Updated: Nov 9, 2021
JOHN 3: 1-15 (NASB)
“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 have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to 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? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and 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. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a sect of Judaism devoted to the Torah. He would have been well trained in the instruction of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). He would have devoted his life to understanding, meditating on, and teaching these sacred texts. Nicodemus, in many ways, represents the religious elite of his day.
Jesus tells Nicodemus, “... “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (ref. Jn. 3:3). Some of our other translations such as the (NRSV), record, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” How are we to understand this? Nicodemus seems to have a different understanding than Jesus.
The phrase used in Greek can mean either “from above” or “again”. Many of our translations have translated this phrase as “born again” such as the New Revised Standard Version has done. Nicodemus recognizes the importance of what Jesus is saying. To him, the words of Jesus just seem impossible. To enter the kingdom of God, one would need to start life all over again. Notice Nicodemus’ response; “Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (Jn. 3:4 NASB). I don’t think Nicodemus is being sarcastic. I believe that he is sincerely trying to understand what Jesus is saying. Jesus, seeing the struggle offers another approach.
JOHN 3:5-8 (NASB)
“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and 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. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus is telling Nicodemus if you want to see the kingdom of God you must be born from above, you must be born of the Spirit. This is a life animated by the Spirit, it’s a new birth, it is a new creation. I believe this is what Jesus means. In this context, the translation being born from above helps me understand the words of Jesus better.
The life of Nicodemus was dedicated to the law of Moses. He was a religious teacher of Israel, how could this not be enough? To Nicodemus, Jesus’ words seemed as impossible as entering a second time into a mother’s womb after having grown old.
Jesus pulls Nicodemus to the center of the conversation as He talks about believing in the Son of Man. To enter the kingdom of God, you must believe in Jesus. Jesus directs Nicodemus to an Old Testament passage that would have been very familiar to him.
JOHN 3: 13-15 (NASB)
“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
Jesus is referencing a time when God saved the children of Israel in the wilderness. God led Israel out of Egyptian bondage through Moses. During this time while in the wilderness, the children of Israel began grumbling and complaining against Moses and God.
NUMBERS 21: 5-9 (NASB)
“The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”
The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard, and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”
The children of Israel acknowledged their sin and God demonstrates his mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. In order to live, after being bitten by a poisonous snake, one needed to look up at the bronze serpent Moses fashioned on a pole. It’s interesting, still today this is a sign for healing used in the medical community.
In (Jn. 3), Jesus says in this same way he would be lifted up. Jesus is speaking about when he would be lifted up on the cross. From here, the conversation with Nicodemus ends. What had Nicodemus understood as Jesus spoke to him? We are not told directly in the Scriptures. However, it is interesting to notice Nicodemus shows up again in John’s gospel. In John 19, with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial. It would seem Nicodemus realized the words of Jesus and began a new life.
THE WOMAN AT THE WELL
Next, John takes us to a very different conversation and the contrast between them could not be any greater. One takes place in the cover of the night whereas the other is in the heat of the day. One conversation is with an elite religious man, the other with an outcast and marginalized woman. The contrasts between these two people and these two conversations are striking.
It was about noon and Jesus, tired from His travels, sat down to rest at a well near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob had twelve sons, these sons became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph, whose brothers had sold him into slavery, eventually became second over all of Egypt. Jesus sits down to rest at a very significant place, a significant well, and as He is resting a woman from Samaria comes to draw water. This is where we join the conversation.
JOHN 4: 1-30 (NASB)
“Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria. So He *came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There *came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus *said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman *said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She *said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
The woman *said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” He *said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus *said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” The woman *said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman *said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus *said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and *said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.”
Later in this text, we read how many from the city believed in Jesus.
WHO IS SHE?
How do we view this woman? In your mind, how do you picture her? She has had five husbands. Is she seen in our mind as someone who is unfaithful?
Someone who cannot be committed to her husband and seems to jump around from one man to the other? Many tend to picture her this way. I have in the past.
If so, we need to press pause and remember her culture (ancient Judaism). Tim Mackie makes a strong point, she, a woman in her culture, cannot initiate a divorce. She did not have the legal right to file for divorce from her husband.
The picture John is sharing with us is that this woman is a victim. She has been a victim of abusive men. She is a Samaritan woman, the object of racism.
“How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan
woman?” Being abandoned by multiple husbands, she is in a very difficult economic situation. She is ashamed and alone. John tells us that it was about the sixth hour when Jesus rested by the well. Hours were counted from sunup to sundown (about 6 to 6). She would have come around noon to draw water, in the hottest part of the day. Why? Is she intentionally trying to avoid other people, other women? A woman who is shunned, someone who is the center of much gossip, would she take the chance of bumping into others? What is Jesus doing talking with this woman? Jesus reaches out to the outcast, lifts up the downtrodden, restores relationships, breaks through barriers, destroys stereotypes, and rejects all forms of racism. Following Jesus will cause us to shift how we see others. This is a conversation we cannot miss.
An important theme as we move through this conversation is the water.
If we trace the water, it flows from something that quenches thirst (Jn. 4:7), to living water (Jn. 4:10) and water springing up to eternal life (Jn. 4:14). In the conversation, Jesus has more concern than just quenching His thirst.
JOHN 4: 9-10 (NASB)
“Therefore the Samaritan woman *said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
The regular meaning of “living water,” in this culture, would have referred to running water like a river or a stream. Jesus’ words take on a different meaning.
Jesus is not talking about stagnating water or running water, what Jesus is talking about is new life. As the conversation develops we see that the new life offered by Jesus is for everyone no matter their gender, race, or background.
As with Nicodemus, Jesus understands this woman’s situation, He knows her greatest need. As the water at Cana, where Jesus transformed the water into wine, we see in this story, Jesus has the power to transform lives.
How often do we get caught in limiting beliefs? How often do we get discouraged or disappointed? In this conversation, the woman from Samaria has done the same thing every day. She has gone to the well alone, on the same path to draw water. I am sure she cannot see a way of anything being different in her life. She follows her same routines, tries to avoid people, and follows the same path to the well each day. A life that has been pushed aside, marginalized, shunned, and cast out. For me, I picture a woman whose skin is a little thick. Her face creased with the pains of worry. Hair that may be a little matted - struggling through daily life there is seldom time for self-care. All she wants to do is draw some water and get back to her routines. She almost seems to dismiss this conversation.
However, when she pauses her routine for a moment and looks at Jesus she begins to see more. “Sir I perceive that you are a prophet” (ref. Jn. 4:19). A shimmer of hope is noticed, “...“I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” (Jn. 4:25).
At this moment, streams of living water rush from Jesus and fill her with new life, “...I who speak to you am He.” (Jn. 4:26).
LEAVING THE WATERPOT
In the next scene, her routines are shattered as she drops her waterpots and runs back to the village.
JOHN 4: 29-30 (NASB)
“Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.”
For this woman, her life had just been radically transformed. The transformation was not from water that satisfied her physical thirst but from the transforming well of Jesus. Fountains of water springing up to everlasting life.
CONVERSATIONS THAT TRANSFORM
As we follow these two conversations, what can we learn from them? In the shadows of the night or in the light of the noonday sun, we are invited to come and see Jesus. Perhaps we need to look up from our normal, see others the way Jesus sees them, and be ready to experience the unexpected. How can these things be? Only through the One who gives living water springing up to eternal life.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations from: New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.