Nicodemus comes to Jesus and wants to know if Jesus is from God or not (click to read John 3:1-21) Jesus doesn’t waste any time with the guy, and jumps straight to a discussion on being reborn. I’ve heard the story a bunch of times, but today several things hit me, some from my re-reading of John 3, some from using the NICNT commentary. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, who wasn’t tied to the temple. So Jesus tearing the Temple apart wouldn’t have bothered him. In fact, the Pharisee’s may have enjoyed it, since it gave the Sadducee’s a tough time. So he comes at night. I’ve always heard it was because he was ashamed to come during the day. Maybe. But it could have been to avoid the crowd’s as well. Either way, Jesus doesn’t get on him for it. He accepts him in and they talk, one on one.
Jesus tells Nicodemus he has to be born again, and Nicodemus balks. I always wondered how Nicodemus could be so dumb as to think Jesus was discussing physical birth. But think about a few things. As a ruling member of the Pharisees, Nicodemus was the ultimate example of the best religion had to offer. He is trying to learn, he is humbling approaching this rogue Rabbi, he keeps all of the rules all of the time. He is a great Jew among Jews. Jesus says you’ve got to start over. You’ve got to begin from the beginning. The life you are living isn’t ever going to work for what you want to do. You have to begin at step one. Somehow in all of my 20th/21st century protestant jargon, I’ve missed that piece of being born again. Nicodemus has to let go of his system, which remember was at it’s core, given by God to Moses, and start over. He has the religious stuff so messed up, the only hope is to try with a fresh start. A rebirth.
Surely an extremely well educated man like Nicodemus isn’t going to think Jesus is speaking of being physically born again, right? Right. So what do we make of his reply. He is joining Jesus in His conversation, I think. I think he completely gets Jesus’ point. How can someone who has done it one way their entire life just start over? It’s not possible. You might as well ask him to be physically born again as to ask this.
What does Jesus reply? He says it’s not about what our bodies do (Pharisee’s rules and regulations). It’s about the heart, the spirit. You have to have a new start in your spirit. Don’t be surprised at this. It is possible, because it’s up to the Holy Spirit to change you, not up to you to convince the Holy Spirit.
When Nicodemus still struggles with the idea of letting it all go, Jesus pushes the lesson. He offers Nicodemus what He wants, knowledge of deeper things. Remember, Nic has spent his whole life studying truth and God. The offer of a miracle worker to know more would be completely enticing. But Jesus says you have start over to get there.
Then Jesus starts into the famous football game passage of John 3:16 and following. There is some debate whether it’s John’s writing, or Jesus’ speech. I never knew that. I just assumed it was John’s stuff. But it seems plausible that it could be Jesus speaking about Himself here. He points the conversion to Himself as the answer. The answer to starting over. He is not religion. He is the hope for a new beginning.
I’m so glad. I so quickly run to be a Pharisee. I like it when my rules, my way of living, my understanding of the world gets a God stamp on it, and I can convert everyone to my life my, my way. It’s so comfortable for me if everyone is like me. Jesus looks me in the eye, and says, “let’s try this again. You’ve gotta start over.”
Don’t miss the fact that Nicodemus comes at night, and Jesus draws the comparison in verses 19-21 about leaving the dark and living in the light. He is the light, I am the dark. My way leads to bruised shins and pain. His way leads to light and life. Give me the light! Every time!