Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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 answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, 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 the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And 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.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3:1-21 (ESV)
There's a lot in this passage. Books could be written about it and probably have been. A couple things stick out to me. First, what does it mean to be born of the Spirit? Nicodemus asked, "How can a man be born when he is old?" Jesus answers by saying that one must be born of water and of the Spirit to enter into the kingdom of God. We don't understand how this happens, but Jesus compares it to the wind. We hear it, but we don't know its start or end.
The Holy Spirit moves in the hearts and minds of unbelieving people allowing them to have faith. How this works, only God knows. But in order for a person to enter the kingdom, the Holy Spirit must give faith to him or her. But faith in what?
Jesus points Nicodemus to a story he would recognize. In Numbers 21, we read about Israel grumbling against God and Moses. Instead of thanking God for His provision and His victories over their enemies, they complain. So God sends a plague of fiery serpents and many died because of it. But God also provided a way of salvation for the people. Moses made a bronze serpent and set it up on a pole. Those who were bit, could look to the serpent and receive healing.
This is a story about faith, and Nicodemus would understand this. Just like the serpent was lifted in the wilderness, so must Jesus be lifted up. He is who we now look to. Instead of physical healing, we receive healing from our sins, which is a far greater gift.
The last thing I want to point out is how John bookends this story. He starts off by stating that Nicodemus came at night. Nicodemus, being a Pharisee, most likely didn't want anyone to know that he was visiting Jesus. It would ruin his standing among his peers. Jesus then ends his discussion with Nicodemus by talking about light and darkness. Light has come into the world. Jesus is the light. Men love darkness, because it can hide their sin. The light will expose their wickedness to all.
As Christians, we don't have to fear the light, because no matter how great our sins are, they were paid for by Jesus on the cross. We can be open with our sins and we don't judge others because of their sins. Christians also don't come to Jesus in secret. We openly confess that Jesus is Lord. In fact, we desire to share this good news to all who will listen.
Here are a few things to take away from this passage. First, if you don't have faith that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, paying the penalty for your sins, so that you can have eternal life, then pray to God and ask for His Holy Spirit to come and give you this faith.
Second, if you do have saving faith, share this good news with your friends and family. Don't be ashamed of what they might think of you. If Jesus is truly Lord of your life, then start acting like it. Proclaim the good news to everyone you can. As Christians we are heralds of the gospel. And don't worry if you don't know how to explain all the theological details, just let people know that Jesus died for their sins and He rose from the dead.
Finally, pray for your friends and family. Pray for the Holy Spirit to come to them and give them faith to believe.