at the moment.  I’ve got to wait until My Father tells Me what to do.  I can’t initiate anymore.  I appreciate our relationship but I can’t be ruled by that relationship; I can’t be ruled by sentimentality.  I don’t want to hurt your feelings; I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but I can’t go along with your wishes if they contradict the will of My Heavenly Father.  I have a relationship with the Roman government. I’ve got to give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but I have a higher relationship to the Lord, with My Holy Father God.  I need to wait,” says Jesus, “for His hour.” 

Now, in that story, His hour came quite quickly.  He said, “I can’t do it now; My hour hasn’t come,” and a couple of minutes later it came, and He did a mighty miracle.  In that moment the lights went on and her response was immediate.  John 2:5, “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’”  That is an amazing thing!  The great governing principle of His human life was total dependence on His Holy Father God; His meat was to do the will of His Father, to wait for His Father.  He initiated nothing, and she learned at that moment that she had things backwards.  It’s not, “Where I am, there Jesus will be,” but John 12:26, “If anyone serves Me, he must follows Me, that where I am, there my servant will be.” 

Do you see the difference?  It’s not where Ed is that Jesus will be.  It’s where Jesus is, there Ed will be.  That glorious revelation!  For me, that was a great turning point in my life, because I no longer said, “Come on, Jesus, we’re going here, and we’re doing this.”  It brought me to the place where I had to say, “What are You up to, Lord, and where are You going, and what are You doing, and what’s Your hour, and now I want to do what You do.”  That closed the door to much ministry.  That closed the door to an awful lot of things, and it changed my whole perspective, and He began manifest His glory.  What took place in 1965 is my rule, my principle to this day.  It’s not that He’s going to be where I am.  That’s true, but I want to be where He is, and I want to go where He calls me to go and do what He wants me to do.

I’ve often expressed this principle to you.  I told you in my life, even now, things are winding down, and recovery is more difficult and old age coming on, but it’s the most exciting time of my whole Christian life.  Honestly, it is so exciting for my Lillian and me because we don’t know what’s next and we don’t know what He’s up to, and He’s inviting us to come along and to do it, and nothing matters anymore, except where He is, that’s where I want to be.  That is the great lesson that Mary learned after eighteen years of pondering and thinking and wondering, and finally it turned around that He is about His Father’s everything.  What’s He up to today, and what’s His plan?  Whom am I going to meet today and who is going to call and who am I going to bump into?  What redemptive experience is going to be mine?  Is He going to lead me out into the garden?  Is He going to lead me to the dentist?  Is He going to lead me to the doctor?  It’s so exciting, because we don’t know, and we’re not supposed to know, but where He is, that’s where we’re going to be.

The struggle to find the will of God for me is over; I now have the God whose will it is.  I don’t need to look for guidance, and neither do you.  You have the Guide, and having the Guide you can’t miss the guidance, and that’s exactly what Mary learned.

That’s enough about the wedding of Cana.  That’ brings us to this next event which we call the first cleansing of the temple.  It begins in John 2:12, but it actually continues, not only twenty verses in chapter 2, but the next twenty-one verses in chapter 3.  In other words, twenty-one verses in chapter 2 and twenty-one verses in chapter 3, forty-two verses, that’s a lot of verses, and it includes the story of Nicodemus; that’s connected to the cleansing of the temple; you can’t disconnect that. Because that’s such a long section, rather than going verse by verse, and hitting interesting and instructive details, what I’d like to do is just introduce the section, the entire section.  I’m going to make several general observations about the section as a whole, and then later we’ll go back and pick up a few of the pertinent details.  This morning I just want to set it before you, so you can get the flavor of this cleansing of the temple.

For those that enjoy logical connection, I’m going to give three general impressions about this section as a whole.  My first general impression is based on John 2:13, “The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”  The first thing I want you to notice is that the first cleansing of the temple took place at Passover.  Why is that important?  I’m going to give you at least two reasons why I think that’s important.  It’s because Jerusalem was crowded with people at Passover.  There were three annual times that the people of God were called to Jerusalem.  It’s actually one but it’s broken three times—in the spring at Passover, and unleavened bread and the first feast of the barley harvest, and then in the summertime they had to go back again for the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and then in the fall there were three different feasts, the feast of trumpets and the day of atonement and tabernacles, and so on. 

