Under the cover of night, Nicodemus, ruler of Jews, seeks answers from Jesus. He’s disturbed, perplexed. What he’s witnessing in Jesus is challenging what he thinks about God. Instead of ignoring the disconnect, he asks for clarification.
“Rabbi, how can an old man be born again?” (John 3:4)
It’s a question everyone who seeks to enter the kingdom of God must ask because only those born of water and Spirit gain entrance. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” Jesus says, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
In one sense, we have as much control over our new birth as our first birth. We didn’t choose our parents, birthday, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class. Jesus tells Nicodemus God’s Spirit blows like the wind, mysteriously, powerfully giving new life to whom he chooses. The breath of the Spirit isn’t easily seen, though it’s felt and heard, and its effects are apparent.
The second birth doesn’t originate with man but God. In John 1:13, we learn those reborn receive the gift of salvation from above. It is God himself, who gives the children of man the right to become children of God.
And yet, Jesus says response to this holy invitation is required. “As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14)
Jesus reminds Nicodemus of an example from Numbers 21, where the children of Israel complained harshly against God and Moses, and snakes were sent to deliver fatal wounds. In peril, the people begged Moses to intercede, and God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent, lift it high and tell those who wished to live to look upon it. All who looked—lived.
It’s like that, Jesus says. I must be lifted up, and all who look toward me, believe in me, will live.
Notice the connection between looking and believing, which is faith. Notice the parallel between belief and life.
And profoundly, poignantly, contemplate what it means when Jesus says he’ll be lifted up--exalted—like the snake on the pole.
How does the Father exalt the Son? By nailing Him to a raised, rugged cross, high on a mountain for all to see. The Father lifts up the Son by bringing him low. By willing He face rejection, abandonment, abuse, shame, torture, and murder so people like Nicodemus and you and me can be born again.
Though Jew and Gentile united in the murder of God and rich and poor alike turned their backs on him, Isaiah reveals “it was the will the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10)
The mystery is profound, and so is the promise. Listen for the holy breeze and be it gentle or fierce, turn your face towards it, and live.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "