I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV)
In chapter two we saw how some people believed in Jesus, but in a manner that was not sufficient for salvation. They were merely impressed by his miracles. Here in chapter three we get an example of such faith/interest.
Nicodemus approaches Jesus with an unspoken question. He knows Jesus is “from God” because of the miracles. But what he really wants to know is, WHO is He?
Jesus ignores that and gets to the heart of the matter, belief. Jesus explains that no one can see, understand, or belong to God’s Kingdom unless one is reborn into it. Nicodemus and his colleagues are preoccupied with religion and law, the things they can do to please God. Jesus says that no one can work their way into God’s favor.
The radical understanding of what God wants from people is clear and should have been understood all along by those who had access to God’s revelation. Nicodemus should have seen it. Jesus talks of being born “of water and spirit.” It hearkens back to passages like the one quoted above.
The right kind of belief starts with an understanding of our condition. We are in dire need of salvation. It is fulfilled when we place our hope in the right solution. The imagery Jesus uses here is a perfect metaphor. When the Israelites were punished with venomous snakes in the dessert, their only hope was to look at the image of a snake raised up on a stick. If bitten, only gazing at the statues would save them. People in that condition would be hyper aware of their predicament. Panicked would be a better description. However, it would also take a lot of trust to simply look at a statue after being bitten.
Nicodemus’ problem, and the problem of the Jews in Jesus day was that they thought they had God’s favor. They thought they were good enough. At worst, if they did fall short of God’s expectations they could do something about it. Something in their own strength. They didn’t think repentance and regeneration were something they needed. They didn’t want to trust someone else for their wellbeing. Unfortunately, those are also problems that a lot of people in Christendom share with them.