Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus *said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:1-5, NASB)
I was listening to a reading of John's Gospel the other day, and the familiar story of Nicodemus was playing. Like many of you, I've heard this story since my early Sunday School days. We learned early how the man came at night, what his position was, and his puzzlement at Jesus saying he had to be "born again" to experience God's Kingdom personally. I even remember one of these verses being used for "X" in the alphabetical listing of Bible verses we were to learn (relying on "except"). But this time through, a different thought struck me.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to Jesus and presented a confirmation from the council regarding who Jesus was. Now, they may not have all believed He was Messiah (though Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea did), the statement made reveals that the most learned, religious men in Israel recognized that Jesus was teaching with specific authority from God. This had to have been some sort of secret acknowledgement, because any public position from the council was that Jesus was an insane heretic!
Yet, here we have a man who genuinely is seeking the truth about something he has seen but cannot explain. We may never know the exact transcript of the conversation that took place that night, but something in Nicodemus' tone or words prompted our Lord to point him to new birth as the key to God's Kingdom. Jesus goes on to describe a second birth - a re-birth of the heart that is now pitched toward God. It wasn't about religion (Nicodemus had that nailed as a Pharisee), it was about something else entirely. And then, as every Sunday School kid will recite to you, Jesus sums it all up with what we know as John 3:16.
God's heart, embodied in Jesus as a man, reached out to Nicodemus encouraging him to believe even though he didn't completely understand it. The "powerful secret" that the council tried so hard to cover up was not only true, it was so much more. It wasn't just about a new authority coming with God's blessing; it was about God blessing us all with His very presence and taking on the complete human experience to show us just how passionate He really is about His creation. That passion is so great, it requires a re-birth of our souls, a heart transplant to make us capable and fit for the Kingdom. It comes at no price to us and yet the cost was immeasurable. Ultimately, Nicodemus embraced his own inability to comprehend it all from a textbook perspective and followed Christ. He was re-born!
How about us today? What are we looking for and how are we going about it? As I see it, God is still the same (at least that's what I read that He tells us) and offers that same point of entrance. However we frame it: new birth, coming as a child, transplant of our stone hearts for a flesh heart, or connecting to the Spring of Living Water ... the call is the same. Jesus wanted a relationship with Nicodemus and He wants one with us.
As I journey by Crooked Path, I am astounded how much God looks out for me. In times of trouble or want, blessing or relative ease, and every step of the way, the God of Eternity has my best interest at heart. He continues His pursuit of me for the sake of the relationship He desires. Like Nicodemus, my only part is to come to Him in honesty and humility. He will take care of everything else the best way He can think of.
- Does God's requirement for being "re-born" strike you as odd? Do you find yourself in the position of Nicodemus, questioning the logistics of it all?
- Are you able to see past all the metaphors and images? Can you grasp that what God is really after is a change of our heart?
- Do you find yourself comfortable or uncomfortable with this type of God? Does His passionate pursuit make you uneasy? Or can you swallow what you think you "know" in order to experience a deeper relationship and understanding of the Kingdom?