Sermon for John 3: 1- 17, "Nicodemus, Born of Water and Spirit"

“Nicodemus, Born of Water and Spirit” is a sermon interpretation of John 3: 1-17.  There are times when life gets a little stale, boring and empty, when you do the same things over and over and over again.  You go through the motions but that inner motivation is not there.
      Lc07 (05)

It happens to us in so many different aspects of our lives. In our jobs for example. We go through the motions. In many ways, we go through parts of our jobs over and over and over again, for one year, two years, twenty years, forty years.  Over and over again. At one time, the job was quite exciting, but time has gone by and the inner enthusiasm isn’t quite there. Jobs can become stale. You personally, not just the job, can become stale on the job. We can become washed out, worn out, burnt out. We all know that feeling.

The same thing can happen to you at school. You know inside when you are going through the motions at school, when the inner enthusiasm isn’t there. You know those feelings, especially in late May or early June, during the last weeks of school. You have had the same teacher for about nine months now and often the inner motivations just isn’t there. 

The same thing can happen in marriage. You know when you are going through the motions of marriage. At one time, your marriage may have had a touch of excitement to it, but time has passed by and that enthusiasm is no longer there. The marriage becomes a little stale, a little repetitious. You end up being married a long time and you get into this conversation with your spouse, and within two minutes into that conversation, you know where it is going. You have been there before. Or, in you get into a fight, you often say, “O no, honey, not again. We have had this argument some 10,000 times. So you go through the motions of marriage, but the inner motivation is not there.

And, the same thing can happen in your religious life, in your relationship with God, where you go through motions with God again and again and again. You come on Sunday morning and you experience the same old routines and the same old prayers and the same old liturgies and the same old sermons said by the same old pastor, with the same old hymns, and you sit in the same old pew with the same old people who hold the same old bulletins. It is the same old same old, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. And so there comes a time in one’s religious life where one begins going through the motions but the inner motivation is no longer there and the inner heart is not quite alive.

It is with these images in so many aspects of our lives…job, school, marriage, religion…that life can become repetitious, stale and boring with the same old thing over and over again, that we approach the story of Nicodemus.  Nic was a man who was going through the motions of religion without the inner motivation of God.

Now, I imagine that Nicodemus was a man in his mid fifties or mid sixties, gray haired, physically distinguished, accomplished, trim, successful in his work. He was a teacher of the law, a professor of religion at the temple in Jerusalem. He was one of the primary teachers of the law. Now, according to the story in the Bible, he is “older in life;” that is, an older man. That means he probably had about twelve children, all gone from home. He probably had fifty grandchildren plus ten great grand children. He probably heard that the eleventh great grand child was to be born and he thinks to himself, “Another great grandchild? I can’t keep track of all their names.” Nicodemus was a man who had pretty much seen it all.

In his relationship with God, Nicodemus was a man who was going through the motions. He knew the law; he was a teacher of the law, but his inner enthusiasm for God wasn’t there any more. It was not quite right in his relationship with God anymore.

So Jesus of Nazareth showed up in town, and Nicodemus had gone to hear Jesus preach in the temple. Nicodemus sensed that Jesus had something inside of him that Nicodemus no longer had. Nicodemus was touched by Jesus’ preaching and decided to talk to Jesus.

So quietly, one night, Nicodemus quietly went over to the home of Jesus about midnight, not wanting his fellow religious professors to know. About midnight, Nicodemus came to Jesus’ house and rapped on the door. (Knock, knock, knock). Jesus came to the door and said, “Yes?”

“I know it is late, but my name is Nicodemus. I am a professor of religious law down at the temple, and I would like to speak with you a minute.”

Jesus said, “OK. Shall we go out for a walk?”

Nicodemus replied, “O no. No, no, no, no, no. We don’t want to be seen outside. Do you mind if I would come in?”

Nicodemus came into the room. Jesus invited him up to the roof of the house where it was cooler and offered him a glass of wine. Jesus asked, “How can I help you?”

Nicodemus said, “Things are not quite right with me. They aren’t quite right inside of me. I sense that you have something that I don’t have anymore. I am tired. My lectures are stale. I am getting old and slow. I am interested in what advice you would have for me?”

Jesus, of course, had this uncanny ability to look right into a person’s heart, and he said, “I know the problem that you are having Nicodemus. It is not that you are old; it is not that you are tired; it is not that you are worn out. The problem is this; you are no longer close to God. You have drifted away from God. God is no longer living in the center of your heart. Nicodemus, you need to be born again.”

Nicodemus replied, “Born again? Take and push me back into my mother’s womb? Come on, now. I can’t be born again.”

Jesus said, “”You don’t understand Nicodemus. You need to be born anew, to experience a rebirth in your relationship with God. You need to be born of the water, the cleansing waters of God. You need to be born of the Spirit, you need to be born from a above. You need to experience rebirth.”

Nicodemus said, “I’m not sure if I understand. It is time for me to go. Thanks for the wine.” 

