1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4″How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
I admire Nicodemus for having the courage to come to Jesus and talk to him. Jesus may have admired his courage, but Jesus had other news for Nicodemus, news, I believe, shocked Nicodemus to his very core.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says something like, “Rabbi, we know…” and then he goes on and says ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘here’ and ‘blah, blah, blah…’ In other words, Jesus, we have a whole bunch of information about you, where you are from, about the signs you are doing; we even have this sneaking suspicion that you are from God. Seriously, who could do these things if he were not from God? We might expect Jesus to be flattered, and sort of like, ‘Oh, shucks!’ But that is not what Jesus does. Instead, Jesus upends Nicodemus, hamstrings him, turns the tables on this intrepid nighttime inquisitor by saying, “Nicodemus, you can have all the information about me that you want, but it is not going to help you. You can have all the right information about me that you have, but it is not going to help you. You can ply me with platitudes, but it will not help you in the lest bit. If you are truly interested in the Kingdom of God, you must be born again. Apart from being born again, you have no chance at the Kingdom I proclaim.”
I imagine at this point Nicodemus must have tripped over his own tongue and stammered and choked on his matza. So, Nicodemus either plays dumb or trumps Jesus’ ace by saying, “OK, Mr., if this is true, how do you propose a man go about it? Surely you must be joking! You are speaking of something that is physically impossible!” But Jesus does not get out-logiced (not really a word, but worked with me here) in conversations. Furthermore, he is unrelenting and not about to change his demands just because Nicodemus points out a rather illogical demand. There is, in short, not changing the tune or the demand: You cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless you are born of water and Spirit. The demands do not change just because of our objections. The demands do not change because we have a more reasonable argument. The demands do not change because something is physically, humanly impossible. The demands of Jesus are the demands of Jesus. Whatever water and Spirit means, and I think we have a rather decent idea of what it means (See Titus 3:5, for example) it is certainly a demand that Jesus makes of all who wish to enter the Kingdom of God.
So far Jesus has told Nicodemus two things. First, he said having information, albeit the correct information, about Jesus is not enough. You cannot even see the Kingdom of God with the right information. Second, he told him that being from the right group (in this case, being an Israelite) is not enough. You cannot enter the Kingdom of God just because you happen to be born into the right family. In both cases Jesus made the same demand, You must be born again (or, ‘from above’) if you wish to participate in the Kingdom. Now, in verses 7-8, he makes one last point and again he ties it to being ‘born again.’ His point in these last two verses is this: Being humanly alive is not enough. You can’t just go down to the local store (or local church) and put on some new clothes, smile a lot, be in the right places, say the right things, do the right things and expect that this is a satisfactory born-again (or ‘from above’) experience. No, Jesus says. If you want to be born again (‘from above’) it must be a work from outside of yourself; it must be something over which you have no control. People who are born again are these peculiar people who have been born not just of water but simultaneously of Spirit. We are a peculiar people who have been touched by God deep in our being. People who are born again of water and Spirit are being changed from the inside to the outside.
Ultimately, this being born again is not something you can control in the sense that the human controls the direction that God makes us all we were born to be, in the sense that we have any idea what it really means to be human and alive, in the sense that we can shape ourselves in the knowledge in the image of our Creator (see Colossians 3:9-10). What I mean is this: Only God truly knows the direction the Spirit will carry us, the shape he will give us, the truth to which He will conform us. It is not a human directed enterprise; It is a Spirit directed enterprise. Merely human directed enterprises amount to little more than therapeutic counseling sessions that enable us to ‘live to our fullest human potential.’ Jesus has other things in mind for the direction of our peculiar lives. We are being crafted by the Spirit into the Imago Dei; we are the portrait of Christ. Only the Spirit of Jesus can make us look like Jesus.
It’s not enough to have the right information. It’s not enough to be from the right group. It’s not enough to be humanly born again (as in made physically whole, psychologically sound; we don’t need Oprahed or Dr Philed to get into the Kingdom). In all cases we must be born again of the water and Spirit. This is the demand of Jesus. It is his peculiar demand for people who wish to participate in His Kingdom. If you want to participate in His Kingdom you have to do things His way. If you don’t do things His way, it is not His Kingdom you are participating in at all. Funny thing is this: Neither the world nor the church nor any human being sets the standard for entrance into the Kingdom; Jesus does. He has the right to do so. John Piper has written, “And what Jesus demands from Nicodemus, he demands from all. He is speaking to everyone in the world. No one is excluded. No ethnic group has a greater bent toward life. Dead is dead—whatever our color, ethnicity, culture, or class. We need spiritual eyes. Our first birth will not get us into the Kingdom of God. But we do not cause ourselves to be born again. The Spirit does that. And the Spirit is free and blows in ways we do not comprehend. We must be born again. But this is a gift of God”—(What Jesus Demands from the World, 39).
Being born again means, in simple terms, that we must not put stock in, trust in, or hope in the flesh. Being born again means, in simple terms, that we must die to this life and be reborn by and in the Spirit. Paul wrote in Romans 6: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” That’s what Jesus is talking about here.
I hope your 9th Day of 90 with Jesus is Blessed in the Lord!
Soli Deo Gloria!