Pondering John 3:1-8.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.
A man with many credentials. Jewish. Religious. A member of the Sanhedrin, the highest legal, legislative and judicial branch of the Jews. And a highly respected, educated teacher of the Scriptures. But Jesus reveals that it’s not enough.
He came to Jesus at night and said, “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.” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
I wonder if Nicodemus wanted to meet Jesus because He was curious about the miracles. Or was he considering the possibility that Jesus could be the long awaited Messiah? Regardless, he seemed to consider it risky to have a one-on-one conversation with Jesus because he chose to meet at night.
I once met with a group of Iranians who shared how difficult it was for them when they began asking questions about who Jesus is. And they told me of the sacrifices required to follow Him. Their family and community no longer acknowledge their existence. They lost jobs. They lost their respected identity. And for some, they realize they may one day lose their lives because of their commitment. Following Jesus is dangerous. It’s not for the faint of heart. That was true then and remains true today.
Jesus didn’t respond to Nicodemus’ statement. Instead, He answered the question that must have been burning deep within Nicodemus’ soul. With one sentence, Jesus would shatter Nicodemus’
- Assumptions based upon what he had been taught,
- Security in his identity,
- Security in his own morality and good works, and
- Assurance of a place in God’s kingdom because of the faith of his ancestors.
Jesus told Nicodemus that his first birth promised nothing. It’s true of everyone. Everyone has a first birth but Jesus declares we must be born again if we want to see God’s kingdom. We must experience new life.
My mother in law always bristled when she heard the words “born again.” As a young girl, she heard her mother often use the phrase in a judgmental, unkind way. I fear the same thing has happened to many others in our culture. Jesus’ words have been used far too often in a “holier than thou” way. I think that is so very sad, because it is such a beautiful, power-filled promise of hope and a fresh, new start.
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You much be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus seemed to be struggling to reconcile what Jesus was saying with his own belief system. How often do we try to do the same thing? When have we tried to fit Jesus’ teachings into what we want to believe is true?
Scholars debate what Jesus meant by “born of water.” Some say He is referring to what takes place in an actual physical birth. Some say He is referring to Himself as Living Water. Some believe He is referring to the cleansing prophesied in Ezekiel 36:25-28. And some say He is talking about baptism by water, requiring repentance and proclamation of Jesus as Lord. I don’t know the answer. They could all be true. If I had to choose, I would lean towards the necessity of baptism. It seems to me that One must recognize himself in light of who Jesus is and acknowledge the need for Him as Savior in order to become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
On the other hand, I can see the Spirit giving birth to spirit. I understand the comparison of the Spirit to the wind. Two days ago, our phones issued a tornado warning as we were leaving church. Only when we arrived home did we discover that a tornado actually came through our land. It had a distinct path and I have absolutely no understanding why it totally missed our home yet knocked over massive oaks fifty yards away. (Said with a grateful heart!) No human could harness it. The wind was invisible but it’s effects are very evident.
The Spirit gives birth. Eternal life with God is a gift of grace. It’s the miracle of a changed heart.
This passage leaves me with more questions than answers. I don’t presume to know the mind of God but I know His character. He’s Truth and Wisdom. He’s willing to meet with anyone. He knows our unasked questions. He has provided the Way into His holy presence. He is good.
Questions to ponder:
What does the phrase “born again” mean to me? Why?
Since faith requires placing my trust in Christ alone, where might I be guilty of relying on something or someone else…like my church affiliation? My deeds? My own belief system? The faith of others?