Nicodemus then left, close the door behind him, looked down the street both ways to make sure that nobody was in sight and he then disappeared into the darkness of the street.

So how does this story end? Does Nicodemus become born again? Was Nicodemus born anew? Did he experience a rebirth? How does the story end? The Gospels don’t exactly explain what happened to him.

What does it mean to be born anew? What is God’s lesson for us in the Gospel story for today?

Well, far too often in life, we have drifted away from God. In our relationship with God, we are going through the motions without the inner motivation.

You can be a person who is fifteen or twenty-five or thirty-five or forty-five or fifty-five or sixty-five or seventy-five and eighty-five and you have drifted away from God. Things aren’t quite right. The Nicodemus’ in this room do not have to be older or more than sixty-five. Nicodemus’ can be fifteen or twenty-five or thirty-five.

You start to have the habits of faith without the heart of faith. You have structures without the Spirit. You are going through the rituals but you don’t have the real thing. You are going through the patterns of faith but you no longer have the power of faith.

And if you have ever come to that time in your life, when things aren’t quite right, when your religion has become more of a ritual than a real thing, when it is more of a pattern than power, when it is more structure than Spirit, we then need to come to Jesus’ home, rap on his door and say, “Jesus, I need some help. I’ve got a problem … here… in my heart. It is not quite right.”

And Jesus will say to you and me, “Come right in. Sit down for a while. Let’s talk. And Jesus has this uncanny ability to look deeply into your heart and mine and he says, “You need to be born again, to be born anew, to be born from above, to experience a rebirth of God’s love in your heart. You need to be born of the water and the Spirit.

That is what I would like to talk with you about: what does it mean to be born again?

Jesus said that there were two parts of being born again. To be born again is to be born of the water and be born of the Spirit. Two parts. It is a combination of those two parts that results in being born again.

What does it mean to be born of the water? Just as a child cannot live without water within the uterus, you and I cannot live without the water of God inside of us and around us giving us life. Water, both in us and around us, gives us life, just as water is in the unborn child and around the unborn child when that child is in the uterus. In order to be spiritually alive, you must be cleansed by the waters of God. We need to have our sins washed away daily. Because we are sinful by nature, we need to be constantly washed of our sins, cleansed of our sins, purified of our sins. All the time. Why all the time? Because by nature, we are sinful and unclean. That is just the way it is with us human beings.  We are in need of the cleansing waters of God.

Let me explain. What story should I tell you? There are so many stories to chose from. It was my children who caught the fire of my temper. Here was the gravity of the situation. My children hadn’t fed the dog that night. The big issue that night was the barking dog. The dog was yelping because the dog was hungry and neither kid had fed the dog. Both kids were arguing that it was each other’s responsibility to feed the dog. It boiled down to another family argument about feeding the dog. In coolness, I came into the kitchen, shouted angrily at both children, got the kids crying, got my wife upset, got the dog barking more, and then went back into the living room to sit in my chair and try to read the evening newspaper.  Of course, I was totally miserable. I have to admit that was me. That is me. That was you. That is you.  That happens to all of us human beings.

By nature, we are unclean. By nature, we get stressed out. By nature, we do all kinds of dumb things. And we constantly need our sinful lives washed clean with the cleansing waters of God’s forgiveness.

And that is half of what it means to be born again. It means to be washed clean of your sins.
Yes, we are forever in need of God’s cleansing waters.

What does it mean to be born again? Jesus says, “You must be born of the water. You must live in the water and the water live in you and around you on every side, like an unborn child in the mother’s womb. Without water inside and around side, the unborn child cannot live. And without the inner water and surrounding water of God’s forgiveness, you and I cannot live. God is constantly washing us of our sins. That is true of everybody here. There are no exceptions.

You never grow to become so religious that you outgrow the need to be daily washed of your sins.

But there is a second half to be being born again. It means to be born of the Spirit. What does that mean? To be born of the Spirit?

To be born of the Spirit is not just to have a religious high, kind of like having religious champagne, becoming all spiritually bubbly inside. Tell me, what does an open bottle of champagne taste like the next day? It is flat. And yesterday’s religious experiences are often flat tomorrow.
So then, what does it mean to be born of the Spirit? If it does not mean to experience religious highs like religious champagne at great campfires or great religious gatherings which last such a short time.

To be born of the Spirit means to have the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of you. It means that God’s gracious love comes and lives inside of your heart.

And what is this gracious love of Christ that comes and lives in your heart? It is a way of loving, a way of forgiving, a way of caring, a way of prayer, a way of worship, a way of thanksgiving and praise, a way of being in tune with the Spirit of Jesus. It is loving another person in their uniqueness; no longer trying to change that person to meet my expectations but to truly love them in their individuality rather than trying to remake them into the kind of person I want them to be. Gracious love is loving another person in their sinfulness. That person falls so far short of maturity and perfection. I fall so far short of maturity and self expectation. And to love a person, including myself, in all our sinfulness. That is grace. That is gracious love. That is the Spirit of Jesus.

