Jesus and Nicodemus
Nicodemus was Jerusalem's most outstanding Bible teacher and a member of the Jewish Ruling Council. Only the High Priest gained more recognition in the capital city than Nicodemus. Yet, despite all his learning and privileges, he did not know God. He knew about God, but he did not know him. And as we listen to Jesus the Evangelist engage this man in conversation the darkness in his soul quickly becomes apparent.
The story is found in John 3 and three features of the conversation are worth noting.
First, the Master Evangelist reveals to Nicodemus the reality of his need. The story begins with Jesus saying to him that those who are outside the kingdom of God cannot understand the things concerning the kingdom. And what does Nicodemus say in response to this: "I cannot understand what you're saying!"
Nicodemus' inability to grasp what Jesus was saying was indicative of his fallen heart. Spiritual things are not grasped because of superior intelligence because we are able to grasp some proposition of Ludwig Wittgenstein. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). Until we come to realize the gravity of our condition - that by nature we are all outside of the kingdom of God, we can make no progress toward redressing this problem.
Second, Nicodemus is told of the remedy that lies wholly outside of any ability of his. He must be "born again" (John 3:3, 7). He must be born from above (to employ a more literal translation). Nicodemus took the allusion to birth literally, ask how exactly he could enter again into his mother's womb and be born! But Nicodemus is still thinking in terms of something he can achieve. Think of the "wind," Jesus says to him. "You cannot command it to come; all you can do is to feel it when it blows. The new birth is like that! You cannot command it to occur by something you do; you must resign yourself to doing nothing and let God do this work in you." The solution to our native darkness is God's ability to transform us. All we can do is cry for mercy and ask to change us, cleanse us (the allusion to being born "of water and the Spirit" in verse 5 is probably a reference to Ezekiel 36 which speaks of washing and cleansing).
How can Nicodemus, a teacher of the Old Testament law, not grasp those things the law teaches? The problem with mankind has always been with the heart (Genesis 8:21; Exodus 7:14; Deuteronomy 5:28-29; 8:14; Isaiah 29:13; Jeremiah 17:9), a problem which God alone can solve by giving men a new heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31-34). To be reborn by the Spirit of God makes one a new man (see 1 Samuel 10:6-13), and it is the Spirit who enables men to see such truths (see 1 Corinthians 2). Paul carries this even a step further:
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, 13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the end of the glory that was fading away. 14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:12-18).