Summary: What did Jesus mean when He told Nicodemus "You must be born again"? And what does His comment about being "born of the water and the Spirit" mean to us today?
OPEN: A man was obviously lost. He saw a little boy was standing by the side of a road and a and pulled up beside him. “Sonny,” he said, “do you know how to get to town?” The kid said, “No sir, I don’t.” Then the man said, “Well do you know the way to route 20?” The little boy said, “No.” And the man said, “Well where does this road go?” The little boy said, “I don’t know.” Somewhat frustrated but with chuckle the man said “Well, you don’t know much of anything do you?” The little boy smiled back and said, “Well, I know I ain’t lost.”
APPLY: This week we’re talk about a man who was lost. He was a very religious man who should have known where he was going. But once he met Jesus… he began to doubt that. In fact, he began to question the reality of everything he’d once believed in.
Just a little background here: Nicodemus was a Pharisee. These were very religious people In fact, the Pharisees were part of the hottest church in town. Anybody who wanted to be seen as pure and righteous wanted to be part of their group. In fact, they were so dedicated to being pure and righteous, that they were often called the “pious” ones!
Their name (Pharisee) came from the Hebrew word “Purash” – meaning “to separate,” and they separated themselves from anything and anyone who was impure. They refused to have anything to do with any kind of sinner especially tax collectors, prostitutes, and Gentiles.
In Luke 18:11 Jesus told the parable of a Pharisee who stood before God and thanked God that he was ‘not like other men.’ That man was committed to being separate from anyone who was “impure.” In fact, the Pharisees were so righteous and so religious, that everyone around them held them in awe. Well… everyone… but Jesus that is.
Jesus made the Pharisees uncomfortable. They didn’t much like Him… and the feeling was mutual. Jesus repeatedly condemned them for their self-righteousness and hypocrisy. In Matthews 15:14 Jesus said “They are blind leaders of the blind.” In Matthew 23:15 he declared “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” And in Matthew 23:27 he condemned them by saying “… you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”
As you can imagine, this didn’t make Him popular with the Pharisees.
But Nicodemus wasn’t quite so sure that Jesus is wrong - he may have been thinking the same things himself. And so, he comes “to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’”
Now, notice, Nicodemus comes … at night. He’s still a Pharisee and if he was seen with Jesus in public, it could ruin him. And so he seeks Jesus out at night when he can quietly ask questions.
But, Jesus doesn’t let him ask HIS questions. Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter by declaring: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3
What is Jesus telling Nicodemus? He’s saying to him – it’s time for a change. You’ve grown up thinking your religion is right… but it’s not!!! It’s time to be born again.
Nicodemus seems a bit confused at this point. He says “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:4
Now, that’s an odd question for Nicodemus to ask, because “being born again” shouldn’t have been that hard for him to understand. Jews used that kind of phrase all the time when Gentiles converted to Judaism.
ILLUS: According to the Encyclopedia Judaica early Jewish rabbis declared that “A proselyte (a gentile converting to Judaism) terminates all former family ties upon conversion and ‘is considered a newly born child’” (volume 13, page 1184, article "Proselytes").
According to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown (a respected Bible Commentary): “The Jews were accustomed to say of a heathen (Gentile) proselyte, on his public admission into the Jewish faith by baptism, that he was a new-born child. But our Lord here extends the necessity of the new birth to Jew and Gentile alike—to everyone.”
In other words… a Gentile who changed his religion was like a NEW BORN CHILD. They were literally considered “born again.” So Jesus was aiming right at Nicodemus when he said “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (John 3:7) Essentially, He’s saying “Nicodemus… you got to change your religion!” What you’ve always believed is WRONG!!!