You probably heard of Josephus, the Jewish historian.  We call him “Jewish”; I call Him the “Jewish-Roman historian”.  He was considered a traitor by many of the Jews because, it was true that he was a Jew, and even in his family tree there were priests, but he was more Roman.  He was a very worldly person.  His name Flavius Josephus.  Flavius was a dynasty in Rome, and he identified with that dynasty, so he took on the name Flavius.  He can’t always be trusted; he’s given to distortion and exaggeration, and always leaning toward Rome, but he says many things that are reliable.  He was a historian during the days of our Lord Jesus.  That’s how old he is.  A lot of it is reliable.  Anyway, here’s what he said, “At the time of the Lord Jesus, Jerusalem had about a population of 100,000, but during the feasts it would swell to between 1 to 2 million people in Jerusalem.  If he’s a little bit right, you get the idea, this took place at Passover, and there were many people from all over the known world.

His first miracle our Lord Jesus was sort of private at Cana, and it was a wedding that was held and it was invited guests.  It was kind of small.  But this appearance was not private; this was public.  There were hundreds of thousands of people present.  Jesus worked a lot of His miracles, as you go through the record, at the feasts.  I call them missionary miracles because there are so many people there.  It’s an obvious outreach.  This wasn’t a private appearance of Jesus; it was very public.  The second reason that’s important is because this first cleansing of the temple that took place at Passover was not only a public appearance, but it was His first public appearance, and what that meant practically is this is the first impression that people are going to have of Messiah, the cleansing of the temple, and Jesus intended that to be the first impression. 

There was an expectancy of Messiah at that time.  You remember Simeon and you remember Anna, the parents of John the Baptist, and there was a talk; it was in the air, “Messiah is going to come.”  Then when John the Baptist came on the scene, he actually made a comment, and he said, “Messiah is here; He’s arrived.”  Listen to John 1:26, “John answered them saying, ‘I baptize in water but among you stands One that you do not know; it’s He who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I’m not worthy to unloose.’”  “He’s standing among you; He’s here, Messiah has come.”  For four thousand years they’ve been listening to the prophets and the prophesy that Messiah is coming, but now there’s an expectation, and John comes along and says that He’s here, He’s on the earth and among you, but you don’t know, and you haven’t seen Him, yet.

We saw that expectation, that excitement, with the wisemen and Simeon and Anna, and so on.  First impressions are important impressions.  We always try to make a good first impression.  A first impression can make or a first impression can break you.  It might mean you get the job, or it might mean you don’t get the job.  First impressions are important.  It might mean you make the sale; it might mean you don’t make the sale.  The first impression can make you a lifetime friend, or a lifetime enemy.  First impressions are important.  No one wants to make a bad first impression, so we try to on our best.  I don’t want to do something stupid; I don’t want to say something stupid; I don’t want to look dumb; I don’t want to have something spilled on my shirt, or something like that. 

My first impression to my first daughter-in-law was not good, her impression of me.  My impression of her was great, but something took place, and she took a long time recovering from the first time she met me.  She lived in fear of me because of what took place.

The cleansing of the temple for the first time was the impression that Jesus wanted to give.  If He had begun with sermons or parables or miracles, or if He had begun by multiplying loaves or healing the sick or raising the dead or controlling the weather, or casting out demons, they would have embraced Him.  That’s a Messiah that people want.  I’ll take a Messiah that gives me groceries, that will keep me out of the doctor’s office, that will keep me away from the morgue.  I’d love to have a Messiah like that.  But the first impression He gave, and intended to give, was more negative.  He came in like zealot, like a firecracker, a revolutionary.  He had a whip in His hand; He’s overthrowing tables.  There’s money all over the floor, and animals are being scattered everywhere, and people are afraid.  Don’t forget that this is public with hundreds of thousands of people; He’s doing this in the public eye. 

The average Christian, when you say, “Just give me an impression of Jesus in the New Testament,” they don’t usually start with the first cleansing of the temple.  They go to Matthew 12:18, “Behold, my Servant, whom I’ve chosen, my Beloved, in whom My sole is well-pleased.  I’ll put My Spirit upon Him; He shall proclaim justice to the gentiles.  He’ll not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the street.  A battered reed He’ll not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory.  In His name will the gentiles hope.”  That’s our view of Jesus; love, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, embracing, welcoming, a friend of sinners.  That’s our Lord Jesus!  Why at Passover, in His first public appearance did He leave this general impression?  You see, they were expecting a Messiah that would come and overthrow Rome, reestablish Jerusalem and the glory that it had in the days of David and Solomon.  The natural heart wants and expects that kind of a Messiah, a physical Messiah, a material Messiah, a sensational Messiah, a political Messiah.  But Jesus said, “My first impression is that I’m going to tell you what kind of Messiah you can expect.”

