“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:3
And he spake unto them a parable, saying, “Two medical students went off to school to study medicine. One of the first things they were introduced to was the anatomy lab. In this lab, there was a heavy silence. It was kind of cold, and things were really dead there.
But these med students were anxious to make a good showing, so they analyzed the situation. They noticed a good deal of unity there in the lab. There didn’t seem to be any fights going on; no one way vying for the highest place. They were all in the same position.
As the med students considered the situation, they became convinced that what these patients needed was improved health. They tried introducing the patients to a new diet, but nobody cared about eating. They told the patients about the benefits of exercise, but no one seemed interested. These students determined there must be an even deeper problem.
They wondered if the problem was a lack of fellowship. But that turned out to be a dead-end street. The patients refused to be sociable. They tried to develop a statement of mission – it was ignored. They considered the lack of resources and took up an offering – no one gave.
In the end, and to their dismay, the med students discovered people in the lab all had a common problem. They were not breathing.
In my late teens, I developed a friendship with Lori. She was a fun, attractive girl; it was great being around her and her friends. Me and my friends and her and her friends would all hanging out together.
All our friends suggested Lori and I should date, but it never felt quite right. We were just good friends, that enjoyed hanging out together. A few times, we even went on “real date.” It just seemed awkward. It wasn’t awkward for just one of us, it was awkward for both of us. We decided dating wasn’t for us, and we remained good friends.
About a year later, my wife and I started dating. There was no awkwardness. The chemistry just seemed to be there. It was like we were a perfect fit. Unlike Lori, we didn’t try to make it happen; it just happened naturally. We just clicked. It was easy. And 38 years later, we still naturally fit together.
The difference between those two relationships was a “click” that transformed the second into love. Breathless cadavers and self-willed romances have something in common with the message Jesus gave to Nicodemus.
Do you remember Nicodemus? He is the Pharisee that came to Jesus in the dark. Since John’s book is about light and darkness, John wanted us to see the condition of Nicodemus. Yes, he did come to Jesus in the dark of night, but darkness was also in his heart.
Jesus and Nicodemus were talking about “Second Birth” Jesus had said it was necessary to have a “Second Birth” before anyone could see the kingdom of heaven.
Nicodemus asked an important question. He stated it sarcastically. Nevertheless, it is an important question. How does this second birth happen?
The subject of conversion is critical, but it is also problematic because you can’t convert yourself. You cannot do the work necessary to make you into another person. Conversion is a miracle. But most of us think we can do it by ourselves.
Then, if someone tells you that you need to be converted and you’re not converted, what will you do about it? You and I have no more power to transform ourselves than we can raise the dead?
Can you make yourself fall in love with Jesus by an act of your will? Can you say, “I am going to fall in love with Jesus? Does this make me fall in love with him any more than I could make myself fall in love with Lori?” Can I simply say I am going to fall in love with Jesus? Will I appreciate Him and be filled with warm thoughts and earnest devotion? Is this how it works?
Is there anything I can do? Did Jesus give any clues to Nicodemus?
Let’s briefly look at the back story or pre-story to Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. You cannot be a member of the Sanhedrin or a Pharisee if you are not highly educated.
In John 2, when Jesus cleansed the Temple, Nicodemus was intently watching. He saw what happened after the merchants and others had been thrown out of the temple.
The crowds came in for healing and comfort.
Since that time, Nicodemus had been searching the scriptures, trying to find out more about the predicted work of the Messiah.
Nicodemus was convinced there was something special about Jesus, and there must be some link between Jesus and the prophecies regarding the Messiah.
By studying the Messiah, he began developing a relationship with Jesus even before coming to Jesus in the darkness.
When he finally met Jesus, Nicodemus started by offering compliments. “Rabbi, we know You’re a teacher come from God.” Nicodemus was trying to pave the way for a religious discussion.
When I look at the story of Nicodemus, it scares me, for it begs me to ask myself a very personal question. “Is it possible for me to fool myself into thinking I am a Christian because I can talk for a long time about scriptural things?”
