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The New Birth
Jesus is interviewed by Nicodemus about how
to be born again, to have eternal life.
A. Jesus and the Jews
1. Jesus' Cleansing of the Temple
In the last part of chapter two, there's a record by John that Jesus had come into
the temple in what is known as the purging and cleansing of the temple. It was a notable
thing that Jesus did because He was openly attacking everything that Judaism stood for
when He walked in to the very heart of the temple and cleared the outer courts of the
Jesus was not crucified for saying, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they
grow." He was really crucified for saying, "look at the thieves in the temple, how they
steal." He came head on with a clash of the religion of the Jews and He pointed out their
emptiness and wastefulness.
2. Jesus and the Barren Fig Tree
When Jesus came to the barren fig tree and stood at that fig tree in the sight of the
temple with the fig tree promising fruit but having none, He acted out that parable. He
cursed that fig tree and said, "no man will ever eat fruit of you from here on" (Mt.
21:18-22; Mk. 11:12-24).
He was also saying to His disciples that the curse of God is against the temple
with its empty religion. It looks good, but it has no life and it has no fruit. It holds out
promise to people of this world, but instead of meeting the needs of people in this world,
it is an empty void and waste. He was saying that from here on nobody will ever find
peace and no one will ever find fruit of life and no one will ever find forgiveness and love
and no one will ever find real life in that barren fig tree of Judaism.
When Jesus came He walked rough shod over all their precious traditions. He
walked on their precious regulations. He loved their unloveables. He touched their
untouchables. He received those that they would always segregate and put aside. Then He
caused all the world, but especially the Jews, to wonder after Him.
3. Nicodemus Comes from the Pharisees
So the Jews sent Nicodemus to examine Him, to test Him, to see what He really
was and what He really taught. The Gospels bear out the fact that later on they would
send, as Brother Culpepper used to say, "posse after posse," to try to trap Him. But now
at the first time, they're sending one of their more learned, polished, up-to-date scholars
and leaders in their communities. He comes to Him by night and he was a man of the
Pharisees which means he was deeply religious.
That ought to sound good to Jesus. He was a ruler of the Jews. He had an
important position on the Sanhedrin. That ought to be impressive to Jesus, this young
prophet from Galilee. He was a great teacher in Israel. That is, he was a trained
theologian. That ought to impress this untrained preacher from the country who had no
credentials to offer to Israel.
B. The First Exchange of Conversation – The Divine Demand (vv.2-3)
1. Nicodemus Opening Remarks
In the first exchange of their talk, Nicodemus leads off in a very smooth, suave,
diplomatic way. If you want to study how to be real tactful and diplomatic, underscore
Nicodemus' approach to Jesus. He says to Him, ..."Rabbi," and you can almost hear what
he's really saying because Nicodemus is the Rabbi. He's the one who is recognized as the
great teacher. Nicodemus is the one who is the "ruler of the Jews."
He says, "Rabbi, we know." Notice he says "we" not "I" because that lets us know
that he's representing somebody else. He says "We know that thou art a teacher come
from God, for no man can do these signs, these miracles that you do except God be with
him." He lays it on thick and heavy.
I guess any one of us, especially a country preacher like I am, would have sort of
swelled up at hearing words of flattery like that when he said, "Man, we know about you,
and we know something about your authority, and we've seen you in action and we know
about your power and all this."
But it didn't phase Jesus. He ignored all these great tributes that Nicodemus was
giving Him and answered him so bluntly and abruptly that it was almost like saying,
"Now, listen! We won't get anywhere bragging on each other." I think maybe He sets a
pretty good example here, because you know He got to the point--to the point of why
Nicodemus had come and to the point that He wanted to get across to Nicodemus.
I think sometime we waste a lot of time when we just don't get to the point with
God. There is something to be said about meeting Jesus Christ head on and casting aside
all sham and pretense and just simply getting to the point--to the point of our need, to the
point of our questions, to the point of our confusion or doubts or trouble, or whatever
2. Jesus' Reply to Nicodemus
When Jesus answers He is looking at Nicodemus and all his proud credentials and
his proud birth and everything that he stands for and everything that he takes pride in.
Jesus sees it all in one glance. He reads the man like a book. There he stands, filled with
the pride of a nation and pride of religion and pride of birth and pride of title and all that
he is. There he stands! Then Jesus says, "...except a man be born from above, he can't
even see the kingdom of God."
His message means more than just a man, even though He said a man. It means a
whole religious system. It means a whole nation. It means a whole church. It means
everything. You see, birth is the way that everything survives in this world--everything in
humanity, in nature, even in religion. Without a new birth, religion soon grows old and it
Without the inflow of new life and inspiration, a man's life dies and withers away
and dries up and has no excitement and no beauty. Oh, but thank God for the inflow of
God's Spirit and Grace that can touch a life, or touch a church, or touch a community, or
even a nation. Thank God for fruit bearing life that has ability to flourish and produce
constantly so that strength is renewed day by day. Hallelujah!
