ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us stedfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:1-15
True faith is a product of God-given grace as the Collect points out. The Triune God, and knowledge of Him, is central to that faith. The Three Person in the Unity of One represents that same unity that should exist between believers, and between the believer and their Lord. To be One with Christ is to be One with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Unity in worship is also central to the Common Worship observed in the Reformation Church of England facilitated by her biblically-oriented Book of Common Prayer. It is by the power of God that our faith is kept lively and our trust enduring.
Nicodemus is an intriguing figure of the New Testament. He was a man of no little importance as a Pharisee and ruler who sat on the Sanhedrin. He had a reputation to maintain and did not wish to have it tainted by seeking counsel of a rude carpenter of Galilee – so he came to our Lord at night out of fear of his fellows on the Sanhedrin.
There is some significance for that unusual visit, both worldly and spiritual. Being a wise and cautious man, we can understand his desire to maintain discretion until becoming fully aware of the consequences of his inquiry of Christ. But there is an overarching spiritual lesson to be gleaned both from the timing of his visit, and the purpose thereof.
Nicodemus, as was the case of many of the Pharisees, had witnessed the miraculous power demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ. He was fully aware that these powers could not be exercised by any man unless God directly empowered them. Nicodemus was restrained by worldly concerns on the one hand, and a greater spiritual concern on the other. It was a matter from which he could draw no satisfaction until the issue was resolved to his satisfaction. So, he came at night.
It is of no great consequence in knowing that Nicodemus came at night except for the change that is evidenced in Nicodemus by future behavior. The Bible is very careful to point out, with each subsequent mention of his name, that Nicodemus was the one who first came at night. He never again hid his affection and loyalty to Christ – even coming before the Roman Governor (Pontius Pilate) with Joseph of Arimethea to claim the body of Jesus for burial. “And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.” John 19:38-39 (KJV) (see also Joh 7:50)
It is not so strange that a lost sinner would come to Christ at night. The Creation of the world began in darkness – “and the evening and the morning were the first day.” We all who come to Christ come out of the deep, dark night of the soul to the brilliant, effulgent Light of Christ, and thus did Nicodemus.
By pointing out that Nicodemus was the one who at first came to Jesus by night, the Apostle is contrasting the new courage, fortified by faith, of a changed Nicodemus in no longer hiding his loyalty to our Lord by coming at night, but in open noonday light. Nicodemus came with questions and ignorance, but left with a newfound love and loyalty for the Lord in knowing Him as Lord and not Rabbi only.
Let us examine the text today in detail:
- There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2The same came to Jesus by night
We see a contrast being drawn in the text between a man of great power, wealth, and learning; and the Lord Jesus Christ who did not have a place to lay His head. Nicodemus was an influential member of the ruling Sanhedrin. He was a Pharisee who truly sought more knowledge. But Nicodemus was also keen to the politics of the day and did not wish to be exposed as someone who would be an admirer of Chrsit – at least not until he had come to know Him for the Lord that He was. So Nicodemus came under cover of darkness.
Earlier in the day, Nicodemus had seen Christ drive out the money changers and those who made merchandise of the House of God. He had heard, that day, His strange but refreshing counsel: Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. (John 2:16) He had heard the profound and beautiful teachings of Christ and seen His miracles. His logical mind could not deny that Jesus had strange powers that could only come from God, unlike those political posers who sat with him of the Sanhedrin.
If we desire to know a man better, we must find out where He is and talk with him. Nicodemus obviously had scouted out Christ to know where He was sleeping in Jerusalem that first Passover of Christ’s ministry.
……… and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him
Nicodemus has the least seed of faith in his heart, but it was enough to drive him to Christ. He recognized the power of God in Christ and he must settle the issue before the dawning of another day. Though he comes here at night, he later publicly defends Christ in the Sanhedrin (John 7:50-52) and even publicly goes with Joseph of Arimethaea to claim the body of Christ for burial even under threat of retribution from Rome and the Jewish rulers (John 19:39). The one who came by night later became one who feared no one but God. John considers the change in Nicodemus so significant that he always makes reference to Nicodemus in later references as “he who came to Jesus by night.”
