Ye Must be Born Again
© 2021 by C. O. Bishop
We have been studying through the Gospel of John, and, so far, we have heard very little of the teaching of Jesus. We have learned Who He is, and a little of Why He came, and a tiny bit of What He can do. But now we are going to hear the first of His private teaching…not in secret, by any means, but the individual to whom this teaching was directed came to Him privately, by night, so, evidently, Jesus gave him a private audience…or, at least, perhaps just His disciples were there.
It is worth noting, that, at the tail end of chapter two, there were a great number of people who believed in Him, because of miracles (plural) that He did. Evidently some things had happened beside just the clearing of the temple and the miracle of the wine, that John simply did not tell us. At any rate, we can see that His fame was already beginning to build, and He was wary of the people, knowing how unstable they were, so, He did not commit Himself to them.
But a man named Nicodemus came to Him:
1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into 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 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
We are only told a few things about Nicodemus: He was a member of the sect of the Pharisees, and a “ruler” of the Jews. Some have declared him to be a member of the Sanhedrin, but the scripture does not actually make that clear, though there is some evidence to that effect. At any rate, he was well educated in the scriptures, and was looked up to as a teacher, (v. 10.)
He came to Jesus by night, apparently not wanting his fellow Pharisees to know about his visit…or possibly he didn’t want anyone to know: maybe he felt it would damage his credibility as a teacher and a ruler, if he was seen to be consorting with this “odd street-preacher from Galilee.” I don’t know his exact motive. I think, because it does not say “ …he came over one evening…” as if it was just an evening visit, we can at least surmise that it was a visit “under cover of darkness.”
He began by flattering Jesus a little, saying, “We know you are a teacher sent by God, because no one could do the miracles you have been doing unless God is with him.” Jesus wasted no time with small talk: He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you…” That is Jesus’s preface to uncomfortable revelation: It means, “Listen! this is the rock-solid truth, friend: ”
Jesus went on to say, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus dropped the small talk too, and protested the physical impossibility of going back and being born over again. He said “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot go back into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?
Jesus said something even more challenging: He said, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” That alone must have stumped Nicodemus pretty badly, as there was nothing in the Old Testament that could have taught him this truth. But Jesus pressed on: He said. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: So is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
Water? Spirit? Wind?
It is tempting to guess that the “water” in this passage is in reference to baptism, and there are sects who teach just that: they insist that you cannot be saved without water baptism.
Others guess that, because of the following verse, contrasting what is born of the Spirit with that which is born of the flesh, that the water must refer to the sac of amniotic fluid present in the gestation of all mammals. But neither is supported by the rest of scripture.
To begin with, the Apostle Paul stated clearly that baptism was not even part of his mission…not that he didn’t approve of it nor that he didn’t practice it…it was simply not part of the core issue. He said “Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the Gospel…” Further, every time the question arose asking How to be Saved, the answer was “Believe the Gospel!” Many of those followed up with baptism, but that was not part of salvation…not part of being Born again.
Finally, if it referred to the amniotic fluid, it would have been pointless to make the statement at all, since every human, along with every other mammal, already has that experience. So, what are the other possibilities?
Water of the Word
Ephesians 5:26 gives us a clue, saying that Christ cleansed the church “with the washing of water by the Word.” In John 15:3, Jesus said to His disciples (not including Judas Iscariot) “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you….” (Judas heard all the same words that the rest had heard…but he was not clean…He never believed.)
Finally, in 1st Peter 1:23, it says that we have been “…born again…by the Word of God…” So, if the cleansing of Salvation was accomplished by the Word, and the re-birth itself was by the Word, and the Word is called “water” in Ephesians, I think it is safe to assume that the Water in John 3:8 is also in reference to the Word. Jesus said in John 5:24, “…he that heareth my Word and believeth…hath everlasting life.”
Wind and the Spirit
The Greek word for spirit is “pneuma,” literally meaning “breath, or wind.” And, the passage about the “wind” being unseen is using the same word as the word for “spirit.” But the context clearly shows that He spoke of the natural wind, saying “you can hear it, but you don’t know where it came from, nor where it is going.”
