O, to have been a fly on the wall.
Jesus, not another like him, number twelve.
On that night, there were no streetlights, no electric lanterns. That was the idea - he could make his way to Jesus, ask his questions and get some satisfaction, without being found out. See, he had a lot to lose. He was a respected Jewish teacher, a righteous Pharisee who had promised to keep the Law; he was a member of the supreme court (Sanhedrin) as well - so this guy had influence and he was known. On top of that, he no doubt had a heart for God. And still he lacked.
What he had heard about this Jesus of Nazareth who was in town prompted him to find out more. Maybe because Jesus had courageously done what he had not been able to do--Jesus had cleansed the beloved, revered Temple. On top of that, he was a miracle worker! Nicodemus leads with, ‘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.’ [He is willing to admit he was a teacher sent from God but could not yet accept that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah]. John 3.2
Jesus cuts right to it, answering You must be born again, you must be made new, spiritually, and that only happens through Me. Jesus does not beat around the bush. Not with Nicodemus and not with us. This is straightforward, direct Jesus.
So far, we have seen Extreme Jesus-40 days fasting in the wilderness, humble Jesus baptized by John the Baptist and claimed by the Father and Spirit, compelling Jesus who called 12 disciples who dropped what they were doing and followed him, miracle-working Jesus who turned ordinary water into fine wine, angry Jesus who drives out the moneychangers from the Temple, and now straightforward Jesus. He announced to Nicodemus that he had to be born again, not of flesh but of the Spirit.
Clearly, Nicodemus was searching for something, and Jesus tells him he must be born again. Huh? Go back into my mother’s womb…why, that’s not possible?! v.4 Jesus does not belittle him, he just explains spiritual rebirth. [Thank goodness, right? I really believe that in Christ, there are no dumb questions, just unasked ones.] In this one discussion, Jesus tells Nicodemus what you and I need to live forever, what it means to be in the kingdom of God, and how to be born again--explaining that because of God’s great love, he came to us; he made all three possible.
We see the signs at NFL games, we see “John 3.16” on In-n-Out cups, even on bumper stickers and license plates. Here are the beautiful, life changing words that Jesus told this searching man--I wish you could hear them as though it was the very first time, just as Nicodemus heard:
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.
I think Nicodemus was probably quiet then, as he sat back and tried to absorb what Jesus meant by 'eternal life' and ‘belief’; what about the Law? ‘What about the 613 points of the Law that he endeavored to keep as a good and righteous Jew?’ his mind raced to figure out. And love? Is this what he was searching for when he went to see Jesus—the love of God?
‘Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you,’ Augustine said, and yes, I really believe that is true! Our hearts long for the love of the Father--the only love that can complete us, and we can only know that love through Jesus. There is no other way.
At some point I guess we have all been Nicodemus in some form or another, as we become aware that there has never been another like Jesus. And then we have a choice to believe or not. Of course, believing Jesus was a great teacher is not enough, now is it? He was the greatest teacher ever, but not because he came to teach; he was God incarnate—God made flesh and he came to satisfy a debt we cannot pay. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and coming back soon.
So, no, it is not enough just to believe . . . James said, even the demons believe. No, believing in Jesus requires an act of our will to surrender to him…
because his ways are higher than our ways,
because new life comes only through Christ, because in that way,
‘his kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven’
and we enter into eternal life.
It is what Jesus meant when he invited the disciples to follow him, and it is what he means for you and me too as he turns and looks us in the eye and says, ‘Follow Me’.
Jesus, not another like him!
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