“… unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3
Nicodemus, like many who read the Bible, was perplexed! He was a respected man of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews. No doubt he was blameless with religious pedigree and solid moral character. Had anyone seen this man of the upper-crust religious society, they would have known him and paid due respect.
If this were today, we might celebrate Nicodemus because he sought out Jesus! Although he did so under the cover of night, hoping for his earthly curiosity to go unnoticed by those of his social standing.
He confessed Jesus as a teacher from God. The high-churchman acknowledged Jesus as being from God and having words of instruction (though he felt ashamed to approach him in daylight).
Nicodemus knew that Jesus had power from God to perform signs. Anyone seeking fame in this world would accept these words of high praise from such a lofty man. “Rabbi,” “Teacher” from God.
Perhaps Nicodemus expected Jesus to be grateful for this recognition from the seat of religious power. In his mind, perhaps he thought Jesus would join with him and establish himself alongside the other religious elite.
Instead, Jesus looked at this man, impeccable by any human measure, and saw that his nature was earthly, not spiritual. This man, cloaked in darkness and seeking the Lord was as far from experiencing the spiritual kingdom as an unborn child is to experiencing the world at large.
“unless one is born again…”
Nicodemus must have been taken aback. Here he’d just flattered this poor man with divine titles and he condescends to tell him what he needs? And what is this nonsense of being ‘born again?’
“… unless one is born of water and the Spirit…”
Jesus’ reference to water, being so close to the ministry of John the Baptist certainly shouldn’t have been lost. John baptized with a baptism of repentance. Not only were people acknowledging their sinfulness before a Holy God, but they were repenting of that life in expectation of the Messiah and the new life He would provide.
Jesus referenced the water of repentance and the Spirit, His Holy Spirit, as the two parts of a new birth which would allow a person to experience the kingdom of God (which is, at this point and currently, a spiritual one. See John 18:36, “my kingdom is not of this world”).
Nicodemus remained amazed. He recognizes that something powerful and uncontrollable is happening, like the wind (vs. 8 ” the wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it”) but Nicodemus doesn’t understand it and doesn’t know its source.
In the end, despite his religious rank, he was a man of the world, unable to experience or understand the work of the Spirit.
Are you a Nicodemus?
Many will admit Jesus was a prophet or teacher … and even that he was “from God.”
Many admit Jesus is God’s son, one part of the Holy Trinity, God in the flesh!
Many, because of this creed, will perform religious acts, penance, baptism, church attendance, festivals, dietary rules, etc. Such people may be extremely virtuous and moral. They are admired by those around them for their charity and piety.
But they seldom want to go deeper into God’s Word than the superficial. Christianity is an outward religion for a healthy life, not an inward birth of a new life.
In reading this, you may admit that you haven’t experienced anything new. Church and religion is nothing more than a habit or a culture of comfort for you. When you read the Bible, you see strange tales of talking donkeys, animals on boats, waters parting and bolts of lightning shooting down from some dark, mysterious mountain. Jesus teaching sounds vague and enigmatic, like that of some guru.
If that’s the case, despite some clergy christening as an infant, or some well-practiced catechism, you haven’t been born again. You experience no more of the kingdom of God than does an embryo the world that is yet in its future.
But you can be born again. By the water of repentance and the Spirit of Jesus’ resurrected life.
Today could be your birthday.