Just because I have spent a lot of time studying and can carry on a conversation regarding spiritual things doesn’t make me a Christian. But studying and telling others about Christ is important.
Nicodemus is a highly educated religious leader who believes that Jesus is unique and asks to have a conversation. Jesus looks at Nicodemus and penetrates his thoughts, then says something that must have startled the highly educated Pharisee. Jesus says, “I am going to tell you the truth unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.”
For years I assumed that is what Jesus meant. Unless you have a conversion experience, you can’t go to heaven. (See John 3:3). Yet, a careful reading indicates something different.
Nicodemus asks if they can talk about spiritual things. Jesus instantly replies that you cannot even see spiritual things unless you have a rebirth or conversion experience. Until then, they won’t even register in your mind. We can’t talk about them because you aren’t going to grasp them. You don’t have a clue. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned, and spiritual discernment happens only to people who have converted hearts—a rebirth experience.
We have all been to the eye doctor. They show us these panels of multi-colored boxes embedded with a number. You are supposed to be able to pick out the number. If you are not color blind, you can always see the number perfectly. But if you are color blind, you may miss seeing the number if it is in Red, blue, yellow, or green.
I never knew I was color blind until I played Racket Ball. If the ball was blue, I had no trouble, but I sometimes had difficulty seeing the ball if it was green. It threw my depth perception off.
Yes, I can see green grass and green leaves. If the walls are painted a shade of green, I might see the bluer shades easier than the greener shades. My case of color blindness is relatively mild compared to some.
But suppose you cannot see the color Red. Others around you point out the beautiful, red-colored roses in the rose garden, but you cannot see them. Therefore, you must trust others with the fact that there are red roses in the garden.
That is precisely the problem we have with unconverted hearts. We know roses are in the rose garden, and they are red, but we cannot see them.
Then if you are studying the scriptures and can’t see it, don’t always understand it; you’re not alone. So don’t beat yourself up. We are all like the blind men who asked Jesus to open their eyes (see Matthew 20:30-34). You were born spiritually unable to see. Seeing is a miracle from heaven.
Nicodemus, you cannot see the kingdom of heaven until you’re born again. Nicodemus had come to talk theology, to talk about religious things. Jesus was telling him something we all need to understand. It is not about theoretical knowledge you need as much as spiritual regeneration.
You don’t need to have your curiosity satisfied; you need to have a new heart. You must receive new life from above before you can appreciate heavenly things.
Jesus is saying, “Until this change takes place, making all things new, it will result in no saving good for us to discuss My story or mission.”
It’s a Hard Pill to Swallow. Nicodemus is a highly educated, denominationally sound, multi-Generational church member and leader. Nicodemus had heard John the Baptizer preach, but he felt no conviction. He lived life to the letter of the law; at least on the outside, he wouldn’t think of doing anything wrong. He is noted for his generosity, paid a faithful tithe, and gave his time and money liberally to support the church.
Yet Nicodemus was struggling because He did not want to think he could be missing something. He was doing all he knew in order to have it right and thus be saved.
To be told that something was missing didn’t feel good.
But, Jesus had said, “Unless a man is born again, he can’t even see the kingdom of heaven.”
Nicodemus asks the question that we all need to ask, “How can a man be born when he is old? (John 3:4).
We, like Nicodemus, have trouble wrapping our heads around this.
Jesus’s response to Nicodemus is found in verse 5. “Unless a man is born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”
We, as humans, love to have control over things. We love to exercise our dominion over those around us and the things we become involved in. It has been our human nature since the introduction of sin. And here is Jesus telling Nicodemus, “Sorry Nicodemus, this is one aspect of your life you don’t have any control over. Why do we not have any control over this? “Because it is a Spirit thing. It’s supernatural.”
Nicodemus, I am telling you this is not you and Me theorizing or making it a matter of theology. And Jesus didn’t make it about winning some point in a debate. He broke it down as simply as possible.
