Nicodemus meets Jesus: Some Thoughts of a Chaotic Mind


Without a doubt this is one of the stories (probably together with doubting Thomas) that really appealed to me.

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He 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.”3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.[a]

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!”

5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[d] 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.[e]

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.[g]

Footnotes:

  1. John 3:3 Or born from above; also in verse 7
  2. John 3:6 Or but spirit
  3. John 3:7 The Greek is plural.
  4. John 3:13 Some manuscripts Man, who is in heaven
  5. John 3:15 Or believes may have eternal life in him
  6. John 3:16 Or his only begotten Son
  7. John 3:18 Or God’s only begotten Son

Some further thoughts

Now I know that this story has been used probably a thousand times in many different sermons and commentaries. The emphasis seems to be on the rebirth part (v 5-7) and to illustrate the love of God (v 16) as well as your belief so as gain eternal life and if you do not believe in him you stand condemned (v18).


Inadequate Faith?

For me the appealing part of this story is about something else: daring to question your own beliefs. Here’s a guy, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish Ruling Council, “at night” meeting Jesus; the enemy, the leader of the opposite camp. And not only that, he actually acknowledges that Jesu is a teacher “who has come from God. For no-one could perform the miraculous signs that he is (“you”) are doing if God is not with him.”

No it may be a small word but Nicodemus does not say “I know you are a great teacher” but “we” know. I can’t help but being curious about whom the “we” is he is speaking about. Was he speaking on behalf of a number of Pharisees that have already confessed their faith in Jesus?

From Acts 15:5 we learn that there were believers who belonged to the party of Pharisees.  Or was he maybe referring to a larger group? And what did John try to tell us here in these first verses? Personally, this story reminds me of my own post about the story of Doubting Thomas. From what I have been gathering so far especially it seems from reading John, is that the statement of Nicodemus is actually a statement of faith in the wrong way. Throughout John we read about miracles but it seems that that is not what it is all about as such. Faith based on the miracles is immature, inadequate. In the story of doubting Thomas Jesus advises that (John 20:29):

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus =God

The miracles it seems according to the Gospel of John are a way to point to Jesus, however the story of Nicodemus and others in John appear to be pointing towards a belief, a faith that goes beyond that which is evidence based: faith based on the miracles. It seems significant that John does not speak of miracles, but of “signs.” Whilst Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as a teacher and a whom is with God, that is not how John portrays Jesus, Jesus is much more:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1)
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

He is the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God and who became flesh and lived among us. That is ‘slightly’ more than just a great teacher, a Rabbi. God was also with Moses and with Jeremiah and other prophets, but from John we learn that Jesus an God are one (John 10:38 “the father is in me and I am in the father”, also John 14: 10).

I and the Father are one (John 10:30)

A Story of Humility

For me however this story is all about daring to challenge one’s own beliefs. Daring to admit that you may have been wrong on what you believed to be right all the time. Don’t get me wrong, in essence, Jesus’ teachings were the crisis for the Pharisees, as Jesus outlines as far as I understand it that all the the religion and rituals in the world, all the works you may have been doing and perhaps are still doing can not make up or compensate for the the relation. It is in this understanding that I can imagine how indeed the law becomes a promise.

But I am wandering off again. Just imagine how courageous it was of Nicodemus to do just that, challenging everything he stood for and ultimately admitting to have been wrong. This is what appeals to me, and that is perhaps because it is so recognizable for me personally. How many of you out there are ready and wiling to admit that you may have been wrong at times. I know that many will have trouble doing so for just marginal little things let alone as in the case of Nicodemus where it concerns everything you are supposed to stand for, everything you believed, no know to be true, everything he lived for. And while Nicodemus may not be a prominent figure in the New Testament, I think he only appears in John, from his subsequent actions it could be inferred that he did indeed admit he was wrong. In that sense, the story of Nicodemus is also a story of humility.

