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John 3:1-6, NIV
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He 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."
3 In 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!"
5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."
December 7, 2010
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. This was in the days before electricity and our 24/7 world. To come at night implied secrecy. He did not wish to be seen. But he had a message for this new man on the block. Nicodemus wanted Jesus to know he wasn't hostile or critical like most Pharisees were, and that he was liking what he saw when he watched Jesus among the crowds.
But first appearances are seldom accurate. Maybe his greeting lacked complete honesty. Nicodemus was an upright citizen and he approached Jesus with great respect. But he had no more than gotten through two sentences when Jesus took charge of the conversation, and told Nicodemus he needed to be born again!
Jesus began his response with, "I tell you the truth!" Why would he deliberately begin his opening sentence by emphasizing that he was telling the truth. Makes me wonder if Jesus meant to strike a contrast between these two men?
We see in this passage a man of good intentions who recognized the goodness of Jesus. But Nicodemus wanted these sentiments to remain just between the two of them. He didn't want to publicly take sides or stir up any conflict. Or lose his position on the Jewish council. In some circles, maybe all circles, Nicodemus would have been ashamed to admit his admiration of Jesus. In conversations he would have avoided the name of Jesus, hence not speaking either positively or negatively about him. Nicodemus wanted to be a secret believer!
In effect what Jesus told him was--You can't be a secret friend. If you want to know who I am, you must be radically changed by the Spirit of God. Grace mixed with deception doesn't work; it must be grace and truth.
More journal entries
November 20, 2001
We picture the Pharisees in the Bible as being conservative in their outlook, men who guarded the religious traditions from their past. Nicodemus was a member of the ruling council so he interacted with families of influence and power. In this story, Nicodemus is a surprise package, he broke from the ranks and came to see Jesus personally, one on one, in private.
He came to Jesus at night. Probably not because he couldn't sleep or because he was busy all day. Most likely he was hiding something from somebody. Little did he know, as we learned from previous verses, that Jesus was full of grace and truth. And that truth must be told and lived out in one's daily life. Anything else is deceit, and Jesus will recognize it immediately.
Why do we hide what we do? To circumvent hassles and controversies. To avoid criticism and pain. So we don't have to deal with misunderstandings and misinterpretations; it's easier to hide what we do than defend what we do. But when we hide, we live in fear of being found out and cannot live in freedom. One time Jesus said that truth will set you free; but I would argue that truth can also create much pain and conflict. Of course, Jesus knew all this better than anyone.
If we take his words at face value, Nicodemus sounded very respectful. "Teacher, we know you come from God. How else could you do the good things you are doing." He seemed to be a thoughtful person who, after watching Jesus, arrived at this conclusion.
Jesus appears to ignore what Nicodemus just said. "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he or she is born again." Jesus is talking about a radical change, a second birth! Nicodemus, you must go all the way, not half way or part way. Speak/live in the truth. Be born of God. Take this conclusion of yours and internalize it so that it will change your life from night to day. You're living as a ruler of the Jews, yet you want to secretly believe in me! Think about the conflict in what you are saying.
November 21, 2001Did Nicodemus use the plural "we" because there were others who had reached the same conclusion, or because he did not want to stand alone and take full responsibility for his thinking?
On the surface, it sounds like Nicodemus wanted to believe that Jesus could be a prophet sent from God. And if so, he didn't want to miss this event. There were so many instances in the Hebrew scriptures where prophets were ignored, persecuted and even killed by their own people, and Nicodemus didn't want to make a similar disastrous mistake.
So he came, calling Jesus "Rabbi" which means Teacher. That's all the further he could go at the moment, and he thought it was a big step in Jesus' direction. But Jesus saw things differently. Nicodemus had to undergo a big change. You must live in the truth. Take a stand. Speak up for me in the daylight.
Jesus didn't want to talk about himself; he wanted to talk about Nicodemus. So Jesus told him--to really see who I am you must be born anew of God. Nicodemus had half a desire; half a mind. He needed to be pure--100 %.
Of course the next question is, How can a change like that happen to a man of my age? It's not like I could go back in time and into my mother's womb again. What can I do? What response do you want from me?
Jesus' response: One must be born of water and the Spirit. How? Flesh gives birth to flesh; the Spirit gives birth to spirit. How does one move from the realm of the flesh to the realm of the Spirit? Jesus doesn't use the word faith. But it's implied. Also implied is "You need to make a decision. Say yes or no."
The water part may be a reference to, or support for, the ministry of John the Baptist. And to the cleansing effects of repentance and the waters of baptism. Nicodemus, go out into the desert for awhile and be baptized by John. Then you will know what it means to be born of the Spirit.
Jesus offered one option, a trade-off of flesh for spirit. Nicodemus would need to come out of the darkness of secrecy and walk toward the light of freedom and truth.
