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Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God
John 3:3 Like Nicodemus, many people find themselves questioning what Jesus meant when He said we must be born again.
Nicodemus and Jesus on a Rooftop. Painting from the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Circa 1899, Henry Ossawa Tanner.
“Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.””
John 3:3 NASB1995
I don’t know what your feelings are about the TV series “The Chosen”, but one of the most outstanding episodes in this excellent depiction of Jesus and His ministry came in episode 7 of the first season. A long scene in this episode depicts the conversation between Jesus and a leader of the Pharisees, Nicodemus. That discussion is the topic of chapter 3 of the Gospel of John and also the source of John 3:16, which is perhaps the most well-remembered and universally-loved verse in the New Testament.
Nicodemus was extremely important in the Jewish religion at the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he was part of the Jewish ruling class. His name is Greek, signifying that he was well-educated. He was influential. Most importantly, he had personally witnessed several of the signs and wonders performed by Jesus.
Nicodemus was well aware of the prophecies of the Messiah, and he was curious enough about this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth to want to know more. As many of the Sanhedrin were concerned about Jesus’s growing influence, Nicodemus paid Him a visit at night when he wouldn’t be seen by others of the ruling class, and immediately asked the question that was on his mind — “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)
Jesus answered with a statement — today’s verse — that obviously perplexed Nicodemus, since the next words out of his mouth were “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4)
I guess we can’t blame Nicodemus for being confused. Up to this point, Jews assumed that their racial identity (the “first birth”) guaranteed them places in God’s Kingdom. Jesus just blew up that assumption by plainly stating that a person’s first birth didn’t assure a place in the Kingdom — only being born again.
At the time, Jews were taught that being descendants of Abraham was essentially a free ticket to heaven. Teachings of the time also indicated that the Messiah would usher in a new world in which Israel and the Jewish people would be the leaders. Jesus wasn’t bringing about a new world; he was bringing new life in which He would reign.
Being born again isn’t something that we can do for ourselves; it something that only God can do for us. The new birth is in Jesus, and the message is frequently repeated in the New Testament. Enduring Word provides a list of some examples:
1 Peter speaks of being born anew by God’s great mercy (1 Peter 1:3).
1 Peter speaks of being born anew from an imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:22-23).
James speaks of God bringing us forth by the word of truth (James 1:18).
Titus speaks to us of the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5).
Romans speaks of dying with Jesus and rising anew (Romans 6:1-11).
1 Corinthians speaks of new believers as new-born babes (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).
2 Corinthians speaks of us being a new creation in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Galatians says that in Jesus we are a new creation (Galatians 6:15).
Ephesians says the new man is created after God in righteousness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Hebrews says that at the beginning of our Christian life we are like children (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Baptism in the Jordan River at Yardenit, Israel. Photo ©2018, Steven Sande
So how is one born again? Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:5 that he must be “born of water and the spirit”, which has been misinterpreted to mean that baptism is a necessity for the spiritual rebirth in Christ. While baptism is an important symbol for what happens when a person is born again, it does not save us. We are saved by the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit — the living water promised by Jesus at several points during His ministry — when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
Nicodemus was obviously transformed by his conversation with Jesus. Despite being a prominent Pharisee, he was open to considering the claims made by Jesus. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he opposed arresting Jesus and instead proposed a fair hearing. Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, was openly involved in the burial of Jesus. The public act of being associated with Jesus’s burial was a sign of the faith and commitment to Christ experienced by Nicodemus.
Like Nicodemus, many people find themselves questioning what Jesus meant when He said we must be born again. It’s up to us as followers of Christ to try to explain His words to non-believers in a way that we help grow the Kingdom of God.
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Father in Heaven, I thank You for the gift of eternal life because of my faith and trust in Jesus. I thank You that my spiritual rebirth and growth in the Christian life is independent of my abilities and a gift of grace given to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. AMEN.