Is that you, Nicodemus?
As Nicodemus comes out of the shadows, Jesus is there to meet him as requested. Perhaps they met away from town under a fig tree, or maybe on the roof patio that so many homes would have. Did they agree on meeting at night because Jesus had lots of meetings scheduled? No, it would more likely be Nicodemus’ request, allowing for less publicity of the meeting and ability to speak candidly.
Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish nation’s ruling Sanhedrin Council, an austere assembly of 71 of the most powerful and biblically astute (according to them) leaders of the people. As a leading teacher of the Jews, he is comparable to the great Gamaliel under whom Paul sat. He was a member of the Sanhedrin along with his friend Joseph of Arimethea, both who likely ended up being followers of Jesus (Jn. 7:50; 19:39). He is likely a Jerusalem native, but apparently serving for a time as Sanhedrin representative in Galilee.
Bible Study Journal
Look at Matt. 23 to see Jesus elaborate of their “distinctives”, condemning them as “white-washed sepulchers”.
Like Jesus, Nicodemus is in Jerusalem along with 1-2 million of their closest friends to celebrate the Passover. As a Pharisee, he most likely observed Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. And so, he had a couple of questions…
- 3:2, he came to Jesus at night – why? Was he hiding from his peers? Maybe he just wanted to avoid interruptions? Or was he embarrassed about questions he had for the Messiah?
- When they sat down to talk, Nicodemus led with an introduction that he possibly had been rehearsing while he walked to the meeting place. His words seem to attempt to help him establish his position in the conversation – after all, he was a “leader” of the Pharisees, one of the senior teachers of how to live according to God’s Law.
Getting the Real Conversation Started
Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ opening statement in Jn. 3:3 with an amazingly different line of thinking, He exposes the crucial error in Nicodemus’ approach to God. Nicodemus wants to talk about earth-bound, physical observation – Jesus wants to talk about spiritual reality. What follows is a wonderful example of the Savior Himself telling an unsaved person how to redeemed, rescued eternally from sin! Jesus gives a series of steps that can guide us in our approach to an unbeliever when telling them about Christ.
Jesus talks with Nicodemus in a way that engages him to think spiritually, drawing him toward the Truth. Jesus declares an amazing thing: you have to be born again (really this means “born from above”) in order to be in God’s kingdom. Nicodemus would probably have thought of God’s kingdom in a physical sense, looking for a military Messiah to deliver the Jews from Roman oppression. However we know the Bible emphasizes a spiritual kingdom for today and a physical kingdom in the future. God’s Kingdom is more broadly seen as the entire sphere or realm of God’s authority & blessing.
Getting to the Main Point
In 3:4, Jesus wants to let Nicodemus”take the bait”. He allows him to respond with a question, to take the truth internally, into his thinking, take ownership of it. Then Nicodemus declares “How can that happen?” Jesus then guides the consideration to a deeper level – we must be born “of water and the Spirit”. Even more amazing! And true to his way of thinking, Nicodemus immediately thinks literally.
But Jesus is speaking spiritually. Verse 7 is designed to be a “life preserver” statement – “here grab hold of this, it will hold you up!” Jesus is trying to help Nicodemus understand that our relationship with God is based on spiritual truth. The Old Testament many times uses water as a picture of God’s cleansing us of sin (see Eze. 36:24-27. But the laws the Pharisees enforced just focused on outward cleaning, and Jesus wanted him to see his need for spiritual cleansing.
Consider Weirsbe’s observation of four “baits” that Jesus uses in this passage: 3:1-7, birth; 8-13, wind; 14-18, the bronze serpent; 19-21, light & darkness. Look through your Bible to find some other references that help us understand how these items refer to salvation.
Going from Conversation to Decision
Jesus moves the conversation forward by moving from physical to spiritual truth. For example, “born again” literally means “born from above”. So Jesus repeats this essential truth in 3:5. Then in 3:1-8, Jesus emphasizes that the Holy Spirit accomplishes salvation. Only He regenerates the person’s fallen soul. The practical illustration of the wind emphasizes the spiritual work of God.
As Nicodemus responds once again with “how can this be”, Jesus confronts him with the reality of how far off popular Jewish theology is, just all religions today. Earthly things and actions don’t accomplish salvation. “Look and live”, like the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). God has provided the solution to our judgment for sin by Christ dying on the Cross.
God So Loved the World
Although there are quite a few significantly important passages in the Bible (that would be a good exercise – let’s make a list…), these verses in John 3 are likely the MAIN HEADLINE of the whole Bible!
The Creator of the world that Bible writers and patriarchs wrote about and believed in over 4000 years ago, the One True God Who called Abraham and promised him the land of Israel, the nation to call his own, and a future blessing to all the world for eternity… and the story continues on through the centuries of victory, struggle and forgiveness as God’s people waited for the Savior. Then He came!
Read John 3:16-18 slowly, and then again maybe a couple more times. Only Jesus is qualified and capable to to be our Savior. An unlimited, priceless act of love for the whole world. Only Jesus could give up His everything in order for us to receive everything with no cost or effort. An offer of the free gift of redemption to every person who will ever live on earth, to be rescued from facing the ultimate death of ruin, annihilation, eternal perish, and instead to be redeemed, born again into the family of God, into newness of life that will be in the presence of God for eternity!
- Verses 17-18 express the dramatic extent of just how great a rescue this is. To reject the salvation offered by Christ leaves the person stranded in his current condition of being already judged for his sin, already destined for eternal loss apart from God.
- John 3:19-21 uses the picture of Christ as the Light as spoken in John 1 – “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men”. The Light of the Christ brought about the light of the Gospel. Since light casts a shadow, those who believe are in the light, and those who reject Christ stand condemned and are in the shadow cast by the Light, judged already in their sin.
- The Deciding Factor: God doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked (Eze 18:23,32; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 2 Pet. 3:10), and Jesus’ mission on earth isn’t judgment but Redemption – rescuing mankind from judgment.
Bible Study Journal
Write out John 3:16 in your own words – that’s called a “paraphrase”. It’s ok to “cheat” – use biblegateway.com to compare what other Bible translations have. But write for yourself – how does this verse speak to you?
Do you Jesus Christ as your Savior? If you’re still pondering that decision. please log in and post a comment. The comments are private, and I’ll be glad to pray with you about this life decision!