John 3:9-13: “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.”
Even after Jesus carefully explained to Nicodemus that the new birth He was talking about was a spiritual rebirth, Nicodemus still didn’t get it. The door to his mind was closed, stuck in a paradigm from which he couldn’t break free.
Jesus found Nicodemus’ spiritual dullness not only incredible, but deeply troubling. Here was a man, a leader of God’s people, someone that others respected and looked to for instruction in the things of God, who couldn’t seem to grasp even this simple argument that, since God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, a person must be spiritually born again to enter it!
But even though this was frustrating to Jesus, it was not altogether surprising. For a long time the faith of the Jewish people had been degrading from one of relationship with the living Creator God, to one of relationship to written words. As God spoke through Isaiah (and was quoted by Jesus), These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8-9) Nicodemus loved the Law, and he loved all that had been written about the Law by the rabbis and scribes and sages that had come before him. But the Law (and his love for it) had become so much of a focus of his life that he could not see beyond it to the living God, the one who had designed it to lead people to a deeper relationship with Himself.
In fact, Nicodemus couldn’t see beyond the Law to the one who was sitting directly across from him. He had heard Jesus’ teachings, and recognized in them a deep truth that resonated in his soul. He saw the miracles that Jesus was doing, and reasoned from them that Jesus must have come from God (John 3:2). But his mind was closed to where this train of thought should reasonably lead: that Jesus was the Son of God, God in the flesh, sitting right in front of him!
Jesus expressed His consternation with this state of affairs. He had come from heaven to speak to God’s people about heavenly things. But God’s people, even the most devout of them, were so trapped in their worldview that they couldn’t even understand Him when He spoke to them about earthly things. The revelation of God’s great salvation was dawning; the kingdom of God was at that moment breaking into the material world. And the very people who should have been ready for it, whose study of God’s word should have prepared them for its ultimate expression, were deaf and blind to what was happening. It was a great tragedy!
The hope that still remained was that people like Nicodemus really did love God, even though their minds were not yet open to what He was doing through Jesus. He still had three years, and in that time SOME of these leaders, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, would begin to believe. It wasn’t all that He had hoped for, but it would be a start.
Father, how many of us, even today, are in love with a concept of You, even in love with Your word, but have lost track of You Yourself? How often do we come to You for what You can give us, what You have promised in Your word, but not consider that, instead, we should be falling at Your feet, surrendering your lives, our agendas, and even our desires, to what YOU want? Lord, open our eyes to Your glory, Your majesty, so that we can truly see You. In Your light, help us to see ourselves, so that we can keep our world and our priorities in the right order. Help us to hear Your voice clearly, so that we can obey You in every particular. Amen.