John 3: 1 – 15 Jesus teaches Nicodemus
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no-one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
Nicodemus was an important, influential man. As a member of the Jewish ruling council he would have helped guide and shape the way the Jews lived, especially what they believed and how they practised their faith. He was a teacher of Israel.
He came to Jesus by night and started the conversation by acknowledging that Jesus is a teacher who has come from God. A good start – perhaps.
He came by night. Why?
Did he hope to benefit from Jesus’ ministry, perhaps stealing a march on his colleagues? Was he sincere, but fearful of what his colleagues would say? Had the council sent him to find out more about this troublemaking rabbi, Jesus?
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
Let’s just pause and think about this. How would I feel if Jesus had confronted me with a reply like that? Startled? Baffled? How would I have responded? Keep thinking about this as we read on.
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
It’s not a thoughtful reply, is it? There’s little humility in it. Nicodemus expresses doubt about what Jesus has just told him. He’s almost scornful.
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
Jesus amplifies what he had said; he drops a large hint. When he says ‘born of water’, he is referring to baptism. He’s probing Nicodemus; how much does he know of Jesus’ ministry? Has he witnessed any of the preaching and teaching? It’s decision time for Nicodemus. Will he humbly ask Jesus to explain? Or will he reject the teaching?
‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.
Teaching rejected. Game over. Except that with Jesus the game is never over. Jesus gives Nicodemus some final teaching about his ministry.
‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
The teaching continues, but I will leave that for tomorrow.
In the meantime, you might read John 7: 50 in which Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus among the Pharisees; and John 19: 38 – 42 where Nicodemus carries a great weight of precious spices to the tomb, to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. That meeting with Jesus seems to have changed something in Nicodemus.
I’m sorry that I am slow to understand your word, and even slower to obey it. Please forgive me for that, and help me to do better. Please help me not to be fearful, but to trust in Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen