By Dick Blackford
A lot of wee folks like to watch the children’s program “Nick At Night.” There is another Nick from whom we can all profit. No one knows for sure why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, but we are told twice that he did (John 3:2; 19:39). He, like Joseph of Arimathaea, may have been a secret disciple (John 19:38). There were serious consequences for anyone who confessed Christ. He could be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22). That would spell an end to Nicodemus’ career, aside from making him a total social outcast. Whatever his reason for coming by night, we know Nicodemus did not remain “in the dark.” His was an enlightening experience straight from the true “Light of the world” (John 1:9; 8:12).
He Came To The Right Source
Of all the religious leaders and philosophers living at that time, Nicodemus had decided Jesus was the one he needed to talk to. Some today are looking for truth in all the wrong places — the psychics, the astrologers (your horoscope), Dear Abby, the electronic evangelists, the cults, pop psychology, etc. When one carefully examines the evidence, he, with the centurion, will proclaim “Truly, this was the son of God” (Matt. 27:54).
He Came To The Right Conclusion About Jesus
He showed respect by calling him “Rabbi” saying, “we know that thou art a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). The reason he was convinced of this was because “no one can do these miracles except God be with him” (v. 2). There was never a denial by either friend or foe, that Jesus performed miracles. This was readily admitted. These signs confirmed the word and were what distinguished true teachers from false teachers.
He Heard The Right Message
“Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” He was puzzled, and asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v. 4). Such would be an impossibility, which shows Jesus was not speaking of a physical birth. The message is understandable but some have misunderstood. Jesus used language which is often applied in the physical realm. But he came to establish a spiritual kingdom and it required a spiritual birth, not a physical one. Nicodemus’ Jewish birthright could not give him membership in it.
Some have a “misconception” about the new birth. Actually, it is an old misconception, not a modern one for they make the same mistake as Nicodemus. They think “born of water” means the physical birth and have argued this in debate. Can you imagine Jesus saying, “Except one is born physically he can’t enter the kingdom”? To that, a teenager might say “Duh. What could be more obvious?” In fact, it is not water, but amniotic fluid. When that fluid is present it is also born the same as the baby. Both come forth from the womb. The passage plainly says “water,” not amniotic fluid. If water refers to the physical birth then all “dry birth” children would be excluded and cannot enter the kingdom.
Notice also, it is a man that is to be born, not an unborn infant. Thus, definitely not a physical birth. Jesus was not telling Nicodemus how to be born physically. It was too late for that. Yet the birth Jesus was talking about was something a man could do. He did not say “except a baby be born . . .” He said, “Except a man be born again.” Nicodemus had already been born physically, so “again” refers to his spiritual birth. His question was in reference to a man “when he is old” (v. 4). Jesus answered that question in the context in which it was asked. A man can be born of water and the spirit when he is old. Not all can be born of water physically, but all can receive this new birth.
Born of Water and Spirit Is Baptism
Baptism is the only act connected to salvation, which makes use of water. Water is never used in any case of con- version to refer to anything but baptism. “See, here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:35-39). “Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized ?” (10:48). “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins . . . ” (22:16). “. . . wherein few, that is eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us . . .” (2 Pet. 3:20, 21). If Christ’s rising from the grave made him “the first born from the dead” (Col. 1:18), then to arise from the watery grave of baptism is to be born of water and spirit. For what other reason would Inspiration call this raising a “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4)? The man who does this has already been born physically when he came from his mother’s womb but now he has been born again when he is raised to walk in “newness of life.” “If any man is in Christ he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). But we are baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3-5). Baptism is the point at which one becomes “a new creature” (born again). “We are buried with him in baptism and risen with him” (Col. 2:12).
Born of the Spirit
It is one birth of water and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit directs every aspect of being born again. He is the divine agent in both actions of the spiritual birth: the begettal and the delivery. He “saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5). These phrases, “washed . . . in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:11), the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5) and being “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:3-5) all refer to baptism. The Spirit instructs us, “For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). The word, which the Spirit revealed, tells us everything we need to know about salvation (Eph. 5:26).
The “Wind” Illustration
“The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not/w when it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (v. 8). Jesus illustrates the Spirit’s unseen nature by the wind. No man knows where wind originates nor what its ultimate destination will be. Yet we know the reality of the wind from the effect it has on certain objects. We see it blow leaves from the trees and can determine its direction. We hear it whistle through the branches. In the same way we know the reality of the working of the Spirit. We can’t see the Spirit but we see the change that takes place in the lives of men and the fruit of the Spirit that is born in their lives as a result of hearing the Spirit’s message. Jesus’ conclusion to Nicodemus was: the process by which a man is regenerated by the Spirit is no more mysterious than other operations of God’s law of reproduction in the natural world. We all agree on the reality of the wind because we see its effects. And we can see the effects of the Spirit in a man’s life and know he has been born again (anew).
Light And Darkness
We don’t know whether Nicodemus’ approaching the Lord at night meant he was a secret disciple. If so, the Lord may have been making a play on that when he told Nicodemus that “men loved the darkness rather than the light” (v. 19). Upon reading what Jesus, “the true Light of the world,” told Nicodemus there is no reason for anyone to remain in the dark.