Shining the Light on Nick at Night
Nicodemus was a member of the upper echelon of Jewish society. He was wealthy, educated and well respected. He was part of a group that was responsible for making sure the Jewish people were happy with the Romans and the Romans were happy with the Jewish people. As long as they did their job, the Romans made life very comfortable for them. So, the name of the game was “Don’t Rock the Boat.” Only one person was allowed to rock the boat as far as the Jewish ruling council was concerned: The Messiah. He could rock as hard as he wanted, because they knew he would drive the Romans out and return Israel to its rightful place of international prominence. When the Messiah showed up, they knew he would set things right (with all his might) and they would thrive in his kingdom much more than they had in the Romans’.
When Nicodemus showed up to talk to Jesus, he wanted to know if Jesus has any inside information on when God might actually show up and initiate this kingdom. But he didn’t actually get around to asking about that. Instead, he started: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). He had planned this out, surely, and was about to go on.
Jesus kind of interrupted him. “I know you’re here to ask about when the kingdom is going to come. I tell you the truth, no one can even see the kingdom unless they’ve been born again.”
Nicodemus must have thought Jesus was joking. Born again? Nicodemus (like most other Jewish men) thought he’d been born right the first time. He didn’t need to be born again. He was already a Jewish man. It didn’t get any better than that.
What Jesus was saying to Nicodemus was so different from what Nick and his friends believed that it must have really taken him off guard. Jesus was saying that God was not a racist, that being related to the right people doesn’t get you into God’s kingdom.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day (and of our day as well) believed that entrance into God’s kingdom is based on being born the right way and living the right way. Be Jewish and obey the law. That’s how you get in, and that’s how you stay in. There’s a good God who only lets good people into his good kingdom.
Jesus says that’s wrong. Good people don’t get into the kingdom; forgiven people do. This came as quite a shock to the people Jesus encountered. (And there are people today who still refuse to believe it). That’s really confusing to some, offensive, frightening, disorienting. But if you’ll stay there in the light for a while, your eyes will adjust and you’ll be able to see how great this arrangement really is.
You’ll also see how you don’t deserve it anymore than anyone else does.