June 29, 1982I like Nicodemus because he came to see Jesus even though he had some apprehensions about doing so. His desire to see Jesus was greater than his fear of the consequences. It could ruin his reputation among his peers, wreck his influence and derail his future inclusion in any prominent group.
Aside from being a leading Jew and a Pharisee, who were you, Nic? If he lost his social standing, who was he? These are ultimate concerns to a person in midlife.
Nicodemus may have been trembling, but he went to Jesus anyway. I like that, face to face, one to one. Nicodemus had seen and heard Jesus in the crowd from a distance, but he needed to discover something more.He started out nice and polite as was his custom, but Jesus cuts through the pleasantries, to the heart of things. Nicodemus, what you need is a complete makeover, so complete it's like starting your whole life over, at the beginning. Your righteousness is shrouded in darkness and your spirit is longing for sunshine.
Nicodemus: I've done everything I know to make my life good. What else can I do? How is it possible for a man to go back to the beginning and start life all over fresh? Jesus: You can, Nicodemus, by being washed and made new by the Spirit of God. You must be willing to change and follow this Spirit wherever it leads.
Man sits on the throne where only God belongs. Get off that throne and let God sit there. From William Temple, "I am not the center of the world, or the standard of reference as between good and bad. I am not, and God is."
After his midnight liaison with Jesus, Nicodemus went home and we hear nothing more from him . . . until John 19:38-42.
June 30, 1982Father, my mind is wandering far afield. Bring me back to my Center and hold me there awhile. Is it true you can't hold me because I'm a free creature? My mind is free to wander wherever it wills. It is also true that my pattern of thinking can make for life or death. Today choosing life is more difficult. Ordered thoughts require an ordered life and a will to seek God and be receptive to God instead of all the other choices. Today if I'm going to choose life, I'll need some help; it's not coming naturally.
What can you do with the likes of me on a day like this? I'm darting away from you this way and that, not finding anything that satisfies. I know where my Home is, where my Center is. I know who can satisfy my longing to be more than what I am. So why this restlessness? In you, my Father, I am free--free to be faithful, responsible, a true child of God, free to surrender myself and find peace, free to let your love draw me into righteousness and disciplined living.
Spirit of God, you gave me birth and a spirit which longs for it's Maker. Yet I also long for other things too. My spirit is restless and is craving to have it's needs met. Be with me. Pray for me, love and help me get Home again. Freely chosen, freely surrendered to a loving heavenly Father.
December 8, 2010Throughout my lifetime, I have come to Jesus secretly many times. There have been many instances wherein I did not want to be perceived as Christian. In some circles, it's not cool to believe, and I have hidden my faith in God. Why? Sometimes it's easier to hide than have to give an answer as to why I believe in a God who doesn't show up and put a stop to the great injustices happening every day in this world which God claims to love so much. So I love Jesus within the safety of my home and the walls of my church. Beyond that I am not very bold.
I'm sure Jesus has some truth-telling words for me too. Things I do not want to hear. The best I've been able to do is intentionally put in a good word for God whenever it seems reasonably safe to do so.
The phrase "born again" has been used and misused. I remember in the hometown where I grew up there were certain people on the streets of Lebanon who would walk up to complete strangers and ask them if they were born again? Those who encountered these zealous evangelists either fought or fled. Cold calling with the words "born again" never seemed like a good strategy to me. It was not a winsome approach, and I grew to not like those words.
But who am I to criticize! My silence did no better for the cause of Christianity, and maybe even less than the efforts of those brave folks who were looking for lost sheep to bring into the Good Shepherd's fold. Silence on matters of the faith is not golden. The message of the Bible is clearly to go and tell. If Jesus were talking to me, what would follow, "I tell you the truth . . . "?
Probably something similar to Nicodemus. I must be born of water and the Spirit and be willing to go and do whatever and however the Spirit leads me.
This matter of being a "secret" disciple/believer is a tricky one. Sure, we shouldn't be ashamed of what we believe. But when it involves the ways we demonstrate our piety, that's where it gets tricky.
We all grasp onto particular things which Jesus said because they make us feel comfortable with what we want to do anyway. For example, at one point Jesus is quoted as saying something like this, "When you pray, don't stand on the street corner but go into your closet, close the door and then pray. . ." Yeah, that's for me. I don't want to pray openly; in the closet and in secret suits me perfectly.
Pharisees wore their religion on their sleeves, and on their foreheads. People today still publicize their beliefs by what they wear. When Jesus speaks of coming out from the darkness into his light, he probably doesn't care what we are wearing on our heads, but cares deeply about a transformation of our hearts and minds. The outer veneer is not important. It's those words and deeds of kindness and mercy which our Lord likes to witness.