John 3:1 – 8

3  1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

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Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John begins with a fascinating dialog between Jesus and one of the religious leaders named Nicodemus.  The entire dialog goes from verse 1 to verse 21, but I will split this up into three Bible study articles.  There are surprises in store for both Nicodemus and Jesus in this encounter as we will see.

Throughout the dialog, there are some very important themes raised, such as light vs. darkness, regeneration (or the “new birth”), earthly things vs. spiritual things, and the Jewish concept of Rabbi or “Teacher”.  I hope to touch on all of these themes in my three articles.  But first, to give us some context to this story, we must take a close look at who is this man, Nicodemus.

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There is a lot we can learn about Nicodemus in verses 1 and 2.  Immediately we are told that he was “a man of the Pharisees”.  There were many religious groups that existed during the time of Jesus and the most predominant one was the Pharisees.  In Katherine Barnwell’s book “Key Biblical Terms”, she writes this:

Some Pharisees were priests, but many were lay people. They were the party of the common people, in contrast to the Sadducees who were from the rich “upper class”. The leaders of the Pharisees were scribes, but most Pharisees were not trained as scribes; they were ordinary traders and workers.

Now although not all received formal training like the Scribes, most all of them would have received great quantities of informal oral training by literally sitting at the feet of older Pharisees who passed on the traditions of Judaism and their interpretations of the Old Testament scriptures.  In fact, to be a Rabbi, one had to have studied under other well recognized Pharisees.

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Nicodemus though, is not just any average Pharisee; for John writes that he was “a ruler of the Jews”.  He is one of the top leaders of this religious group, very possibly a scribe and perhaps even a member of the Jewish ruling Council, the Sanhedrin.  And yet, notice how he comes to Jesus and approaches him.

We note that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, and that he has great respect for him since he addressed Jesus as “Rabbi”.  This is quite surprising, seeing as the Pharisees would already have learned that Jesus had not been trained within the Pharisaical order.  Therefore, many scholars think that he came to Jesus during the night partly out of fear of being found out.

So we have a prominent religious leader meeting secretly with Jesus to discuss spiritual matters of great importance.  We learn from verse 2 that Nicodemus has seen (or at least heard about) some of the miracles that Jesus had performed in Jerusalem, and he states his belief that only a man who has been sent by God could perform such mighty acts.

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Then in the next two verses, we see that Nicodemus and Jesus are definitely not on the same page together.  Jesus mentions “entering the Kingdom of God”, a very important topic to the Pharisees.  But Jesus says that a man must be “born again” to be able to enter in.  Nicodemus’ answer shows he lacks the ability to comprehend this statement by asking Jesus how it could ever be possible to re-enter a mother’s womb to be reborn.

Jesus goes on to tell us that there are two realities, the things that pertain to this life and this world (i.e. “the things of the flesh”), and there are things that pertain to spiritual life and the eternal realm (i.e. “the things of the Spirit).  Another way of looking at this is that the “flesh” deals with the physical and the external practices (which the Pharisees were so stuck on in their ritualism), while the “Spirit” deals with the spiritual and inner person.

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Jesus is surprised that Nicodemus is surprised at this teaching.  Then Jesus ends this first part of the dialog by stating that while we cannot see a person become spiritually renewed, just like the wind, we can see the effects of a life that has been transformed and become brand new, or reborn as Jesus would say.

Let me ask you who read this article: does this all make sense to you?  Or are you feeling lost just like Nicodemus was?  Christianity is not a set of rules or regulations to be kept (as the Pharisees believed), but rather it is a relationship between God, who is Spirit, and us, who are also spiritual beings.  Being reborn in our inner self is our “entry ticket” into Heaven.

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