Today’s passage: John 3:1–21
Focus verse: “I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)
Nicodemus—who only shows up in the book of John, albeit three times—comes to Jesus. He arrives in secret, in stealth at night, under the shroud of darkness. He’s a member of the religious council that opposes Jesus.
They fear his growing influence and his threat to their way of life and the traditions they find comfort in.
If they learn of Nicodemus’s interest in Jesus, it will ruin him. They’ll kick him off the council, the religious elite will shun him, and Jewish society will ostracize him. He’s not willing to take this risk—at least not yet.
Still, he has a question burning in his soul that his religious training doesn’t cover, and his peers can’t answer. That’s why he sneaks off to meet Jesus at night.
He finds the teacher and addresses him as Rabbi, but before he can voice his question, Jesus answers the uncertainty gnawing in Nicodemus’s soul. “To be part of God’s kingdom, you must be born again.”
“What?” Nicodemus doesn’t understand. “It’s impossible for an adult to be reborn as a baby.”
“First there’s physical birth—of water,” Jesus says. “After that we have spiritual birth—through the Holy Spirit. That’s what it means to be born again.”
“How so?” I’m glad he asked because I want clarification too.
“Once I sacrifice myself, everyone who believes in me and what I’ve done will have eternal life,” Jesus says.
He restates the importance of belief in the best-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. Then he adds, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36). Jesus, of course, is God’s one and only Son.
After a comforting reminder that Jesus hasn’t come to condemn the world—that is, to judge us—but to save humanity through him, he reaffirms the importance of believing in him a third time. “Everyone who believes faces no condemnation. But those who don’t believe stand condemned already.”
To be born again means to believe in Jesus. He says so three times to emphasize belief as an essential truth and to make sure we don’t miss it.
The Bible doesn’t record Nicodemus’s response to Jesus’s call to be reborn by believing in him. But we can infer he says, “Yes.”
The second time we read of Nicodemus, he advocates for Jesus’s life in front of the religious rulers. Though his words don’t sway them and result in them attacking him, at least he takes a stand for what’s right and doesn’t keep silent.
The last time we hear of Nicodemus occurs after Jesus’s death. In a bold act, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’s body for burial, according to the custom of the day.
At first Nicodemus approaches Jesus in private. Next, he takes a public stand for Jesus. Last, he shows his affinity for Jesus by helping bury his body.
The actions of Nicodemus show he is born again.
- How much of your faith do you hide from others and keep a secret?
- What question do you have burning in your soul? How can you find an answer?
- How do you understand being born again?
- What can you do to take a stand for Jesus?
- How willing are you to take a stand for what’s right and not keep silent?
Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.
Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.