How many have ever felt like you would love a do over? A new beginning in life? How many would love to hit the reset button? Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time; but we can change our future by allowing God to set a new course for our lives. When we yield to Him, put our faith in Him and start trusting Him, everything changes. That’s true no matter who you are. It’s never too late. On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion two thieves were being crucified with him. The gospel of Luke tells us that both of the criminals taunted him. “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him (Matthew 27:44).”

But then something amazing happened. As one of the thieves witnessed the love and forgiveness that Jesus displayed from the cross, his heart had a profound change. We read of this change of mind:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God’, he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But his man has done nothing wrong’.[i]

Here was a man in the final moments of his life, realizing his failures and acknowledging his guilt. But something stirred within him as he gazed at Jesus and in that moment a desperate prayer was uttered from his lips. “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke 23:42).” That was an expression of faith in Jesus. From the lips of Jesus came these amazing life-giving and changing words. “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).”

The key to eternal life is where we place our trust. Here was a man who lived wrong, yet at the end put his trust in Christ, and forgiveness was granted, and he entered into heaven with Jesus. So how does one enter the kingdom of God? How can we change our destiny, our future? What we do with Jesus is the critical issue of life. The bible tells us about a religious leader who comes to Jesus by night in order to talk with him. In this meeting there are three elements that brought about an eternal change in his life and destiny. It is an example of how God works in our lives today.


Something draws our curiosity or spurs our interest in spiritual things. Sometimes it is the change in another person’s life, or it is through pain and great challenge we come to the end of our self-sufficiency. For some, the emptiness of life begs the question what the meaning and purpose for life is. Here in John 3 we find a man by the name of Nicodemus who was a member of the religious sect in Israel known as the Pharisees.  Pharisees were noted for their zeal for God’s law and their zealous obedience to it. However, many of them were more concerned with outward conformity to the law, but their heart was unchanged. They were blind to the real condition of their soul. Nicodemus also was also an influential person, a leader among the people. He was a member of the ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. 

Now there was a Pharisees, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’[ii]

Generally, Pharisees were very inflexible and rigid, but not all of them were like this as we can see from this man, Nicodemus. Here was a religious leader who was a life-long learner. He knew that Jesus was from God because of the nature of the miracles that Jesus was doing. His words imply that he had carefully examined what Jesus was doing and had rightly concluded that only a heaven-sent person could perform such miracles. These miracles, as he put it, were signs pointing people to God. Nicodemus was wondering if this traveling teacher was the one that all Israel was waiting for, the Messiah, God’s promised One. God uses many things to arrest our attention to bring us to Himself, and in Nicodemus’ case it was the miracles that were markers pointing him to Jesus.                        


So how does faith come to us? Often people have stated to me that they have a difficulty with faith. They struggle with just trusting God. The bible says it comes from hearing God’s word. “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word about Christ (Romans 10:17).” Earlier in that context, the author related how the message of the good news about Jesus is brought to people. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)”

Here, standing before Nicodemus, was God’s word in the flesh. That is what Christmas is all about: God becoming flesh and living and then offering up himself as a sacrifice for us. Jesus died in order that we might be forgiven. In Jesus’ death we see both the justice and the love of God meeting. The justice is that Jesus dies as a substitution for us; for the result of sin brings death. It also demonstrates how much God loves us, by dying in our place as a substitute.

Jesus challenges Nicodemus with truth. Jesus didn’t wait for Nicodemus’ question, because He knew what was in his heart, just as he knows what is in our hearts. He knows our greatest need. While we usually focus on the physical, temporal, and material elements of life, God’s first priority is the spiritual and eternal aspects of our lives, while not neglecting our physical needs. 

