52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #27. Meeting Nicodemus
by Travis Bookout
The Conversation that Changes Everything:
A prominent older man, a respected leader in society, a high-ranking religious ruler of the people stands alone out in the shadows late one night, waiting for a clandestine meeting with a young, controversial, and rebellious new teacher who just came to town. He intends to covertly pass on a dangerous but important bit of information.
Nicodemus: “Good evening, sir. I’m here to inform you, even though you may not see it publicly, you do have some very powerful supporters in these parts. Several colleagues and I have seen what you are doing. You’re speaking truth, and your signs simply cannot be explained away. You must be a teacher from God because nobody else is doing the types of things that you are.”
Jesus: “This is the truth you need to hear, unless a man is born in a radically new way, he will never be able to really see the powerful reign of God taking place.”
Nicodemus: “Rebirth? What, (“chortles”) you expect him to crawl back into his mother’s womb and start life over?
Jesus: “This is the truth you need to hear, unless a man is born in a radically new way, unless his whole life begins anew with water and God’s Holy Spirit, he will never enter God’s powerful reign. Flesh comes from flesh, but spiritual people come from God’s Spirit. And there’s no way to control God’s Spirit. Just like this wind you hear blowing tonight, it blows wherever it wishes, you can’t control or predict where it comes or where it goes, and that’s exactly how it is with people who have been reborn from above by God’s Spirit.”
Nicodemus: “How is this rebirth possible?”
Jesus: “You’re a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin. I thought you were supposed to be the great teacher of Israel? But you don’t understand? Listen closely, this is the truth you need to hear, people know and talk about the things they have seen. Fleshly people talk about fleshly things because that’s all they’ve seen and it’s all they can understand. But I have descended from heaven. I have seen God’s powerful reign at its fullest. I am the ultimate authority on the things of God. I am the very presence of God. When I speak of heavenly things, fleshly people just don’t get it. That’s why you need to be born again, born of God and His Spirit, born anew from heaven itself. Otherwise you’ll never understand.
“No one who is fleshly has gone up to heaven, but I have. I’ve come down out of heaven. I am the Son of Man, the One who comes riding on the clouds of heaven. And just like when Moses lifted up that bronze serpent back in the wilderness, so I will be lifted up. And just like those who looked to that serpent were saved from venomous serpents, so anyone who looks to My death will be saved from death. The one who believes in me, will be saved from the condemnation of this world and enjoy eternal life. Life as it was always intended to be. This is how God’s love for the whole world is seen! That He sent His only Son that anyone who believes in Him, can have life eternal with God Himself.
“I’m not here to judge or condemn the world, the world has already done that on its own. I’m here to bring salvation. When God created the world, there was only darkness, but God said, “Let there be Light!” Something new and remarkable happened in that moment and through Me it’s happening again. In a few hours the sun will rise and the darkness will flee. I am like that light. The light of new creation, of a new day, of a new way of life, of new hope, of new birth. But many in the world will just keep trudging along in darkness, hating the light, because it reveals what is truly there. It reveals the sickness, the sin, the dirt, and the death that has taken over. But anyone who lives in my truth comes to the light. That is rebirth, and it becomes clear that he is now seeing and living and doing the very things that come from God.”
“Are you a born again Christian?” I’ve been asked this before. It’s an interesting question. The phrase “born again” has taken a life of its own in modern evangelical Christianity. When thinking of a person who needs a completely new life, to restart everything, to hit the reset button, it may be tempting to think about those we reach through prison ministry, or in drug rehabilitation. Those whose lives are spiraling out of control, recklessly destroying all of their potential and hope and future. They need a rebirth.
But that’s not who Jesus tells to be born again. It’s not the drug addict who has lost control of his life, it’s not the inmate who longs for redemption, it’s not even the Samaritan woman who has had 5 husbands that Jesus meets in the next chapter; it’s the wealthy, respected, important, teacher of Israel. It’s the man who has all things in order. His life is the envy of others. He has success and prominence. He has done pretty well since his birth. This is not the person most would think needs a new birth. But Jesus does. Jesus sees through the success, the power, and the wealth, to a man just like any other. A man in need.
Beginning to See:
The story of Nicodemus doesn’t go as far as I’d like it to. I’d love to see how it ends. But it does go farther than this conversation. This late-night conversation plants a seed which develops a little further in John 7 where Nicodemus defends Jesus, telling the other members of the council to at least meet with Him and talk to Him before you condemn Him. His objection is dismissed, but the seed is still germinating. Following the crucifixion of Jesus, another disciples, a secret one, named Joseph, takes the body of Jesus down from the cross to give it a proper burial. This is where Nicodemus shows up, with 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare and honor the body of Jesus. 100 pounds! That is a burial for a king. Not some crucified rebel. Not some failed Messiah. But a king. Perhaps, Nicodemus is beginning to see. Perhaps as day breaks on that world-changing Sunday morning, Nicodemus will no longer need to meet Jesus in darkness, but will walk in the light of life.