John 3: Born of the Spirit
At the end of John 2, we read Jesus performed many miracles at the Passover feast, and many people saw the miracles and believed in His name. But Jesus did not entrust ( commit ) himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in man’s heart. John tells us many believed in his name when they saw the miracles, the miraculous signs he did. Their faith was in the miracles he did. We will see this become the reason many followed him. Their faith was not in Jesus, it was in the miracles of Jesus.
Isaiah prophesized : “ These people honor me with their lips , but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Jesus spoke these words to the Pharisees and added: “ you have let go of God’s commands and are holding to the traditions of men.” ( Mark 7) Samuel said, “ Men look on the outside, but God looks in the heart.”
Jesus is the God- Man. Here he exhibits the omniscience of God. He knows all men- universally. And He knew each individually. He did not commit himself to those for he knows what was in their hearts and did not commit Himself to them. Notice what Jesus said in Mark 7, you have let go of God’s command and are holding to the traditions of man. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “ you have heard it said of old” which is a reference to the teaching of their elders. The Pharisees and Scribes had written two books, the Misnah, and the Talmud. These still exist to this day. The Misnah is a book made up of sections on how to apply the Ten Commandments in every- day life. What one can do or not do on the Sabbath which would be considered work covered 24 chapters. The Talmud was a commentary on the Misnah. ( For example I have books in my library which offer commentaries on books of the Bible. One commentary I have on the book of John is over 400 pages. In the NIV, the book of John covers 46 pages, with foot notes. Without footnotes, it would probably on cover about 25- 30 pages. )
Now it is not that I do not appreciate the work of others who have studied and shared their views and interpretations. But I have but one teacher- the Holy Spirit. He helps me discern the truth. For He always testifies to the truth. It is His testimony I must believe.
We read the last verse of John 2 which says: “ …for he ( Jesus) knew what was in a man.” And it leads us to the first verse of John 3: “ Now there was a man of the Pharisees , a member of the Jewish ruling council.” Understand a Pharisee in the time of Jesus was considered to be extremely religious, zealous in keeping the law, following the minutia of the Misnah in all the rituals, diet, ceremonies, cleansing, sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath. Nicodemus was religious, rich, respected and a ruler. Jesus knew what was in the heart of Nicodemus, for he knew all men and knew what was in this man’s heart.
Nicodemus must have heard what Jesus said and saw what he did in the temple. But Nicodemus had been taught all his life, that what a man needed to please God was clear instructions and hard work to follow those instructions, keeping the law. In some ways we all have this in our hearts, that we can please God with our works, our efforts, our good deeds, and in doing so , God will accept us. Nicodemus recognized in Jesus an ability to teach in a way he had never heard before. Nicodemus was convinced Jesus was a teacher sent from God for no man could do the miraculous signs Jesus did. He knew in his heart Jesus was sent from God.
Nicodemus would seem to anybody viewing his life, to have it all. Money, respect, position, a leader and a morally good man. He is even humble enough to come to Jesus this carpenter from Nazareth. His words and actions reveal he is a man unsure of his standing with God. He has no assurance of God’s acceptance of his good works, of all his efforts to keep the commandments. Perhaps he had been to hear John the Baptists, as had many of the Pharisees. Now this man appears on the scene, this Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter from Nazareth, a “ nobody’” in the eyes of the Sanhedrin. No degrees, no pedigrees, no writings, no followers except six other nobodies, some rough neck, unlearned fishermen.
Yet…Nicodemus heard Jesus teach, saw what he did and came at night to see him. Recognized him as a superior teacher, and as a man who must have been sent by God, for no one could do what he did. Nicodemus uses the plural “we” referring to other members of the Sanhedrin who believe Jesus is somebody special. If he thought Jesus would be impressed that other members of the Sanhedrin were impressed with his teaching and therefore Jesus would respond favorably he was mistaken. Nicodemus thought he would lead the conversation. But Jesus’ reply comes directly to the point, like a sharp sword it divides the thought and intentions of Nicodemus’ heart.
