Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, How can a man be born again when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he? Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you. ‘You must be born again.’ ‘The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is so is everyone who is born of the Spirit’ (NASB).
Before going to a dentist, we usually brush our teeth with extra care to ensure their spotlessness under examination. But later the dentist can swish a red liquid around our mouth, which reveals (to our horror) a tremendous amount of plaque and other undesirable material that we could not remove in spite of all our brushing. The dentist alone has the equipment to remove it. Likewise, we may try on our own to be clean before God and may even do a good job of convincing ourselves that we are in good shape. But God’s Spirit has a way of exposing both our sinfulness and the need for a divine “dentist” to make us clean.
A Young man in Chicago entered an insurance office with his pockets bulging with burglary tools. The policeman caught him red-handed as he endeavored to open the safe. When the young man was investigated, it was learned that he was highly educated, having three college degrees. His latest degree was a degree in psychology, earned from the University of Kansas. He had studied law for a year, and when apprehended by the authorities, he was working on a doctorate in psychology. An education is valuable, but it is not man’s basic need. Jesus said to a cultured, educated man, “You must be born again.”
I. A VISIT FROM A SINCERE AND SCHOLARLY SEEKER VV. 1-2
In this passage of Scripture, the Apostle John recounts for us a visit and interview that Jesus had with a very influential religious leader named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was wealthy and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish nation. Nicodemus was undoubtedly a very brilliant man. He was a respected scholar who had studied the Old Testament Scriptures for most of his life. As a religious leader, he probably fasted several times a week, and spent time each day in the Temple in prayer. He tithed his income on regular basis. He would have been considered a model Christian in many circles today. But Jesus said all his goodness was not enough. The respected teacher of the Pharisees, Nicodemus came to Jesus at the cover of night because he didn’t want to be seen speaking to this obscure Rabbi from Nazareth. It wasn’t politically correct to be seen with Jesus. Nevertheless, there was something about Jesus that attracted this Jewish leader like a magnet. There was something about Jesus’ words and deeds that touched Nicodemus’ heart.
There is something about Nicodemus that is appealing to me. Nicodemus was a sincere man. He may have been deficient in understanding, but at least he was not blinded by prejudice, like those religious leaders who attributed the words and works of Jesus to Beelzebub (Satan). If Nicodemus could not understand the significance of the signs and wonders of Jesus, at least he had the wisdom to believe that the source of such power was God. Therefore, Nicodemus greeted Jesus with respect as a Rabbi, although Jesus did not belong to one of their prestigious schools of sacred learning. Jesus, who has insight into the human heart, saw beyond Nicodemus words of greeting to the state of his soul, and answered him in a language, which was baffling and yet calculated to speak to the condition of his heart. By the way, ladies and gentlemen, Jesus knows the condition of your heart. He knows exactly what you need in life.
II. THE DIVINE NECESSITY OF THE NEW BIRTH VV. 3-5
After Nicodemus was done with his complimentary words to Jesus, Jesus shocked him when He said, Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus was shocked because he had come to interview Jesus and Jesus was more interested in “birthdays.” Nicodemus, although a bright scholar of religion, and yet he was lost at sea. Born again? Born of the Spirit? What are you talking about, Nicodemus might have protested.
According to Jesus, Nicodemus and everyone need to have two birthdays. We all get one, right? When you are young, you want everybody to remember your birthday. Then when you get older, you hope everyone forgets it. But the truth is that the second birthday is just as important as the first. The first is for time; the second is for eternity. The second birthday is the one most people know little about. The new birth is frequently confused with religion, good works, and steps to self-improvement plans. Jesus says, unless you experience this second birth you cannot see the kingdom of God. But like Nicodemus, some of you may protest. Well, I go to church all the time; I have worked hard, given my money to the church, and done lots of good things. In this conversation, Jesus is not talking about your outward life, what you do. Rather, He is talking about your inward life, what you are. The term born again means to be born anew, to be born from above. In other words, the source of this birth is God. Jesus is saying that you cannot experience the reign of God, no matter what your race, degree of piety, apart from the experience of new birth, because neither your race nor religious persuasion, and devoted observances can cleanse the sin that is inherent in your heart. For Isaiah says that our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Jeremiah also says, the heart is more deceitful than all else. And it is desperately wicked; who can understand it (Jer. 17:9). The Phrase desperately wicked could mean incurably wicked.
Jesus knew that Nicodemus needed more than a respectable teacher, he needed a Savior. He needed more than religion; he needed regeneration. He needed more than law; he needed life. Jesus knows what lies deep in the heart of all people; the fatal disease that causes lying, cheating, hate, prejudice, greed, and lust. Jesus said, For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man (Matt. 15:19, 20). Psychologists realize that something is wrong with the human race, but they disagree as to the problem. The Bible says that man’s problem is the direct result of his decision as an intelligent, moral, responsible being to revolt against the will of his Maker. The Bible calls the problem of the human race SIN. I have an acronym for sin. S—self, I stands for I. N stands for Nobody else. This is the self-centered life.
