John Chapter three begins with a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus the Son of God in human form and Nicodemus a Pharisees and a ruler of the Jews. The conversation opens as follows:
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”
We see Nicodemus came to see Jesus and that he came at night. Why? We see that Nicodemus recognized, to a certain degree, that Jesus was from God. Cool. Then why did Jesus respond that way? Here is what we know. When it says, “a ruler of the Jews” it means that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin. He was up there. He was a powerful man who mingled with powerful people. Jesus was a social pariah. Perhaps Nicodemus came to him at night because he was concerned about being seen with Him. But what we know is that he came. Nicodemus went to see Jesus, and He gave him the truth.
Jesus’ response is odd. Here is someone paying Jesus what seems like a compliment, and He turns around and says something that seems off-topic at best. “Truly truly” not a word combination we use. By saying this, Jesus was emphasizing His statement. He was saying that He knew this information for sure that He was an eyewitness. “…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Like many today, the Pharisees offered a works-based gospel. They taught that what you did saved you. Jesus, like He always did, turned that on its head. He said unless you are born again you will not see the kingdom of heaven.
The conversation continues:
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born 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 the 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 everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”
Nicodemus is obviously confused, and Jesus is sticking to His guns, but this time, He gives more color. “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot ever the kingdom of God.” What is Jesus talking about? We go to the Old Testament, Ezekiel 36: 25-27
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.”
Nicodemus knew this verse. He was a Pharisees, ruler of the Jews. He likely had it memorized. Jesus was speaking words that Nicodemus should have understood. So, we have a man, Nicodemus, who was a ruler, a part of the in-crowd, had proximity to the Word, knew the Word, was in conversation with Jesus, recognized that God was with Jesus, and was still confused. We are grateful that all was not lost. We see Nicodemus again later in the book of John, and he has his head on straight. Perhaps we will touch on that another time. For now, let’s keep to this conversation. Jesus goes on in verse 10 to say, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not know these things? Shade has been thrown and rightfully so. As previously stated, Jesus was turning the teachings of the Pharisees on its head. He was telling Nicodemus that God saves not works.
There are many who qualify their salvation by things that they have done and are doing. No amount of good deeds can save you. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind take us away.” Isaiah 64:6 says. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8.
My friends it is easy to get caught up in the “good” you feel you have done and believe that good or bad things are happening to you because of your works or lack therefore. I’m guilty. There was a stretch of time in my life where my relationship with God was contentious because I felt I should have been receiving better things from Him because I was obeying Him. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? What I deserve is hell, eternal separation from God the Father. I deserve what Jesus got: the crucifixion.
God saves who He wants, when He wants, and in the time He wants. That’s the wind. You don’t see it, you don’t know where it came from, and you don’t know where it’s going; but you know it’s there because you can hear it and feel it.
Jesus’ use of language is remarkable. He was able to speak directly and pointedly. There is so much in this passage, and I won’t pretend to understand it all. What I do know is that I cannot work my way into heaven. I obey God because I love Him not because I stand to gain anything from my obedience. Jesus said that one must be born again. This is The New Birth. If I believe, I will be saved. That's it. That is all I've got belief, not works, not deeds, nada. Only belief. Any good that I may accomplish subsequent to my salvation is credited to Christ alone. As I can achieve nothing without Him.