Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. | John 3:1-9
Everyone has dreams for their lives.
We have hopes and plans that our lives will turn out a certain way. Maybe you want to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, be the next Billy Graham, win the Superbowl, or maybe you just want to have a spouse and kids. Whatever it is, you will make great sacrifices, work hard, and do everything within your power to live up to your desired dreams, status, and legacy.
Nicodemus did the same thing. As a Pharisee, he has worked all his life to achieve his position. He has gone through intensive study of the law, been trained in disciplines of the Pharisees, and obeyed that law for most of his life. In addition, he was a member of the Sanhedrin (the main ruling body of the Jews in Palestine).
So he has accomplished most, if not all, of his dreams by the time he has met Jesus. But yet, he still secretly went to Jesus at night. Being seen with Jesus could have cost him everything. His position, his influence, his authority, etc.
Why go in the middle of the night and risk all of it to talk to Jesus?
I believe he knew deep down that despite all that he had accomplished and achieved, something was not right. It had not been as glorious and satisfying as he thought it would be. So maybe there was something to what Jesus is saying. But he still could not fully wrap his mind around being born again.
I think many of us are like Nicodemus.
We are like him in why we oppose the Gospel. Think about it: here is Nicodemus, a Pharisee, being told by Jesus that there is nothing he has done that can help him see God. All of the accomplishments and status that he has achieved are valued at zero by Jesus’ declaration.
Being born again is unsettling to us and
Nicodemus because it refers to something
that is done to us, not something we do.
Being born again consists of two things:
1) A new life, not a religion
Nicodemus had as much religious activity and zeal as anyone, but Jesus said it was not enough.
2) Experiencing God, not affirming Him
The devil knows that Jesus is God. We and Nicodemus cannot just affirm God, but we must experience Him.
That’s hard for me. That’s hard for all of us. We try to accomplish different things so we can make much of ourselves through our dreams. Maybe not consciously, but we do. We define and value ourselves based on how our lives are going. And the gospel is all about the act of Jesus, and nothing at all about what we do.
A pastor at my church once used this illustration to explain this passage. Nicodemus had climbed this mountain his whole life. On his way he had picked up stones (accomplishments, steps to reaching his ultimate goal). He’d been scarred, been bruised, been hurt, but he finally made it to the top—only to find that it did not satisfy as he thought it would.
C.S. Lewis once wrote:
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward … promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Now, the plans and desires we have for our lives are not bad in and of themselves.
But maybe our desires
are all out of whack.
In plenty and in want, our dreams reveal themselves to be functional saviors. And the longing and disappointment we feel in the midst of that is a gracious invitation from the Lord to come and find our desires and hope in him.