John 3 Amplified Bible (AMP)
3 Now there was a certain man among the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler (member of the Sanhedrin) among the Jews, 2 who came to Jesus at night and said to Him, “Rabbi (Teacher), we know [without any doubt] that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs [these wonders, these attesting miracles] that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless a person is born again [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, sanctified], he cannot [ever] see and experience the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot [ever] enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh [the physical is merely physical], and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be surprised that I have told you, ‘You must be born again [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, sanctified].’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it is coming from and where it is going; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be possible?” 10 Jesus replied, “You are the [great and well-known] teacher of Israel, and yet you do not know nor understand these things [from Scripture]? 11 I assure you and most solemnly say to you, we speak only of what we [absolutely] know and testify about what we have [actually] seen [as eyewitnesses]; and [still] you [reject our evidence and] do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things [that is, things that happen right here on earth] and you do not believe, how will you believe and trust Me if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up into heaven, but there is One who came down from heaven, the Son of Man [Himself—whose home is in heaven]. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the [bronze] serpent in the desert [on a pole], so must the Son of Man be lifted up [on the cross], 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life [after physical death, and will actually live forever].
16 “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes and has decided to trust in Him [as personal Savior and Lord] is not judged [for this one, there is no judgment, no rejection, no condemnation]; but the one who does not believe [and has decided to reject Him as personal Savior and Lord] is judged already [that one has been convicted and sentenced], because he has not believed and trusted in the name of the [One and] only begotten Son of God [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind, the One who alone can save him]. 19 This is the judgment [that is, the cause for indictment, the test by which people are judged, the basis for the sentence]: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For every wrongdoer hates the Light, and does not come to the Light [but shrinks from it] for fear that his [sinful, worthless] activities will be exposed and condemned. 21 But whoever practices truth [and does what is right—morally, ethically, spiritually] comes to the Light, so that his works may be plainly shown to be what they are—accomplished in God [divinely prompted, done with God’s help, in dependence on Him].”
One of the things that I absolutely love about this story is that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin. According to: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Sanhedrin.html, the Sanhedrin was the court system for the ancient Jews. There were local Sanhedrins, similar to local courts and then the Great Sanhedrin which ruled over all the religious issues. Nicodemus was in the Great Sanhedrin, based on the account of the Great Sanhedrin trying to have Jesus arrested in John 7.
I think that this cultural information about Nicodemus makes the story really awesome. Nicodemus was a religious leader, he sat around with 70 other dudes talking about religious rules all day. And he saw something in Jesus that made him more than a little curious. The members of the Great Sanhedrin could be put to death for going against the decisions of the group and the group did not accept the teachings of Jesus. (That’s why Nicodemus came at night.)
I imagine that this would have been shocking to Jews in this culture. I would have seemed like a professor from Harvard coming to my house to ask my opinion on something. The Great Sanhedrin was supposed to be the wisest of the wise in Israel and here was one of them coming to ask questions of a man that had no formal training.
So, we have this crazy scene where Nicodemus, an elite scholar sneaks out to find Jesus and learn from him at night. Jesus starts teaching Nicodemus using the analogy of being born again. Nicodemus, by all indications, seems to have been sincerely committed to trying to follow God. He had dedicated his whole life to following scripture and interpreting it correctly. He was consumed with intellectually understanding every aspect of God’s word.
Jesus used the idea of being “born again” to show Nicodemus that he needed to go through a spiritual transformation. In other words, there is a mystical, mysterious, part of following God that does not come from our own efforts but from a willingness to be changed and transformed. It is not something we can control or manipulate or even completely explain, BECAUSE IT IS FROM GOD!
If we are completely honest, I think that this part of scripture makes us uneasy. For me, it brings up pictures of freaky people doing really crazy stuff like throwing snakes around (and I ain’t about that!) or uptight judgmental people wearing denim jumpers with hand embroidery on them, telling everyone they are going to hell.
But those examples of weirdos that I don’t want to be like are examples of human logic (really weird human logic) dictating what it means to be “transformed, renewed, and sanctified”(see AMP version above). To understand what God had in mind, we will have to look more closely at what Jesus did and taught.
Jesus then explains how much God loves people and wants to have a relationship with anyone that will follow him. John 3:16 is the part of this passage that everyone focuses on. (Because it is awesome!) But we have to take it in context to understand what believing means. We love claiming the first part of this text, spiritual rebirth and believing…
…but wait! There is more…!!!!
In my experience, the last part of this passage is widely ignored. However, it is actually a very important piece of what Jesus was teaching.
My guess is that people leave the final part out because it makes us uncomfortable. Most of us who are religious like the idea of being transformed. We know how to read the Bible and follow the rules. We can do a good job “following Jesus.” We can even look at the rest of the world and see how we are different from them. Therefore, many of us have no problem believing that we are “transformed” because we are different.
However, light reveals truth. Light reveals our true motivation. Light reveals the deepest darkest parts of our soul. Light reveals our selfishness. Light reveals when our religious activity is based on a selfish desire for control. Light shows if we are truly transformed.
Jesus had the ability to see people’s true hearts. He must have known that there was a hidden part of Nicodemus that needed to be revealed and transformed.
Just like all of us, Nicodemus could not transform himself. He had to “come into the light”. We all have to come to a place in life where we realize that we need God. We have to be willing to take the uncomfortable step of going into the light and letting our true selves be revealed (in other words, admitting to ourselves and God what we are really like in our inner most being). Then we can allow God to transform us into the good person that we long to be.
By the way, I believe that when we skip this step, and just go for the transformation, we become some of the most miserable, judgmental, uptight, obnoxious people on the planet. Without stepping into the light and going through the painful and wonderful process of dealing with who we really are, we walk around in the delusion that we did something to deserve God’s favor and we live in an uneasy place where we have to continually build ourselves up to believe that we somehow deserve the favor of the creator of the universe.
There is incredible freedom in laying it all before God and knowing that he accepts me with all of my messes and he is working in every one of them (even though after 30+ years he still has so much to do)!
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!