Summary: It was so important for Nicodemus the Ruler to make contact with Jesus the Rabbi. It was a life and death situation. With his learning and experience, the ruler had never entertained the concept of a new birth. Jesus helps him.
THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE
INTRODUCTION TO SERIES: The title of this series used to be seen by me as untrue. Surely there are no “free lunches,” let alone, all of the best things in life being free. I thought that. But when we begin to see things through God’s eyes, finding out which “things” are really “best”, for us and others, we find them completely free.
THE NIGHT THE RULER MET THE RABBI- JOHN 3:1-8
This might have been a day like all days for Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish Council. By virtue of these criteria, he was a respected citizen. A man of God who had large responsibilities. What to do about sandal tying on the Sabbath, or that divorced man or the question, ‘Do we help feed a man who doesn’t agree with us?” But something was lacking. He needed to find our more information. He was unfulfilled. He had been observing the goings on in Jerusalem and listening carefully to the eyewitness accounts of what had taken place in Cana. Could a man rally turn water to wine?
So one evening Nicodemus the Ruler came to the house where Jesus the Rabbi was staying. The caller had expectations and he had nervousness.
1. THE RULER LED OFF WITH A LOGICAL ASSESSMENT “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” – John 3:2. Surely this kind of sincere praise would get the Rabbi talking and would probably return the compliment. Yes and no. The conversation shifts without reference to Nicodemus’s credentials, or pure morals, or even his courage and openness.
2. THE RABBI REPLIES WITH A STATEMENT OF TRUTH “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Where did that come from? What does birth have to do with anything in this conversation? Everything! It soon becomes clear that the Ruler and the Rabbi are on two different levels. So, the question by Nicodemus is a logical one based on what he knew. He asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?” “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
Worthy of note is what Jesus actually says in vs. 3 and 7. “Again” is correct but there is more. Two words can convey repetition. Palin- to do over. Here the Rabbi used Anothen which says, in addition to “again,” that the one who did it first, repeats it. It means “from above” or a “higher place.” Parents are in complete charge of conception. Mother carries all the weight for 9 months. There is labor, sometimes exhaustion, then joy. In none of these things does mom call upon the baby to help. There is no, “lie still, I can’t sleep.” Or, when the time come for entry into the big world, we don’t hear, “push, push, help me deliver you. At least to your part!” The one who made us the first time in the miracle of human reproduction, must cause the second birth. And he does. It is God’s gift.
Nicodemus, the Teacher of Israel, is having difficulty with this. Don’t we also? When we take this passage and make new birth equal to baptism, it is watered down (no pun) and loses its punch. Even if baptism happens at the exact time that one is born from above, the language we use to simplify it may inadvertently remove God’s activity and replace it with our obedience.
3. THIS NEW BIRTH INCLUDES LEAVING AND CLEAVING. Nicodemus must have thought, “I have been born better than most. I’m a Jew, God’s covenant family, not a Gentile or a Samaritan. I have made something of my life. I am religious, a leader, I help people.” But Jesus is telling him that he must leave all that if used as a crutch or a step toward entering the kingdom. Kingdom life involves being born from above.
We too have some leaving to do. I asked a man who was said to be a member of the Church of Christ if in fact that was so. He affirmed it was and reached for his old Bible that had his date of baptism in it. He was about two years old when sprinkled and he thought it was transferable. So did others. Would there have been a great difference if I had asked one of you and you produced your adult baptismal certificate? Maybe yes, maybe no. Was this a time of new birth? It’s not about a “bad apple in the barrel,” or being a “black sheep in the family.” This is about not even being in God’s family unless one is born again….from above.