I’m joining several others at Fellowship North in reading through the entire gospel of John before Easter Sunday. Today, I share what I think might have gone through Nicodemus’ head after he met with Jesus as recorded in chapter 3. This is my own commentary, purely, and offered with no authority, only the hope that it resounds somewhere…somehow, as we move through Holy Week.
I waited until nightfall. I knew that going to him under cover of darkness was best. I could’ve sent someone, one of the pages, to ask him my questions, but I needed to see for myself. To hear his answer. I didn’t know exactly who he was – I wasn’t sure what to believe. I knew that he was from God, that much was obvious. And I told him that. But the things he said stunned and confused me.
He said I couldn’t see the kingdom of God unless I was born again. Born again? I thought. I am a grown man. And I am a Jew. I’ve been born, and into the lineage of Abraham, the father of our nation, of God’s chosen people. That he would consider one of God’s own people, particularly me, a teacher of the law, to be in need of a second birth in order to enter the kingdom was shocking. But even more shocking, the thought that such a thing could even occur – to anyone. A second birth?
Then he spoke of a birth of water and Spirit. He said that man produces the birth of a child, but that the Spirit would produce the birth of spirit, thus a person would be “born again”. Still, I couldn’t understand. How would even that birth be possible? God’s Spirit was not bestowed on everyone who believed in Him. Only a select few in my nation’s history have truly known the presence of His Spirit. And yet, Jesus was telling me that being born of this Spirit was a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom – the kingdom that I already belonged to by rite of my obedience to the law and my birth as a Jew.
When I told him I still didn’t understand, an odd kind of look came over his face. “You are Israel’s teacher,” he said. “And do you not understand these things?” And then, he spoke very directly. He said, “We tell you things we’ve actually seen and you don’t believe us. If you don’t believe what I say about what happens here, on earth, how can you possibly hope to believe what I tell you about heaven?”* It shames me to say he had a point. We had opposed him, and our opposition would only grow stronger in the days to come.
I remember something he said to me near the end of my visit. He spoke of the Father’s love, a love so great that He sent His Son to save the world from perishing…and to offer eternal life. Herein lay his controversial claim of divine sonship. I should have felt skeptical; instead, it comforted me to hear him speak of God. Elohim, our Creator. Yahweh, our God. This name, these terms, they were familiar to me. This God with such great love for the world was also the God of Israel. And as I left Jesus, I wondered: the connection I had felt to him and to his words in that moment, had it been the Spirit, blowing like wind between us?
“The 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.”
John 3:8 NIV
*John 3:10-12, paraphrasing mine