There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:The same came to Jesus by night, and said until him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:1–8)
We have begun to consider this story, this particular case of Nicodemus, and I would remind you that we are approaching it from a particular angle. We are concerned about the condition of all those who are seeking the fullness that is to be found in our blessed Lord and Savior, and we are discovering how this fullness is to be received. In order to do that, we must consider some of the mistakes and errors that others before us (and we ourselves in our time) have made in this endeavor. So that is the way in which we are approaching the case of Nicodemus. He, obviously, is an example of this very matter, and we have seen where he was wrong in his approach. Now we have considered these various points in a general way, but we must go on to work them out a little more in detail and apply them, because this really is a most important matter. There are lessons to be learned from Nicodemus that apply in a special way to a certain kind of person who is religious, as he was, and who really is concerned for something bigger, something deeper, something more vital.
Let me, then, try to put the lessons in a more spiritual form. First I would lay down as a principle that one of the things we are taught here is to beware of the danger, if I may so put it, of trying to go on before we have started. I do not put it like that in order to be paradoxical. I literally mean what I say. Nicodemus was a man who was trying to go on before he had started.
Now here is the point at which the Devil very frequently misleads this particular type of person, the one who has been brought up in a religious atmosphere. The extraordinary thing, as we have all discovered from personal experience and in dealing with others and discussing these things with them, is that though we all eventually come to the same place, we come there in very different ways. People have varying difficulties and problems. For instance, there is the case of the man who has perhaps never been to a place of worship in his life. He was not brought up in a Christian home, never went to a Christian church, never went to Sunday school, and so on; he lived a purely worldly, materialistic life, but suddenly, in some mysterious manner, he is apprehended and arrested and becomes a Christian.
But there is another case of a man who has been brought up in a Christian home, who has been hearing about these things, knows the Bible, has gone to services, has gone to Sunday school, and so on, one who has this whole religious background. Well, by the nature of things these two men are going to face different kinds of problems and difficulties, and they are confronted by different pitfalls. And the Devil in his subtlety, knowing all about us and all about our background, knows exactly the kind of trap to set for each and every one of us.
Now here with Nicodemus we are looking at a man who is typical of the religious kind of person, one who has been brought up in all this. These are people who, perhaps meeting someone else or reading a biography or reading something of the history of the church throughout the centuries, come across a type and an order of Christian living that they recognize at once is quite beyond anything they have ever known and experienced. And being religious people with this background, they are anxious to be like that and to discover how that fullness is to be obtained, and immediately they set out to seek it.