John 3:1-8: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter 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 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” ESV
Now we are coming to one of the key passages that speaks of God’s work in bringing to life that which was dead – the spirit of man, which is so radically corrupt, that it must be brought low, and even to a co-crucifixion in the death of He who created it, as to His humanity (Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 2:20-21; Colossians 2:11-12; 3:1-3). Having read these passages, it should be needless to say that we have died, but we cannot stop there, for out of death to that which was dead, comes the life that lives unto God.
I said, in the study of John 1:12-13, that I consider those verses to be an introduction to these verses of chapter 3, and so I do – though the exposition of those verses completely established the truth that God must give us the gift of being His children, which is another way to say eternal life, here, we have the truth of the work of the Spirit in that salvation, and that it is a new birth, or birth from above (for so the passage regarding the new birth may be translated, which in itself is very telling, as the new birth is both new, and from above), cannot be doubted, so we look to that which the text states very plainly about how this birth of that which was dead was accomplished, as God gives us to understand it, after a few more introductory notes.
In saying that which was dead was put to death by being baptized into the death Christ suffered on the cross, and buried with Him in that, a truth of the nature of man, before the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, becomes clear: when we say that the nature of man is radically corrupt, we are not speaking of it as being inactive – indeed, it is active every moment of every day, suppressing the truth about God in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), so this marks that which relates to activity towards the true worship of God (John 4:23-24); this seeking of God is an active thing, and is not to be taken as if it were anything else, for those God seeks, He finds, according to His decree from before the beginning of the world or time (Ephesians 1:1-11; 2 Timothy 1:9-11; Titus 1:1-3). Being spiritually dead, while compared to being, literally, a corpse (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13), does not mean that man cannot act in a manner that is “alive” – that is, that a man cannot make choices, cannot do things, for he is yet animated by the very God he despises, though he protest that he believes, yet not according to the truth of God; though he says there is no God, thereby declaring himself a liar in the statement of the negative (for there must be something he makes this statement about for it to be a meaningful statement).
No, being a “corpse,” spiritually, means that there is no activity of the spirit of man which strives towards pleasing His Maker according to that spirit and truth which we cited above – there is no fear of God before His eyes, He will not seek God (Romans 3:10-12; 18). This is spiritual death: the human spirit has not the ability to seek God, nor the desire, or inclination, and remains an enemy of God – when we are told that “You will find Me, when you seek for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13), such must be understood in the harmonious context of all of Scripture (Ezekiel 36:22-32) – here, in this chapter of John, we will find that such seeking with all one’s heart is impossible, unless that heart be a new one, given by God, regenerated by the Spirit of God, as well as other absolute statements about how salvation comes about, and how a man cannot initiate it by the movement of his dead-in-sin will – God continually frustrates the efforts of those who will not consider these great statements of Scripture which show His sovereignty in all the work of salvation, from beginning to end, and this insults those who want to believe that they have some control over the working of the almighty God of all.
So, here we have Nicodemus, a man of authority of the highest religious authority in Israel (more on this in the coming verses), coming to Jesus by night to have a discussion with Him. We remember those who do their deeds in the darkness do so at night (as indeed we will learn again in this very chapter), and this is because they are of the darkness that does not overcome or comprehend the light – in this sense, we can say that Nicodemus came under cover of darkness, or night, so as not to be known by those He taught, or His contemporaries in the Sanhedrin.
Yet that he did come to Jesus speaks of that which I believe we will later learn of this leading teacher of the Jews – as I said before, so I will say again: there is that which is of God’s election which keeps those whom He will regenerate (according to His divine counsel from before the world began), coming back to inquire of these things, to think of these things, to wonder about these things – as I also stated, this is the work of God, which we cannot see prior to salvation, for He promises no such vision of the marks of His election to us, but commands us to go, preach, teach, make disciples; still, what we find here is in the written record of that which reflects the life of our Lord and Savior, and will be revisited in a much later chapter, so the indication is of God in His Scriptures, not of man judging whether another has visible signs of redemption showing, as some who are heretics have believed.
Proclaiming the unmatchable excellence of the glory of God to all – Bill Hier