passage contains the most beloved verse of the Bible. It is a passage
frequently commented upon, and in one lesson there is not space enough to
contain all that might be said. My readers will therefore pardon me if I have
not accepted the most obvious course of study, for such is readily available
elsewhere. You are encouraged to read all you can by those who love the Lord.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a
member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said,
“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could
perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God
unless he is born again.£”
4“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked.
“Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he
is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit£ gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You£ must be born again.’ 8The 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.”
9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to
what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how
then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from
heaven—the Son of Man.£ 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man
must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have
16“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. 17For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not
believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of
God’s one and only Son.£ 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved
darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the
light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may
be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”£
22After this, Jesus and his disciples went
out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and
know very little of Nicodemus in the Bible. History abounds with legend
concerning him, but we shall stick to what has been revealed.
Comes by night
can we learn from this fact?
is a cautious man, not anxious for confrontation like the more querulous
members of the Pharisees. He is a man of peace and sense.
is one who likes to work discreetly. Behind the scenes is just fine with
him. So he is not likely to be the one to get his name on the front of
not afraid to work the night shift – to put in a little overtime, if you
will. He goes the extra mile to do things right.
Challenges the council
John 7:50-53, we see that Nicodemus calls for Jesus to receive a fair hearing
by the council of the Pharisees, in accordance with the Old Testament Law.
What can we learn from this?
has a sense of fairness, of justice. In simple terms, he is anxious to do
what is right.
has courage – among the familiar. When he’s on his own debating ground he
is courageous enough; but perhaps not overly bold.
is a man who is reliant upon the Law – the best thing he knew from God.
He trusts the commands of God, and obeys them. But he is not one gifted
with supernatural wisdom to know when the Law stops.
Embalms Jesus’ body
do we learn from this?
that he is a charitable man – one who is willing (at risk) to do a favor
for a man who (as far as he knows) can never repay him. In his culture,
this would be thought of as a high degree of charity.
as clearly, this is a man who expects his rewards to come from God. I
suspect that long practice at this had taught him that God rewards those
who seek him.
is willing to take some risk – even when there seems no point. Deep down
inside, this man has courage which comes out in extraordinary times.
is a man who walks the high, hard road to God, and willingly. He has come to
this new teacher to ask for directions on the last few steps of that road.
This man sounds like so many of us who have been born and raised in the
church. Indeed, I suspect that in our day he would be nominated to become an
elder. It is the best he knows; the teacher honors that – but not in the way
he expects. He asked for a few steps; he got a revolution.
The Three Responses
was looking for the last few hard, high steps on the road. He felt he was
almost there, and now comes a rabbi with power from God. His life has been
committed to God; he must go and find those steps. But he does not know that
this rabbi has come for a purpose: to change completely the relationship
between God and man. Nicodemus knows the road is hard. He is willing to walk
the hard, high road. God is about to teach him a lesson: what God calls
necessary, he makes easy.
can anyone conclude that? Listen carefully.
when he meets those who are truly seeking God, replies to them with one of
three answers. We shall examine all three and see how God has made it easy for
each of them to come into the kingdom.
most common response Jesus gives is the simple command, “repent.” How is this
the directions are not at all complicated. You know what you’ve been
doing wrong; stop doing it and begin to do what you know is right. No
need for the theology textbook on this one.
Jesus condemns the sin – but came to give life to the sinner. So it is to
“the vilest offender who truly believes” – God loves him. It’s the sin
that separates; it is that separation Christ will bridge. That’s why he
offers the one thing the sinner considers impossible: forgiveness. Is it
not the case that many sinners continue in the same, dreary sin because
they see no way out? But here God offers forgiveness, a clean slate.
see the point? God could have sent the sinner on a crusade, a search for the
Holy Grail to prove his worthiness. Instead, he makes it easy: repent.
