The Dilemma

  An excerpt from Jesus in the Now.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. (Romans 5:12)

Once John baptized Jesus in the Jordan river, God anointed him with the Spirit (John 1.32), and he stepped into his earthly ministry and into the shoes of a prophet (Mark 6.4). He preached Isaiah’s The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me everywhere he went, saying that it applied to him—that he was the redeemer—and God confirmed it with signs and wonders. The crowds ate it up, the sick would throng him, calling him the son of David (the Messiah) and fight to touch him so that they could be healed. At the same time the Pharisees stood on the sidelines, not knowing what to think. They comprised a strict Jewish sect that claimed Mosaic authority for their interpretation of the law, prophets, and psalms of the Old Testament. Experts in the law, they didn’t know what to make of Jesus’ message that he was the promised redeemer, or what to do about the miracles that followed him.

One night, Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees, stole away from the group to talk to Jesus one-on-one (John 3.1-21). When he found him he started in about the signs.

“Teacher, we all know that you’re a teacher from God. No one can do these miracles except God be with him.” Jesus stopped him before he could get another word out.

“Amen. Amen. Except a man be born from above, he can’t see God’s kingdom.”


At first glance, Jesus’ answer doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Nicodemus’s lead-in about miracles. But actually it did. Jesus was schooling him in why the Father was backing his message with the spiritual power of the anointing: God had promised a redeemer and Nicodemus was looking at him.

As far back as Eden, God had prophesied about a coming redeemer: “The seed of a woman should crush your head and you [Satan] will bruise his heel.” Since then, he had spoken through the prophets to Israel, and indeed the world, about Satan’s head-crusher, and he had borne witness to that message with signs, wonders, miracles, and various distributions of the Holy Ghost (Hebrews 2.4). Citing the need to be born again, Jesus didn’t just leave it with Nicodemus that the redeemer had arrived, he cut to the chase of what he was going to do: pioneer the way for man to be reconciled to God.

Nicodemus was taken aback. As a Pharisee, he had been conditioned to look for a natural hero who would vindicate Israel and, by doing so, usher in God’s kingdom into the earth. But here was a bonafide prophet of God, one whose ministry was confirmed by signs and wonders, who didn’t speak of Israel’s national deliverance, but of the need of being born a second time, something that he had never heard before.

“How can a man be born when he’s old? can he enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be born?”

But Jesus said that a man had to be born “from above,” not again from his mother.

Seeing his confusion, Jesus went on, “Except a man be born of water [naturally] and of the spirit [spiritually, from above] he can’t enter God’s kingdom.” He explained that the flesh can’t beget spirit and the spirit can’t beget flesh. In other words, a spiritual rebirth can’t come from re-entering his mother’s womb a second time.

Nicodemus now was even more confused. He had been schooled in the law, the psalms, and the prophets, and nothing he ever learned taught him about the need for a new nature, at least in his eyes (see Jeremiah 31:31 – “the days come when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel” and Ezekiel 3:26 – “a new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you” ).

But Jesus was equally incredulous.

“You’re a teacher in Israel and you don’t know these things?”

Nicodemus had put his trust in the Law as a way of salvation; Jesus showed him that trust was misplaced. “No one’s ascended into heaven, except the one who’s descended from heaven; that is, the son of man.” In other words, “Nicodemus, none of the patriarchs, the Abrahams, Isaacs, or Jacobs, or even Moseses, have ascended into heaven. The Law didn’t get them there. The only one that’s seen heaven is the one that’s come down from heaven; namely, me.”

But if the Law couldn’t get a man to heaven to see the Kingdom of God, and he had to be born twice, how was a redeemer going to accomplish that? Jesus was about to tell him.

GospelPeter Smythe