Jesus and Nicodemus
1There was a man named Nicodemus who was a Pharisee and a Jewish leader. 2One night he went to Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we know that God has sent you to teach us. You could not work these miracles, unless God were with you.”
3Jesus replied, “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God's kingdom!”
4Nicodemus asked, “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?”
I tell you for certain that before you can get into God's kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit. 6Humans give life to their children. Yet only God's Spirit can change you into a child of God. 7Don't be surprised when I say that you must be born from above. 8Only God's Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going.
9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
How can you be a teacher of Israel and not know these things? 11I tell you for certain we know what we are talking about because we have seen it ourselves. But none of you will accept what we say. 12 If you don't believe when I talk to you about things on earth, how can you possibly believe if I talk to you about things in heaven?
13 No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from there. 14 And the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as the metal snake was lifted up by Moses in the desert. 15Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life.
16God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. 17God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! 18No one who has faith in God's Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn't have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God's only Son.
19The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light. 20People who do evil hate the light and won't come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done. 21But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do.
“You must be born again.” This well-known saying, as any one-liner, needs a wider context to communicate its true meaning.
Nicodemus came to see Jesus by night—one of many temporal references in John, probably meant here as a subtle allusion to Nicodemus’ spiritual state. After all, the fourth gospel has much to say about “spiritual darkness.”
Jesus is not impressed by the religious status of this “man” (introduced as such in the original language). The “teacher of Israel” comes to Jesus out of curiosity about Jesus’ signs (3:2). This is precisely—as John says earlier (2:23-25) —insufficient grounds for coming to Jesus. No surprise that Jesus speaks about the necessity for a new birth. Nicodemus wrongly understands this as a mere repetition of our physical birth.
Jesus says this new birth is “from above,” one of water and Spirit, most likely a reference to spiritual cleansing and regeneration produced by the Holy Spirit. Jesus here echoes the Old Testament promises of Ezekiel 36, one of many allusions to Ezekiel in John’s story of Jesus.
Human religions get us nowhere. Even obedience to the law God himself gave to Moses cannot produce this birth from above apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. We all need to be born from above, because we “are not God’s children by nature or because of any human desires,” but “God himself [is] the one who made [us] his children” (1:13).
This new birth–eternal life—is freely given to all who have faith in the Son of Man, that is, who put their trust in and commit their life to Jesus, the only Son of God, given to us by God the Father so that we would not perish eternally.
Acquaintance with Jesus is not enough. We must be born from above.
Holy Father whose eyes are too pure to look on evil, You took away my sins by giving your Son on the cross. Help me to walk in the light of your righteousness so others might place their own faith in Jesus. In the name of your only Son. Amen.