Nicodemus, by tradition an old man, came to Jesus in the night. He admitted the truth about Jesus that the Pharisees generally were not willing to admit: that Jesus had to be from God. The signs Jesus did proved this truth. And because of his evident nearness to the Almighty, Jesus the teacher had to know things for fact that no ordinary teacher could know. Nicodemus came in the night no doubt for fear of the others who might see, but he still came. Clearly there was a question that pressed on his mind and heart strong enough to drive him to seek an answer – a definitive answer from one he believed would know.
Jesus, though, immediately went into the answer before the question could be asked. Did you ever notice the disjointed nature of this conversation? From the answers Jesus gave, my sense is this old man was concerned about one thing: his mortality, and he hoped to hear the truth of the matter.
Back then, people were interested in the matter of life after death, and it was a concern that spread all across the Roman Empire. It was not just a Judean thing. People wanted to know that this was not all there was to it. The young people, like today, maybe not so much; but the older ones hotly debated the issue. In Judea, the Pharisees argued strongly in favor of the resurrection unto life. The Sadducees argued against the resurrection (probably why they were sad, you see?).
I spent time with an elderly man in the hospital not long ago. He had a heart attack, and he had questions. I could not give him answers. Heaven is not something that can be proved or disproved by science, philosophy or theology. All it can be is hotly debated. Jesus knew this, and explained as carefully as he could to the old man why Nicodemus might (might) never have the definitive answer in this world.
You cannot so much as see the Kingdom of God (Heaven) unless you are reborn.
How is that?
I mean you have to be born of the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit just to see it – even just to see, or maybe understand or grasp it in your mind and heart.
I don’t get it.
Look, I am trying to express in earthly, human ways what cannot be expressed. I think the best way to express it may be to tell you about the pivotal role I play in God’s plan. You see, I have been to Heaven. I came from there, but I can’t “prove” it. So here is the thing. Look for me to be lifted up (crucified). It is like when Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness and everyone who looked up at the serpent was healed, you remember? So everyone who looks up to me on the cross will be saved.
I imagine Nicodemus rubbed his beard. The words had to sound a bit cheeky coming from human lips. So Jesus tried on more thing.
If you don’t believe me or understand what I am saying about the need for a spiritual rebirth, or that I came from Heaven, or that I will offer salvation through my sacrifice, then believe this:
God loves the world. It is that simple. God loves the world so much, he is offering a way for every human being to go to Heaven and have eternal life. You say you know I am from God, that I am with God. You said the works I have done proves that clear enough. Well, then believe what I say or at the very least trust that God did not send me into the world to condemn the world but to save it. That is about as definitive as it gets in this life.
I imagine Nicodemus went away still stuck between faith and doubt, and he probably got some distance before he realized, “Hey, wait a minute. I never got to ask the question.” Jesus answered the question, unasked, and I would guess Nicodemus had to think about that.