Five Minute Devotions: John 3
John 3 records one of the most famous conversations in all of human history. After the powerful beginning of his ministry in the first two chapters, Jesus has reached the attention of Jewish leadership. Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, comes to him at night.
Too often, we rush past the significance of this. There has been no revelation from God in over four hundred years. Then comes John the Baptist, speaking prophetic words in the wilderness and testifying of Jesus as Messiah. Then comes Jesus, with his own prophetic words and actions. Nicodemus knows this is important. He is rightfully cautious, but he must learn more.
The conversation that he has with Jesus would shape the world. And it’s not really much of a conversation. He has only one question for Jesus: “How?”
“How can there be a rebirth?”
How can anyone be born when he is old? Nicodemus isn’t an idiot. He understands what Jesus is not saying, even as he asks for clarification on what he is. He knows the process of birth. His question is not one of incredulity about physical rebirth, but a request for Jesus to explain the metaphor.
- Is this a rebirth of the intellectual life? What new things must we learn in order to assure ourselves the Kingdom?
- Is this a rebirth of the work life? What new things must be do in order to obtain the Kingdom?
- Is this a rebirth of the emotional life? What new experiences or feelings must we have to draw us into the Kingdom?
Nicodemus recognizes rebirth as an undoing. Undoing all the sin that a lifetime had accumulated. Reversing all the penalties from all the broken laws over a lifetime. His question is not a physical one, but a spiritual one. How can this life of sin be undone? What must I do?
And now his question makes sense. And now we understand. Nicodemus’s question moves from the ridiculous into the very heart of the issue. For his whole life, Nicodemus had been weighed down by the Law. It was a millstone about his neck, and here comes a man from God claiming it can be removed.
Jesus’s answer moves the question from the realm of the physical into that of the spiritual. There is nothing that Nicodemus can do to be saved. Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he will not receive the Kingdom. The new birth is not one of the body, but of the Spirit. God himself must infuse his life with ours.
This was not unknown in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God would come upon the great leaders of Hebrew history in power so that they could accomplish their ordained tasks. But it would not remain. This new rebirth through the Spirit would permanently join our lives with God. It was a revolutionary teaching.
“How is this the path of rebirth?”
It’s no wonder, then, that Nicodemus’s next question is another “How?” How can these things be? What sequence of events leads to this? How shall it come to pass?
And the answer is that God gave. The Son of Man must be lifted up, he says in verse 14. Believe in him will lead to salvation, he says in verse 15. And such a sacrifice can happen because God gave. This is the core of John 3.
For God so loved the world that he gave.
Freely. Extravagantly. Abundantly. And the system of works and deeds and rituals fades and withers and dies. Because there is nothing we can do to be saved. How do we accomplish our rebirth? How do we absolve ourselves from sin? We cannot. We can only rely on the giving God who sacrificed himself so that he might gain us.
John does not record any response from Nicodemus. The conversation abruptly ends. He’s mentioned again in John 7, where he encourages the Jewish leaders to at least hear Jesus out. He’s mentioned in John 19 as partnering with Joseph of Arimathea in the burial of Jesus. Maybe Nicodemus accepted the answers to his questions. Maybe he didn’t. Scripture doesn’t tell us. But it does demand that we wrestle with those questions ourselves.
Father, our prayer today is that you would help us in our unbelief, in our hesitations, in our desires to save ourselves. Give us peace and assurance to rely on you. May we not be silent in the face of your answers.
Does Nicodemus become a believer? What is your evidence for your answer?
Another important part of John 3 is the beginning of the end of John the Baptist’s ministry. What can we learn from John’s humility?
The header image is a collection of quotations of John 3:16 in a variety of languages. How many can you identify?
Yesterday: #FiveMinuteDevotions | John 2
Tomorrow: #FiveMinuteDevotions | John 4