How Can I Become A Christian? Part Seven: Jesus and Nicodemus

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John uses the simplest grammar and vocabulary of the New Testament. Yet this simple clarity contain some of the most difficult concepts in the entire Word of God.

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

Nicodemus only shows up in two other places in the Scriptures. In John 7:50,51 he is with the Pharisees and defends Jesus. “Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, ‘Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?’”

The next, and last time, Nicodemus is mentioned he comes with Joseph of Arimathea to take the body of Jesus off the cross and give it a proper burial. John 19:38-40 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

This passage does not say that Nicodemus was a secret disciple, like Joseph of Arimathea. The spices Nicodemus brought, about a hundred pounds, were a public confession. It was more public than any action taken by any other disciple immediately after the crucifixion.

Nicodemus originally came by night. There are two possible reasons for coming at night. It is much easier to keep a meeting secret at night and Nicodemus was likely not certain as to the true nature of Jesus. The other, important reason is that as “the teacher of Israel” he had responsibilities which kept him busy during the daylight hours. Nicodemus met both of his responsibilities.

When we come to God, God understands how little we know. That is why we are commanded to ” Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul constantly traveled and wrote to explain and teach the Word of God. To the Romans he wrote a letter to the best-educated culture in the world. Yet the Romans had no foundation in the Scriptures.

Nicodemus was not an ignorant fisherman. He was not ignorant of the law. He was not only better educated than the Romans, he was “the teacher of Israel.” So when he met with Jesus, and Jesus understood exactly what Nicodemus needed, every phrase, every word Jesus used was based on the Old Testament Law and knowing the Nicodemus understood the Law.

The first word out of Nicodemus’ mouth was “Rabbi.” As one teacher to another, it was a term of great respect. Perhaps, coming from “the teacher of Israel,” it was the greatest possible respect, because it placed Jesus above him. At least, this is what Nicodemus intended. ” Nicodemus continued, “we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Nicodemus understood and acknowledged that Jesus “came from God.” But Nicodemus expected the Messiah to come in power and glory and make Israel the capital of world, defeating the Romans in battle. Jesus obviously had no intention of doing that. At least it did not seem that way. Nicodemus was confused. But unlike the rest of the Pharisees, he did not reject Jesus outright. “He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive Him.” John 1:11

Jesus dealt with the root problem. ” Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand what he was saying. You and I would not have understood. The Romans would not have understood. But Jesus expected Nicodemus, as “the teacher of Israel,” to understand.

The Old Testament teaches that “there is none righteous, no not one.” It also teaches that “all our righteousness are as filthy, bloody bandages.” Nicodemus knew the basic problem. We are all sinners. He also understood that sacrifices of the blood of animals were insufficient. “Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Micah 6:7 But Jesus’ statement proves that Nicodemus had no answer for Micah’s question.

The mystery religions of paganism all practiced a new birth. They “baptized” a convert by slaughtering an animal over top of him and allowing the blood to run down on him. In this way, he was “born again” into their cult. Born again was also the common term for those who believed in some form of reincarnation. Plato used the concept is his Republic. But Jews did not use the term, to the best of our knowledge. So, even though Nicodemus would have known of the concept of being “born again,” he likely would be somewhat confused when Jesus used it.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Since Nicodemus expected the kingdom of God to restore the throne of David, the very obvious religious symbol of being born again was confusing. It was not national. It was personal.

Did Nicodemus give an honest answer? , “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Perhaps in his confusion he was stalling for time. Perhaps he actually wondered if Jesus was referring to the Greek concept of reincarnation. Perhaps he was being dishonest. But I believe that Nicodemus desperately wanted a national Messiah to throw off the yoke of Rome. What he heard was a personal challenge and nothing for the nation of Israel. Nicodemus wanted the new birth to be material, physical, even though he understood that it was not. Nicodemus did not like the direction the conversation was going.

