Curious but lost: Devotional Commentary for January 15-21
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
3:1 Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish council.
Our recent meditations have been focusing on the identity of Jesus Christ as recorded in the book of Hebrews. Our study of Jesus Christ, His identity and His work, continues in earnest in the Gospel of John. This time, our guide is a curious Pharisee who was quite fascinated with everything Jesus was doing at the time. As a prominent Jew, Nicodemus probably knew a lot about the Messiah but not much about Jesus. So he was curious and went to Jesus looking for some answers. But Jesus gave him what he needed instead of satisfying his curiosity.
John introduces us to a man named Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, the Jewish sect most devoted to the law and the oral traditions of the Rabbis. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was one of the most prominent citizens of his nation, belonging to the Jewish Council of seventy men known as the Sanhedrin. These men governed the Jewish world in all matters, both civil and religious. They were responsible for interpreting and enforcing the Law of Moses. During the time of Jesus, they functioned under the authority of the Roman Procurator over Judea. From this, we know that Nicodemus was a man of considerable influence and wealth, a doctor of the law, a Pharisee, and a Rabbi.
Nicodemus came to see Jesus and here is how the private conversation proceeded:
2He came to Jesus one night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that God has sent you as a teacher. No one can perform the miracles you perform unless God is with him.”
3Jesus replied to Nicodemus, “I can guarantee this truth: No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
4Nicodemus asked him, “How can anyone be born when he’s an old man? He can’t go back inside his mother a second time to be born, can he?”
5Jesus answered Nicodemus, “I can guarantee this truth: No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.
6Flesh and blood give birth to flesh and blood, but the Spirit gives birth to things that are spiritual.
7Don’t be surprised when I tell you that all of you must be born from above.
We do not know why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Given his social standing, he was probably fearful of incrimination by the Sanhedrin for having a private meeting with Jesus Whom they did not endorse. Perhaps evenings were more convenient for private meetings given the busyness of the daytime. It might also be that evenings were the traditional time of the day set aside for meditation and the study of God's Word. Whatever his reason, Nicodemus came to see Jesus under the cloak of darkness, apparently because he wanted to know more about Him.
Nicodemus addressed Jesus with respect, calling Him Rabbi. Jesus, in contrast to his wealthy and prominent discussant, was from a little known family. He was not formally trained in the rabbinical traditions of Judaism. Yet, Nicodemus was seeking some answers from Jesus and looked to Him as a Rabbi. Why? Because the evidence of God’s power was in Him! Jesus had done remarkable things, and the crowds, as well as the members of the Sanhedrin, had been watching closely. Nicodemus acknowledged this and addressed Jesus as a Rabbi—a “Teacher sent from God.”
Nicodemus' remarks indicated that he came to Jesus to learn more about Him and find out Who He is. As a prominent Jewish individual, he might have been longing for the coming of the Messiah, as did the entire Jewish nation. Is He the Prophet promised by Moses? Is He Elijah, the forerunner of the Messiah? Most important, is He the Messiah? Every Jew earnestly looked to the Scriptures and keenly observed current events to see if the Promised One had finally come. When the Messiah comes, the Hebrew people expected deliverance from bondage and the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus' response to Nicodemus was somewhat enigmatic and seems to be avoiding the point. When making his remarks, Nicodemus acknowledged Jesus' uncommon ability to perform miracles and God's presence with Him as the validating factor. Jesus told him that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. Nicodemus was astounded. He had never heard such teaching or theology. What Jesus proposed did not make sense to him. It is impossible for a man to be born twice. A grown man could never reenter his mother’s womb and be born again. Obviously, these two Rabbis were communicating on two different levels. Nicodemus was at a loss to grasp what Jesus was saying.
To Nicodemus' surprise, Jesus reiterated His statement with a slight variation. In verse three, Jesus simply told Nicodemus that one must be born again from above or he would not see the Kingdom of God. In verse five, Jesus told Nicodemus that no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless one is born of water and Spirit. Because Nicodemus understood birth only in the physical sense, Jesus gave additional details affirming that He spoke of a different kind of birth. This was not about physical birth, but a new birth in which a person’s spirit comes alive after being regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. It is a new birth from: above, water, and the Spirit, not a physical birth.
This is the birth of the spirit and the soul. This is the work of the Holy Spirit by Whom the dead spirit of the lost is washed and regenerated into a new life in Jesus Christ. Jesus' answer to Nicodemus was not strange after all. He told Nicodemus that the only way to know Him is to be born again into the Kingdom of God through washing and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus told Nicodemus that he should not be so astonished at this teaching. It is the way of God's redeeming grace. Little did Nicodemus know that this truth would soon be affirmed by Jesus’ sacrifice for sin on the Cross at Calvary. With His declaration of the truth, Jesus showed Nicodemus the way to know Him instead of satisfying his curiosity. Nicodemus came inquiring about Him, but Jesus showed him the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
Nicodemus found Jesus to be a remarkable man and wanted to know more about Him, personally. He was religious, influential, and educated. Nevertheless, he was still curious about Jesus. Nicodemus had been impressed by the signs which Jesus showed and the miracles He did. Therefore, he came to Jesus by night for a private audience.
He came to Jesus for one thing but got something quite different. From his own human perspective, Nicodemus may have sensed that he needed something but did not know what, or did not know how to get what he wanted, or maybe his inquiring mind just wanted to know more about this extraordinary man, Jesus the Christ. But through the quiet prompting of the Holy Spirit, he was drawn to Jesus Who knew what he needed.
Nicodemus opened the conversation by acknowledging Jesus and revealing his impressions of Him. But Jesus wasted no time in telling Nicodemus that the only way to know about Him is actually to know Him. Jesus said in no uncertain words that no one can either see or enter the Kingdom of God unless one is born again from above. The wise man of Israel was baffled! He was stopped cold in his tracks! He came to investigate Jesus with his own wisdom. But he met True Wisdom in Jesus Christ Who exposed the void in his life.
Jesus reached deep into Nicodemus' curious mind and redirected his attention to what was missing in his life. He offered His guest a new life through a new birth in Christ. Not more information about Jesus, but the only way to the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus was lost. He did not know that about himself, but Jesus did.
We notice two critical implications in what Jesus said to Nicodemus:
- Man does not naturally know that he is lost, and therefore, can neither look for salvation nor initiate the process.
- Only God redeems the lost in Jesus Christ through washing and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Even though Nicodemus was genuinely curious about Jesus' identity, Jesus knew that Nicodemus did not know that the Son of God came to earth to bring God's salvation to the lost. So Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life opened the door of Nicodemus' heart and gave him the Word of Life. Jesus stepped into Nicodemus' spiritually blind heart and Himself became the Light of God's redemption in his dark and lost soul. Nicodemus' mind was puzzled at the time. But his heart was renewed through a new birth from above in the cradle of God's redemption.
Nicodemus followed his mind and came to Jesus. But Jesus drew his heart to the Light of His redemption. Jesus did not reject Nicodemus' desire for knowledge. But the status of his soul was more important than satisfying a curious mind—the Truth that Nicodemus did not know. So Jesus pared off and removed the deep darkness covering his soul and set him free.
When God, at His discretion, draws us to Himself by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we may not initially recognize that He is confronting us at the point of our deep-seated needs. instead we often find ourselves demanding answers for our questions. But God is faithful to bring His promises to fulfillment.
Like Nicodemus, we may be genuinely curious. Our questions might be legitimate, and our search for answers might be defensible. Like Nicodemus, we may come to Jesus to know more! But let us come to Jesus with our hearts open, so we may receive what we need!