Jesus replies: “ I tell you the truth, ( verily, verily, KJV- meaning this is the most important thing I can tell you) no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” A new birth is essential, absolutely necessary. The Greek word used here is interesting. The word is anothen. It literally has three meanings: to do it a second time; a new beginning; and it also mean from above. We will see all three occur. We will see we are born again a second time, spiritually. It something radical a new beginning which comes from above and as a result we are a new creation. A newborn babe, born again not of the corruptible, but the incorruptible seed, the Word of God. ( 1 Peter 1; 23)
Listen to what Nicodemus says in reply: “ how can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb.”
Notice the first word Nicodemus uses: how. How not why. Ask a teenager to do something and he/she might reply : ‘why?’ – Which speaks of rebellion, which usually is the start of an argument. Or they can answer how- which implies I will do it, show me how- teach me how to do it. After all we had to be taught how to mow the yard, do the laundry, make up our beds, etc. This is the role of parents for children. This is why God chose to identify Himself as our Father which art in heaven. The person who realizes and says with great humility- I know no good thing dwells within me is a person who is humble. The Pharisees thought highly of themselves. This is why Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went down to the Temple to pray. This parable compared two extremes- the confident self-righteous Pharisee and the despised, humbled tax collector. The Pharisee depended on his good works, his keeping of the law. The tax collector does not plead his good works, he pleads for the mercy of God. Jesus said the tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee who exalted himself, but the man who humbled himself. Nicodemus has humbled himself to come to Jesus seeking advice and teaching. He has a teachable spirit. The seed of the incorruptible word of God is about to be planted.
Realize the impact of this conversation. It is the most important conversation ever held. It contains the most well known verse of the Bible and the most profound truth. Let’s listen in as John did that night Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews came to see Jesus. Jesus is about to answer the question of Nicodemus and the question of every doubter- How can one be born again?
Jesus answered: “ Verily, verily ( I tell you the truth) no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
Now to be in the Kingdom of God is to belong to God; to be part of His rule, His reign and His domain. Paul tells us we are transferred from the “ kingdom of darkness, ruled by the god of this world, into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” This same one John told us is the Light of the World. Out of darkness into light occurs at salvation. Jesus saw in Nicodemus’ heart a hunger and emptiness of a man who wanted so desperately to please God and be accepted by God.
What does Jesus mean when He tells Nicodemus and us, we must be born of the water and the Spirit. Does being born of the water, mean our first physical birth? I think it is obvious we must be born the first time, which is out of the water of our mother’s wombs, into the kingdom of this world. Does it mean baptism of water? No baptism of water cannot save one. None of the Old Testament Saints who are in heaven today were baptized in water. Baptism denotes death in the New Testament. But I believe Jesus is telling us there are two factors involved in the 2nd birth, water and the Spirit. Water is a symbol of the Word of God. In John 17, Jesus prays, “ Sanctify them through the truth; thy word is truth.” In John 15, Jesus says, “ you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” I believe to be born again from above, to be cleansed of all your sins, the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God applied and believed in our heart.
Again let us go back to Genesis 1, where John began his Gospel calling Jesus the Word of God who was with God in the beginning and who was and is God . “ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and in darkness and the Spirit hovered above the face of the waters”. There it is the Spirit and water. There I was in darkness, my life without purpose, void, empty. The Spirit was hovering over me. Then came the light- God spoke and said let there be light. John the Apostle told us Jesus, the Word God became flesh and dwelt among us. In Him was life and the life was the light of men.
Now let’s go back to what John the Baptist told the delegation of priest sent from the Sanhedrin who ask who he was and why was he baptizing Jews as well as Gentiles. John the Baptist had been the phenomena of the day, drawing huge crowds. His reply to the delegation of priests would have been brought back to the Sanhedrin, perhaps Nicodemus was even with them when they went to question him, but he undoubtedly heard the report of what John the Baptist said, “ I baptize with water, but there comes after me One who will baptize you with the Spirit. This man on whom the Sprit comes down on and remains will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
John the Baptist’s baptism stood for repentance. There is no regeneration without repentance they go together. No repentance, no new birth. No new birth, no entering the kingdom of God. Cannot enter it, cannot see it, that is understand it. The Spirit of God used the Word of God to bring light into darkness in the creation account. This is exactly what occurred in my life and yours when you were born again. When we say we have been born again, we are compared to a baby, a new infant which desires the Word of God like a new infant desires milk. But also think about this- a newborn infant has no past, only a future.