Nicodemus, you know how the wind blows? Look, the trees are rustling right now. When the wind blows, you can’t see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind. That’s the way it is with the Spirit. You can’t see the Spirit, but when He does His work on your heart, you will then be able to see the effect. You will understand. There will be a difference. It will be your experience, but the Spirit will be the one causing it. You can say that it’s the Spirit that gives birth. It isn’t about anything you, yes, you can do.”
Would you feel better by hearing this and putting yourself in Nicodemus’s shoes?
I can almost hear Nicodemus saying, “Well, OK then! I came here to talk about spiritual things, and You tell me I can’t see them or understand them unless I am born again. Jesus, is there anything I can do to place myself in a favorable position? A place where I am more receptive to the Spirit to do whatever it is You say He has to do (see John 3:9)?
Once again, Nicodemus is trying to control the situation.
Jesus says, “Nicodemus, do you remember the snake?” This statement is Jesus’s benchmark statement on the subject of conversion. Here is Jesus’s answer to Nicodemus’s question about whether we can do anything to avail ourselves of the Spirit’s work.
Nicodemus, do you remember the snake? It is the story found in Numbers 21:7-9. The story of a bronze serpent that effected a cure. Do you remember?
Do you remember Nicodemus that the people were dying from snakebites?
As a result, Moses was instructed to put a serpent on a pole, remember? What happened after that?
Let’s look at the story, so turn to Numbers 21:7-9.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.
8 Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten when he looks at it shall live.’
9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole: and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”
What was the instruction to the people?
Look at the uplifted serpent!
What happened when they looked at the uplifted serpent?
They would be healed.
Wyoming has rattlesnakes. Suppose that you are bitten by one. You go to the emergency room to get the anti-venom. The Doctor, hearing of your condition, comes to the gurney where you lay and says, “Look at this picture of a rattlesnake in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Just star at it for just a few minutes, and you will be fine.” We would all think the Doctor was nuts. Get me out of here. I want to go to a real hospital and see a real doctor.
What is happening in Numbers 21? Come on, speak up! What is happening?
It is something supernatural! It didn’t matter if you had been playing with snakes when you got bit – if you looked, you lived.
It didn’t matter if you had been bitten once before and were healed, then got bit again and came back to the bronze serpent.
No, if you looked again, you were healed again – regardless of how many times you had been bitten.
It doesn’t matter if you deliberately chose to be bitten. Are playing with the snakes when you are bitten or are being bitten was simply an accident. If you look at the bronze snake, you are healed. There was life in a look. There was life in looking at the bronze serpent.
Did you do anything? No, except that you looked. The healing happened miraculously. It was supernatural. And the miracle happened only to people who did what? They looked. Therefore, if you didn’t look, you died.
Nicodemus asked if there was anything he could do? Jesus responded by saying, “Yes.” Jesus said, “If you look My direction (Lift Me up), the Spirit’s work happens in your heart, and you will experience the new birth.” You don’t have to wait for a preacher to lift up Jesus. You can do that yourself.
How often can you do that? Once? Twice? Yearly? Monthly? My friends, we can do this daily! We need to do this on a daily basis!!
As much as some of us would like to think so, the soul is not enlightened by “proof Texts, discussions, debate, or arguments.” It is only enlightened by looking to Jesus.
Jesus said in John 12:32 (NRSV), “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Jesus is saying, “If you look My direction (lift Me up), the Spirit’s work happens in your heart, and you will experience the new birth.”
Today, what each of us should want, is a “New Birth.” Yet, I can’t make it happen. You cannot make that happen. I cannot soften and subdue my heart, but I understand that if I look toward Jesus, look at Jesus, there is something that the Spirit will do for me that I can’t do for myself.
Therefore, I am going to, and I am asking you to look toward Jesus.
Paul in I Corinthians 15:31 puts it this way, “I die daily.” Daily we need to look to Jesus. Only by looking to Jesus can we be healed from the serpent’s venomous bite.