The text for this lesson is John 3:1–16
- Jesus taught Nicodemus that the Holy Spirit works a new birth of faith through Baptism. This is true for me too.
- Law: My sinful nature does not believe in Jesus as Savior or understand God’s ways.
- Gospel: God the Holy Spirit works in a sure and certain way through Baptism and delivers all His good gifts to me, especially faith.
- Jesus’ teaching of Nicodemus comes immediately after He cleanses the temple and attends the Passover in Jerusalem. Since Nicodemus is a member of the Sanhedrin, the events of John 3 probably also take place during the Passover week. After Jesus’ late-night meeting with Nicodemus, the Gospel gives us an account of John the Baptist bearing witness about who Jesus is and who John is in relationship to Him.
- Darkness and light are important themes in John’s Gospel. Jesus is associated with light (1:4–5, 7–9), and the sinful world is associated with darkness (1:5; 3:19). By noting that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, John is making it clear that at this point, Nicodemus is not “enlightened.” He wants to learn more about what Jesus is teaching, but he does not yet believe.
This account doesn’t give us the last word about Nicodemus though. Later in the Gospel, Nicodemus argues before the Sanhedrin that Jesus cannot be condemned without a trial (7:50). He may be trying to get Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin so they can hear Him teach (as he has) and come to believe in Him (as he does). Finally, Nicodemus is mentioned as one who spent enormous amounts of money on spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (19:39). Because of this, one might properly say that John 3 gives us the account of Nicodemus moving out of darkness and into light.
The majority of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus centers on the Holy Spirit and His work through Holy Baptism to create faith. It is important to understand the use of the Greek word γεννάω (gennao) in this account, which has two different meanings. When a man is the
subject, the verb means “to beget a child.” When a mother is the subject of the verb, it means “to give birth.” Unfortunately, most translations translate it “born” in every case (e.g., the ESV in 3:3–8). Another key term in the discussion is ἄνωθεν (anothen). This word can mean either “from above” or “again.” Nicodemus’s confusion in 3:4 arises from the fact that he hears ἄνωθεν as “again” while Jesus means it as “from above.”
Jesus says that a person must be begotten (γεννάω) from above (ἄνωθεν) or he cannot see the kingdom of God (v. 3). Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus and asks how it’s possible for him to go into his mother’s womb again (ἄνωθεν). Jesus clarifies by saying that one must be begotten (with God as his Father) by water and the Spirit. If God is begetting someone, then the person is being adopted into God’s family as His own child. This is why so many of the passages in the New Testament about Baptism use the language of adoption.
Baptism is water combined with the Word of God. The Word of God is the one and only means through which the Holy Spirit promises to work. For this reason, when Jesus points Nicodemus to Baptism, He’s teaching him about how the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel to create faith.