Friendly But Unconvinced
Nicodemus is a legitimate inquirer. He is curious, not hostile. He is interested, not setting a trap. He has taken the initiative to come to Jesus.
See the Signs:
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” - John 3:2
Nicodemus grants Jesus the title “Rabbi.” He does so without cynicism or ulterior motives. He believes that Jesus is a teacher. For a man of Nicodemus’ academic and intellectual standing, this is a powerful statement.
- The acknowledgment that Jesus is a teacher is near universal now. You can get consensus on that position in almost any crowd.
- The things he taught have had amazing lasting power among humans.
Nicodemus also acknowledges the “signs you are doing.” This means that Nicodemus has witnessed one or more of the miracles of Jesus, and he has heard about others.
- Nicodemus rightly calls these miracles “signs.”
- John records seven mighty signs in his Gospel. The other gospel writers record many more. John notes the signs when they happen, as with the miracle at the wedding, which was the first of the miraculous signs. “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” - John 2:11
- A sign is something that points beyond itself. The miracle itself is not the main point. How and why that miracle happened is the main point.
- Jesus performed the miracles to reveal his glory, to help people know who he was. God’s message in Jesus was Jesus himself—his person and his work. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” - 2 Corinthians 5:19
Nicodemus confesses that God is with Jesus in both his teaching “come from God” and his signs, God is “with him.”
- Nicodemus has eyes to see the activity of God. He is alert enough and spiritually open enough to believe that God is at work in the teaching and ministry of Jesus.
- This is a huge step that his colleagues in the Council would not take. Gamaliel remained uncommitted but open, as we saw last week. The others saw Jesus as the enemy of God, possessed of the devil.
See the Kingdom:
“no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” - John 3:3
Nicodemus speculates that God is at work in Jesus. But he cannot yet “see the kingdom.” Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom, that it was at hand. He came to bring this new era of God’s work.
The kingdom of God is the Rule of God in all its manifestations. This would include the rule of God in the hearts of people. So the kingdom has come to you when you submit to the rule of God, when you acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Christ.
The only way to see the kingdom is to be “born again.” You may speculate that God is at work in Jesus both in his teaching and in his miracles. But there is another step to your journey with Christ. You must be born again.
The must means necessity. It is a requirement, and it is irrevocable. You can take it personally. You cannot see the kingdom of God unless and until you have been born again.
“Born again” is a new term in the Gospel of John, but spiritual birth has already been mentioned in John 1:12-13: "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God."
- “Born of God” is also “born again” or “born from above” or “born of the Spirit.” We call this “regeneration.” It is another way to view the transformation God brings to the life of those who believe. "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." - I John 5:1
- Peter wrote, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." - I Peter 1:23
See the Son:
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” - John 3:4
Nicodemus asks the obvious question here and in verse 9: “How?” How can this be? How is a person born again, born from above?
Jesus explains the new birth “water and the Spirit” in verse 5.
- Those who are sacramentally inclined view this as water baptism, perhaps a reference to John the Baptist and his baptism, or perhaps to baptism by Jesus’ disciples.
- Those who see salvation apart from any religious ceremony or work prefer another explanation. The most common would be that born of water is parallel to “flesh gives birth to flesh” and refers to physical birth when the water breaks and the baby is born.
- In any event, being “born of the Spirit” is the key (verse 8).
Then Jesus explained more about himself: “No one has every gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13). Jesus is affirming something about himself, something to which the mighty signs point. Jesus himself was sent from God, came down from heaven.
- This is startling information, okay. It is hard to process and understand. How can he claim, this man from Nazareth, that he “came from heaven”?
- Nicodemus had to be set back by this statement just as we are. Jesus is making a claim that goes far beyond being a teacher, a prophet, or even a miracle-worker. And he combines it with the apocalyptic figure, Son of Man, from the prophecies of Ezekiel and Daniel.
The culmination of this discussion comes in verse 16. It is a famous verse for good reason.
- It points to the Father’s love. The nature of that love is in the little word “so.” It describes, not only the intensity of God’s love but it’s manner, its way. God loved us in this way—he gave his one and only Son.
- The unique Son of God was given for us.
- Believing in the Son brings “eternal life.” This is an infinitely high quality of life in living fellowship with God—both now and forever.