When Gabriel spoke to Mary when she conceived, Matthew 1:21, “She’ll bear a Son; you shall call His name Jesus; He will save His people from their sins.”  “That’s the kind of Messiah I want you to expect, One who has come to save His people from sin.  I didn’t come,” says Jesus, “to restore a political kingdom; I came to deal with sin.”  John 2:17, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume Me.’”  The King James Version says, “Eaten me up.”  Zeal and jealous are the same word in the original.  Jesus had a jealous love for the purity of the temple.  Malachi 3:1-3 gave a prophesy, “’I’m going to send my messenger; he’ll clear the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he’s coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts, ‘Who can endure the day of his coming; who can stand when he appears; he’s like a refiner’s fire like fuller’s soap; he’ll sit as a smelter, purifier of silver, and he’ll purify the sons of Levi, and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.’”

He starts off, first impression, “My temple is dirty; it’s defiled.”  And what was in the temple?  Animals.  And what were they used for?  Sacrifice.  “It’s all about sin. That’s what I’ve come for; that’s the kind of Messiah you can expect.  I’ve got a jealous heart, a passion for the purity of My house,” and you know that the house represents the people of God.  God says, “I’ve got a whip in my hand; I want My house pure; I’ve come to deal with sin,” and that was the first impression, a deliverance from sin. We know from the first miracle, that He’s a joy-giver, but now we learn He’s also a sin-killer; both are true.  It’s two sides of the same Jesus.  He’s got a smile on His face for those who invite Him, but He’s got a whip in His hand for those who defile His Father’s house. This morning I just want you to know that’s the first general impression; it was public and designed to leave this impression, “I came, I’m here to deal with sin, and not Rome.”

I told you I was going to make three general impressions.  The first was John 2:13, that it was at Passover.  My second general impression, although it looks like John 3 is not vitally connected to John 2, in other words, in King James, chapter 3 just begins, “There was a man of the Pharisees name Nicodemus.”  Well, that could be months later, or even years later.  “There was a man,” just another story.  The New American tries to correct it by saying, “Now there was a man…”  In the Greek we’re told by the scholar that there is a connecting particle.  That chapter division of two and three are broken off in the wrong place; it continues.  That particle can be translated “and” or “now” or “but”.  He cleansed the temple and there was a man named Nicodemus.  So, there’s connection.  That’s my observation, and the connection seems to be this.  In chapter two He gives a negative illustration, and in chapter three He gives a positive illustration, but He’s illustrating the same truth.  That’s the connection.  In chapter two sinners were defiling God’s house, the temple; they were worldly and dishonest and greedy; they made the house of the Lord a house of merchandise.  Later, they’re called a “den of thieves”.  For now just know they are bad people; they’re sinners.  In chapter two I need to cleanse my house because it’s full of sin.

Go to chapter three and you have Nicodemus.  It’s the opposite.  We know he was a self-righteous Pharisee, and in that sense, he was bad, because he was a sinner, as well.  But to the carnal eye it’s a contrast between the bad and now a religious leader, a Pharisee, a representative of Judaism, steeped in the Law, steeped in the Bible, steeped in the tradition of the elders.  John 3:10, “Jesus said, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?’”  Not “a” teacher, but “the” teacher.  He was well-known; he was “the” teacher.  If you have a problem or a question you go to Nicodemus; he is “the” teacher.  John 7:50 is a section where the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court of seventy very important people, “Nicodemus, he who came before, being one of them…”  Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin and an influential member.  My guess is that when John the Baptist stood up and says, “You generation of vipers; who warned you to come and repent of your sin?”  I bet Nicodemus wasn’t among them.  I don’t think Nicodemus got baptized by John or repented of his sins.  He was a religious leader and a good person, someone well-known, and he had high status and had rank; he was educated, he was “the” man, he was “the” teacher.  He’s described in Mark 12:38, “In His teaching He was saying, ‘Beware of scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogue, and place of honor at the banquets, who devour widow’s houses, and for appearance sake, offer long prayers.”  That was Nicodemus.  Outwardly he looks good; he’s religious.  That’s the connection; chapter two is negative, bad people, defiling the temple; chapter three is highly respected, highly educated, influential, high standards, and a religious leader.  That’s the second observation.