Religion, Relation and the Worldview Test

In my testimony,  spoke about the difference between religion and relation and it seems that this subject (at least with me) keeps on popping up. Perhaps it is because I have taken so much time to build my ultimate case against religion. I started the testimony with this CS Lewis quote:

“THE MOMENT A MAN SERIOUSLY ACCEPTS A DEITY, HIS INTEREST IN RELIGION IS AT AN END. HE’S GOT SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT.” (CS LEWIS)

I guess the thrust of my testimony and subsequent experiences have been that indeed it is in the relationship that you’ll find that the becomes a promise. Lewis may have meant something different but for me this speaks like it does. In daily practice this meant for me that it is not about doing things right, but about accepting what God has already done for you, following him with all your heart an soul and lives and guess what? Many of the things  once called “religious”, the “law” indeed becomes a promise because the Holy Spirit will guide you there: love, kindness, self control (although that may be the hardest part for this night owl),  or let me say where the Holy Spirit leads me. Who am I to talk for anyone else? What I have learned is that in the end it is not in the doing good that a relationship is allowed (old covenants) but in the relationship.It simply isn’t about you (me) but about what God has in mind for you, and how better to find than by being in constant communication.

Rick Warren in his TED talk about his bestseller “A Purpose Driven Life” says that the ultimate test of your worldview is how you act on and I would add just before you die, and not in the good times.

You could ask yourself: why should I be admitted in heaven? And many will tell you:

I always lived a good life

I always tied to follow the law or ten commandments

I always did what the church said  should do.

In a way, I think most of us can relate to these answers to some extent. But in the same way this is actually the answer you might expect from a Pharisee. And in the end is this really what it is about?I bring back the final verses of the Nicodemus story:

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Later in John we read:

47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. (John 6:47)

and in John 14: 6 we read:

6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In another way this is beautifully filmed in the movie “The Gospel” I will share this youtube clip with you if only because it is probably one of my favorite worship songs. The important part of the clip is this conversation between a pastor and his intended successor about the involvement of the pastors ‘lost’ son and secular artist in the upcoming service with the music. Here’s the quote that for me relates back to Nicodemus as a Pharisee, and to the worldview question of Rick Warren. The pastor says:

I am of the mindset that we should spend a little less time looking good and a little more time actually being good.”

Do stick around after the quote for the great performance and try to not be touched by it.

Finally

As said in my testimony, I am still trying to get to grips wit the magnitude of all this and at the same time simplicity seems to be the answer here. There was a lot of doing good without necessarily being good. And where this relates to church practices. Please do not start judging straight away as this is not how meant this: there is no perfect church, there is however a perfect God.

And the Wordle of this post to close off.

I’ be keen to see your comments and ready to learn.  What is your worldview?

What is your answer to the question why you should be in heaven?

What have I missed!?!

In the words of Jay Deragon:

WHAT SAY YOU?

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5 thoughts on “Nicodemus meets Jesus: Some Thoughts of a Chaotic Mind

  1. John, EXCELLENT post. I am in total agreement.

    So many people miss the simple fact that God loves us so very much that He made salvation quite easy to obtain.
    BELIEVING!! Yes, with your whole heart. Unwavering faith that Jesus did die for our sins. All of our sins. How difficult is it to let go of one’s pride and turn everything over to God…trusting, believing and following Him.

    We are all sinners; and, sure it can get you dow. But, that is a good thing because I believe that is the Holy Spirit inside of you convicting you of your sin. Thus, causing you to WANT to sin NO more…WANT to read God’s word….WANT to have fellowship with other believers.

    I am far from perfect. For that matter, far from being an example of one who follows Christ; BUT, God knows my heart. He knows each and everyone’s heart. God knows the things I do that displease Him are due to my human weaknesses and that I am truly sorry for my sin.

    I can say this, since I first found the Lord 24 years ago, I can see the growth in myself. Sure, I still sin. But, we all will struggle with sin until the day we are together with Christ. What is important is that we are sincerely sorry when we sin. No, we can’t just sin and think saying I am sorry is going to save us. God will know. He knows man’s heart. If you are truly sorry, you will grieve your Holy Spirit and YOU WILL FEEL this.

