A New Ballgame.
“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” – John 3:19 NLT
John records for us those early days of Jesus’ earthly ministry – from the choosing of His first few disciples to the wedding at Cana. Almost immediately, we begin to see Jesus’ deity revealed. Somehow Jesus was able to see Nathanael long before the two met, knowing that he had been sitting under a fig tree prior to Philip’s arrival to invite him to meet Jesus. This supernatural capability shocked Nathanael and caused him to exclaim, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God – the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 NLT). But Jesus tells him “You will see greater things than this” (John 1:50 NLT). These men are in for a wild ride. They have no idea what they are getting into as the follow Jesus. Each day is going to be an adventure, filled with excitement, confusion, awe, broken expectations, thrilling new insights, and mind-numbing lessons that make no sense.
They will watch as Jesus turns ordinary water into expensive wine. They’ll stand back in shock as He angrily clears the Temple of venders, shouting, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” (John 2:16 NLT). They will scratch their heads in confusion as they listen to Jesus tell the religious leaders, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 NLT). Everything about Jesus was surprising and shocking to them. He was not what they were expecting and the things He said and did were surprising, confusing and a little bit disconcerting. Their world was being rocked and their preconceived notions about life, religion, God and man were being turned upside down.
And then comes the nighttime visit from Nicodemus, the Pharisee. This well-educated religious leader made his way to Jesus after dark in order to keep his visit a secret. Jesus had already begun to make enemies of the religious leadership by virtue of His words and actions. He had begun to attract the attention of the people and cause an uproar, and the Pharisees were not amused. But Nicodemus was curious. He wanted to know more. He knew that Jesus had miraculous powers and must have been sent from God, but he was unclear as to just exactly who Jesus was and what He was doing. And like the disciples, Nicodemus got more than he bargained for in his meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus was part of the religious elite of the Jewish people. He was well-educated and viewed as extremely righteous. He was considered among the holiest and most godly of the people. And yet Jesus reveals to him some shocking news. “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NLT). This was disconcerting news to Nicodemus. As a son of Abraham and a keeper of the Law, he had always viewed his place in God’s kingdom as a sure thing. And now Jesus tells him he must be “born again.” Not only that, but “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit,” Jesus says (John 3:5 NLT).
All Nicodemus can say in response is “How are these things possible?” (John 3:9 NLT).
He is confused. His brain is on overload. He is attempting to process information he has never heard before. He is being forced to reconcile what he is hearing with all that he has been taught over the years. Jesus is revealing to Nicodemus the truth regarding Himself and the truth about eternal life. It is not based on religious rule-keeping or hereditary purity. It is about the Son of God and belief in Him. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NLT). That verse is very familiar and comfortable to us, but to Nicodemus it would have been like a hand grenade exploding in the closet of his mind. Everything he had counted on and staked his life on was being ripped to shreds. The rules were changing and requirements were being altered. It was all about belief. Eight different times in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus mentions the word, “believe.” He uses the imagery of the bronze serpent from the time of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Nicodemus would have been very familiar with it. Because of their disobedience, God had sent poisonous snakes to plague the people. He then instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. If the people would listen to God’s word and look at the bronze serpent, they would be healed from snakebite. But if they refused to believe and do as God said, as crazy as it may have sounded or looked, they would die. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes on him will have eternal life” (John 3:14 NLT). Belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the remedy for man’s sin was the requirement. But Jesus knew that not everyone was going to believe. Not everyone was going to accept this new requirement. “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil” (John 3:19 NLT). Just as there were those who refused to look at the bronze serpent and died in the wilderness, so there were going to be those who refused to believe in Jesus and die in their sins. Jesus was giving Nicodemus a choice to make. Did it sound illogical? Yes. Did it appear improbable? Most certainly. Could Nicodemus have found it all unacceptable? Of course. But that is the nature of belief. It requires faith. It demands trust. It necessitates risk. But it is all based on love – the love of God. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16 NLT).
Father, Your Son rocked the world. He shattered all preconceived notions and broke down all the man-made constructs that attempted to explain You and promote the path to righteousness. He is still rocking our world today. Sometimes it is so hard to simply believe. It is so difficult to just trust. We feel like we have to do it all. We are so performance driven. We want to earn our good standing with You by doing good works for You. But it has always been about Your Son. He is the key. For both salvation and sanctification. Never let me forget that. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men