The third observation is this.  We call this the first cleansing of the temple; John records this first cleansing.  Matthew doesn’t mention it.  Mark doesn’t mention it.  Luke doesn’t mention it.  They mention something that looks like it that took place on Palm Sunday at the end of the ministry.  This was a cleansing at the beginning of the ministry, and then there’s another one at the end of the ministry in Matthew 21, Mark 11 and Luke 19.  Some suggest that it’s all the same, that John is just jumping the gun and describing the same thing.  They’re not.  I could take time to show you how I know they’re not, but trust me on this; they’re not the same; they’re two different ones, one at the beginning and one at the end.

Why is that important?  I’m going to develop this next time, but why is that important?  The answer is it’s because it didn’t work.  He cleansed the temple, and it didn’t work.  He had to do it again at the end, because reformation never works, kicking out sin is not going to work.  It didn’t work in the Old Testament and it didn’t work with the reformers, it didn’t work with the judges, it didn’t work with Hezekiah, it didn’t work with Josiah, it didn’t work with Uzziah; reformation never works.  So, you can rid the church of materialism; it’s coming back in.  You can purify the school by getting rid of books in the library, but it’s not going to work.  You can close down the abortion clinics and bars and shut the pornographic websites; it’s not going to work. 

Have you ever heard of Billy Sunday?  He was a firecracker in Chicago.  He was an evangelist.  When he got saved, he got a whole group of people and they all had baseball bats, and they went around and broke up the bars.  They went up and down the streets of Chicago breaking up the bars.  How did that work out?  How is Chicago today?  It didn’t work; it’s never going to work. 

That’s chapter two saying that reformation doesn’t work.  In chapter three Nicodemus illustrates the positive side—religion, good works, externalism, and that’s not going to work, either.  It’s not amendment, it’s not going to improve your life.  John 2:19, “Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’”  That’s a tremendous passage.  Nothing is going to work to purify the temple except resurrection.  We’ll look at that next time.  John 3:3, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.’”  Verse 7, “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

So, He looks at the negative illustration, and He says, “Reformation is not going to work.”  What will work?  It’s nothing but resurrection.  He looks at the positive illustration, and He says, “That’s not going to work.”  What’s going to work?  A new birth. 

Nicodemus knew the Bible, and so Jesus pointed Him to a scripture.  The Pharisees were experts in the Bible, especially on Moses.  Numbers 21, Nicodemus knew that the Lord had sent fiery serpents to judge those who rose up against the Lord.  Listen to Number 21:8, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard.  It shall come about that everyone who is bitten, when he looks on it he will live.’  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard and it came about that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked on the bronze serpent, he lived.”  Next time we’re going to get into some detail about the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.  But what Jesus said to Nicodemus, in effect, is this, “Nicodemus, I know all you.  I know your station, I know how much study you’ve put into this, I know you’re an old man now, and you’ve been a religious leader and you’re well-respected, and everybody thinks you are great, but Nicodemus, I want to tell you, I know your heart, and you are a snake-bitten sinner, and the venom of sin is in your veins, and you need to be born again, born from above.  You need a spiritual birth.  I know you’re marveling at it, but in fact, that’s who you are.  John 3:14, still talking to Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal Life.”  “That’s your only hope, Nicodemus.” 

John wrote this gospel so that we’d know who Jesus is, and he announces to this Pharisee who He is; He’s the substitute Savior for perishing sinners.  God loved the world and He gave His Son, that those who believe in Him would not perish.  He told that to Nicodemus.  “Nicodemus, I know you’re a very famous member of the Sanhedrin; you’re a perishing sinner, a snake-bitten sinner.  The venom of sin is in your veins.  You need to get saved.  You need to be born again.” 

That’s the overall truth.  It took place when there were hundreds of thousands of people.  There’s a connection between chapter two and chapter three, a negative illustration of bad people needing resurrection, and good people need to be born from above.  Two times in this chapter we have the word “must” in this conversation.  John 3:7, “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”  John 3:14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” 

Who is Christ?  Brothers and sisters, He’s the substitute Savior for snake-bitten sinners.  He’s a substitute Savior for perishing sinners.  That’s why we’re in this room, because we look and we live. 

Next time we’ll go back and pick up the details, but I wanted you to get that overview first.  Let’s pray together.

Father, thank You so much for the revelation of our Lord Jesus as the substitute Savior for perishing sinners.  Oh Lord, you have met our needs, and thank You for saving us and coming into our lives.  We just pray, Lord, as we go through this section together and this whole study of the Gospel of John, that we might know who You are in a way we’ve never known, that we might trust You in a way we’ve never trusted, and that we might enjoy You in a way we’ve never enjoyed You.  Work these things in our heart.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.