Once again, John tells us Nicodemus was a Pharisee. From this we can infer that he is a well respected member of the community.
Why at night? – Down through the centuries, scholars, lay people and skeptics alike have debated why Nicodemus came to see Jesus under the cover of darkness. Many have speculated that this was because Nic was unwilling to risk being seen openly praising Jesus because of the risk to his status and reputation. While this interpretation cannot be discounted, I tend to reject it because in chapters 7 and 19, Nicodemus is overt in his support of Jesus. In my opinion, it may very well be nothing more than the Pharisee wanting some private conversation which was unlikely to happen during the daytime.
Jesus being obscure….again. – After Nicodemus pays Jesus a nice compliment, Jesus takes over the conversation. He goes right into, ‘unless a man is born again…’ There are a few times in the Gospels where Jesus comes across like one of the old Shao Lin masters in 1970s Kung Fu movies. He makes these obscure declarations that blow up the conversation and take it in a direction He wants it to go.
In this case He says, Unless a man is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God, which naturally confuses Nicodemus. This idea of Rebirth is new. It’s not an extension of the Mosaic covenant.
Jesus clarification is just as cloudy, even 21 centuries later. He reply, Unless a man is born of the water and spirit, he cannot ender the Kingdom of God.
Jesus words born of water and Spirit…. Have thrown generations into bewilderment. Several, though not all, scholars have tried to make born of water refer to physical birth , as in the amniotic fluid that accompanies a baby during birth, while Spirit refers to rebirth. For the life of me, I cannot see it that way. Both contextually and grammatically, both water and spirit refer to the second or rebirth. I read this passage in multiple translations and even went back to the Greek and translated it myself. Admittedly, my Greek skills have atrophied over the years, but fortunately, verse 5 is in rather simple Greek so it wasn’t difficult. It is clear that a natural reading suggests water and spirit and are a phrase in themselves. There are no definite articles separating the nouns, or any other differentiators. Also, the human birth experience called born of water does not exist in Greek literature. This is an invention of the Church to try and explain a very difficult and obscure declaration.
It is my conclusion that Jesus is foreshadowing conversion, which would not be fully understood until Pentecost. The conversion experience, called here a birth, refers to our human response to the Gospel which is summed up in our obedience in Baptism while Spirit refers to what is unseen, the hard part, as it were, that can only be performed by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 6, Paul also uses baptism as the picture of the human response to the Gospel and describes it as death, burial and resurrection. Here Jesus is foreshadowing conversion by comparing baptism as birth rather than death. In light of the Book of Acts, the understanding is simplified.
Jesus explanation of New Birth does not clear up Nicodemus’ confusion. The Pharisee asks, How can this be? At first, Jesus reprimands him for his lack of understanding, then He shifts gears and makes simplifies the subject by going way back to basics. He spends the verses 11-21 by saying, it’s all about me, Nicodemus. Just like Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:9), so the Son of Man will be lifted up. Again, this is a foreshadowing of His crucifixion, that Nicodemus would simply not understand at this time.
But He makes it a bit easier by saying He came as an expression of God’s love rather than His Judgement. He has come to bring light to the world, but in our attraction to sin, and it’s associated darkness, many will reject him. But there will be others, and revelation tells us it’s a multitude that cannot be numbered, will literally come to the light.
And with that, the story ends. Abruptly, and to some degree incomplete.
That’s because at this point in the Gospel, the whole story is not yet known. It’s not until after the resurrection that the story is complete and the pieces of the puzzle can be fit together.
We have the benefit of the Bible. We can figure these things out. Salvation requires a conversion, a new birth than can only be achieved by coming to Christ, the light of the world. He came to offer light and light in place of darkness and judgement.
You don’t have to understand all of it to get started. You can simply start with John 3:16-18
Joh 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Joh 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Joh 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God
Probably most of you listening, have already accepted that promise and followed him, but there might be a few who are sitting on the fence. My challenge to you today is JUMP. Take Jesus at His word and ‘Believe in Him.’
I’m going to pray for you right now.
If you took that first step into Jesus arms, well done. I’m so excited. Please let your Pastor know right away so he can guide you into your next steps. If you don’t have a good Church, email, tweet me or use the comments feature on the website with the show notes and I’ll get back to you right away with some material and with the name of a good Church in your area.
Next week, we’re going behind the curtain of one of Jesus most remarkable miracles and what it means in a lesson called, ‘Fish Sandwiches all round, no coupon required. No limit.’
Until then, be blessed and be a blessing.