When were born the first time physically, we inherited from our parents, our ancestors. We were born in the flesh. Jesus tells us, “ That which is born of the flesh is flesh…” We inherited the sinful nature. God de also made man to be inhabited by God. We were created by Him and for Him. The human spirit was designed to be inhabited by God. After the fall, when sin came into the lives of Adam and Eve, the Spirit departed. God does not intend the change the flesh, the old nature. You do not put new wine in an old wine cloth. The old nature is at war with God and the new nature, which is God in you. “ The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” ( Romans 8)
“…That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “ When you and I were born in the flesh, we entered this physical world. A world which are told is under the control of the devil. We received a physical body which allowed us to identify with the physical environment through our five natural senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. This is how we sense and understand our physical world. Notice we call these our natural senses, because they allow us to associate and identify with the natural world. We are referred to in Scripture as the natural man, also known as the old nature when we get saved. We are told in I Cor. 2, the natural man cannot comprehend, cannot understand spiritual truths, for they lack the Spirit to reveal those truths to them. When one cannot understand something , we use our natural sense of sight to describe this as ‘ not being able to see.’ In other words they are as we were before the new birth- spiritually blind.
Here is the bottom line- we are born lost. In bondage to sin, imprisoned by our old nature which cannot be redeemed. But when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, we become a new creature. Our sins are cleansed, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives to indwell us and seal us. A new life has begun.
Jesus then tells Nicodemus: “ Marvel not that I said you must be born again.” Then He proceeds to give a second illustration of the work of the Spirit as He compares it to the wind. One cannot see the Spirit, and one cannot see the wind. Nor can one tell where it comes from. Weather forecasters try to predict and forecast where the wind will blow, where a hurricane will reach land, but they do not know. The action of the Spirit on the soul of the sinner and the saint is like the wind in the natural world. As the branches of the tree are moved and reveal the movement of the unseen wind, so are the thoughts , words and deeds of a person’s life evidence of an invisible force at work in their lives. The wind can be soft and gentle in a child’s heart and mind or it can be tornado which makes one fear and seek shelter.
The Spirit had been stirring the heart and mind of Nicodemus and he knew he had to speak to this man called Jesus. As Jesus spoke to him, Nicodemus began to realize, here he was this teacher of Israel, this religious man, who had no peace.
Jesus , who is the Greatest Teacher ever, continues with this lesson of life eternal. He tells a bewildered Nicodemus: “I have spoken to you of earthy things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” We realize the natural things of earth, including birth, how nature reproduces after its own kind, how the wind, which we cannot see, blows, how the seed dies in the ground to germinate and bring new life, were all pictures of something spiritual and heavenly.
What does this mean? Jesus was talking a man who had knowledge of Scripture. Jeremiah predicted a new creation would be given; Ezekiel said God would take out your old sinful heart of stone and give you a new one. And there were many more statements about a new birth and a new life. Jesus would later tell people the Scriptures testify of me. Jesus is saying the Scriptures testify of me, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the prophets, and Nicodemus as a teacher of the do not understand these things.
Nicodemus’ problem is not what he does or does not do; nor is his problem what he knows or does not know- his problems is what and who he is . A lost man trying to keep the law to attain acceptance from God. Jesus is about to give Nicodemus and us the source of salvation. It is interesting after this encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples will go down to Samaria, where he will tell a woman who clearly does not have the knowledge of Scripture that Nicodemus has, about the source of salvation. The conversation will revolve around water and the One who is the source of a spring of eternal water.
Here Jesus tells Nicodemus the source of salvation. “ No one has ever gone into heaven, except the one who came from heaven, the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
I am going to stop there for John 3: 16 deserves our full attention.
I believe Nicodemus became a believer, but not at this time. But I believe the full truth of what Jesus said came to Nicodemus when Jesus was crucified, nailed to that cross and lifted up, that it all came together for Nicodemus. We know Nicodemus would accompany Joseph of Arimathea when he asked Pilate for the body of Christ.