When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
The Gospel of John was the last of the four gospels to be composed, around 100 AD. The context in which John was composed was a Jewish Christian community which had been recently expelled from talking about Jesus in the local synagogues. John’s community, therefore, had to identify itself as over against “The Jews” who had expelled them. The good news of Jesus is directed toward those who have come to the faith by non-Jewish means, by a spiritual birth rather than by physical birth of a Jewish mother. Indeed, those who had been formerly included in the covenant with God are represented by the character of Nicodemus, an intellectual giant of the Jews, who is shown to be bewildered in John 3 by any talk of a spiritual birth.
Understanding this context, then, it is important for the modern Christian reader to understand that “The Jews” of John’s time are not the same as those who attend synagogues in our time. In Romans, Paul makes it clear that the Jews are still included in the covenant of God. John 3 should never be used a “proof text” for the modern day Christian to use as a tool to ostracize Jews or other non-Christians. It is also important to note that nowhere else in the gospels does Jesus require a disciple to “be born again” in order to see the Kingdom of God. Indeed, in the other gospels, Jesus tells all who hear him, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” When Jesus approaches Peter, James and John to make them his disciples, he does not ask them to be “born again”; he simply asks them to “follow me”. So it is with us.
All Loving God, revealed for us in the life, work, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the four Gospels and the letters of Paul, help us to know or remember by the power of the Holy Spirit the context of what your Son would say to us through the Scriptures before we make our own interpretations and applications. Help us not to exclude others from your Kingdom based only our own prior assumptions or prejudices. Help us to understand there are a myriad of ways to be in harmonious relationship with you and our fellow human beings. Help us to follow your Son’s example as we seek to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Amen.