3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
I think that one of the most important things that we can "get" from this passage is that the new birth is not a new religion, not new rituals, but a new life.
The first thing that John makes sure that we understand is that Nicodemus is a Pharisee, and a ruler of the Jewish people. The Pharisees were the most rigorously religious of all of the Jewish groups. The Pharisees probably started out just wanting with all of their hearts to obey God, but along the way they became slaves to the Law, and to the parts of the Law that they added. They became very legalistic and judgemental of others, too. They went from wanting to be righteous, to being self-righteous, which is not a good place to be.
What does Jesus tell this man devoted to his religion?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (verse 3)And then, much more personally in verse 7:
"You must be born again.”So John is making the point here for us: All of Nicodemus' religion . . . all of his studying and discipline and keeping of the law . . . cannot replace the need for the new birth.
What Jesus said that Nicodemus needed, and what all of us need, too, is not religion but new life. In one sense, Nicodemus is alive. Like us, he is breathing, feeling, thinking, acting, and asking Jesus a question. He is a human being, like us, created in God's image. But Jesus is saying that he is dead -- there is no spiritual life in Nicodemus. He needs life in Christ, not more religious activities or rituals. He is spiritually unborn.
Remember what Jesus told a man in Luke 9:60? The man told Jesus that he wanted to delay following Him so that he could bury his father. Jesus said, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead." That means that there are physically dead people who need burying, and there are spiritually dead people who can bury them. In other words, Jesus was thinking in terms of people who walk around on this earth with much apparent life, but who are dead.
In Jesus' parable about the prodigal son, the Father says, "This my son was dead, and is alive again." (Luke 15:24)
Nicodemus didn't need religion; he needed spiritual life. What happens when we are born again is that life comes into being that wasn't there before! New life happens at the new birth!
I hope that all who read these posts have experienced that new birth -- we'll study more about this tomorrow.