Note to Leaders:
The summer semester ends Saturday, July 28, so this is the last sermon discussion guide that will be available until the new semester begins on September 23. If you need something to study in the interim, email firstname.lastname@example.org for an invite to smallgroup.com, where you can choose from a ton of free curriculum.
As much as we like our shoes, we need to occasionally step into others, or at least try them on. When we walk in each other's shoes and try to understand and empathize with each other, our capacity to love expands. We become more patient, more kind, gentler, less judgmental, and less cynical. In this series, we're going to be putting ourselves in the shoes of different people who encountered Jesus.
Who is the most interesting person you have ever met and what makes them so interesting?
We’ve all had one of those nights when sleep eludes us and our mind races, full of questions. Nicodemus seemed to be having one of those nights and went to see Jesus. He might have gone at night because he was afraid to be seen with him in broad daylight. Nicodemus was a member of the Pharisees, a devout religious group, and was also part of their inner circle known as the Sanhedrin. They were 70 of the sharpest Jewish intellectuals who were chosen to rule spiritually, and even to a degree politically, over the entire Jewish nation. They were among the most powerful and influential leaders of their day.
Have someone read John 3:1-10.
Nicodemus came to Jesus with big questions, but Jesus answers a question Nicodemus didn't ask. Jesus read his heart and got to the very core of his problem. We have that same assurance when we approach Jesus, that he knows our heart, even when we struggle to find the words.
The phrase “born again” that Jesus uses literally translates, “born from above.” It references a heavenly birth or spiritual birth. This concept of re-birth, God's plan to give men and women a new heart, a new life, eternal life, was clearly revealed all throughout the Old Testament.
For instance, when he talks about the water and the Spirit here, Jesus is alluding to a passage in Ezekiel 36 that would have been very familiar to Nicodemus where God promised to wash his people with water, purify them of their cancerous, life-threatening sin condition, and replace their heart of stone with his very own heart.
Have someone read Ezekiel 36:25-27
It’s as if Jesus is lovingly saying to Nicodemus, “You know in your head and heart that there's something more. That's why you're here tonight: because you are sensing life doesn't work the way you’ve been taught. You know there is this personal, transformational, 'born from above' relationship with God that changes everything. You can sense that in me, but you don't know how to get it.”
All Nicodemus knew to this point was religion filled with rituals, tradition, and rules on top of rules. Life consisted of trying to do enough good stuff to get noticed by God and other people. Religion is like that today; it can have you running, striving, motivated by guilt, and feeling like you are never going to be good enough.
Jesus didn't only come to pay for the things we’ve done wrong but also to show us what God is really like. Jesus' exchange with Nicodemus shows He is always open to honest dialogue. No matter where you are on your spiritual journey you need to know God wants to hear your questions. He invites us to dig, research and probe.
Nicodemus has a limited perception of who Jesus is and what he stands for. What perceptions might you have that limit your view of God?
Jesus always tried to find connecting points with whomever he was talking with because he recognizes our uniqueness and loves every one of us the same. He is s genuinely trying to reach Nicodemus in a way that he can understand.
Share a time Jesus met you right where you were on your faith journey.
Have someone read John 3:11-15 and Numbers 21:4-9.
Why do you think Jesus references this story in Numbers? How does it help us understand what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus?
Jesus was lifted up in shame before the world. But while the people of Moses' time only had glimpses of God's future plans to send Jesus to die on the cross, we today are blessed to be able to look back at that extraordinary act of love. Think back to what life was like before Jesus came into your life or during a season when you turned away from Him. We must never lose sight of just how far He has brought us.
Nicodemus was the one who heard Jesus say probably the most famous words in the Bible, John 3:16-17. Sometimes we get numb to these words. We see them on signs and billboards, but that night when Nicodemus sought out Jesus, these are the words he heard.
As a group read this verse aloud – “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
Let those words sink in. There are four different books all about Jesus' life in the New Testament called the Gospels, and the word gospel simply means “good news.” Of those four, only John's gospel mentions Nicodemus, and John mentions him three different times.
Have someone read John 7:48-53 and John 19:37-40.
Out of all the other stories about Jesus that John could have included, the story of Nicodemus’ journey of faith was recorded for us. Through these passages, we see him move from questioning to believing.
In John 19 we see two men meet up who had been hiding their faith in Jesus: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Nicodemus brings 75 pounds of super expensive spices with him to overpower the decaying stench of death. He washed Jesus’ body in spices and wrapped him in linen as an expression of gratitude, love and deep respect. What a journey he took: Nicodemus, this intellectual who had arranged a secret meeting with Jesus at night, had moved from doubt to defense to devotion.
How does Nicodemus's story help us understand the type of real-life change God wants for our lives?
Jesus is always there for us today, just like he was for Nicodemus. In his perfect timing, he will answer our most difficult questions. It doesn’t matter who we are or what our status is, nothing is more important than coming face to face with the real Jesus. Through Nicodemus’ story, we learn that no matter how great our sacrifice, it can never compare to Christ's sacrifice for us.
What impact does God's mercy, love, and grace have on your relationship with Him? What impact can it have on your relationship with others?
Share someone in your life that needs to know Jesus. Pray that you would have an impact on their life and help them on their spiritual journey.