A professional religious leader, a respected scholar and thoughtful pastoral figure of society invites a controversial preacher to visit him. In the middle of the night.
This tells us a number of things. Firstly, that the professional religious leader did not want anyone to know that he was meeting this man. Secondly, that if this man’s colleagues found out about this meeting, there would be consequences. Thirdly, that this rabbi must be quite someone for the pious leader to risk his career to hear him speak.
Yet, Nicodemus must confess the Divine plainly displayed in this rabbi, Jesus. He it unique. There is no other teacher like him. He is dangerous. No man would claim what he claims. Yet Nicodemus was intrigued.
He probes Jesus on the matter:
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Jesus is apparently unconcerned, replying with a change of subject:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus was perhaps expecting some insight into Jesus’ relationship with God, where he had learned what he knew, how he performed his miracles or some word of encouragement for the Pharisees of which he was a member.
He receives is an utterance upon which he leaps with rhetorical fervor. Here is something to talk about! What a statement! They could be up all night discussing that!
Indeed this was his livelihood, discussing these big ideas in the temples and synagogues, helping the people of Israel understand the Law of God and how it applied to them, discussing these matters with his colleagues and besting his opponents with smooth polemic.
And so, a rhetorical question,
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
This opponent seems unconcerned with these word-wars. Immediately Jesus announces,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus isn’t in the mood to debate the matter. He issues a command ‘you must be born again.’ This is his word to the Pharisees. He will not play their game. He will not be seen debating with them in the temple courts. He will not obey their rules. Nicodemus discovers this for himself.
Yet still he presses for an answer. He hears Jesus’ command as a discussion starter, like a flash card at a party, a mere point to open dialogue.
“How can these things be?”
Jesus doesn’t hide his disdain for his guest, cutting down his pride with his disappointment,
“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”
Are you the one who is charged with telling God’s story? With teaching people the Law? With reminding them that they are the people to whom the Glory of God was revealed, to whom his voice was spoken?
You are the one charged with teaching God’s people, and yet you would be so audacious as to debate theology with the Living God?
You are the one who heard the very Word of God speak ‘you must be born again’ and your first thought was ‘How can a grown man get back into the womb?’
Nicodemus came to Jesus and walked away empty. He came to Jesus, the one from whom eternal life is given, and he walked away in scorn.
You see, Jesus is the Word of God, they very same one who spoke the universe into being. When the voice which caused the sun to burn brightly says ‘you must be born again,’ you better believe he isn’t asking for your opinion.