“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 are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” – John 3:1-3
Nicodemus wanted to understand who Jesus was and how he had such insight into the ways of the Lord. There had been many great prophets, priests and kings throughout Israel’s history, but Jesus was clearly different. He spoke with new authority. He had the audacity to clear out the temple. Witnesses claimed he had actually turned water into wine. And John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus was the Lamb of God, the one who would take away the sin of the world and baptize, not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
Before John the Baptist, the Israelites had been without a prophet for four hundred years. Many call this time in their history “the silent years.” Then, John began preaching that the kingdom of God was near; the Lord’s people were to make themselves ready through repentance and baptism. John identified Jesus as the promised Messiah who would usher in the coming kingdom. Could this be true? Had the silence really been broken? Was God finally going to bring about peace for the nation of Israel?
Nicodemus knew these questions were worth exploring and that Jesus seemed to have unique insight. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (v. 2). While respectful, Nicodemus’ words highlight his ignorance. He addressed Jesus as a colleague, a fellow teacher who was sent by God. He did not yet recognize Jesus as the God who came to teach his people. Power and authority are his by nature of his eternal character. Jesus is God in the flesh who came to dwell among his people so that they could be saved through knowledge of the triune God.
Nicodemus believed that his education, status, good works and devotion made him Jesus’ equal. He thought those attributes assured him entry into the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, confessed the foolishness of his work in comparison to Jesus’ work on his behalf: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8). Through his conversion experience, Paul learned that there was no way to earn salvation; there was no possibility of taking the scales off his own eyes. Only the risen Lord could make that happen.
Nicodemus still had so much to learn about the person of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus would teach him, challenge him, and transform him (See John 7:50 and 11:47). Just like us, Nicodemus needed Jesus to illuminate the darkness in his life, to expose his blindness, his sin, and his need for a Savior.
All of us need our Savior, Jesus. May he open our eyes so that we see his true identity, our need for his salvation, and the kingdom of God.
Reflect & Respond:
Do you recognize your need for the Messiah to illuminate your heart, your mind, and your spirit? How could your good works be blinding you to the reality of your need for Jesus? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
In our new six-week Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!
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