1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these miraculous signs you are doing unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless someone is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
5 Jesus answered, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God! 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh. Whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be surprised when I tell you that you must be born from above. 8 The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus.
10 “You are the teacher of Israel,” Jesus answered, “and you do not know these things? 11 Amen, Amen, I tell you: We speak what we know, and we testify about what we have seen. But you people do not accept our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven. 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
There’s a big divide in our country right now. I’m not talking about the political divide. I’m talking about a much bigger divide, one that’s not new. It’s always existed—in every country on earth. But it’s a divide that’s becoming more obvious in our country right now. I’m talking about the division between believers and unbelievers. It wasn’t always so clear decades ago because there were a lot of shared values. Back in the 1980s it was perhaps a little easier to strike up a conversation with an unchurched person about faith—to make an evangelism “cold-call.” Nowadays we have to rethink our outreach strategies. Last week, we got a good example of how shared values have been disappearing right here in Arizona. A public school district in the Phoenix area voted to end an arrangement they had for education students from Arizona Christian University to do their practice teaching in the district. One of the board members attacked the University because their website says they’re committed to Jesus. ‘We can’t have their students teaching in our schools.’
When Jesus talked to Nicodemus, he could count on a number of shared values as He began that conversation. At the same time, Jesus knew something about Nicodemus, that we would do well to acknowledge ourselves, namely that non-Christians have an very different worldview than Christians. Jesus had an entirely different worldview than the religious people of His day. And that’s because, as Scripture says, the things of the Spirit cannot be understood without the Spirit. Jesus alluded to that mysterious truth in His conversation. “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
There was so much for Nicodemus to first unlearn and then to learn in order to see things God’s way. Ultimately, Jesus wanted to bring Nicodemus into the greatest story ever told—the story of “God’s Plan for Nicodemus, the World, and You.”
Jesus Came to Save Nicodemus
Nicodemus was quite a man. He’d been elected to the Sanhedrin by his peers, which was a sign of great respect for his character and knowledge. Jesus even refers to him as a religious teacher. He was a serious man, and an intellectual man. Unlike some of the other religious leaders, he was a man devoted to learning the truth, not “his” truth—the way people talk to day, but “the” truth. But he hadn’t yet learned it. His education was lacking because his teachers were lacking true wisdom and knowledge. In fact, the majority of his fellow religionists rejected Jesus out of hand. Nicodemus was afraid of how they’d react to him showing interest in Jesus. All the “smart guys” knew that wasn’t ‘the right thing to do’!
If this were today and they’d found out he went to talk to Jesus, they might have told him, “Take off your tinfoil hat. Follow the science. Jesus is an uneducated crackpot. His followers are conspiracy theory types. They’re dumb and uneducated unlike we elites in the ruling class.
But Nicodemus couldn’t not be interested in Jesus! He was unable to dismiss Jesus out of hand because he personally knew about what Jesus did and said. The miracles Jesus did couldn’t simply be ignored. They were real. They were done in public. There was a reason the crowds were talking about them. And the teaching… The teaching was amazing! No typical uneducated Galilean could talk like that! The crowds were glued to Him because what He said was so compelling. But Nicodemus didn’t quite grasp this wisdom Jesus proclaimed. He needed to understand it. He had questions, deep questions, a bunch of them. He just had to meet Jesus one on one!
So, he went to Him under cover of darkness. He couldn’t afford to be seen. He’d be cancelled. He’d be ridiculed. He might lose his position.
Jesus was more than happy to meet with Nicodemus when and where Nicodemus requested because Jesus came to save Nicodemus.
He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these miraculous signs you are doing unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless someone is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus began by piquing His interest. He wanted to raise new questions in Nicodemus’ mind. Rather than answer all the questions Jesus knew Nicodemus had directly, Jesus in effect told him that without faith it’s impossible to understand the Gospel and who He is. And by doing so Jesus was telling him the Jewish religion as he’d been taught was not the saving faith of Abraham—true religion, the real religion of the Old Testament. He told Nicodemus he needed the Holy Spirit to give him faith.
So Jesus presented brand new concepts and terminology to Nicodemus, expanding on His words. “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God! 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh. Whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That sparked an interesting exchange that gave Jesus the opportunity to connect His ministry with what had been going on in the wilderness where John had been preaching and baptizing the crowds for the forgiveness of sins and new birth.
Jesus wanted to save Nicodemus, and by sharing the Gospel with him, He did. It may not have happened immediately. Jesus didn’t baptize him that night. Nicodemus took home what he learned and pondered it. The Holy Spirit worked on him through the Word. We know the ultimate outcome, because when Jesus died for the sins of the world, Nicodemus was one of the two men who lovingly took Jesus’ body and buried it in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Nicodemus brought a massive, expensive pile of spices to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body that day.
Jesus Came to Save the Whole World
Jesus came to save Nicodemus. Jesus came to save the whole world. As He explained the faith to Nicodemus that night, He came to the very center of the Gospel—the Gospel in a nutshell, John 3:16. But let’s look first at verse 3:17. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
God’s gracious plan was always to save the whole world—to reverse the massive destruction released by the fall into sin! Sin requires punishment. In fact, before the fall even happened, God warned that sin would lead to death for everyone and everything—the exact opposite of the life God created in six days at the beginning of time. But death and destruction was never God’s will. God’s will was paradise, enjoyed eternally by all creation. Just think of how beautiful the world must have been before the fall. It’s not hard, because it’s even beautiful today despite all the scars and extinction from the flood.
Even after the fall, God didn’t want to destroy the world, but to restore it to its former abundance, beauty and life. The moment Adam and Eve sinned God immediately set in motion His plan to save them and restore what had been lost.
God started the world by creating paradise and God pressed the reset button with His plan to save the world through His Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The world needs Jesus for salvation—it’s The Plan—the only one. He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
In explaining salvation, Jesus connected it all to a story Nicodemus knew and you probably do too: the story of the poisonous snakes that attacked rebellious Israel when they grumbled against Moses and God in the wilderness. God saved them by a promise connected to a symbol. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Just like the Israelites, people everywhere rebel against the God who so graciously planned from the beginning to save them. Despite that rebellion, God sent Jesus to die for all. On the cross He was more than a symbol. He, their Creator and Savior, saves everyone who looks to Him in faith.
Jesus Came to Save You
John recorded these words of Jesus to Nicodemus by inspiration for you! God sent His Son to save the world not condemn it, but He saves us one by one, just as He did for Nicodemus. God gives us rebirth one at a time through water and the Spirit in baptism,God leads us to trust in Jesus by telling us His plan and His story and leading each one of us to put trust in Him. Like those poisoned Israelites who trusted God’s promise and looked up to the bronze serpent and were healed, so each of us who trusts the Promise and looks up at the crucified Lord in faith is saved. Those who do not are lost and never get back the life that was lost in Adam’s fall. But God wants you to be saved!
God has led you to Jesus and given you new birth and new life. Still, as long as we still live in this “body of death” as Paul called it, we need the life injections that come from above. The Holy Spirit blows where He wills, and He chooses to work through the Word and through the Sacrament of the altar, just as He first worked in your life through the saving Sacrament of Baptism.
Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it. Jesus did not come to destroy you, but to save you. Cling to Him in faith. Remember your baptism. Go to Calvary’s Holy mountain, look up, and live. Amen.
Pastor Timothy Buelow
Our Saviour Lutheran Church
Lake Havasu City, Arizona