“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
I’ve heard several explanations for why Nicodemus might have approached Jesus at night – he didn’t want to be seen by his fellow Pharisees; or maybe he thought that was the best time to get to Jesus; perhaps it’s symbolic of the darkness into which Christ’s light shines; maybe simply that the quiet of the night is the best time for deep discussions such as this one.
You can just picture it: Jesus and Nicodemus laid back under a grove of trees, small cups of apple tea to quench their thirst after a hot day, sweet tobacco smoking somewhere quietly behind in a water pipe, the clack-clack of wooden backgammon counters on a board – their fingers kept from idleness. That’s going a bit far perhaps, but it’s a nice picture.
And in this tranquil scene Nicodemus addresses Jesus as a teacher sent by God. Jesus gives Nicodemus no time to ask whatever question he might have had prepared. Hearing a note of flattery in Nicodemus’s voice perhaps Jesus comes straight out with what he must say to Nicodemus “No one can see or enter the kingdom of God without being born from above, without being born of water and Spirit”.
Nicodemus’s question “How can this be?” – the question of Mary Jesus’ mother to the angel – how can this be, how will this happen? From God, of course from God, who else but from Him – the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this. Small comfort to Nicodemus, an intelligent man who came to Jesus the teacher and left more confused than he’d ever been before in his life.
It worked out for him I think – in the matter of four short chapters of John’s gospel he is defending Jesus from the other Pharisees, and at the end he helps to lay Jesus’ body in the tomb.
What does it mean to us to be born from above? To be born from water and the Spirit? In that dreadfully hackneyed phrase, to be “born again”? What happens when we go to Jesus by night? What has He for us?
Prepare to be confused as was Nicodemus. Pray we may see and enter His kingdom. Amen.