Summary: Being born again is a far more demanding matter than a casual acceptance of Jesus Christ. The true Christian follows Him, bearing his/her cross.
Whoa! Man of the Night
Rev. Mark A. Barber
Most of us have heard the story of Nicodemus before and can quote John 3:16 from memory. We have heard about being born again. So we think we already know the story. Nicodemus came to Jesus that night thinking he knew the rules of how one enters the Kingdom. After all, he was a scholar, a Pharisee, and leader of the Jews. But Jesus sure surprised Nicodemus that night. So we too need to be open to a surprise or two this morning as well.
At the end of Chapter two, it says that Jesus knew what was in any man and did not need anyone to inform him. Jesus did not need the NSA to give Him the details of Nicodemus. Jesus knew why Nicodemus had come even before a word was spoken. He knew Nicodemus better than Nicodemus knew himself. Because Jesus knew all about him, he also knew how to witness to Nicodemus.
The first thing above all else that we learn about Nicodemus is that he was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were numerically a small Jewish sect of several thousand persons. But they were influential far above their numbers because they were highly educated in the Scriptures and traditions of the Jews. They were held in high regard in Israel and were sought as teachers and interpreters of the Law. They were often asked to settle disputes among the people. The Apostle Paul belonged to them before his conversion.
The next thing we learn about him was his name, Nicodemus. This at first doesn’t spark much interest to us in the English speaking world of the 21st century, but the name Nicodemus would be a strange name for a Pharisee, a group which wanted to retain the purity of the Jewish religion and language. Nicodemus was a Greek name, not a Hebrew or Aramaic one.
This same Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews which indicates that he was a member of the Jewish ruling body called the Sanhedrin. This means he had a reputation to defend. Jesus had just finished cleansing the Temple, something which would not have gone over well with the power structure in Jerusalem. To openly go to Jesus to ask Him what was on his heart in broad daylight would have exposed Nicodemus to censure. So he came to Jesus at night when he thought no one else was looking. Nicodemus was not ready yet to bear the shame of the cross. That would come later when he in broad daylight requests the body of Jesus from Pilate and apparently defiles himself in personally taking down the dead body of Jesus from the cross, on Passover no less!
Nicodemus may have come with others as he addresses Jesus with the plural “We know”. Or he may have been sent by other interested seekers to find out about Jesus. The second chapter records that Jesus did many miraculous signs during the time of the Temple cleansing. Nicodemus and others has seen them and were wondering if they pointed to Jesus being the Messiah. Perhaps they had heard from John the Baptist’s testimony concerning Jesus as well. Nicodemus addresses this concern for the group when he tells Jesus: “We know that you are a God sent teacher.” Does this mean a teacher who God has sent in general or “the” teacher promised by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy? One would have to think that the idea of Messiahship was at least in the back of Nicodemus’ mind when he says this. The Messiah in the thought of most Jews of that day was to be a political figure, although some held to a political and a priestly Messiah. The Messiah would overthrow the nations that oppressed Israel and would come to reign over an eternal glorious kingdom in which the Jews would rule over the other nations. The signs which Jesus did seemed to point in that direction. Nicodemus was certainly more right in recognizing that God was doing these signs. Others said Jesus did these works by the spirit of Satan.
How shocking Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus must have been. Instead of addressing Nicodemus’ inquiry directly, he tells Nicodemus and the others who may have come with him: “Most truly, unless you are born again, you will not be able to see the Kingdom of God.” Jesus’ response shows that Nicodemus is thinking about the Kingdom and whether Jesus fits the bill to be the Messiah. But Jesus also reveals that Nicodemus does not understand what the Kingdom of God is about. It also shows that Nicodemus was unprepared for that Kingdom.
Nicodemus was startled by Jesus’ response. He was a Jew, a Pharisee at that. He was a ruler and teacher in Israel. If any man was prepared, it was Nicodemus. He and other Pharisees like Paul had spent their entire lives preparing for the Messiah. They believed that if they could teach all Israel to keep the Torah for even one single day that the Messiah would come. They had dedicated their entire lives for this. So Nicodemus answers, “You certainly cannot mean that someone could enter into his mother’s womb and be born again, do you?”