John 3:4-13
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

John 3:4 (Holman) ABut how can anyone be born when he is old?@ Nicodemus asked him. ACan he enter his mother=s womb a second time and be born?@

Jesus= abrupt statement on being born again (v. 3) shocked Nicodemus. He, like all humanists, would say that people are the sum of all their yesterdays, merely the product of what has happened to them throughout their 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? Be born again in what way?

John 3:5 AJesus answered, AI assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.@

Our only hope is regeneration, a new start in life, given by God. How does God make this new start possible? A person must be begotten (male parent) of water and of Spirit.

ABegotten of water@ is a concept foreign to us, but was regularly used by Jews to speak of physical birth. AWater@ was the name commonly used of male semen. AHear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah@ (Isaiah 48:1).

Nicodemus, being an Israelite, would think having been begotten of water would bring salvation in itself. Jews saw their physical birth as providing them an inherent right to dignity and privileges. They would view any call to be Aborn again@ as senseless.

We are here again reminded how out of touch with spiritual reality Judaism had become. It needed to be replaced.

Many today live under a similar delusion, thinking they were born as Christians, or that infant baptism, confirmation, and church membership saves them. As a result, they see no need to be born again.

Jesus here repudiated any such notion. It is not enough to be born of man. By Awater@ we received man=s seed, but God=s seed comes only through ASpirit.@

Why does Jesus make such a sharp distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth? The two seeds dwell in two different dimensions . . . .

John 3:6 AWhatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.@

Flesh and Spirit are two totally different kinds of life. Cats cannot beget dogs, horses cannot beget cows, flesh cannot beget spirit.

Human power can produce only human results. It cannot beget God-life. Jesus is saying God-life can be started in us only by an act of God.

Flesh does not evolve into spirit. God-life is not conjured up slowly. It occurs instantly when a sinner receives it by grace through faith.

Paul liked to use the word Aflesh@ to describe man=s sinful nature. John used the term to refer to human weakness, our inability to help ourselves.

On their 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 ourselves. The necessary force is 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.

These concepts are easy to state, but hard to understand. Knowing this, Jesus gave an illustration.

John 3:7-8 ADo 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 Spirit can be compared with wind. We do not understand wind, but see its effects. Similarly, we do not know exactly how the Spirit works, but see effects of the Spirit 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 can=t discard a power able to make people good.

John 3:9 AHow can these things be?@ asked Nicodemus.@

Nicodemus is baffled. He has not the foggiest notion of what Jesus is trying to say. Something was wrong with Nicodemus= spirituality.

John 3:10 AAre you a teacher of Israel and don=t know these things?@ Jesus replied.@

Here was the worst tragedy of all. Judaism=s Abest of the best,@ her prime showpiece, was not only unacquainted with the doctrine of regeneration, but incapable of understanding it. He was spiritually ignorant.

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

John 3:11-12 AI assure you: We speak what We know and We testify to what We have seen, but you do not accept Our testimony. If I have told you about things that happen on earth and you don=t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about things of heaven?@

Nicodemus started at the wrong end of religion. He was so busy trying to understand God that he had missed experiencing God.

Our spirituality has to start at the right place. Repentance must always precede theology. If Nicodemus refuses to start at the starting point, he will not be able to accept the deeper things of God.

Christianity is experienced first, studied later. It is necessary to begin with concepts, but only as long as these truths cause one to focus on the new birth. People don=t need more knowledge. They need the power of Jesus for their lives.

When patients are treated by a Physician, undergo surgery, and take medicine, they don=t need to know all about human anatomy, anasthesia, and how drugs work. Knowledge of these things will not speed the recovery. A patient simply needs to follow the Doctor=s orders and treatment. In this way, a cure is accomplished.

Christianity is not primarily facts and theology. First and foremost, it is God living in His people, enjoying a personal relationship with them.

Jesus spoke boldly to the Jewish leader. What gave Jesus the right to speak this way?

John 3:13 ANo one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven B the Son of Man.@

Only Jesus came down from heaven itself. We could not raise ourselves to Heaven and penetrate its mysteries. Thus, He who knew God personally came to Earth in order to reveal the secrets of heaven to us.

God sent His only begotten Son to us. We can count on Jesus. As God in the flesh, He knew what He was talking about.