A Closer Look at John 3.16 (part 2)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish…

This passage is found near the conclusion of a larger conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus that is recorded in John 3. Nicodemus comes at night and begins by complimenting Jesus – we know you are teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him (John 3.2).  Jesus ignores the praise because he understands the real intention of Nicodemus’ comment.   Nicodemus came to him speaking generally about the miracles, but hidden beneath was a personal interest in the Messianic kingdom and his own place in it.  Here was a man who was thinking deeply about himself, wondering how he, himself, might enter into God’s kingdom.  This is why Jesus replies, “ I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again … I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” As a Pharisee, Nicodemus probably understood that Gentiles (i.e., non-Jews) needed to be “born again,” but it staggered his mind to think that something similar had to happen to himself, a Jew. The Jewish ceremony for a Gentile entering Judaism  proclaimed the individual “like a child born new.”  Jesus is saying in effect, Jews like yourself must realize that your pedigree and lineage are irrelevant in the sight of God. You must treat yourselves the same way you treat Gentiles who want to become Jews. You insist that they renounce their past, be circumcised and be ceremonially washed in water. But you are farther from the Kingdom of God than you think a Gentile is from Judaism. You, yourself, must be ‘born again’.”  Nicodemus wonders, Wasn’t he a child of Abraham by virtue of his Jewish mother? How could he become any more Jewish than he was through his mother? He was bewildered by Jesus’ instruction but he was beginning to understand now.

Nicodemus was a man who had a lot going for himself. He was a man of the Pharisees, a highly venerated and noble strain of Judaism who had refused to compromise their religion. It seems, though, that he was dissatisfied by what he was he was hearing about Jesus and so he resolved to look into things for himself. Perhaps his example is a useful lesson for us. When we are dissatisfied with what the world tells us about Jesus and we want to listen to him for ourselves, that is a very helpful and hopeful state of mind to be in!

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