Summary: Jesus tells Nicodemus of the new birth.
If you’ve ever taught a class, there is one kind of student that can absolutely drive you crazy. And it seems like there’s one in every crowd. That’s the person who has an answer for everything. I got a kick out of a couple of the kids during the youth rally who were like that. In the very first breakout group I taught, there was a girl from another church who broke in the middle of almost everything I said. I’d say a few words, then she’d provide commentary. Now, she was a sweet girl and didn’t mean anything by it, but some people do that because they really, truly think they have all the answers. They think they’ve got it all figured out. That was the way Nicodemus was.
Nicodemus was the man who had all the answers. Verse 1 tells us that he was a man of the Pharisees and that he was a ruler of the Jews. That was two different things. Typically, the Pharisees weren’t rulers. They were religious scholars. They were PhD seminary professor types. The name itself comes from a Hebrew word that means “to separate”. They considered themselves the separated ones. They separated themselves from the world and to the Old Testament Mosaic Law. As a matter of fact, they were so careful to avoid breaking any of the Old Testament laws, that they made up their own. Think of it like they built a fence around the law. If the law said you can’t work on the Sabbath, the Pharisees added to it just to make sure you didn’t even accidentally break the law. Of course, this is where they went overboard. They began to see their fence as important as the law itself. And not only that, they actually believed that they could attain righteousness by keeping the law. That was their goal. They thought they could earn their way to heaven by their own works. Of course, if you think that, you’re going to be extra careful to know everything you can about the rules. That’s why the Pharisees were such great scholars. They knew everything there was to know about the Old Testament. They knew everything there was to know about the Law. And they knew everything there was to know about their own rules—that fence around the law. If anybody knew all the answers, it was a Pharisee. So, as a Pharisee, Nicodemus thought he had it all figured out. And then Jesus came along. Jesus came along and messed up his whole worldview. Because Jesus came doing two things that Nicodemus just couldn’t reconcile. First, He came performing miracles. Nicodemus could understand that. Many of the Old Testament prophets like Elijah and Elisha performed miracles. In Nicodemus’ mind, that just meant that Jesus was another great prophet from God. He said as much in verse 2 when he said that nobody can do the miracles that you do unless God is with him. But here was what didn’t fit into Nicodemus’ worldview. Here was what brought an unanswerable question to the mind of the answer man. Jesus wasn’t claiming to be a prophet sent from God. Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God. That meant that He was claiming that He was equal to God. And in Nicodemus’ mind, that was blasphemy. It was impossible and it was blasphemy. Nicodemus was a thinker. And the more he thought about it, the more it blew his mind. It didn’t fit. He couldn’t make sense of it. So, being a thinker, he went to the source.
Now, remember that verse 1 not only said Nicodemus was a Pharisee, it also said he was a ruler of the Jews. That meant that he was part of a very powerful and exclusive group called the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a group of 71 people who were headed up by the High Priest. Under the Roman rule of Jesus’ day, the Sanhedrin was given far-reaching governmental powers over the Jews. As a matter of fact, they could do just about everything except perform capital punishment. They had to refer those kinds of cases to the Roman courts. So, as a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus was very well-known and very influential. When he walked the streets, people knew him. And just like happens today, when someone is seen with a highly influential person, it serves almost as an endorsement. We don’t know exactly why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Many commentators and preachers throughout the years have said it was because he was a coward. Scripture doesn’t even indicate that. He probably came at night for several reasons. One, because he didn’t want to appear to endorse Jesus until he knew for sure what He was about. Another, because he wanted to spend some time with Jesus when the crowds weren’t around. I don’t think he was being a coward. I think he was being cautious. Because if he was being a coward, he wouldn’t have even come at all. It certainly would have been easier on him. He could have just written Jesus off as a blasphemer and moved on. But instead, he wrestled with the inconsistencies that Jesus caused in his worldview. And when he wrestled, he came to Him. The answer man realized that something was wrong with all his answers. So the answer man came looking to Jesus for answers. And the answers he got were different than anything he had ever heard. Because Jesus didn’t beat around the bush. He told Nicodemus, “Do you know what your problem is? You need a completely fresh start. Everything that you’ve been up until now is wrong. The only way you can make it right is to completely start over. Your complete worldview is wrong. All of your answers that you have spent a lifetime learning and defending. They all started with the wrong foundation. So you’re going to have to blow them up and start over. What you need is to be completely born again.” Can you imagine Nicodemus standing there with his mouth open? “I just came to this man to answer one question. I was just looking for one simple answer. Now He tells me that in order to make sense of that one question, I have to completely start everything over? That’s not even possible. How in the world can that happen?” So, over the next few verses, Jesus answered him. Even though Nicodemus didn’t come that night with the right question, he left there with the right answers. What questions did you come here with this morning? In this practical world we live in, most of our questions are about day-to-day issues. How can I get my kids to listen to me? Why does my husband treat me the way he does? How am I going to be able to keep gas in my tank and food on my table? Why does my child continue to break my heart? How can I live with the continual pain of my broken body? I don’t know what questions you walked in here with this morning. But I do know who has the answers. And I do know what the first, foundational answer He gives is—you must be born again. So, whatever question you walked in here with this morning, I want to give you three new questions. The first question is, “Why do I need to be born again?” Let’s look at verses 3-4: