Nicodemus sat silently for a moment, his well-trained mind working quickly. “Born again?” he thought, “that would imply my status as a member of the chosen race is inadequate.” He decided to put the unschooled Galilean firmly in his place with a bit of well-aimed sarcasm. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” replied the Pharisee scornfully.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. 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.”
The Nazarene fell quiet and gazed steadily at Nicodemus. Although His expression was firm, it held no challenge. Clearly He was not inviting debate; He was confident His words had found their mark. Truly they had.
For the first time in his professional life Nicodemus felt a shadow of doubt concerning his prowess as an expert in the law. He cleared his throat to stall for time as his mind raced over the relevant scriptures. He knew what Jesus was referring to. The prophet Ezekiel, for instance, had spoken of the need for an inward cleansing by God. Indeed, Moses himself had declared the necessity of a heart circumcision. Yet somehow Nicodemus had always considered those demands directed at others; sinners, tax collectors – Gentiles – but never at observant Jews.
Nicodemus raised his eyes and found Jesus regarding him with a patient gaze. “This man seems to be telling me” he thought to himself, “that even a blood descendant of Abraham must remade in order to be acceptable to Yahweh.” He shook his head as if to clear the troubling thought from his mind before speaking again. “How can these things be?” he said out loud – and his voice actually trembled.
Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” The Carpenter spoke as if making a statement, His voice so low that Nicodemus leaned forward to hear. Jesus paused a moment and then rose to His feet as he went on to share the message of salvation with the teacher and ruler of Israel.
I imagine that the mind of Nicodemus was reeling by the time Jesus finished his discourse. You see Nicodemus suffered from a common malady. He thought in terms of the material and believed the physical realm controlled the spiritual realm. In other words, Nicodemus believed what he was or what he did obligated God to act in a certain way. However, that has never been true in the past; it is not true now and it will not be true at any time in the future. Instead, the truth is, God is Spirit and His actions in the spiritual arena have visible effects in the physical domain. This is what Jesus was talking about when he used the example of the wind to illustrate the action of the Spirit. Just as the unseen wind moves the leaves, the unseen Spirit recreates a man and we see the corresponding change of character in his behavior.
The bottom line is, no one is qualified to enter the kingdom of God apart from the new birth. To suggest otherwise is to say there is something we can be or something we can do in the physical realm that will obligate God to accept us. As Christians we refuse to accept such a notion and instead declare that the only way to the Father is through Jesus Christ our Lord.