As a young man, John the disciple left his family fishing business to follow a thirty-year-old teacher.
Written some forty years after Jesus’ death, John’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ ministry highlights particular incidents, emphasising Jesus’ love and care for all those He encountered, regardless of their social standing.
Nicodemus was a teacher and a man of considerable eminence, with high religious qualifications and moral standards. He not only knew the ins and outs of the extensive religious laws but also taught them, and would have been a model of religious observance.
Yet he felt the need to seek Jesus out in secret, the middle of the night. Although he appeared to have it all together spiritually, Nicodemus had big questions, seeming to sense something was missing and realising that he was still searching for truth in a state of spiritual darkness. We aren’t told what brought him to this point – perhaps some crisis, or maybe just a creeping, nagging feeling that he might have missed the point.
Understandably, Nicodemus finds Jesus’ initial response to his enquiries somewhat confusing:
John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
4“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Jesus was describing spiritual rebirth – a totally new start, a transformation.
It’s interesting that this statement is not made to some obvious sinner or someone who seemed far from God, but to a Pharisee, a teacher of the law who would have been considered right up there on the righteousness scale.
This story raises some interesting points. Here are some things people often parade as excuses for avoiding God that are addressed in this encounter:
‘I have questions’: Like Nicodemus, we all have questions – about God, truth, life and death. Yet most people think relying on their own merits to satisfy the spiritual requirements on their lives is enough to get them by. The Bible refutes this!
Religion: ‘I go to church once in a while…’ Jesus lets Nicodemus know that even all his considerable religious qualifications weren’t enough – and if a respected religious dignitary still needed to receive God’s saving grace, how much more do all of us!
‘I’m a good person’: Most people think they are pretty good compared to others, especially compared to some of what they see on the news etc. But ‘good’ simply isn’t good enough. The Bible is very clear in its message that every one of us is part of a fallen race with an inborn tendency towards selfishness and sin, and that Jesus is the only remedy.
If ‘good’ were good enough, why do we need John 3:16? We all need the ‘one true fix’!
‘I’ve failed’: We’ve all failed and fallen short of what we know we should be. God knows this and His grace allows for it.
‘I’m too much of a sinner’: Nicodemus had all the externals together, yet even he still needed inner redemption and renewal. All of us, from the most notorious sinner to the most honourable, need Jesus’ payment for our sin.
My church experience: We all have our own unique journeys. Having been brought up in a church environment, I’ve seen the good and also occasionally the ‘not so good’. There is no perfect church and all church members are only human!
I could have had plenty of reasons to pull away from church, however I made a deliberate decision to keep attending, despite some of what I’ve seen and experienced.
God’s grace bypasses all these issues and does away with the need for our own inadequate efforts to attain His acceptance. The most famous verse in the Bible tells us this so clearly:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
The message of the Bible can be summarised in these words: ‘God so loves YOU’! The big question: how will I respond to God’s love?