Jesus is frank in His approach to Nicodemus. He knows the heart of Nicodemus, and He knows that complete transparency and blunt truth is the very thing Nicodemus desires.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus tells Nicodemus what he desperately NEEDS to know, not that which his ears would have been comforted to hear. Nicodemus is considered himself to be a great teacher, yet he calls Christ RABBI., or Teacher. Nicodemus is not too proud to accept the role of student before superior knowledge of a better Teacher. But these words of Christ are simply too amazing for Nicodemus to grasp.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? This is not a frivolous response by Nicodemus. He does not ask WHY, but HOW. If Jesus were making reference to the Gentiles, Nicodemus could have understood somewhat, but Jesus is speaking to a ruler of the Jews – the presumed people of God! To Nicodemus, it does not make sense, but he trusts in the superior wisdom of Christ to shed light on the matter. Our first longings of faith must be satisfied through deeper inquiry even if we risk ridicule by the world.
- Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again Nicodemus belonged to a religion that based salvation upon a complete obedience to the Law written on Tables of Stone. It was a difficult concept to to receive that his entire previous training had been lacking. Christ points to a change that is alien to Nicodemus’ thinking. There is the story of an owner of a clothing store that decided to clean his main display window. He gathered his cleaning materials and went outside to clean. After working diligently, the window appeared immaculate with the exception of a single troubling blemish high up on the glass. Regardless the efforts and elbow grease used to clean the spot, it remained a glaring flaw in an otherwise clear glass. At last he discovered that the dirty blemish was not on the outside, but the INSIDE of the glass. Regardless our efforts to dress and beautify our persons, we cannot cleanse the heart by dressing the outward appearance with good works. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalms 51:7) God cleans us inside first with the purgative of the Holy Spirit ere making our appearance clean on the outside. If the heart is full of filth, it matters not the outward APPEARANCE.
When we lay down this life, we lay down the body of flesh before our parents who gave us our traits and hereditary and features of flesh. We then are drawn in the spirit back to the Father who gave us the Spirit of Life. Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. (Eccl 12:6-7)
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Does any man have the key to the gate of the wind, to open and close as he deems fit? The Wind is no different in certain aspects than the Holy Spirit. We do not know the source of the wind, but we KNOW it has a source. We can hear the wind if we are quiet and attentive. It literally whispers as that still, small voice of God. (1 Kings 19:12) We cannot say its direction or where it is going. The Wind is unseen just as the Holy Spirit is unseen. We see its effects, but not its essence. Those who are born of God have been touched by that Wind of the Holy Spirit. Their change is complete and not prideful in display.
Can you imagine Nicodemus’ eyes squinting in effort to understand this strange new doctrine? . 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things
Nicodemus is very much like many who are educated in theology and who press a point of an olive until it becomes a watermelon. He is well educated but, unfortunately, in things that are not real. Jesus points out his ignorance to him. Many prominent theologians of our day lack the simple wisdom of a poor farmer who knows the Lord. This was Nicodemus’ problem, but he is open to amendment in understanding. I wish we all were.
11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? Jesus places His evidence before the bar. He taught often in parables so that the simple farmer or fisherman could grasp greater spiritual truth when illustrated by earthly logic. But those educated too much in ‘theological error’ may not be able to grasp the simplicity of the Gospel which a child can easily grasp. It is not faith and knowledge that saves us, but ‘faith in Christ’ and right knowledge of Him. We may know the print in a thousand theological works, but if we lack the nature of a little child in faith, we are lost.
13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. Despite the delusional dreams and copyrighted commercial works of many today, no one has ascended to heaven or come down but Christ.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. God sent fiery serpents among the Children of Israel in the Wilderness for their sins. When they pleaded for relief, God told Moses to erect a brass serpent on a pole for all to look unto when bitten that they might live. The serpent represented our sins that are crucified on the cross with Christ. Looking to the sacrifice of Christ, for our own sins, we are saved from eternal death. (Numbers 21:6-9) We have the same symbolized in the medical Caduceus today.
It matters not what hour we come as a penitent to Christ. He will reason together with us in drawing out what kernel of faith the Holy Ghost has implanted. He knows His own sheep and will lay claim to them by that impulse implanted by the Holy Ghost as was the case with Nicodemus. “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:10-11 (KJV)