In John 3, the Lord emphasises the fact that He came from heaven. He works with men from that point of view. He testifies to man as to what is of heaven, from heaven, and what is man needs to be fit for heaven. That requires new birth.
Nicodemus had a mere human conviction of Christ; he knew that He was a teacher come from God because of His miracles. The Lord told him that he had to be born again. Of course, as he looked on things according to man, albeit a religious man. He did not understand what the Lord was talking about.
Being born again is not like some say, having a new nature. That would again be human. If a person has only a human conviction, his or her conscience is not affected, and has no desire to be with Jesus, because Jesus is not attractive to the natural man (see Isa. 53:2). Indeed, he doesn’t even care; he is just interested in what is here – family, politics, sport etc. Although he hopes to go to heaven when he dies, he does not find news from heaven interesting. But how will he be in heaven if Christ, the very centre of heaven’s delight, has no attraction for his heart? Unless, of course he has a totally wrong impression of heaven and thinks of it as a purely earthly paradise [Sosthenes’ addition].
On the other hand, the first thing that a person who has been born of the Spirit realises that he is lost and all wrong, like a bad tree which can never get better. He will be very anxious about that: sin is pressing on his conscience and plaguing his heart. But there is not a sin that Christ has not died for. He has put Himself in the sinner’s place before God. ‘He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor 5:21). So the born again sinner sees Him on the cross, answering for him because he could not answer for himself. Christ has done everything that could bar his access to God.
Christ lifted up
God gave His Son – this is the glad tidings of grace. ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. … For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:14,16. Nothing but the crucifixion of the blessed Lord could meet the sinner’s case.
He had to be lifted up. He knew everything that that would necessitate. He had came to do His Father’s will, and that will was our salvation. Consequently He drank that cup of wrath in love and quietness in order that the sinner might not. He made peace by the blood of His cross (see Col 1:20)
God set His seal in righteousness when He said, ‘Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool’ (Psalm 110:1, Heb 1:13). Grace now reigns through righteousness (see Rom 5:21) – righteousness having been made good before the whole universe.
Go in Peace
Let none of us doubt the efficacy of what Jesus has done. Have we heard in His quiet voice that the ‘Son of man must be lifted up’ (John 3:14)? Let Him tell us why. Let us learn how blessed it is to live in the light of God, where light shows us (not just our sins) to be white as snow. (see Isa 1:18). May we learn what it is to walk in the light of His countenance.
Summary by Sosthenes