In reading about the passion behind the preaching of one of the twentieth century’s greatest preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, here was a young medical doctor, a protégé of one of the most imminent physicians in England with a promising future in medicine who responded to a higher calling. To his skeptics and critics who couldn’t understand how he could give up what they thought was a more important role of medicine to go into ministry, Lloyd-Jones responded:

“…if you knew more about the work of a doctor you would understand. We but spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin!’ …I saw I was helping these men to sin and I decided that I would do no more of it. I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is all right, he is all right to the end but a man with a healthy body and a diseased soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face an eternity in hell.[iii]

Jesus is addressing the core issue, the deep seated concern on the part of Nicodemus. Jesus’ words shocked this religious leader. “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’ (John 3:3).” Nicodemus immediately asks the question.

“‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born’ (John 3:4)!”

Jesus bluntly answered his question before he could ask it, stating that without a complete change, comparable only to rebirth, the natural man cannot enter the spiritual kingdom. ‘Cannot’ implies our inability rather than denying us God’s kingdom.

…In our natural state we are unable to understand how we can have this kingdom, just as a blind man cannot enjoy a sunset. God’s mysteries are not the heritage of the learned, the moral, or the religious simply because of learning, morality, or religion; they are the heritage of the spiritually transformed.[iv]

In other words, God has to make this real to us. It is not religion that gets us to heaven. One of the great examples of this is found in the life of John Wesley.

John Wesley grew up in a pastor’s home. He studied for the ministry with a group of young men who gathered together, known as the ‘Holy Club’ and practiced the spiritual disciplines. …Although they were ridiculed by their fellows Oxfordians, from their small ranks came towering men of the age. [Later, both he and his brother went to America as missionaries to the Indians in Georgia.]   …It was through this trip that John’s contact with a small band of Moravians on the voyage over to the colony where he realized that they possessed something he didn’t have. These men and women fearlessly sang hymns during dreadful storms at sea while he despaired. He wanted to know the faith they seemed to have [that he lacked]. In 1737 he returned to England realizing that he had failed and wondered who would save him, as he had been unable to help the native people in Georgia.

It is to John Wesley’s credit that he could be critical enough of himself to stop now that he was an experienced minister to examine his lack of faith.  Peter Boehler, a Moravian, gave him the key- he said to Wesley: preach faith until he had it, and then he would preach faith. So it came about that John Wesley dwelled on faith until on Wednesday, May 24, 1738, at the well-known Aldersgate meeting, he had a conversion, a deep and unmistakable experience of faith. His ‘heart was strangely warmed.’ Then his real work began in earnest.[v]

What Jesus said took Nicodemus by surprise. Nicodemus was certainly aware of the idea of starting over again. Many non-Jewish people had become Jewish converts.

The convert it was said, ‘is like a new-born child. Such a person might fittingly be described as ‘born from above’ or born anew’.

…On this occasion, had Jesus been talking of conversion from paganism, Nicodemus would have understood him well enough; but it would have appeared that his words were intended to apply to Nicodemus himself?[vi]

That was shocking to this religious leader. Jesus was stating that he needed to be born again: converted! What does Jesus mean when he is talking about being born again, especially to a person who saw himself as part of God’s covenant? This statement confused Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a moral man, a good man. He was well acquainted with the law of God and knew much about God, but the problem was that he didn’t know God personally.

Over the years, I’ve met people like Nicodemus; wonderful people who thought they were Christians. People like Ralph and Ethelyn Folstad who had served on a Christian church board for years. They were people who had a serving and generous heart.  We call people like that moral sinners.

After raising three children, one of their married daughters had a real experience with Jesus, and challenged her parents. Nancy, their youngest daughter, said: ‘Mom and Dad, you think you’re Christians but you’re not. It cut to the heart. It rattled this couple, but they couldn’t get away from the remark. They had seen the changes in their daughter and son-in-law. But they realized that their commitment was to church not to Christ. They really didn’t know God in a personal way. When they surrendered their lives to Christ and God’s power, they began to serve with greater enthusiasm and understanding. It was a new beginning for a couple who were just starting their retirement years.

When translator Des Oatridge, working in Papua New Guinea, came to the words ‘born again’ in John’s Gospel, he asked his native co-translator to think of a good way to express it.

