9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
(John 3:9-15 NIV)
In today’s text, we will finish Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. Tomorrow we will hear John’s summary of what Jesus was teaching.
From yesterday’s passage, Jesus had just finished explaining spiritual rebirth via water and the Holy Spirit.
Today we begin with Nicodemus’ question: “How can these things be?” Nicodemus was mystified with Jesus’ statements. His heart was likely racing, his mind a whirlwind of jumbled thoughts, revolving too fast to utter a coherent sentence: “What about the Torah? What about Moses? And Abraham? What about God’s Law? Jesus’ teaching flies in the face of everything I have spent my entire life learning and studying! How can these things be?”
Incredulous, Jesus takes Nicodemus to task in verse 10. “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?” The “you” in verse 10 is singular – Jesus was holding Nicodemus personally accountable as a Pharisee (the Pharisees called themselves “Israel’s teachers”) and as a member of the Sanhedrin, the spiritual leaders of Israel.
The idea of inward, spiritual transformation was not foreign to the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, the Israelites were told to circumcise their hearts, not just their bodies. In Ezekiel, God said He would replace the Israelites’ heart of stone with a heart of flesh. The images of spiritual transformation as the way to God were plentiful and diverse.
Note that Jesus was not mocking Nicodemus. This was a holy moment. When Jesus answers Nicodemus in verse 11, He begins with “Verily, verily” – “Amen, amen”. Jesus then switches back to the plural “you” in verses 11 and 12.
Jesus then describes His pending sacrifice to redeem humanity via His crucifixion. Jesus relates the hope and redemption He will provide on the cross to an event that Nicodemus would know well – the redemption of Israel by looking up at the serpent on the stick in The Book of Numbers chapter 21.
John does not tell us how this conversation with Nicodemus ends. Later in John Gospel, however, John gives us two more glimpses of Nicodemus that reveal his changed heart. In John chapter 7, Nicodemus stands up to the Pharisees and tries to give Jesus the benefit of a fair hearing before condemning Jesus for His teachings. In John chapter 19, Nicodemus publicly acknowledges himself as a follower of Jesus when he and Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body off the cross and prepared it for burial.
Like Nicodemus, are we asking questions of Jesus? When we do ask our questions, do we understand Jesus’ answers to us?
May we have spiritual ears to hear and eyes to see what God is doing in and through us, seeking Him with our whole hearts.