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We were camped on the Mount of Olives outside of Bethany on our way to the feast in Jerusalem. And even though the Pharisees had not yet unleashed their wrath on us, I was surprised when Jesus invited Peter, my brother John, and me to go with him to meet secretly with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. This man was actually a member of the Sanhedrin.
A storm was blowing up from the West and it had begun to rain when Nicodemus arrived. John met him at the door and took his cloak, shaking the rain off as Nicodemus stepped up to warm himself at the fire. I had been steeping some tea. He gladly accepted a cup as he sat down with Jesus. Jesus welcomed him, and Nicodemus greeted him respectfully.
After he had relaxed a little Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that you must have come to us from God, for no one could do the signs that you do if God Himself were not with him.”
Peter, John and I were surprised that a Pharisee would treat anyone who was not a Pharisee as an equal. This man even recognized that Jesus had come from God. I suspect Nicodemus was surprised at how little Jesus was impressed. We were not surprised.
Jesus said, “I am telling you the truth, Nicodemus. You cannot see the kingdom of God unless you have been born again.” We had not heard Jesus say it this way, but we had learned from many others and even in our own experience that understanding what Jesus did and taught required a radical change of heart.
Nicodemus asked, “How can this happen? Can an old man enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time?”
Jesus said, “You need to understand that unless one has been born through the water of physical birth and also of the Spirit, he can never enter the realm of the God. That which is born of flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said you must be born again.” As Jesus said this the wind lashed rain against the house. Jesus continued. “The wind blows where it wants. You hear its sound but you do not know where it has come from or where it is going. So it is with the purposes and direction of anyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said, “How can this be”
Jesus marveled. “You are a teacher of Israel and yet you do not know how my father works in the lives of people. I am telling you the truth. We speak what we know and give testimony about what we have seen. And you still do not believe.”
This was the first time we had heard Jesus put things this way. And I don't know about Peter and John, but as he spoke I was just beginning to understand the difference Jesus was making in me. None of us is close to being like Jesus. This constantly reminds us how much we still sin. But we have changed a great deal. I suspect many people, possibly including this Pharisee, see the difference Jesus makes in people.
Jesus went on, “If you do not believe when I tell you how God works on earth, how can I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the son of man who came from heaven. As Moses lifted up the servant in the wilderness so must the son of man be lifted up that whoever believes in him would have eternal life.”
I am sure Nicodemus did not understand any more of this than we did at that time. We could not fully understand how much Jesus loved us, or what it would cost him to be lifted up. I know now that he was speaking of the cross. He was saying God loves the world so much that he gave his only son that whoever believes on him will never really die, but has eternal life. Jesus was not sent into the world to condemn us, but so that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus is the light that came into the world that we might truly see the signs of God. But people hate the light because our deeds are evil. Most of them run from the light lest their deeds be exposed. But those who believe the truth come to the light so everyone may see that God has brought about the change in them.
This story was taken from Nicodemus's meeting with Jesus recorded in John 3:1-21.
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