Jesus’ statement baffles Nicodemus, the theologian. He has come to discuss the fine points of theology, but Jesus is talking about new birth. He said to Jesus how can an old person be born again. It is impossible. With all his theological education, Nicodemus lacks spiritual insight. He fails to see that it is a supernatural birth of which Jesus is speaking. It is easy for you to be a preacher, Sunday school teacher, a Bible teacher, who teaches the Bible and not know the author of the Bible. Nicodemus did not have a clue what Jesus was talking about. He misunderstood Jesus’ statement and concluded that they were absurd. Nicodemus was a teacher of the Pharisees and yet he had not learned that God’s active power was not limited to the material and physical. There is also a spiritual realm in which God is at work. Jesus realizing that Nicodemus did not understand Him restated His words differently so he could understand (v. 5). That too did not help matters at all. Why is the new birth necessary? Without the new birth, you are living in the wrong family. In verse 5, Jesus explained that the source of the new birth is the Holy Spirit. The new birth is a miracle birth. Now let me explain to you the process of salvation from divine perspective. God initiates salvation, Jesus implements it, and the Holy Spirit enables it. The Triune God is at work in the process of salvation. The Apostle Paul calls it regeneration (Titus 3:5).
Without the new birth, you are condemned as a sinner. You say that is harsh. That is condemning and judgmental. I don’t like the sound of that. I don’t like the sound of it either, but it happens to be the truth. It is straight from the word of God. The Bible says without the new birth you are lost and condemned. It doesn’t say you are going to be condemned. Rather it says that you are condemned. That is the status of the human race before God. Let’s read John 3:18. The only way you can get out from under that condemnation is through Jesus Christ. And it is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin and your need for the Savior Jesus Christ.
In these days of increased capital punishment, there have been many condemned men and women, who have sat in their holding cell on death row awaiting their last summons. On that final day and final hour, their last hope is a call from the governor of that state. They hope against hope to hear that phone ring and hear the governor’s voice on the other line say, “I have decided to commute your sentence.” It doesn’t happen very often but it could. This is the good news. Though humanity stands rightfully condemned before a holy God, the phone is ringing. Your pardon is assured. But you have to pick up the phone and answer. You have to receive that pardon. Right now at the sound of my voice, the phone is ringing. The Holy Spirit is speaking to some of you. The Holy Spirit is convicting you of the need to give your heart to Jesus Christ. The phone of the Holy Spirit is ringing in your heart. It is up to you to receive the pardon from God.
III. THE EXPERIENCE OF THE NEW BIRTH VV. 6-8
In verse 5, Jesus says “unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” The phrase “water and the Spirit” refer to the same thing. The Holy Spirit is the One who cleanses and renews. Jesus is telling Nicodemus and all of us that our whole life should be cleansed and our hearts transformed, that is, to be born again. The Holy Spirit produces this new birth in our lives. Then Jesus goes on to explain to Nicodemus the reason he needs to experience this new birth. This brings us to verse 6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” What Jesus is saying is simple. He is saying, like generates like. Like begets like; like produces like. This principle shatters the theory of evolution. Flesh gives birth to flesh. Here the word flesh does not mean sinful nature. The point is that natural, human birth produces people who belong to the earthly family of humankind, but not the children of God. Jesus is saying that a person does not become a child of God automatically (John 1:12-13). Only the Holy Spirit produces the new birth, which is spiritual birth. You are not born again because of your race; you are not born again because of your ethnicity. You are not born again because of your family background. Your education, status in society and influence on people cannot earn you the new birth. The Holy Spirit is the person who produces the new nature in you. He does this by first convicting you that you are a sinner. Sin condemns you before a holy God. A condemned man on death row can hope to have his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. But in Jesus Christ, our sentence was not just commuted, but also paid in full.
When Christ saves you, He does not give you a facelift; He transforms you completely through the power of the Holy Spirit. What is in view is a new nature, not a turning over a new leaf. Perhaps Nicodemus was still puzzled, and then Jesus said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.” I want to be a little bit pedantic here because I have discovered something that I want to share with you. When Nicodemus came to Jesus he said, “we know that you are a teacher sent from God” (v. 2) He used the plural pronoun we. In verses 3 & 5, Jesus used the singular pronoun one or he relating to the new birth. Now in verse 7, the pronoun you is plural. Here Jesus does not refer exclusively to Nicodemus, but all his colleagues in the Sanhedrin. Jesus even goes further because the plural you is inclusive. It is not only Nicodemus who must be born again, but also the entire human race. And get this; Jesus used the word must. The word “must” carries the idea of divine necessity. Jesus says elsewhere I must go to Jerusalem. I must do the work of the One who sent Me. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house (Luke 19:5). John the Baptist said this about Jesus; He must increase and I must decrease (John 3:30). So, Jesus is saying, Nicodemus you and everyone else must be born again. We all need to be born again because we cannot save ourselves. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
A little boy stole five dollars from his father, and his conscience troubled him so he made up his mind to tell him, but he was afraid. When he finally told him, the father was furious at first. Then he softened and took his boy on his lap and told him that he (the father) stole thirteen dozen eggs from his mother and sold them. The little boy took his arm around his father’s neck and said, “Dad, we are partners together, aren’t we? We are both thieves.” What you and I need is forgiveness for our sin and a right relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is the only One who can make this a reality. Then to top His message, Jesus uses the analogy of the wind to explain the activity of the Holy Spirit (v. 8). The point is that you and I cannot control the wind. But we can detect the effects of the wind. We can hear the sound of the wind, watch the swaying grasses, see the clouds scudding by and we run for a cover. So, it is with the Holy Spirit. We cannot control Him or understand Him, but we can witness His effect. I don’t understand television but I watch it because I can see its effect. I don’t understand electricity, but I enjoy what it produces. My question is “Have you experienced the new birth from the Holy Spirit? If not then give your life to Jesus Christ right now wherever you are and the Holy Spirit will take His residence in your life.