The Pharisees originated in around 135 to 105 B.C. These were devout and courageous men who had stood firm against Greek idolatry and the fierce religious persecution of their day. Each man had taken a vow before three witnesses that he would devote every moment of his entire life to obeying God’s Law.
A group formed within the Pharisees called the scribes who studied the Law and worked out how to apply it to ever aspect of life. They compiled their work into a book called the Mishnah - which was considered more binding than scripture - and a commentary on the Mishnah called the Talmud.
Pharisees considered themselves as spiritually and morally superior to all other people and they were right on many points of doctrine: they believed in the resurrection of dead, the existence of spirits, and rewards and punishments in the future life.
But they also believed in an externalized religion - that if you were a Jew, strict observance of the law and the oral traditions was enough to please God and guaranteed entry to heaven. Nicodemus was a man of high moral character, deep religious hunger, but he had profound spiritual blindness and he didn’t even know it.
Imagine Nicodemus making his way through the Jerusalem streets after nightfall. The wind in the desert always picks up when the sun goes down, so it was blowing through the trees and between the houses. People typically had their living rooms up on the roofs of their houses to enjoy these cool breezy evenings, so there was always a staircase leading up the side of the house to the roof. This is probably where Nicodemus came that night, to meet with Jesus.
Maybe he was being careful not to get in trouble with the Sanhedrin, but maybe he wanted a private audience, too. His approach was cautious and respectful, calling Jesus “Rabbi,” even though Jesus was not an official rabbi, and had no diploma or credentials except for these miraculous signs
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)That’s an insight. Nicodemus, and evidently some other members of the Sanhedrin, thought they saw something in Jesus. So Jesus answered
“I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.” (John 3:3)“See” means to understand, or to know in an experiential way. “Born again” carried three meanings with it:
(1) to be born a second time
(2) to be born in a radically and totally new way and
(3) to be born from above, from God.
This went completely against everything Nicodemus had ever been taught, and that he himself had taught. He knew what Jesus was saying, but what Jesus was saying sounded it impossible.
“How can I make myself get born again?”
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