Summary: John 3 introduces us to Nicodemus, a religious man who seemed sincere in wanting to know more about Jesus. He received the greatest lesson in that a real relationship with God is made possible only by the finished work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection.
The third chapter of John’s Gospel gives us a portrait of the Lord Jesus as the Divine Teacher. He has already been presented as the Light, The Word of God, the Lamb of God, and the Messiah. Now He gives His attention to teach us how to face the darkness of this world and come to the Light, and how to face death and to enter into life (Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:6).
In this chapter, He gets the opportunity to instruct the “teacher of Israel,” and He does just that. John wrote this chapter to present to the reader the fact that we need to learn the same lesson from the Master Teacher as did the recipient of His instruction, the Pharisee named Nicodemus. He was by all accounts a sincere and deeply religious man, yet he, like all of us, came to see that it is not religious observations or any type of work that will give us the assurance of peace with God. Jesus would teach Nicodemus and all who read this account about the need for salvation that only the Sovereign LORD alone can provide. Before we get into the crux of the lesson, we need to learn something about Nicodemus himself.
He was more than likely a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of elders who followed the Law of Moses and had the authority to hear and judge matters pertaining to the Law. He was a powerful and influential judge, much like what we have in the manner of the U.S Supreme Court. He was deeply religious and adhered to the strictest of both moral and ethical standards in matters of following the Law, doing his best to live before the LORD in true holiness.
The priest and father of John the Baptist, Zacharias, was another example of this type of obedience and reverence before God (Luke 1:5-25). Nicodemus also appears to be a man of sincere and honest character in his search for the truth and peace for his soul that obedience to the Law could not fulfill. By going to Jesus in the night, he did so in order to have a private, uninterrupted conversation with Jesus. He had honest questions and wanted to find out if Jesus could answer them.
Nicodemus addressed Jesus with respect and acknowledged that He was from God and had done works that showed those around Him to affirm that conclusion. However, here is where Nicodemus falls short in his personal estimation of Jesus, seeing Him as nothing more than a teacher and prophet whom God has sent to Israel.
Here is where a lot of people throughout history and in this age tend to do as well. They see Him as a great example of morality, godly character, a role model, a great teacher, and a good example to follow, yet fall short of seeing Him as God Incarnate who had come into this world to redeem us of our sins, a task that none of us could ever hope to do in our own strength. Jesus was going to not only correct Nicodemus’ preconceptions but open his eyes and ours to the fact that redemption is only available through Him, not by our works or anything else. Jesus brushed off Nicodemus’ compliments and got immediately to the heart of the matter.
Jesus addressed the need of Nicodemus’ heart. He told him that his religious works and deeds were not sufficient to save his soul. He needed to experience “the new birth.” Jesus used a common illustration to clarify Nicodemus’ thinking. The birth of a child is a universal experience. Everyone has been through it. What Jesus referred to was something totally different from a natural birth. When He said that we must be “born again,” it meant “from a higher place,” referring to that which comes from God alone. The “new birth” cannot be done by us. It is a work of God and none other.
When Jesus used the term “except,” He meant that we have no other choices in the realm of salvation. You can’t pick someone else to do the work for you. We either come God’s way, or we do not experience His salvation. It’s Jesus or nothing (Acts4:12). Nicodemus had confused the things of God with that of the flesh as he pondered how someone could be born again, which to him meant returning to the mother’s womb, something that would be an impossibility.
Jesus took the time to clarify the meaning of “the new birth” as being of “water and the Spirit.” “Water” does not mean that we must first be baptized in order to be made new in Christ. That is adding works to the grace that God freely provides. It could refer to the birthing process in the natural realm, with the breaking of water from the womb that signals the inevitable arrival of the baby. However, if someone had never been born, then they would not need salvation in the first place, making this reference a moot point.
The better answer is that this refers to the Word of God that regenerates and quickens the heart of the sinner. It is the Word of God that makes us aware of our need for Christ. Scripture brings about the conviction of sin and the possibility of faith (Romans 10:17). This is why Bible-centered, Gospel preaching is so necessary (1 Corinthians 1:21). We do not need shows, talks, dialogues, or anything else that substitutes for the truth of the Word, especially in these last days when more preachers are adept at “tickling ears” rather than telling the truth (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Jesus also spoke of being “born of the Spirit,” referring to the second stage of salvation. After conviction comes and the heart of the sinner is quickened by the Spirit of the Lord, the sinner is then faced with the decision that will give him the assurance of forgiveness, mercy, and redemption from his sins through the finished work of Christ on the cross (Matthew 11:28-30; John 19:30), or reject the free offer of salvation and go into hell, devoid of the love and grace they could have had while here in this life (Matthew 25:41; Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-15). When the sinner does turn to Jesus alone for salvation, the Spirit of God then baptizes the redeemed sinner into the body of Christ for all time (1 Corinthians 12:13). He is “a new creation” in the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17), fitted for heaven and readied for glory, while the natural man is suited only for this world.
The “new birth” that Jesus freely offers to us is the only means by which we have peace with God. Again, there is no “Plan B.” Without Him, you will never get to heaven, and you will never miss hell. Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to the Father. He offers salvation to you today, and you would be wise to bow before Him and let Him permanently transform your life (Romans 10:9-10). As we continue to explore this marvelous chapter in John’s account of Jesus, we will learn from Israel’s past as an illustration of God’s Sovereignty in our salvation.
My YouTube broadcasts titled “The Reality City Review” will be posted on Facebook, GETTR, Parler, and on my website when completed. My main area of discussion will be on the basics of the Christian faith but will also deal with prophetic issues and other topics as the Lord impresses upon me to handle.