Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Nicodemus was a Pharisee (John 3:1).  He “came to Jesus by night,” suggesting that he was fearful of what his peers might think of his rendezvous with Jesus (John 3:2).  As a Pharisee he lived an extremely regimented life according to the countless Pharisaic rules that governed nearly every aspect of his daily experience.  He was a man who would have fasted, prayed, gave alms, read the Scriptures, attended synagogue, etc.  As a “ruler of the Jews” he was a leader amongst the Pharisees, making decisions and overseeing various aspects of the Pharisaic cult that governed religious life in those days (John 3:1).  He was “the teacher of Israel,” well-schooled in the Scriptures and various Pharisaic laws (John 1:9).  He was “THE teacher,” suggesting a preeminent role in the instruction of the Pharisaic community.

He seemingly had it all—religious pedigree, religious position, and religious practice.  Others would have supposed him to be spiritually secure.  He likely thought the same.  John 1:13 gives three means by which a person cannot gain the right to become a child of God.  That cannot happen by being born “of blood”—religious pedigree or association are not enough.  It cannot happen through “the will of the flesh”—good works done in human self-effort, no matter how impressive, cannot work to cause a person to be born again.  “The will of man,” human decision likewise cannot bring about a person’s salvation.  Nicodemus had all of these things, but he was not saved.

Something worked to compel him to go to Jesus.  He came to Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).  Jesus responded to him in a surprising way.  “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3).  Nicodemus was surprised by Jesus’ message, it was not what he expected to hear.  He didn’t understand, asking, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born” (John 3:3:4)?  And even after Jesus’ explanation Nicodemus again asked “How, can these things be” (John 3:9)?

The birth of a child is a fitting analogy to what happens in the spiritual rebirth of a person.  A newborn child is a passive participant to the process whereby he enters into this world.  He can take no credit for it.  Likewise to be born again a person must “be born of the Spirit with live from above into God’s family divine.”  He or she must receive Jesus to be given “the right to become” a child of God (John 1:12).  It is a work of the Spirit alone (John 3:5-8), that is a consequence of believing in His name (John 1:12).

We cannot know for sure, but it seems likely that Nicodemus was, at some point, born again.  Later, when the officers of the chief priests were sent out to bring Jesus to them, Nicodemus defended Jesus, advising his colleagues to hear and investigate Jesus’ claims before making a final judgment (Cf. John 7:45-52).  At Jesus’ burial Nicodemus brought a costly mixture of myrrh and aloes for the embalming of His body (John 19:39).  According to church tradition Nicodemus became a believer and was ultimately martyred for his faith.

George Whitefield, that great evangelist who played a preeminent role in the Great Awakening of the mid-1700s, was a student at Oxford and a member of the “Holy Club” (“Methodists” who “lived by rule and method”), before he was saved.  He was religious but lost.  He became increasingly dissatisfied with his life, quit school, and was bed-ridden for a time in his despair.  In his despair he was Spirit-led to abandon his religious self-efforts and trust exclusively in Christ.  He prayed, “I thirst, I thirst for faith in pardoning love.  Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”  His prayer was heard.  He was born again and “filled with peace and joy in believing.”  His personal regeneration compelled him to write immediately to his “relations” of the necessity of the new birth.  That message was well-founded in his heart and became the chief characteristic of his fruitful ministry until his death.  “You must be born again” was the message that he loved to share.  Religion, no matter how impressive, is not enough—you must be born again!

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