So there stands Nicodemus, proud of his own birth. But Jesus is saying, "You come to me
with all that you stand for and you come to me with all the nobility of being born a Jew in
this world at this time; you come to me with all the honor and pride and yet unless you
are born from above--touched from above--you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
With one stroke of His voice and one real strike of His divine Word Jesus tells us
and the whole world that it does not matter what your name is, nor where you come from,
nor who you are, nor where you've been, nor where you're going. It does not matter what
title you have or what position you have. Unless you have been touched with life from
above you have no life in you, no hope for you.
C. The Second Exchange of Conversation – The Human Difficulty (vv. 4-8)
1. Nicodemus' Question (v.4)
In the second exchange of questions and answers and statements, Jesus goes
further than presenting the demand He did in the first part of the conversation. Now here
a human difficulty is presented.
The difficulty comes out of the heart of Nicodemus. In a sense he says it is
impossible. "What you are talking about is impossible. It's too late and time is too far
gone and a nation is too old and I'm too old to start over anew."
You know there comes a time in people's lives when they become so entangled
and steeped in what they're in until they see no hope of starting over again. One of my
closest friends always kidded and said I've got my religion in my wife's name. But one
night he was struck with a fatal heart attack. On his way to the hospital where he died, a
few minutes after entering the hospital he prayed with his good faithful wife who had
prayed for him all those years and been faithful to God, holding his hand. He simply
prayed, "Forgive me Lord, forgive me Lord, forgive me Lord!"
Nicodemus is saying and struggling with a question. "Can you really change the
world and can you change religion and can you change Judaism by changing one man at
a time?" But really that's the way it happens. We would like for God to sweep down with
great powers, gospel powers, that would turn thousands at one blow to the Lord to
receive Him, but really it comes one man at a time, one woman at a time, one boy or one
girl at a time. The blessed love of Jesus touches heart after heart and transforms them and
changes them in a mighty new birth from God's power from on high. Hallelujah!
I wish that some way, somehow, we could understand and the message could
come home to our hearts like it did some times back to our little girl. She was weeping
about one of our good friends in Louisville--a beautiful young lady and mother who had
just died with cancer. Our little girl was crying and asking about it.
Somehow a divine inspiration from the Lord evidently prompted my wife to tell
her like this. "When a baby is in the womb of its mother, and if some way you could talk
to it and it could answer you back, and you could say to that child, 'Say, there is a bright
beautiful world out here. Don't you want to be born now? You get out here and you have
a great amount of liberty and freedom. You can go, and see, and be active, and develop.'
But that little baby would draw in that little infant knot and say, 'Oh, no. It's warm and
comfortable here. Don't you dare move me. I want to stay right here."'
So she said to our little girl, "That's the way this life is. We are like being shut up
in a womb. When death comes, it is a kind of birth that takes us out of this womb of
darkness and limitation and suddenly we burst forth into glory and power of our Lord
into an unlimited existence of development and beauty and glory and brightness and
Oh, you hear me now! When life from above touches us, it plants in our lives seed
of eternal life that can never die. Hallelujah! You can have eternal life in you now. Oh,
thank God that it's so.
2. Jesus' Explanation (vv. 5-8)
Jesus had to explain. He sort of kidded him with a mild rebuke. He said, "Oh, you
mean you're a teacher in Israel--a theologian--and you don't understand these spiritual
things. You mean that you read the scriptures and you don't know what's in the Bible."
It's amazing how people can study the Bible and even hear the Gospel all their
lives and never come to a full understanding of what it means because they deliberately
harden their hearts. They may learn about the Bible but that is different from learning to
know Him who is the author of this Word.
Jesus said that it is the working of the Spirit that comes from above. It is like the
wind that just moves. I can almost hear Him and see Nicodemus' mind flashing back to
the prophets. Perhaps he remembered Ezekiel 37 and thinks about how his nation has
reached the stage of just being no more than just a dead corpse, a skeleton lying in
Then perhaps Nicodemus remembered how the prophet Ezekiel came and said,
"Oh, breath of God, breathe upon these slain." Then, with "thus saith the Lord," and the
preaching of the Word of God and the moving of the Holy Spirit the vision unfolds and a
mighty nation comes alive and stands up as men walking around as a mighty army.
But Ezekiel's message means more than the birth of a nation. There is also an
application that means that the Word of God falling upon your life and the Spirit of God
touching your life can breathe upon the dry bones of your worn out existence and can
breathe life and strength and power into your life. Then you can stand on your feet and
lift your head high and taste of divinity from the power of God on high and walk in this
world but not of this world. You can walk through this world singing, "This World Is Not
Brother Oscar Bassett, down at the old Rocky Hill Church, used to get up and
sing that song, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through. My treasures are
laid up some where beyond the blue." He had tape tied around the ear piece of his glasses
to keep them from falling off so he could see the words. But after awhile when his face lit
up and the spirit touc hed him and he started to glow, he forgot all about glasses and
songbook and he got to thinking about that he's touched with divine life from on high and
he's walking through this world and this world is not his home. He had a citizenship in
another world, and the first thing you know, he didn't care if it was day or night, Sunday
or Saturday. He didn't care who was there or what was there. The glory of God registered
on his face and he worshiped the living God.
