Dan Popp
Jesus and Nicodemus
FacebookTwitterGoogle+
By Dan Popp
July 6, 2014

    There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

    Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
    (John 3:1-16, NKJV)
Recently we looked at the narrative of the Rich Young Ruler. He was a fellow who didn't grasp who Jesus is; who thought he had kept the Commandments; and who had made gold his god. Here in John 3 we find a "rich, old ruler" approaching Jesus about his eternal well-being. We know he's rich only because of something he does later. In this conversation, unlike the one between Jesus and the other rich man, the subject of his wealth never even comes up.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." At first it seems that Jesus isn't listening to Nicodemus. But I believe He's answering the question behind the Pharisee's statement. The answer is, "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." So we can reconstruct the question as something like, "I've got it, haven't I? I've cracked the code, I've solved the puzzle – I'm in, right?"

Nicodemus doesn't say "I," though. (Too personal?) He says "we." Who is "we"? Certainly not all of the Pharisees believed that Jesus' miracles were authentic. Whoever's included in the "we," Jesus immediately excludes Nicodemus by establishing His own We. He says, "We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you [plural] do not receive Our witness." Like the Rich Young Ruler, Nicodemus misses the identity of Christ; and so he, too, has missed everything.

The Rich Young Ruler thought he had done something to get into the kingdom. Nicodemus thought he knew something. But any garden-variety demon could have told you more about Jesus' identity than this Pharisee knew. This kind of knowledge won't make anyone right with God. Take his tentative proposition, we know that You are a teacher come from God (perhaps as the Old Testament prophets had come from God, or as "there came a man sent from God whose name was John"), and contrast it to Peter's brash confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Any Muslim can recite to you that Jesus was a prophet. Those within the kingdom of God know by revelation that He is more than that; He is the King.

At this meeting Nicodemus is a carnal man, a man of flesh only. He thinks of everything in physical terms because his spirit is still dead. This, unfortunately, describes many religious people today. Jesus challenges him and us, "You [all] must be born again."

Nicodemus then asks the logical question: How? He thinks this transformation would be as difficult as going through physical birth again. Jesus says it's as easy as it was for the poisoned Israelites to look toward the bronze serpent. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Some people will tell you that sprinkling an infant with water in a church will cause that baby to be regenerated. I'll save most of my thoughts about infant baptism for next time. For now we can say that it's contrary to what Jesus told Nicodemus. He said, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." The Lord is giving us three important pieces of information about someone who is born again: (1) you hear the sound – that is, you see and hear the evidence of a changed life; (2) you cannot tell where it comes from – the origin of the new birth is a mystery; and (3) you cannot tell where it goes – the wind/breath/Spirit is not under our direction or control.

So why do I say that this statement contradicts the doctrine of infant baptism – or the baptism of any nonbeliever for the purpose of causing the Spirit to regenerate him? Because if we know that spritzing a person with water causes him to be born again, then we DO know where the new birth comes from. It comes from H2O. If this worked, by the way, we could simply drop water balloons on the Middle East and turn everyone there into Christians. That would solve a lot of problems. But if Jesus was telling the truth when He said that we cannot tell where the Spirit comes from and where it goes, then spiritual rebirth is something we can request, but not command.

When Nicodemus asked Jesus how the new birth happens, how he could be born again, Jesus responded by talking emphatically about whoever believes in Him. It wasn't a random statement. He was answering the question.

© Dan Popp

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)