3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
(John 3:1-8 NIV)
John introduces us to a new character in his story: Nicodemus. John gives us Nicodemus’ credentials: A Pharisee, and a member of the Jewish ruling council.
To be a Pharisee meant that Nicodemus was a conservative who had not sold out to the Romans to “get along with everyone”, and sought God with all his heart. Nicodemus took the Scriptures seriously and tried to live out what he believed in his daily attitudes, actions, and words.
Nicodemus was part of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council that had the final say on all matters of Jewish law and religious life. Being on the Sanhedrin was a position of both honor and great responsibility.
Notice how Nicodemus addresses Jesus. First, Nicodemus addresses Jesus as “rabbi”, giving credence to Jesus as a true teacher. Secondly, Nicodemus addresses Jesus on behalf of a larger group, when he says “we.” The larger group is presumably the Sanhedrin that John mentioned earlier.
Jesus takes Nicodemus’ question very seriously, and answers, “Very truly I tell you…”. In the King James version, this is translated “Verily, verily…”. The word “verily” is from the Greek word “amen”. We often think of the word “amen” as an ending statement, saying “so be it”, or “God has spoken”.
In my study, I learned that “amen” can also be the beginning statement of a phrase. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states that the phrase “Verily, verily” is saying “I solemnly declare unto you” or “most assuredly.” John records Jesus using this phrase 25 times in his Gospel.
Nicodemus asks about what Jesus is doing. Jesus wants to talk about what God is doing. Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be part of what God is doing, Nicodemus must be “born again”. Being “born again” was a term typically associated with non-Jews who wanted to become Jews as a proselyte. Nicodemus knew that Jesus did not mean that, so the only other thing that Nicodemus could imagine was a physical rebirth.
In verse 5, Jesus begins with “verily, verily” – “Amen, amen”. Jesus goes on to explain that this is a spiritual rebirth, not a physical one. In verse 7, Jesus says “you”. This is a plural form of “you”, not a singular form, thus addressing both Nicodemus and the Sanhedrin he represented (from the “we” of verse 2).
Jesus uses the example of the wind to explain this new understanding of God to Nicodemus. As we’ll see in the next section tomorrow, Nicodemus’ head is spinning as he tries to understand what Jesus is saying. In Nicodemus’ world and under the Jewish Law and Torah, everything is external, concrete, tangible, in your face, and obvious. In this new world that Jesus is describing, life with God is internal, hidden, and intensely personal, cutting to the very heart and soul of the person.
In his book “Wild Goose Chase”, pastor and author Mark Batterson describes the Holy Spirit as follows:
“Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit–An Geadh-Glas, or ‘the Wild Goose.’ The name hints at mystery. Much like a wild goose, the Spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger, an air of unpredictability surround Him. And while the name may sound a little sacrilegious, I cannot think of a better description of what it’s like to follow the Spirit through life. I think the Celtic Christians were on to something….
May we grasp at a deeper level what Jesus was teaching Nicodemus, and how God operates through His Holy Spirit in our lives today. While our heads are often spinning from what Jesus teaches, may we allow the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out to be who God intends us to be.
May we never be the same again.