Theology with the Son of God

A professional religious leader, a respected scholar and thoughtful pastoral figure of society invites a controversial preacher to visit him. In the middle of the night.

This tells us a number of things. Firstly, that the professional religious leader did not want anyone to know that he was meeting this man. Secondly, that if this man’s colleagues found out about this meeting, there would be consequences. Thirdly, that this rabbi must be quite someone for the pious leader to risk his career to hear him speak.

Yet, Nicodemus must confess the Divine plainly displayed in this rabbi, Jesus. He it unique. There is no other teacher like him. He is dangerous. No man would claim what he claims. Yet Nicodemus was intrigued.

He probes Jesus on the matter:
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus is apparently unconcerned, replying with a change of subject:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus was perhaps expecting some insight into Jesus’ relationship with God, where he had learned what he knew, how he performed his miracles or some word of encouragement for the Pharisees of which he was a member.

He receives is an utterance upon which he leaps with rhetorical fervor. Here is something to talk about! What a statement! They could be up all night discussing that!

Indeed this was his livelihood, discussing these big ideas in the temples and synagogues, helping the people of Israel understand the Law of God and how it applied to them, discussing these matters with his colleagues and besting his opponents with smooth polemic.

And so, a rhetorical question,
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

This opponent seems unconcerned with these word-wars. Immediately Jesus announces,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Jesus isn’t in the mood to debate the matter. He issues a command ‘you must be born again.’ This is his word to the Pharisees. He will not play their game. He will not be seen debating with them in the temple courts. He will not obey their rules. Nicodemus discovers this for himself.

Yet still he presses for an answer. He hears Jesus’ command as a discussion starter, like a flash card at a party, a mere point to open dialogue.
“How can these things be?”

Jesus doesn’t hide his disdain for his guest, cutting down his pride with his disappointment,
“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”

Are you the one who is charged with telling God’s story? With teaching people the Law? With reminding them that they are the people to whom the Glory of God was revealed, to whom his voice was spoken?

You are the one charged with teaching God’s people, and yet you would be so audacious as to debate theology with the Living God?

You are the one who heard the very Word of God speak ‘you must be born again’ and your first thought was ‘How can a grown man get back into the womb?’

How disappointing.

Nicodemus came to Jesus and walked away empty. He came to Jesus, the one from whom eternal life is given, and he walked away in scorn.

You see, Jesus is the Word of God, they very same one who spoke the universe into being. When the voice which caused the sun to burn brightly says ‘you must be born again,’ you better believe he isn’t asking for your opinion.

John 3:1-15

Peace.

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9 Comments

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  1. Well Jesus seems a bit of a dick, living god or no.

    Also: “No man would claim what he claims.” What – no love for Charlie Manson?

    😉

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    • Jesus has little patience for Nicodemus. Contrast this to the next chapter where Jesus seems to have far more to say to the Samaritan Woman. What an offense to the Pharisee! To think that woman was more favourable than a teacher of the law!

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      • I had to go and re-read it, as I recognised the style if not the chapter.

        If I were the Pharisee, I think I’d be more bemused than impressed with this young preacher’s non sequiturs.

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  2. Nicodemus came to Jesus and walked away empty …….. I believe Nicodemus gave his heart to the Lord – John 19:39 – he certainly loved him enough to spend a lot of money on the dead body and to risk being associated with the disciples?

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    • It is certainly the case that Nicodemus underwent some kind of conversion, causing him to attempt to defend Jesus before the high council. However during Jesus lifetime his conversion was not enough to cause him to leave the pharisees altogether. I wonder if Nicodemus was a prominent figure in the early church, considering he is named a number of times.

      In this conversation however, I think Nicodemus was not converted. John contrasts this story with John 4, the story of the woman’s conversion juxtaposes the pharisees cold heart.

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  3. Sorry not quite on your wave length – I agree that commentators suggest this is what John may have done – but I don’t see any evidence in the gospel that John was doing this? I think commentators look for more than was intended. John was writing it all down before he died to make sure the record remained – we know he wasn’t an academic so to credit him with a academic style of writing probably credits him with more than he intended.

    I would suggest that the text at the very least does not tell us how Nicodemus went away – so perhaps we shouldn’t assume what isn’t in the text?

    Why would being converted cause him to stop being a pharisee whilst Jesus was still alive – we have records of leaders of synagogues being converted during Jesus’ life time and still remaining leaders of synagogues – and in Acts the disciples continued attending the temple and synagogues until they were eventually excluded – so they didn’t have any problems worshippping the jewish way – I am sure Jesus would have been delighted if the pharisees would have changed – he wasn’t having a go at the current religious system of pharisees – more that they weren’t doing their job properly – so surely a pharisee doing his job properly surely wouldn’t have been a problem to Jesus? After all as a child he spent time with them asking them questions – so he didn’t have a great problem with the system as such.

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  4. For me, the evidence is clear enough. 7 miracles, 7 ‘I AM’ sayings, the way John’s recording of events seems to be out of chronological order. He is very deliberate to tell the reader that Jesus is God in the first instance, unlike the other writers who slowly reveal Jesus’ identity throughout their accounts. John reveals that Jesus is God, gives 7 signs of Jesus identity, purpose and mission and then shows the fulfilment of that in his church (john 13-17) and ultimately his crucifixion.

    John wrote what he wrote to communicate what he knew about Jesus. There is no reason to presume he did not have the help of editors or scribes to pen the text on his behalf, as we know Paul did for his letters. I don’t understand what your gripe is against academics. It is not sinful to have intelligence, you know. And just because we understand something of John’s intent from his style and structure does not mean we’re ‘deconstructing’ the word of God. Unlike 20 years ago, Evangelicals are the ones at the forefront of Biblical scholarship today.

    The fact Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night tells us that he did not want to be exposed as an inquirer. Also we are not told of any immediate response to his encounter. The woman at the well went back to her village and told her whole community (John 4:29), the household of the official believed (John 4:53), the cripple testified of Jesus (John 5:15). My point being that in most of these encounters, there is always a ‘punch line’, a recorded response. The fact that John doesn’t tell us how Nicodemus responded invites us to speculate, and of course so see the ‘punch line’ later when Jesus was to be crucified. It is then when he finally steps away from the pharisees, who Jesus condemned in John 2 in the cleansing of the temple.

    So, in this instance I believe Nicodemus walked away empty. I think that was God’s intention. How can a person be filled unless they know themselves to be empty? Perhaps Jesus’ words filled him with a longing to be born again? Perhaps later, when he finally gave Jesus the honour he was due, he could say ‘I have been born again’?

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  5. Yes John wrote about proving Jesus is God – that was the whole point of his gospel – he wrote later than the others he knew the others had already written “the story” he wrote with a purpose – examine the state of the church when he wrote and we can see why he was writing – look at the letters Jesus wrote to the churches in revelation – we know what state the churches were in? But lets not assume stuff we don’t know – were you there, was I there, was any bible commentary there, are there even any original manuscripts left – no – so why make gestimates that don’t add anything to the text. If God had wanted us to know the outcome of the meeting he would have told us. I think he has given us enough to hear and do in what he has given us in the text – without wasting valuable time debating what might have happened outside the text.

    I don’t think we have the right to invent information or assume information that we are not given. We cannot judge the outcome of the meeting with Jesus and Nicodemus (except to know that John particularly wants us to know later in his gospel that Nicodemus did become a Christian). Why speculate? What use is to to speculate?

    I am more concerned at what Jesus said rather than the supposed and presumed response of Nicodemus.

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  6. I liked the way this was told, 🙂

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