    Some people do not understand when I say things like, “Oh that sermon really fed my Spirit,” “My spirit is so happy,” or “My Spirit is so grieving.” Those ARE FEELINGS…feelings inside of my being. I believe it is the Holy Spirit inside of me.

    What I am so thankful for is that God loved ME, Kimberly, that girl who had done nothing to deserve such a beautiful GIFT. That GIFT is available to all who desire it. One only needs to ASK…

    Now, why I am writing. 🙂 I have a question about the following:

    Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

    I see where it says “…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water….”

    Is that referring to being baptized? I have a friend who believes that one cannot be saved unless they are baptized. I never believed that; but, seeing this statement above has me wanting to ask you about it.

    If you or anyone could share more references I would appreciate it. Thank you and God Bless You All

    Kimberly 🙂

    • Hi Kimberly,

      I am far from the right person to ask about this and perhaps this is a good question to ask your pastor. All can say is that I understand John 3:5, to which you are referring to indeed refer to baptism. I will share with you my own understanding from reading the Bible. That is that John’s type of baptism, in the name of Jesus is a baptism of repentance. It is a baptism in which you commit yourself to step away from a sinful life and start living a life in which your relationship with God is restored and this translates itself into your actions and thoughts. That ritual still stands and seems now to be combined into what is baptism in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. And again I say, I am far from the right person to ask this kind of technical question from.

      In Acts 19: 4 Paul says:

      John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus

      The New Living Translation of the Bible speaks of “repentance from sin.”

      John himself, is pretty clear about it:

      I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11 and a similar account is found in Luke 3:16).

      For the founding members of the church or the first followers the baptism in the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost (See Acts 2:1-4).

      Others after that (which would include you and me) become members of the community, the church, the chosen people, the children of God, and with that participants on the Holy Spirit through water baptism. In Acts 2:38 you read:

      Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

      However, what others are referring to is a subsequent second experience where the Holy Spirit now comes up and enters into your soul. Your spirit has been baptized with the Holy Spirit at the moment of your salvation. God now wants to take it a step further and baptize your soul with his Holy Spirit. He enters not the area of your spirit but of your soul to release the Holy Spirit into your soul. The Holy Spirit will release from your spirit to come up and enter into your soul. I understand humans to be made up of a body, soul an spirit. Your body is you physical presence, your soul is your personality and your spirit is your ‘heart’ or innermost being. In Jungian terms this would refer to your Ego or conscious and your subconscious. I believe this is what Paul was referring to when he commands us to be “filled with the Spirit.” If our spirits are already filled with the Holy Spirit at the moment of our salvation, what else needs to be filled up? It is our souls. When you have received the second gift of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, you are now considered “Spirit-filled.” Both your spirit and your soul are now filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

      So in my it is not a matter of needing the water baptism, as a Christian you want that water baptism. But then again, I think this is a question you should probably ask your pastor or priest. Who am I to try and explain this, I have my baptism still to come water baptism. Another option is of course to Google baptism and do some research on the subject matter.

  2. Thoroughly engaging post John. Took me a coffee and a half to get through it. Oh and a cig. You know I went to a Catholic school for seven years and went to church right beside the school everyday. Since I was so figity the nuns put me up to the priest as an alter boy. I really enjoyed that. I may not know how to quote from the Bible but I do know the love and peace that comes from having Faith. And to this day Faith is what has sustained me.

    • HAHAHAHA, a coffee and a half I love that and a cigarette, that is for the bonding. We seem to become the last of a dying breed of smokers lol. You may not quote the bible all the time but at the same time more than once you got the essence better than many many others, including myself. I can quote the bible now because you have been challenging me all these years an as a man of the law, that is simply what I tend to do.

      The only thing that different is that where in the past you so eloquently reminded me that he who quotes continuously is speaking from memory and not from the heart, I now quote from the bible because I cannot ind better words to express what’s in my body, soul and spirit. So again I thank you my friend.

      Love and blessings ,

      John

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