Listen! I want to tell you that when God touches us with divine Spirit from on
high, suddenly we are elevated from the mundane things of this world and our faith takes
hold of divinity and divine power and promise and we are exalted and elevated from the
beggarly elements of this world and we are translated into the kingdom of His dear Son
where we are heirs of God and joint heirs of Jesus Christ. I want to tell you, this new
birth is something miraculous and wonderful and glorious. Hallelujah!
Jesus said it's like the breath of God that breathed on that skeleton that filled the
valley and blows where it wants to. You can't tell its direction. But so is everyone that is
born of the Spirit. The breath of God comes. You see, in the Old Testament many times
the word translated Spirit is the word for wind. Sometimes it's the word breath,
sometimes, even the word storm. He's saying that God breathes, just as God took a
lifeless form of a man lying on the ground made of clay and breathed into his nostrils the
breath of life and he became a living being. So in the second birth, God breathes upon a
man's life, into his whole being, the breath of eternal life and he rises up and stands up
and becomes a living being. He now has eternal life and will live forever.
D. The Third Exchange of Conversation – The Human Difficulty (vv. 9-16)
1. Nicodemus' Question
The third time he speaks, Nicodemus is still puzzled and simply says, "How can
these things be?" He cannot comprehend the spiritual message Jesus is trying to convey.
2. Jesus' Answer
Jesus rebukes him for being such a confused student now instead of a teacher. He
says, "I'm talking about heavenly things. What you're trying to do is take the metaphors
we've been using, wind and water and such speaking of birth, and you're thinking of
natural terms with natural things. You're trying to understand spiritual things from this
standpoint, but that's not the way you come to understanding. You don't begin with this
world and natural things and work your way up to God."
Paul would expound and sound that theme again and again and again as he writes.
Especially to the Corinthians he would say that the world through wisdom knew not God,
but it took the foolishness of preaching to save people who would believe (I Corinthians
You don't start with human reason. You don't start with human logic. You don't
start with human analogy or illustration and work your way upward to God. He said,
"...no man has ascended into the heavens" (v. 13). "Nobody has been up there to find out
about it," Jesus said.
The way you understand is because the Son of man has descended and has come
down and all of a sudden you have visions of that night Jacob saw the heavens open and a
stairway and angels ascending and descending and a glorious communication from the
throne to earth (Gen. 28:10-22). Now you see here's the new gateway, here's the new
Bethel, here's the new entrance into the house of God, here's the new source of life. It is
on Jesus Himself, the Son of man who has come from above (John 1:47-51).
So he says, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of man
will be lifted up on a cross and everybody that believes on Him will have everlasting life"
(vv. 14, 15).
Then he goes on to let us know that the new birth, divine life, comes first of all,
by divine revelatio n from on high. "It is not of this world, but it's been revealed to us
through Jesus." It comes from above because of love--"God so loved!" (v. 16).
You see, God looked at us and He saw us in our fallen state-- in our deadness--and He so
loved us. He said, "...I want them to have life everlasting," and it is life everlasting. Those
who receive it and believe Jesus receive the power to become Sons of God and they never
have to perish, but have everlasting life.
I'm not talking about getting a case of religion. I'm not talking about an emotional
experience. I'm talking about an experience like David expressed in those three verses
when he said, "I waited patiently on the Lord and He inclined His ear to my prayer and
He lifted me up and out of a horrible pit."
My God, I don't know what depths of horrible I'd be in tonight had not His hand
reached me. He changed me. As David said, "He touched me with His Spirit and He gave
a new song in my heart and praise in my mouth. Now after I've been changed and have a
song and a praise, others will see it and fear God."
I think perhaps our greatest instrument of real personal evangelism would be an
overwhelming experience of the new birth that changes and transforms our life to the
point that others can see divine life in us. If they could just see that instead of our worries
and our frustrations and our aggravations; if they could just see that we have eternal life
abiding in us; I think that would be the greatest mouthpiece we could ever have to simply
tell people what the Lord has done for us.
A lady in the church in Louisville who had recently been saved went to the bus
station to meet her atheist uncle. She didn't know what to say to him. They rode along in
the car and it wouldn't be long until religion came up. She told me about it later and she
said, "I didn't know what to tell him. He knew all the answers and so I couldn't think of
anything. I just felt so bad because I couldn't talk to him. All I did was just told him what
the Lord had done for me and how He had changed me." And he said, "Well, God bless
you sister. That's the best thing you could have ever said."
Many shall see it and fear and glorify God (Romans 15:4-11).
Jesus is interviewed by Nicodemus about how to be born again, to have eternal life.
Denomination: Church of God
Thompson's Chain Reference: 3555 (Christ - Teacher)
Author(s): F.J. May, D.Min.
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