Jesus did not rebuke him or turn him away. Jesus continued, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

To understand this, we need to understand a little of what Nicodemus already knew. In both Greek and Hebrew, Spirit, breath and wind are the same word. The meaning and the translation all depend on the context. Sometimes, as in this chapter, the word can mean all three things at the same time. If this seems confusing, this three-fold meaning is first used in Genesis one verse two “And the Spirit (wind, breath) of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The Spirit of God is life.

But in the Old Testament the Spirit of God only indwelt one person at a time. When the Spirit of God entered David, it left Saul. At the same time, the Spirit of God talked to Samuel, but the Word of God never says that it indwelt Samuel. So this idea that Jesus was presenting that being born again of the Spirit was necessary for the kingdom of God was new. More than one person could have the Spirit of God at the same time.

Also, since the original creation was all water, water is the foundation of the material world. “It escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” 2 Peter 3:5

So when Jesus told Nicodemus “unless one is born of water (material, of a woman) and the Spirit (breathe, wind) he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” Nicodemus was amazed. Jesus calmly told him “Do not be amazed.” One aspect of Jesus’ statement about the wind (spirit, breathe), you ” do not know where it comes from and where it is going;” was, that there are natural things which you, Nicodemus, do not know. You will never know everything. As “the teacher of Israel” Jesus was showing Nicodemus some of his limits.

Nicodemus admitted his limits with the question “How can these things be?” Nicodemus understood that Jesus meant that the Spirit of God would indwell many people at the same time. But he did not understand how this was possible.

Most people view Jesus’ reply as a put down. ” Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” While it is possible that Jesus was saying that Nicodemus should have known these things, I understand this to mean that Jesus was revealing a mystery to Nicodemus because Nicodemus was ready to receive the mystery. In the Word of God, a mystery is something which can only be revealed by God and cannot be discovered by natural or scientific investigation. As Paul said in I Corinthians 15, “Behold I show you a mystery…”

Jesus then changed and spoke to Nicodemus not as an individual, but as the representative of all the teachers of the Law in Israel. “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.” Nicodemus would clearly understand that Jesus addressed him as a representative of the Pharisees, perhaps all Jews in leadership. But the plural when Jesus spoke of Himself was difficult to accept. “We speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.” It is possible, but highly unlikely, that Nicodemus mistook Jesus as referring to the disciples.

The first words of the Law “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” the word Elohim, translated God, is in the plural but used in the singular. Hebrew has singular, duality and plural. Elohim is clearly plural, meaning three or more. Throughout the Old Testament the plural Elohim is used in the singular and translated into both Greek in the LXX and English by the singular word God. The Church has invented the word Trinity attempt to grasp this concept. Jesus clearly said, “I and my father are one.”

Nicodemus began by the conversation by calling Jesus “Rabbi,” a term which he viewed as one of great respect. Jesus reveals Himself to Nicodemus as God, since only God can be a single individual and plural at the same time and clearly states that the Jewish nation has rejected God. This was something very difficult for “the teacher of Israel” to accept.

But Jesus did not stop there. He continued, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” The word is “if”, however, it means “since” to us. The force, not the literal translation, of this sentence is, “Since I told you earthly things and you do not believe, you will not believe when I tell you heavenly things (things which have not been revealed yet).” Another way of paraphrasing this sentence is, “Since I told you things you should easily understand, how will you understand the difficulties of how heaven really works?”

This might be the only place in the Word of God where Jesus used sarcasm, because Jesus continues to reveal difficult information about heaven. Jesus says, ” No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is an even clearer claim to be God. He says that He “descended from heaven.” But Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness was a clear statement of crucifixion. Jesus is also saying that He would return to heaven after being crucified. While the disciples might not have understood, “The teacher of Israel,” would know both the Old Testament and the Roman culture.

Jesus’ claim “that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life,” has much less shock value to us than it did to Nicodemus.

After informing Nicodemus that He will be crucified, Jesus then explains that He is laying down His life as a gift, a gift given by God. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Jesus then explains that laying down His life is necessary because we are all under the judgment of sin. “17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Jesus finishes with Nicodemus by explaining the true nature of Spiritual warfare. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

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