John 3-4 records Jesus’ conversations with two people on the opposite ends of the social spectrum. First, He meets Nicodemus, one of the most respected, scholarly leaders in all Israel. He was a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus called him ‘the teacher of Israel’.
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and addressed Him as a 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.”
This is a sensational statement from someone in a high position in the Sanhedrin. Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus was that he must be born again. Most religious Jews assumed they were a part of the Kingdom by virtue of being born into a Jewish family and embracing its religious traditions.
Yet Jesus was straightforward with Nicodemus. He was going to need more than his Jewish heritage, his learning, and standing with the religious community to enter the Kingdom.
The problem was, Nicodemus thought he was already part of the eternal Kingdom. “I have to be born again? What about my heritage? What about my learning and knowledge of the Scriptures? What about my philanthropy and standing with the community?” Even Nicodemus, a member of the high echelons of society, cannot enter the Kingdom without being born again.
Nicodemus was perplexed. Jesus gently corrected him for being the teacher of Israel and not understanding these things. Nicodemus’s knowledge of the Scriptures should have given him understanding of God’s desire to give His people a new heart by the work of the Spirit and that none can come to God in his own righteousness.
The issue of the flesh and spirit is not one of choosing between virtuous and sinful expressions of human nature. The new birth is much more than a resolution to make good choices. It’s the work of the Spirit giving us a new position with God and a new nature. No amount of reform can grant you that. It’s a gift only the Holy Spirit can bestow.
Jesus alluded to an account familiar to Nicodemus, that of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, to help him understand God’s way of salvation. Some may think if they try to live nobly, they’ll be living ‘of the Spirit’. They can’t be more wrong.
Entering the Kingdom is above and beyond our own efforts. It’s a free gift to those who choose to embrace and trust the Saviour of the world. Noble choices can come from our humanity and personality. Yet, to access the eternal Kingdom, we’ve to leave our religious past and be born of the Spirit.
The other person Jesus spoke with was a woman whom Nicodemus would have despised. She was a Samaritan. Moreover, she was likely a woman with an immoral reputation.
Jesus was on His way to Galilee. You can go through Samaria to get there, but most Jews walked around. They were so against the Samaritans that they did not even want to get defiled by just touching their dirt or food.
Jews would take a 20-mile detour just to show how pure they were. Jesus said He needed to go through Samaria. That is an interesting phrase. The Spirit led Him so that He could speak to the Samaritan woman and touch others in that region.
The Samaritans were half-Jew and half-Gentile. Some worshipped idols and pagan gods. Samaritans refused to recognise Jerusalem as their place of worship; instead, they chose to worship on Mount Gerizim. The woman was at the well in Sychar at the sixth hour which was about noon. Women did not usually draw water alone in the heat of the day. It’s likely that she was a social outcast and avoided others due to her reputation.
The Samaritan woman said, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink?” Maybe she thought, “You’re Jewish. What are You doing in Samaria and talking to a Samaritan woman?”
The Jewish leaders would not ever talk to a Jewish woman alone, what more a Samaritan woman. “Why are You asking me for help? That is out of character.” She was intrigued by the way Jesus broke every cultural and religious barrier to relate to her. Jesus knows everything, He knew about the woman’s secret life and gave her a word of knowledge which opened her heart.
The ways the Lord spoke with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman were so different. His approaches with these two distinctly different personalities adapted to their individual need and mindset. He knows everything good and bad about people, yet still pursues and cares for them. He cared about the woman with the immoral reputation as well as the Jewish elite. He knows and includes them.
There could not be two more different personalities than these who were part of John’s introduction of the Saviour.
These two extremes characterised Jesus’ ministry. This is God’s heart for people – ‘For God so loved the world’. This includes everyone, every type of personality, in every sphere of society.