You lack one thing
is another person we must consider, the one shown best by the rich young
ruler. In his life there is no great sin. Indeed, he has kept the
commandments all his life. But Jesus looks upon the heart of the man and tells
him there is one thing he has not yet done. He has not rid himself of the
roadblock on the road with God. Is his way easy, too?
this: all his training tells him of the evils of the love of money.
God’s command simply builds upon what he already knows is right.
also gives him a clear decision point. There is no subtlety to it; no
nuance of theology; not even the rote memorization of a complicated
prayer. It’s a “do it” decision.
he does “do it”, it lifts a burden from his shoulders. If money is your
chain, he will break it – if you will let him.
Be born again
is the curious fact that Jesus never told anyone but Nicodemus to be born
again. To the man who was a straight arrow he gives a radical turn of
direction. This is the man without a problem to solve – and that is a huge
problem. It requires a radical solution. How can this be easy?
there is the pure joy of abandonment. No longer must he look over his
shoulder to see if some regulation has been let slip. He can now move in
is free. Understand that to “be free” in God’s kingdom means to be free
to do what you are designed to do. An eagle is free when it is flying.
Swimming at the bottom of the lake, the eagle is not free – it’s in
trouble. Nicodemus is free now to do what he is designed to do: love God
and enjoy him forever.
It is a curious thing: the shackles
of the Law, which keep Nicodemus from sin, also keep him from flying. But now
the shackles are broken, and the eagle may now fly. As Augustine said, “Love
God – and do as you please.”
The Necessary, Easy
God made entry into the kingdom of
heaven to be easy. Why? Because he wills that all would be saved.
For some of us, it seems too easy. We
were born into the church, raised by loving, Christian parents. You can
imagine that Nicodemus had parents who loved him and raised him in the highest
traditions of the Jewish Law. Many who will read this are like this man.
Indeed, we often have a secret envy of
those who came to Christ after a life of spectacular wickedness. After all, we
say, looking at St. Paul we can see that great sinners make great saints. In a
curious way, we never had the opportunity to be a spectacular sinner –
therefore we don’t know how to be a spectacular saint.
How do I know I’m saved, then?
Have you ever been through this
drill? Since you were never a spectacular sinner, how can you know that you
are indeed saved? What possible evidence could you produce which would
convince anyone of this – especially noting that “anyone” includes “me.” Try
these on for size:
Does your life
exhibit faith in Christ? The just are saved by faith.
Do you have power
over sin – can you look back and see how you’ve grown in the faith, becoming
more like your Lord?
Do you have the
peace that surpasses understanding, or do you worry about everything?
When you’re at the
funeral of a Christian, do you share in the hope of the Resurrection?
Is your life
marked by obedience to what God commands?
Does love flow out
of your life, bringing the love of God to others?
their fruits you will know them. Look at the fruits in your life; let self
examination keep you from this worry.
The wind of the Spirit
wind blows where it will, and so it is with the Spirit. If you are the temple
of the Holy Spirit, you will begin to notice that this Spirit within you
affects your life every day.
wind, the Spirit can’t be hindered. If he encounters an obstacle, it
simply flows around and over it.
wind, the Spirit brings good or disaster, as God chooses.
wind, the Spirit comes in power.
these words have caused you to examine yourself, and you have found yourself
wanting. There is a severe word of warning in this passage: the Light has
lose your ignorance – it’s irreplaceable.” (Attributed to Erich Maria
Remarque’s father). Many cherish their ignorance of God on the theory that God
would not condemn them for what they didn’t know. But he tells us here: the
Light has come. The Light has come to save; there is no chance for those who
choose ignorance – because to choose ignorance is to choose to live in
darkness. Darkness is where the evil hide, for they fear the Light.
came two thousand years ago to light the world; his light yet shines in his
church. There is no chance to choose ignorance, and no time to waste. He is
coming again; he tells us “soon.” He came so that all might be saved; he will
come again to judge the living and the dead. The time is short; the
consequences grave. Look for the light while there is still time.