John 2:23-3:10

Jesus is New Life

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

John 2:23-25 (Holman) While He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them, since He knew them all and because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man.

Jesus gathered a large following in the capital city itself, but did not go ahead and declare Himself Messiah. He knew the rabble’s belief was superficial.

Jesus sought not cheerleaders, but people who would follow Him to the end. This crowd was not there. They were awed by His miracles, not by who He was, and what He came to do. They would have followed till He spoke of self-denial. They wanted to accept Jesus on their terms. Thus, He had no faith in their faith.

What a tragedy—these were God’s chosen people. What was wrong? Why did they not commit fully to Christ? The answer is found in the following dialogue between Jesus and a man who had reached the highest levels of their religion.

John 3:1 There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

The Pharisees, never numbering more than 6000 at one time, were an elite, close-knit religious brotherhood that held powerful influence in Israel. Becoming a member required pledging you would spend all your life observing every minute detail of the Law. Pharisees believed salvation was gained by keeping the Law.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, became so enthralled with Jesus that he decided to meet Him. Nicodemus was also a ruler, a member of the Sanhedrin. He was at the top of Judaism, one the highest elites of Israel’s most prestigious religious group.

John 3:2-3 This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.” Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus chose to talk in private; a public meeting was risky. Jesus had many foes. It would be politically and religiously dangerous to be seen with Him.

Jesus, unimpressed with religious and political credentials, cut through the pleasantries and went straight to the heart of the issue. Having inward knowledge of people, He knew Nicodemus had no spiritual life.

The best person Judaism could produce required being born again. Nicodemus did not simply need to improve. He needed to begin, to be born again, which meant abandoning every attempt to become righteous by anything he could do for himself. No person can precipitate their own physical birth. Likewise, entering the spiritual realm requires being born with no dependence on ourselves.

“Born again” is literally “begotten from above.” The new birth is begotten from above by God’s incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23). People can only receive it.

This was the hardest thing Jesus could have said to Nicodemus. It went against everything he believed and had been taught. He anticipated a new political world, but Jesus advocated a new heart, and came to fight not Rome, but Satan.

Nicodemus believed people are saved by works, by keeping the Law. People still seek to save themselves, though we can never know if we have done enough.

John 3:4 “But how can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked Him, “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?”

Jesus’ abrupt statement about being born again shocked Nicodemus. He, like all humanists, would say we are the sum of all our yesterdays, merely a product of what has happened to us throughout our lives, a bundle of doubts, uncertainties, wishes, hopes, fears, and habits good and bad built up through the years (Morris).

It would be wonderful to undo the cycle and make a fresh start, but how can this possibly be done? Undergo a new physical birth? Take back what we’ve said and done? Undo all our yesterdays? We are to be born again in what way?

John 3:5 Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Our only hope is regeneration, a totally new start in life, given by God. How does God make this new start possible? We must be begotten (male parent) of water and of the Spirit. “Born of water” spoke of physical birth (see Isaiah 48:1).

Nicodemus, born an Israelite, would have thought being born of water would automatically bring salvation. The Jews saw their physical birth as giving them an inherent right to salvation. They would view a call to be born again as senseless.

Many today live under a similar delusion, thinking they were born as Christians, or that infant baptism, confirmation, and church membership saves them. Thus, they see no need to be born again. Jesus here repudiated any such notion. It is not enough to be begotten of man. We must also be begotten of God.

John 3:6 “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Jesus made a sharp distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth because the two seeds dwell in two different dimensions. Flesh and Spirit are two different kinds of life. Even as cats cannot beget dogs, and horses cannot beget cows, even so flesh cannot beget spirit. Humans can produce only human results. We can’t beget God-life. Jesus said God-life can start in us only by an act of God.

Flesh does not evolve into spirit. God-life is not developed slowly. It occurs instantly when a sinner receives it by grace through faith. “Flesh” denoted human weakness, our inability to help ourselves. On our own, people can accomplish very little spiritually. We can’t live a good human-life, much less produce God-life.

It is alarming how little control we exert over our own passions. We are slaves to ourselves. This defeat and frustration can be overcome only by a force beyond us, the Holy Spirit, who alone can bring to us the God-dimension of life.

The Holy Spirit is our only hope for life-changing power. Unless God intervenes in our lives, and does something for us, we will repeatedly go out and make a mess of our lives. When Jesus comes, a new power enters us which enables us to do what we never could do by ourselves. Jesus gave an illustration. . .

John 3:7-8 Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

The work of the Holy Spirit can be compared to wind. We do not understand wind, but see its effects. Similarly, we do not know exactly how the Spirit works, but see His effects in human lives. Few of us know how electricity, radio, television, telephones, or computers work, but we do not deny their existence.

The best argument for Christianity is a Christian life. No one can deny the fact of a changed life. We cannot discard a power able to make people better.

John 3:9-10 “How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus. “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things” Jesus replied.

Nicodemus was baffled. He did not have the foggiest notion of what Jesus was trying to say. Something was wrong with Nicodemus’ spirituality. Judaism’s best of the best, her prime showpiece, was not only unacquainted with the doctrine of being born again, but incapable of understanding it. He was spiritually ignorant.

Nicodemus’ inability to comprehend this showed how out of touch with spiritual reality Judaism had become. It needed to be replaced with something new.

The people, for the most part, could not rise above their teachers and leaders. Judaism had grown corrupt from leadership to laity. God was doing away with it.

Nicodemus started at the wrong end of religion. He was so busy trying to earn God’s favor that he had missed experiencing God. Our spirituality has to start at the right place. Repentance must always come first. If Nicodemus refuses to start at the starting point, he will not be able to get the rest of Christian living right.

Jesus is experienced first; His life is lived out in us later. We must begin by focusing on the new birth. Christianity is not primarily facts and theology. First and foremost, it’s God living in people, enjoying a personal relationship with them.