Born of the water. Born of the Spirit. Two births. A birth of water. A birth of Spirit. That is what it means to be reborn.

If you come to that point in your life where you say, “God, I am going through the motions but I don’t have that inner motivation any longer.  I have the patterns of religion but not the power. I have the rituals of faith but not the real thing. I have the structures but not the Spirit. If you have come to that point in your relationship with God, whether you are fifteen or twenty-five or thirty-five or fifty-five or seventy-five, and you sense that something is wrong with your life. One night, you may come up to the home of Jesus and knock on his door and say, “Jesus, things aren’t right in here. Things aren’t right here in my heart.” Jesus will reply, “ I know. It happens to people all the time. You need to be born again. You need to experience a rebirth. You need to be born of the water and born of the Spirit.

Edited sermon by Rev. Edward Markquart


  1. Great sermon! you have a talent for reaching others. Please continue for the Kingdom of God. Please feel free to e-mail me. In Christ, Gary.

  2. Rev. Oswald Hall says:

    I must confess this sermon gave me a few insights that are going to be helpful in preparing a sermon to preach this Sunday.
    I don,t store or write out sermons so each time i start fresh, this is the Gospel reading for Sunday and i was just at a loss. We have heard the usual themes over and over and i just needed something fresh for the congregation. thank You, keep up the good work.

  3. The Revd Warren L Wade says:

    Thank you for your insights into the Sacred Scriptures, especially those where ordinary people have dealings with Jesus. What you do opens up fresh insight into the Lord’s teaching and His loving directions to all who would accept Him.
    I have been a priest for 50 years this very year and the ‘wind of God’ touches me in prayer, the Scriptures and in the Blessed Eucharist. Thank you for your part in ‘blowing’ Him ever closer to me in prayer and meditation. I’m still learning!
    Thank you so much for your input and may the Blessed Saviour’s Spirit strengthen your Ministry. I hope you don’t mind if I use some of your gift in my ministry to older people (like me! 77yo)

  4. admin says:

    Thank you Oswald, glad you found some fresh inspiration!

  5. admin says:

    Thank you Wade for your faithful service to Christ for many years!

  6. Martha Miller says:

    I appreciate your insight into this particular scripture. I am a Sunday School Teacher of kids in grades first-third. I am always looking for ways to explain the scriptures to the kids in a way that they will understand them better. Not only did I see a way to explain this to them, but it taught me a lesson as well.

    Thank you,

  7. Jane Snibbe says:

    I think we do know what happened to Nicodemus. In John 8:50, Nicodemus says, when the other Pharisees want Jesus arrested because the messiah could not be from Galilee, ” Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” The Pharisees then question that Nicodemus might also be from Galilee. Later following the crucifixion, in John 19:39, Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes, and helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare the body for burial.
    It doesn’t seem likely that Nicodemus would be with the followers of Jesus and risk his standing with the Pharisees, if he hadn’t believed in Jesus and his teachings. So it seems that Nicodemus was certainly “born of the Spirit” even if we do not know if he was baptized with water.

  8. admin says:

    Thank you Martha for your kind words. I always found sermon preparation a learning experience too!

  9. admin says:

    Thank you for sharing Jane. Your rationale is convincing!

  10. Dorothy says:

    Unfortunately this is false and incorrect teaching. Jesus never says to be born of water as we know and drink water. He is talking about LIVING WATERS. We need only to be born of the Spirit. Take not my words as truth but the words from the Bible. This site (copy and paste the link) does an amazing job giving correct insight in to John 3. This site explains line by line, verse by verse the historical context and spiritual meaning. To take everything Jesus said literally is to misunderstand Him completely. He often spoke in parables and the people, not yet knowing or accepting Him as the Son of God could not understand his references. Salvation through water would diminish what Christ did for us on the cross. We are baptized after a confession of faith.

  11. Prabu says:

    Wow Cam!Beautiful insight and that pareyr ~ whoa.I read that pareyr out loud to my son. I am going to go look at my commentary in my study bible once I am done responding here.This also took me back to something I posted in another community quite awhile ago. I was discussing different types of praying and took the Lords Prayer along with this one ~the pareyr from the movie The Book of Eli’:Dear LordThank you for giving me strength and conviction to finish the task you entrusted to me.Thank you for guiding me straight and true through the many obstacles in my path.And for keeping me resolute when all around seemed lost.For your protection.For your many signs along the way.Thank you for any good I may have done,I am so sorry about the bad.Thank you for the friend I made pleas watch over heras you watched over me.Thank you for finally allowing me to rest,I am so very tired but I go now to my rest and peace knowingthat I have done right with this time on earth.I fought the good fight,I finished the race.I kept the faith.~Eli (Denzel Washington)I am passing this on to a few people too. : )

Speak Your Mind