We’re coming to chapter 3 of John’s Gospel today and the story of Nicodemus, and I’d like to read the first 15 verses to begin with to get an overview of this conversation Jesus has with him and then we’re going to take a closer look at verses 1-4.
1 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. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Jesus knows just what you need. How do we know that?
We noted it last week in the closing verses of chapter 2. Verses 24 and 25 say, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
Jesus knew what was in the heart of man.
One thing is clear as we enter chapter 3 today — it’s that Jesus knows just what you need. We’ll see it in the exchange with Nicodemus. He knows just what Nicodemus needed, and he knows that because he knows what’s in the heart of man.
What was it Nicodemus needed? He needed to be born again. Jesus tells him so. As we come to chapter 3 we find that this is actually a continuation of the train of thought we saw last week at the end of chapter 2. (Just remember as you read your Bible that the chapter breaks came after the fact — they’re not a part of the original Scriptures — and sometimes, like here, a chapter break can be awkward.)
In showing us Nicodemus who comes to Jesus to inquire of him, the Apostle John is giving us an example of those we saw at the end of chapter 2 who saw Jesus’ miracles but didn’t see Jesus as the Messiah — they believed in his signs but didn’t believe in Jesus as their Savior. These were people who, because of the signs they saw him perform, believed that Jesus was a man of great importance, and some were showing interest in following him, but John tells us that Jesus knew their hearts. Jesus knew theirs was not true belief. They were only drawn to the miracles.
In Nicodemus we have an example of one who was like that. It’s seen in the fact that he comes to Jesus talking about the signs, verse 2, “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.”
So it’s apparent that Nicodemus has seen what took place at the temple and had been watching Jesus because he was aware of the miracles he had been performing. So who is this Nicodemus?
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, he was a member of the Sanhedrin, he was a ruler of the Jews as part of that Jewish ruling council. Jesus acknowledges that Nicodemus is a well known teacher in verse 10. As the account begins we find him coming to Jesus at night. Why he came at night we don’t know — it may have been for the cover of darkness. Some have suggested that. Or it may have been that he was a very busy man. It may have been he wanted some uninterrupted time to inquire of Jesus. We don’t know.
But note what is most interesting about this exchange as it begins.
Verse 2 says that Nicodemus came to Jesus saying: “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.”
Nicodemus is like those we saw at the end of chapter two who aren’t totally convinced about Jesus, so Jesus would not entrust himself to them. But note there’s something different about Nicodemus.
He respectfully calls Jesus Rabbi. Then he indicates that he certainly thinks there’s something different about Jesus, because of what he observes. He’s seen Jesus’ signs, his miracles, and who could do these miracles unless God is with him?
But even though Nicodemus is a man of great wisdom, Jesus’ response shows that he was missing something. Nicodemus was like those who were seeing Jesus’ signs but not seeing him for who he is. Look at verse 2 again. He says to Jesus:
“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.”
He acknowledges that Jesus is a teacher, Rabbi, and implied here, even a remarkable teacher, because no one like this could exist unless come from God. But note that missing in this exchange is any recognition of Jesus as The Messiah, or even a Prophet. So in effect he too is coming, as we’ve seen of others, to inquire of Jesus, just who he is.
And in Jesus’ response there’s a lesson for us about how everyone must come to Jesus. Certainly Nicodemus thinks he sees something of who Jesus is as he’s observed his miracles. But note Jesus’ response in verse 3.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
What is it to see the kingdom of God? What does that mean? That’s exactly what Nicodemus was thinking. Look at verse 4.
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?”
Nicodemus is puzzled by Jesus’ statement. But Jesus knows what’s going on in the heart of Nicodemus, Jesus knows just what he needs. He thinks he has Jesus figured out. He calls Jesus Rabbi, which was polite, but he’s coming to Jesus as one Rabbi to another. So Jesus makes it clear that Nicodemus really doesn’t know him by making a statement that causes Nicodemus to stop and think. Jesus is saying, “You think you know me Nicodemus, but to really see the kingdom of God you have to be born again.” Jesus is saying that to really know me you must be born again.
So what is it to see the kingdom of God, and why does Nicodemus have to be born again to see it?
I think it helps to understand seeing the kingdom of God as being a part of the kingdom of God. To see the kingdom of God is to be a part of the kingdom of God. And Jesus makes it clear that you are not a part of the kingdom of God unless you are born again. And Nicodemus says, “How can that be?” “What is this being born again?”
Here’s what we need to understand about being born again because people often identify being born again with the wrong things. For instance you may be born into a family with Christian parents and they may have taken you to church regularly, you may speak like a Christian, you may dress like a Christian, you may carry and read a Bible like one, and you may go to church like a Christian, but none of those things makes you a Christian. Only being born again. Only regeneration. And regeneration is only by the work of the Spirit of God on your heart and the Holy Spirit only works the work of regeneration in you when you believe in Jesus Christ, his sacrifice on the cross and his rising from the dead for you. But even belief is not yours until the Holy Spirit brings belief to your heart.
Jesus points to this truth when he tells Nicodemus, verse 5, that unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. And then in verse 6, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. And then in verse 8, The wind blows where it wishes… So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Philippians 2:13 says it this way:
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
If you are God’s child do you realize how blessed by God you are to have faith — to believe? It’s a work of the Spirit. We’re going to come back to this thought next week, beginning in verse 5. Because there are some deep and wonderful truths here that we dare not miss. I want to dwell on them a bit more next time.
But let me come back to the point that we see Jesus making here in these first few verses of chapter 3.
Nicodemus was intrigued with Jesus and thought he had a handle on who he was, and he wanted to know more, so he came inquiring of Christ. But Jesus, knowing what Nicodemus and all mankind needs, gets right to the heart of the matter and it’s that you must be born again.
Born again means, spiritual transformation, spiritual regeneration. Being born again, or regenerated is what Colossians 1:13 speaks of when we’re told that as believers,
13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
This is an important truth for us to comprehend and believe. Your understanding of your need to be born again will shape whether you truly understand your need for Christ. And it will shape, once you come to Christ, how you share him with others. You must be born again if you wish to be a part of God’s kingdom. You must be spiritually regenerated if you wish to see the kingdom of God.
Of regeneration Charles Spurgeon spoke, saying,
It is one of absolute and vital importance. It is the hinge of the Gospel. It is the point upon which most Christians are agreed, yes, all who are Christians in sincerity and truth. It is a subject which lies at the very basis of salvation. It is the very groundwork of our hopes for Heaven and as we ought to be very careful of the basement of our structure, so should we be very diligent to take heed that we are really born again and that we have made sure work of it for eternity. (C.H. Spurgeon, Regeneration, Sermon #130)
It’s of critical importance that you understand today that you must be born again — you must be regenerated, you must be spiritually transformed by God’s Spirit taking up residence in your soul. And that is only yours by faith in Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross for you.
My brother and his family were with us for a couple of days last week and we were talking about our passage of study this morning. He told me that every time he thinks of this passage and Jesus’ statement that you must be born again he thinks of wife’s late grandfather.
He spent nearly his entire life going to church; he was a faithful church attender but did not know Christ as His savior until very late in life. Even after all those years of faithful church attendance he finally realized that he really had never believed in Jesus for salvation. He’d never really been born again. After trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, so thoroughly convinced was he of his own regeneration in Christ that in the last few days of his life, as he was loosing his ability to carry on normal conversation one thing he would say when he saw his family coming to visit was, “born again, born again!”
Are you born again? As Spurgeon says, have you made “sure work of it for eternity”?