Summary: A man comes to Jesus with an open heart and mind. The Lord reveals to him some of the most amazing truths found in the Bible. Is it time you had a good, honest, talk with God?
Do you ever look for something so hard that you can’t find it? Maybe it’s just my age kicking in but sometimes I’ll lose something in the most obvious place possible. I think so hard about where I put it that I forget to look in the most likely place. I figure that I would have remembered easily if I’d put that thing where it belonged. So instead, I go searching around in drawers or under beds and cabinets-in places I haven’t opened or looked under in years. Finally I just stop. I stop looking and fretting and let my mind catch up a little and start over thinking more logically and less frantically. That’s when I find it-right where it should have been all along. My own mind had blinded me from seeing it because it was too easy!
As we look at chapter 3 of the gospel of John, we find that kind of a situation. A man who is part of a group that should have known that Jesus was the Messiah was blind to the obvious even though it was right in front of them. Therefore, Jesus has to lay it out using very simple terms. I’m actually glad because those words in John chapter three form perhaps the most important words in the whole Bible when it comes to understanding God’s new life. It starts with a nighttime visit from Nicodemus.
1 - 3
Nicodemus comes with a complement; he is cautious but respectful and open. Jesus answers with a riddle. "Born again" can also mean "born from above". Nicodemus comes with a statement about who Jesus was. Jesus moves the conversation immediately to what each person must do in response to Jesus. Jesus’ credentials were, and are, not open for debate.
To be able to live in a world you need to be adapted to its conditions. To be a part of God’s kingdom you have to be born into it-you can’t immigrate.
What did Nicodemus know about the kingdom of God? He would have been familiar with passages like Isaiah 65 which talks about life in this new kingdom. Essentially it is something ruled by God, on earth, and involving God’s people. However, what he and the Jews didn’t apparently grasp was that it was not a kingdom you inherited because of the family you were born into. It came from being re-born into a new family. It is individual in nature, not national.
4 - 8
It seems as if Nicodemus stopped listening when Jesus suggested being born a second time. Do you ever stop listening when you read something in the Bible that floors you or you don’t understand? Instead of rejecting it outright, reason with God, meditate on what you read, ask for help in understanding it.
"Water and Spirit" might refer to John’s baptism of repentance, and Jesus baptism of the Holy Spirit. It might refer to physical birth, the spiritual birth. Or water might refer to the cleansing the takes place through Jesus. Notice this verse from Ezekiel - something else Nicodemus should have been familiar with:
Ezekiel 36:25-28 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. ESV
It could be that the evening winds were blowing when Jesus talked with Nicodemus. You can feel the wind, but you cannot understand or control its origin. It’s the same way with this new life-you can experience it but it isn’t understandable or controllable by human means.
9 - 13
Nicodemus isn’t answering from incredulity but wants to know how. Jesus rebukes him slightly. Nicodemus was a smart man, a learned man, and a respected member of the ruling council of the nation. The implication is that as he studied the Old Testament he should have known.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee-one of the two ruling classes in Jewish society in that day. The Pharisees strictly adhered to their interpretation of the Law while missing the intent entirely-sort of like not being able to see something right in front of your face.
We don’t know if by saying "we" in verse 11 that Jesus is speaking of Himself and His disciples or "we" meaning the Trinity. Nevertheless, notice this: Jesus is not speaking of things that are theories or conjectures. He speaks by observation. He has been in heaven and speaks authoritatively about it.