Today’s Passage: John 3:1-21
This weekend, we’re looking at a part of the Bible that includes possibly the most famous verse in the Bible: John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It’s an amazing verse that sums up in so few words so much of the good news of God. But there’s one word in there which we often don’t focus on: for. John 3:16 is explaining something, giving a commentary on what has come before.
What comes before is an amazing discussion between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus was a big-shot. As a Pharisee, he was probably devoted to ensuring that he understood and obeyed all the regulations required of God’s people. He was probably, like Paul, a very devout, religious man.
We meet this man, this religious man committed to being right before God, in the dark of night as he goes to meet with Jesus. He’d probably seen the amazing, miraculous, signs that Jesus had done in Jerusalem. And he was convinced that Jesus had been sent from God; he was convinced that Jesus had been sent as a teacher from God.
But why would Israel’s teacher (see verse 10) want to meet with Jesus? Why would an expert in the law want to hear new teaching from Jesus?
And what teaching. I get the impression that Nicodemus was confused by it all. Certainly, John records Jesus saying that Nicodemus hadn’t believed what Jesus had told him. What Jesus had said was just too much for Nicodemus. Talk of needing to be born again to see the Kingdom of God probably didn’t fit very well into his understanding of how God works.
The thing is, what Jesus was saying wasn’t even all that new. As an expert in the Scriptures, Nicodemus should have got it. But he didn’t. Perhaps because getting it wasn’t about what he knew, but about how he lived. Jesus wasn’t calling Nicodemus to a deeper knowledge – he was calling him to throw himself on the mercy of God.
And that’s where John 3:16 comes in: it’s about what God has done for those who will look to him for life.
Nicodemus was impressive – but there were shadows in his life that Jesus’ light would illuminate. You might look impressive; like you’ve got everything sorted. But we all have shadows that we are ashamed of. Things we like to hide so that we can present a good face. We can often fool each other, at least for a while. But it is harder (aka impossible) to fool God.
The good news, however, is that we don’t have to fool God. Because God loves us. Because being right with him isn’t about us: it’s about Him. That’s what Nicodemus had to learn. It’s what you and I need to learn!
God offers more than new teaching: he offers us new life; a fresh start with Him, and the promise of our transformation into the likeness of the most impressive person ever: Jesus our Christ.