Nicodemus: Learning from the Master

John 3:1-8

We are introduced to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, "a member of the Jewish ruling council." From these credentials we know that he is a powerful man, very influential, and an important religious figure. He also belongs to the group of spiritual leaders who considered Jesus a heretic and a threat to religious establishments and traditions.

In this passage, however, we see a man among their ranks defying the conventional and daring to speak directly with Jesus, their enemy. Nicodemus is afraid to be ostracized so he has chosen to speak with Christ at night when people are asleep and when he is less recognizable because of the darkness. We commend him, however, for responding to the curiosity God has placed in his heart. He has braved the odds and dared to speak with Jesus.

Nicodemus opens the conversation with polite words, acknowledging that Jesus is from God, but he is careful not to hastily conclude that Jesus is the Christ. He points to Jesus' miracles as proof of His Godly origins. At this point, Jesus has already turned water into wine and healed various diseases around the region. He has become popular because many people from all over Judea witnessed His wonders during the Jewish Passover celebration.

Jesus, however, knows what has been bothering Nicodemus, and He has zeroed in on the issue in His reply, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." This answer appears incongruent with Nicodemus' first statements, but we see that the Pharisee's reply reveals his real concern-- the issue of salvation. How can one be saved? How can one "see the kingdom of God?"

Nicodemus takes Jesus' answer literally and asks, "How can a person be born when he is old or how can a person enter into his mother's womb one more time to be born?" Jesus clarifies His statement and points to spiritual not physical rebirth. He says those who are "born of water and the Spirit" enter the kingdom of God. There can be many interpretations for what water and Spirit stand for. It can be a contrast between Physical and Spiritual birth. How can we say that water stands for physical birth? This becomes more apparent in the follow-up statement, "flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." Because these are parallel statements, water corresponds to flesh and the Spirit corresponds to Spirit.

Another interpretation looks at water as a symbol of washing away of sins at the moment of spiritual rebirth. This relies on previous Biblical experiences of water being the symbol of cleansing especially in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 36:25).

What is clear, however, is that the changing work of the Holy Spirit is essential for a person to see the Kingdom of God. Jesus makes it clear that the way for us to experience salvation is through spiritual rebirth provided by the power of the Holy Spirit, convicting us of our sins and drawing us to begin a personal relationship with our God. When Jesus gives Himself up on the cross, the apostles are able to understand that this relationship is made complete with the Messiah entering their hearts and ruling in their lives.

There is one final but crucial note in Jesus' answer. The work of the Spirit, He says, is like the wind; we "cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going." That is, the changing work provided by the Holy Spirit, who is God himself, depends on His sovereignty alone. It is not our deeds or lifestyle that makes Him decide to call us. It is simply His prerogative, His grace and His mercy.


Thank you God, for you have sovereignly chosen me despite my sins and unfaithfulness. It is my desire, Lord, that You keep me close to You. Never let me go, Lord. Convict me of sin, and teach me to live a life that is truly pleasing to You.

Thank you, Lord, for the example of Nicodemus. Though at first he is afraid to be ostracized, he has allowed the Spirit to work in him, eventually changing him and giving him the courage to take the leap, by your grace, to accept Jesus through faith alone.

Lord, use me to bring this message to more and more people. Teach me to have compassion for those who are lost. Make my life truly a testimony of Your goodness. Amen.

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