The man explained this custom: ‘Sometimes a person goes wrong and will not listen to anybody. We all get together in the village and place that person in the midst of us.  The elders talk to him for a long time. ‘You have gone wrong!’ they say. ‘All your thoughts, intentions, and values are wrong. Now you have to become a baby again and start to relearn everything right.’

It was the answer Des was looking for. The words of John 3:3 in Binumarien reads ‘No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he becomes like a baby again and relearns everything from God’s Word.’[vii]

To be born again is to be transformed in our very nature. Theologians talk about the work of the Holy Spirit changing a person’s nature as regeneration. A transformation of the heart of the person. This changes our very desires. We move from being self-driven to Christ centered. This is what transpires at the new birth. The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Regeneration is actually the changing of our nature. The sinful nature is being overshadowed by the divine nature. That’s what the apostle Peter meant when he wrote in his second letter:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.[viii]


Jesus describes for Nicodemus the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people transforming them. Conversion is a work of God, the Holy Spirit and is miraculous in nature. It is super ordinary. It comes from God. 

Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.’

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.[ix]

            New Testament scholar, F. F. Bruce relates:

Neither is there any difference between being born anew (or born from above) and being born ‘of water and Spirit’; but being born of the Spirit echoes O.T. language and helped Nicodemus in understanding what Jesus was talking about. If he thought it impossible for one to acquire a new nature in later life, let him remember that God had promised to do this very thing for his people Israel: ‘I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean .  . , and a new spirit I will put within you (Ezek. 36:25 f). This ‘new spirit’ was God’s own Spirit: ‘I will put my spirit within you’ (Ezek. 36:27). The promise to Israel through Ezekiel was amplified in the vision of the valley of dry bones, when the prophet obeyed the divine command: ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four kinds, 0 breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live’ (Ezek. 37:9, RSV).  The kingdom of God is a spiritual order which can be entered only by spiritual rebirth.[x]

To be born again speaks of a brand new beginning. The concept wasn’t foreign to Nicodemus. Jewish teachers had a saying, ‘A convert who embraces Judaism is like a newborn child.’ It brings one into a brand new world. It gives an individual a brand new identity. But as Jesus pointed out, it is not a physical birth.

Jesus answers, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.’ What did Jesus mean? To be born of water, speaks of repentance. Repentance is a change of one’s mind about our relationship with God. It’s an attitude change about God and the things that God loves and hates.

Jesus was basically telling this religious person that religion won’t get you into heaven. It takes a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.

When Nicodemus asked how this could come about, Jesus used a familiar picture to help him understand. First of all, Jesus told him a story in Israel’s history where the people were sinning against God and as a result were being bitten by poisonous snakes. In their desperation, they asked their leader Moses to pray for God’s help in the situation. While asking God for help, Moses was told to make a replica of the snake made out of bronze. As the people who were bitten by the snakes would look to the one made by Moses, they would live. That act of obedience to what was communicated to them was an act of faith on their part. As they looked, they were healed and lived. Now Jesus tells Nicodemus how he can start over again. What is true for Nicodemus is equally true for each of us. We can start anew. In reality when we come to Christ, we become a new person with a new identity.

Like that bronze serpent that was lifted up on a pole, Jesus would be lifted up on a cross and die for the sins of the world and that whoever looked to Him would have eternal life. Why would God do that? Why would He come to earth as a human being to die for us? Love! It is God’s love that changes us. Jesus tells both Nicodemus and us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”

It is as we put our trust in Jesus, and look to Him for forgiveness our sins are taken away. We immediately enter into a new life, one of relationship with God with a new life purpose. This is the great reset that each of us needs to begin anew.

[i] Luke 23:39-41, New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[ii] John 3:1-2.

[iii] Steven J. Lawson, The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, (Sanford, Fl: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016), 31; as quoted in Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth, 1982), 58.

[iv] Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1948), 86.

[v] Christian History Magazine, Revival and Revolution, (Vol. 2, No. 1, 1983), 9; paraphrased.

[vi] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1983), 82-83.

[vii] In Other Words (Mar/Apr 1993). Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 6.

[viii] 2 Peter 1:3-4.

[ix] John 3:5-8.

[x] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 84.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *