Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
Born Again to What?
The positioning of the passage with Nicodemus is important. It is shrouded in darkness at the beginning of the book of John. Nicodemus comes at night and the detail is not irrelevant. Although he is a member of the council he participates with Joseph of Arimathea in the burial of Jesus (John 19:38-42). Because we memorize John 3 we can fall into a trap of seeing the act of being ‘born again’ as the sum of the Christian life. However, it is an entrance into the way that Jesus gives us in order to move from darkness to light or from night to day. A person becomes born again not in order to be born again but in order to see the Kingdom of God. For God to reign in the life of a person and all that they touch, they must completely restart their life. The transition from a faithful religious life (Nicodemus was religious), to the new life that Jesus wishes for us requires a rebirth.
It was common at the time of Jesus for people to commit to a life of service to God through rule-keeping and the making of vows. However, their approach to the whole purpose of life was backward. The national identity of being born Jewish did not mean that one was spiritually in tune with the calling of the father of the nation, Abraham. The true start to Christian living was to open the window to the wind of the Spirit and surrender oneself to God’s sovereignty. Living a life where God is in control is different from a life of nationalistic entitlement or religious rule keeping. If chapter 19 is anything to go by, one of Israel’s religious leaders understood that they were leading the nation the wrong way by demanding sacrifices and obedience without a heart devoted to God.
Jesus, help us to live a life for the Kingdom of God born anew by the Spirit. Let us not be babies, living eternally in a state that is merely born and not grown. Help us to see clearly the purpose of being born again. When we evangelize let us call people to life in the Kingdom of God, as you did. Let us not just call them to an instant of birth and leave them helpless in the delivery room.
- When and why does Nicodemus come to Jesus?
- Define ‘born again’.
- What is Nicodemus lacking despite a lifetime of theological training?
- How do people use ‘born again’ today?
- How would you lead Nicodemus from the instant he arrives in this scene to the bold commitment to bury Jesus’ body and anoint it at personal expense in chapter 19?