We can see the result of the new birth in a person’s life, as the Spirit transforms them, but we are blind to the Spirit Himself, and can only go by what we hear and see. The fact remains, however: no one has ever been saved apart from the Word of God, and no one has ever been saved apart from the Spirit of God.
Nicodemus had a genuine desire to understand. He said, “How can these things be?”
Jesus replied rather sharply; saying that Nicodemus ought to have understood it. He said, “You are a teacher of Israel, and you don’t understand this? We are telling you what we know and what we have seen: If I have told you earthly things and you don’t believe, what will you do when I tell you heavenly things?”
Then Jesus brought up a lesson from Numbers 21:5-9, because He knew that Nicodemus was familiar with that passage: He compared Himself to the bronze serpent on the pole, which Moses had lifted up in the wilderness. (As you may recall, judgment had fallen on Israel in the wilderness, because of sin, and God sent thousands of migrating vipers to cross paths with them and deliver judgment. Many people were bitten, and many were dying. They asked Moses to pray and ask God to take away the judgment of the serpents…but He did not: He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and hang it up on a tall pole where everyone could see it. (Bronze stood for judgment.) They were called to look at that serpent if they were bitten by one of the snakes. If they turned to God’s solution, admitting that the real problem was sin and judgment for sin…if they looked, in faith, to that serpent, they would not die.)
Jesus said that as Moses had lifted up that serpent, so He Himself must be lifted up, “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
I think Nicodemus could understand that one. He knew of the bronze serpent. He knew the story completely, and had probably already observed that the ones who looked to the bronze serpent did not die, but nothing was said about instantaneous healing from the bite. It just said “…he shall not die.” And he knew God had kept his promise. Those bitten, who looked to God’s solution for sin (which included both Judgment and Grace) did not die.
Jesus went on to explain more thoroughly, with the more commonly recited John 3:16…I don’t want to go there today, but I do want to point out what He said regarding judgment.
The Basis of Judgment:
He said that those who believed in Him were not going to be judged, but that those who did not believe were judged already, because they did not believe. And the basis of the judgment was their response to light: He said that light has come into the world and that people as a whole, prefer the darkness, because their deeds are evil… and the light would reveal them for what they are. Those who will come to the light are those who will “do truth:” they want more light, and the light reveals them for what they are, as well…and the yare approved by God.
There is an interesting sidenote to this:
- Every single one of us starts off in darkness! (Ephesians 5:8)
- Every single one of us starts off as an enemy of God: God says so! (Romans 5:10)
- Every single one of us starts off as a child of wrath, according to Ephesians 2:3.
So, we cannot claim that “some people are good to start with,” nor that “some people are just bad.” The whole Human race is tarred with the same brush called sin. Romans 3:23 says ALL have sinned and come short of the Glory of God. Each person then, has to choose how they will respond. Jesus may have been hinting to Nicodemus that he needed to step out of the darkness. To us, however, it is not a “hint:” it is a command: “Walk as children of light!” “Walk in the light as He is in the light!” No longer associate with the unfruitful works of darkness: you were in darkness, but you responded to the call of Jesus and came to the light. He took your Judgment at the Cross! You trusted in His Grace and in His Blood for your salvation. You were born again at that moment, whether you knew it or not, and now you are a child of light.
We don’t know a great deal more about Nicodemus: we know he spoke up once in defense of Jesus in a venue that may indeed have been a meeting of the Sanhedrin, though, again, it doesn’t say so. We also know that Nicodemus and another rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, were the ones who approached Pilate and asked permission to take away Jesus’s dead body and prepare it for burial. Evidently Nicodemus had become a genuine believer. There was some risk involved with associating with Jesus, even in death. But that seems to be the last reference to his involvement.
So, what is your “legacy” going to be? What is the “after” story in your life? Are you going to choose to consistently walk with Jesus? Or is it mostly just an entertaining way to spend a Sunday morning?
I pray that all of us will grow in the intensity with which we love the Lord and desire to serve Him. I want my life to have eternal value. I trust that you have a similar desire.
Lord Jesus, fill us with a desire to walk with you and to learn the work you have assigned for us to do. Draw us into a pattern of faith and obedience that will transform us into your likeness. Cleanse our lives so that you can live through us, and we can serve as your ambassadors.