Whatever the motivation was for Nicodemus to approach Jesus at night, he came looking for answers. He was either there to find fault with Jesus’ teachings or to try and grasp the reality of what He was teaching. Nicodemus began with a disarming tactic of acknowledging Jesus’ status as a teacher from God. Jesus immediately went to the foundational teaching that a person must be born again to “see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus immediately inquired as to how it was possible to be born again. He must have smiled when he said, “Can he enter a second time in his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus continued down a road Nicodemus should have known by telling him that unless a person was “born of water and the Spirit, he could not enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus followed with statements that caused the Pharisee to proclaim with doubt, “How can these things be?” What followed was a proclamation that exposed Nicodemus’s ignorance of the Scriptures; “Are you a teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:2-10) Here was a religious teacher that was ignorant of Scriptural knowledge. The Pharisees practiced a religion of selective scrutiny rather than promoting the total Truth. How many religious leaders today have limited knowledge of the Scriptures? Spiritual leadership is hindered by an inadequate understanding of God’s Word.
To understand the significance of Jesus’ teaching, we need to examine the Scripture that Nicodemus failed not only to know but to understand. In Ezekiel 36:24-27, God is acknowledging the sins of Israel and the destructiveness caused to those whom they encountered. God realized that the only answer to their transgressions was a transformation of their sinful nature. He stated that He would “sprinkle clean water” on them, washing away their “filthiness.” He told them He would give them a “new Spirit.” He would take their “heart of stone” and give them a “heart of flesh.” Finally, He would “put My Spirit within you.” What would happen would be like having a born again experience. That new life would cause them to see life in a whole different way. The sinful Israelites could not even see the Kingdom, let alone enter the Kingdom, in their sinful condition. It was only through a new beginning that they would be able to experience the life that was promised to the Patriarchs. In Ezekiel, we see water as a cleansing agent and the Spirit as the life changer. Temporary deliverance was offered in the Law; permanent deliverance is offered under Grace. The verses in Ezekiel are actually a preamble to John 3:5, 6.
Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus moved from the teaching under the law, to the Gospel of Grace. Belief in Him would open the door to eternal life. The impact of that night had a direct influence on Nicodemus. We find him defending Jesus’ right to a fair hearing before the chief priests. (John 7:50) We see him embalming Jesus’ body along with Joseph of Arimathea. (John 19:39)
In I John 5:6, we read that Jesus came by “water and blood.” Jesus represented sinful man by His baptism in water and represented God’s forgiveness by His shed blood on Calvary. Interacting throughout Jesus’ life was the Holy Spirit. The Bible states that the “Spirit, the water, and the blood” bear witness to the truth on earth (I John 5:8). Relate this to what Jesus said to John at His baptism. (Matthew 3:15) What significance did Jesus give to water baptism? (Matthew 28:19)