You must be born again
I love a sign, especially if it makes you wonder. At the end of John 2, Jesus exposes the, often, inadequacy of faith based simply on a sign. So Nicodemus, who represents those whose “faith” is based on a sign, comes in the dead of night to ask Jesus some questions. Questions are good, keep asking!
Nicodemus had impeccable religious qualifications as a member of the Pharisees. He would have understood the anticipated Messiah to be bringing in a new kingdom at the end of the age. Yet here is Jesus starting God’s kingdom which will be fully consummated at the end of the age. And it has left him stumped. Jesus’ message is that we can enter eternal life now, but will possess it at the end of the age. We, like John’s first readers are living between the ages. Nicodemus assumed, because of his race and religious credentials, that he already had a ticket to the coming kingdom, but Jesus stumps him with “You must be born again”.
I have often read of debate over what “born of water and the Spirit” means. Is water signifying the first birth and spirit being born again? No, Nicodemus would have known that Jesus is referring to Ezekiel 36:25-27:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (ESV)
The good news, the gospel, that Jesus brings is that he will sprinkle clean water on us to cleanse us from the defilement of our sin and he will put the Holy Spirit in us to make us alive in Him and give us power to be holy. The reference to water is both spiritual in that as we put our trust in Jesus we are washed clean, and symbolic, as baptism in water symbolises that we have been washed clean by grace through faith.
How can that be? Jesus will be lifted up (John 2:14) onto the cross first to die on our behalf, then lifted up out of the grave as he defeats death and sin at the resurrection and then lifted up at the ascension to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Mission accomplished!
John 3:16 tells us this is made available to the whole world – so that God’s promise to Abraham, that all families on earth can be blessed through Him, is fulfilled.
We have two choices – eternal life or perishing. Jesus came as light in the darkness. Before coming to Christ we live in darkness. God’s light brings His scrutiny. We become aware that we are inherently sinful and thus separated from God. We need Jesus. As we come to that realisation, God makes our spirit alive, we respond and are born again. Hallelujah.
Oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!