John 3:1–21—Nicodemus is Taught by Jesus

1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”

Points of Interest

  • ‘After dark one evening’—Nicodemus is curious enough about Jesus to seek him out, but embarrassed enough about it that he doesn’t want to be seen.
  • ‘unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God’—I imagine that Nicodemus was expecting gratitude or relief from Jesus: ‘Thank you. It’s good to know that some of you religious leaders are on my side.’ Instead, he either gets complimented on his good taste or insulted on his ignorance. Either Jesus is saying here, ‘You must have been born again since you can recognize what’s happening as being from God,’ or he’s saying, ‘Spiritually speaking, you’re at best an unborn fetus. You have no idea what you’re talking about.’ I honestly don’t know which. Either way, it throws the conversation into some confusion.
  • ‘How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb ‘—we’ll notice in John’s Gospel a certain tendency for Jesus and other people to talk past one another. Jesus will use a spiritual metaphor, and the other person—either out of genuine misunderstanding or willful misrepresentation—will take him literally.
  •  ‘you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from’—Nicodemus wants it all locked down. What exactly is being born of the Spirit? What’s the step-by-step process by which it is accomplished? What’s the checklist by which you know whether or not someone is born of the Spirit or not? He wants it all laid out, clearly defined, in black and white. Jesus replies that this new birth is more like the wind. Nobody knows exactly what wind is or where it comes from. You can’t capture the wind in a bottle. And yet everyone knows that wind exists, and everyone can feel it when it blows. What is this being born again? Well, you know it when you experience it.
  • ‘as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness’—when the Israelites in the desert were plagued by poisonous snakes, God commanded Moses to sculpt a bronze snake and lift it up on a pole; whoever looked up at the bronze snake was unharmed by the poison (Numbers 21:8-9).
  • Moses, with the help of the law, brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and to a new land of their own. Jesus, with the help of the Spirit, is leading people out of slavery to sin and into eternal life.
  • ‘people loved the darkness more than the light’—it’s like there’s been a power outage, and Jesus has gotten the electricity working again. When the lights go back on, a surprising number of people, instead of cheering, scramble to hide what they’ve been doing in the dark. Jesus seems to be saying here that he doesn’t care so much about what people were doing when the lights were off; he’s simply there to turn the lights on.

Taking It Home

  • For you: Jesus tells Nicodemus that he can try as hard as he wants to understand and be close to God, but in the end it won’t really matter at all unless Nicodemus receives the Holy Spirit. Tell God that you want more of God’s presence and as much of the Holy Spirit as you can have. If there are any situations right now that you just can’t seem to make better on your own, ask God for more of the Holy Spirit’s help there.
  • For your 6: In this passage, Jesus talks about the strange attachment we can sometimes have to the dark parts of our life. Do you see in any of your 6 a tendency to stay entrenched in things that clearly aren’t working out well for them? Pray that they would have the courage to leave those things behind and step into a new light-filled life.
  • For our church: Ask God to help our church be one that truly conveys just how much God loves the world. Pray that our church would be able to grasp this love and that we would be able to convey it. Pray for our church to somehow play a part in tangibly loving the whole world.