Rev. Haak is pastor of Bethel Protestant Reformed Church in Elk Grove, Illinois.
This beautiful account of the Lord and Nicodemus was part of the first visit of Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover. While He was there He performed some miracles which are not recorded in the Scriptures. Many believed in Him as a “wonder- worker,” but their belief went no further than that. Jesus, therefore, did not commit himself to them.
Yet, Jesus did at this time commit Himself to this one man named Nicodemus. Why? Nicodemus shows that he is one of the sheep Christ has come to save, and is now drawn to Christ for instruction in the truths of salvation. He was a man in whom the Spirit of God was at work, and he had been given an intense desire for further enlightenment and instruction.
Nicodemus was a member of the religious elite of his day. The Pharisees were a religious sect which had arisen during the intertestamentary period. They were a self-righteous and hypocritical class of men who confined religion to external deeds. They imagined themselves to be righteous through their own keeping of God’s law. They exalted themselves far above the common people. They were sure they would enter the kingdom of God on the basis of their own great worthiness and good works. Nicodemus was a man of high standing, considered to be wise and learned. Further, as a ruler of the Jews he belonged to the Jewish council called the Sanhedrin.
Jesus was waiting for Nicodemus. To this child of God He unfolded the glorious truth of regeneration, spiritual rebirth. Jesus taught that in order for one to enter the kingdom of God a radical change must take place in him. Corrupt, sinful, fallen man must be changed in the very depths of his being and nature in order to enter the kingdom. One must be given a new heart. This change can be effected only through the sovereign and wonderful working of God which Jesus calls being born again. A new heavenly and spiritual life must be implanted in the depths of the heart by the grace and Spirit of God or one has absolutely no ability whatsoever to enter the kingdom.
Further, Jesus taught him that this spiritual rebirth was exclusively the work of, the Spirit of God. It is like the wind that blows where it wills. No one can tell where it comes from or where it goes. So is the mysterious and wonderful, sovereign and irresistible working of the Spirit of God.
In answer to Nicodemus’ question as to how all of this was possible, Jesus went on to instruct him in the central and precious truths of salvation. Jesus explained that He is able to give this instruction, for He is the One sent down from heaven and therefore speaks of what He has seen. Centrally, all of salvation, from regeneration to glorification, is made possible through His being lifted up on the cross. By His death He earns the right of eternal life for all those brought to faith in Him. More, His sacrificial death is to be traced back to the love of God for His people. Out of His eternal love God gave His only begotten Son that we might not be condemned. Finally, it is only the born-again child of God who can and does believe in Jesus and becomes a citizen of His glorious and everlasting kingdom.
1. The setting: Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night (vv. 1, 2).
a. Nicodemus’ identity (v. 1).
b. His address (implied question?) to Jesus (v. 2).
2. Jesus teaches Nicodemus the necessity of spiritual regeneration (vv. 3-8).
a. The statement of the necessity of regeneration (v. 3).
b. Nicodemus’ question (v. 4).
c. The Lord’s answer (vv. 5-8).
1) Jesus reaffirms the necessity of regeneration (v. 5).
2) The antithesis between the flesh and the Spirit (v. 6).
3) The secret and sovereign working of the Holy Spirit in regeneration (vv. 7, 8).
3. Jesus’ discourse to Nicodemus on “heavenly things” (vv. 9-21).
a. Nicodemus’ question as to how the things Jesus has been talking about are possible (v. 9).
b. The Lord’s rebuke (vv. 10- 13).
1) Nicodemus ought to know, being in the position of a master in Israel (v. 10).
2) Jesus speaks of the things He knows as the One sent down from heaven (vv. 11-13).
c. The Lord’s answer to Nicodemus’ question (vv. 14-21).
1) Possible by and through the Son of man being lifted up on a cross (vv. 14, 15).
2) This is motivated by the love of God for the world of believers (vv. 16, 17).
3) The twofold result of God’s giving His Son (v. 18).
4) The reason for this condemnation (vv. 19-21).
1. What is regeneration? See Articles 11 and 12, 3rd and 4th Head of Doctrine, Canons of Dordt.
a. What is meant by regeneration in the narrower and in the broader sense?
b. What is meant by immediate regeneration? Mediate regeneration?
2. What motivated Nicodemus to come to Jesus? Why did he come at night?
3. Explain why Jesus would talk to Nicodemus about spiritual rebirth at that time. Is there anything which indicates that this was the instruction that Nicodemus needed at that moment?
4. What does Nicodemus’ response in verse 4 indicate?
5. What does it mean to be born again of “water and of the Spirit”?
6. Discuss the antithesis between the Spirit and the flesh and how this also becomes the experience of believers in their daily lives.