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.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “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!” 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.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “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.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:1-16 NIV)
Has your upbringing or training ever been an impediment to what you believe? It is something I can relate to and I imagine it’s true for you as well. This is where we find Nicodemus. He is schooled in the highest form of religious law. His knowledge, however, keeps him from knowing who is in front of him.
He walks in the night to talk to Jesus. Something is troubling him—something he doesn’t understand. He recognizes that Jesus is from God because of the miracles and signs but something is missing, maybe the how. Jesus, knowing his heart, reveals the way. He talks of being “born again”. You can hear the visceral confusion. Nicodemus’s reasoning veils the meaning, at least initially. What I love about the discourse is how Jesus entrusts him with his words and heart. He loves Nicodemus and doesn’t want this Sanhedrin man to perish either.
Nicodemus doesn’t dismiss the hard teaching about spiritual birth, redemption and the way to see the kingdom of God. The seeds of hope and truth are planted in his heart. What Nicodemus learns about Christ’s love is a lesson for all of us. Love calls us to respond and grow.
It’s not based on gathering more knowledge but on a relationship with Christ himself. The teachings and love of Jesus start to demolish the unbelief of this particular Pharisee. We see it crack open when the Pharisees send the temple guards to arrest Jesus (John 7).
Nicodemus stands up for Jesus against the powerful rulers. After the death of Christ Nicodemus brought seventy-five pounds of aloes and myrrh and helped Joseph of Arimathea to wrap his body and place the body of Christ in the tomb. His actions defile him and make him unclean for seven days. I don’t think he cares about the Levitical law because his love for Christ and belief in him has moved beyond an intellectual argument.
He is emboldened by love.
The words spoken to Nicodemus that night drive the dark of doubt away. I imagine he thinks about the message from the Messiah the rest of his life. They are the words of redemption, salvation, Christ’s identity. They reveal the heart of God. The words quoted more than any others were told first to a man who had both everything to lose (position and place with the religious elite) and everything to gain (eternal life).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Christ, the Messiah, coming from heaven and his rising up reveal the plan of God. He came to fulfill Scripture, to live as God-man, to be crucified and reunited with his Father. Through Christ’s life and death those who believe in him shall have eternal life and not be judged for their sins.
I am not sure we can appreciate the length and depth, the height and width is the love of God—not fully.
One of the ways God has shown me a glimpse of what his sacrificial love means is through something I first saw on television in 1982. A plane bound for Florida had just crashed into the Fourteenth Street Bridge in Washington, D.C. The white out conditions made visibility poor. The icy river hindered rescue efforts. A handful of passengers survived and were clinging to the tail of the plane.
A helicopter arrived to take one passenger at a time to shore. One woman went to grab the rope but hypothermia had set in and she wasn’t able to grab the rope. The dangling lifeline went to another person. She was going to drown.
Lenny Skutnik witnessed the event. When he saw that she couldn’t grab the rope, he took off toward her. He dove into the piercing icy water and swam to get her. When asked later about his response, he stated, “I couldn’t just stand there and watch. She was going to drown.”
I often wonder if this is how God felt when he sent his only son. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. Not you, not me, not Nicodemus, not Paul, not anyone. He loves us so much he wants us all to be with him for eternity.
Have I ever made the decision to receive God’s love so I can one day be with him Fully?
Is there an opportunity where I can show another person God’s perfect love this Christmas?