“What is the question?”
Like many of us Nicodemus had a question to ask, but he didn’t get the chance to ask it. Jesus in His divine wisdom got right to the point because He knew what was in the heart and mind of Nicodemus, and all men. From Jesus’ answers we can see that Nicodemus has three questions; Who are you, What will happen when I die, and How can this happen. He visited Jesus at night perhaps to cover his identity, but he was also in darkness of sin. Jesus explains who He is by what He does.
Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, and as a Pharisee he believed in angels and the resurrection of the dead, unlike the Sadducees. The Pharisees also studied and accepted additional writings other than the Torah which the Sadducees rigidly held to. Nicodemus and the other Pharisees were not fully prepared for what they were hearing and seeing in Jesus, because eternity was dependent upon their works here on earth. Their understanding of a Messiah did not match up with what Jesus was saying and doing, He wasn’t terrified of death.
People were trying to answer the question of who is this Jesus from Galilee, and some are still doing this today. He was not educated in the manner of the teachers of Israel, He spoke with authority and performed miracles. People were beginning to believe in Him. Sadly, for their own reasons, the Pharisees and Sadducees saw Jesus as a threat to their highly refined and detailed system of righteousness. The things He said seemed to go against almost everything they believed in.
Certainly they heard the reports about Jesus’ baptism, and now during this Passover, Jesus really stirred up the people. He went into the temple with a whip and threw out the money changers calling it “My Father’s house.” Then when asked for a sign of authority to do these things, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Why, that made no sense at all. It took forty-six years to build what they had, and this Jesus will rebuild it in THREE DAYS?
Jesus gave signs right there in Jerusalem and many believed in Him, but He knew what was in all men. So when Nicodemus came to Jesus in the darkness of his fear, Jesus answered unasked questions. Is the long awaited restoration of Israel at hand? Will I enter the kingdom of God? “Truly, truly, I say to you, (Jesus said) unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
See the kingdom of God? That was not the answer he was looking for, was it? It made no sense, it did not fit into what he had come to believe as truth for salvation and the kingdom of God. Yes, he wanted to see the kingdom of God, but surely it had nothing to do with getting back inside of your mother’s womb. If you could do that, how would that help you see the kingdom of God? Jesus spoke to the darkness, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
This troubled Nicodemus, “water and spirit”? “How can these things be?” His faith was shaken. Those who live in darkness look for a light of hope. The need for truth and security drives them to seek relief in this world. St. John begins his gospel with the answer to the question of, “Who are you?” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
Jesus is that Light which shines in the darkness of the world, but this world is not able to understand it because fear and confusion are in the darkness. Deep down inside, sinful man knows the depth of his need for hope because he is so lost, but he can ignore it until that light of truth shines into his darkness. We see this in Isaiah, a righteous man of God, taken to the throne room of God in a vision. Seraphim, fiery angels with six wings, six wings above Him. Out of respect and humility they covered themselves with two of their three sets of wings. They were calling to one another, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” The intensity and power of worship shook the very foundations of heaven, and Isaiah was terrified.
He was terrified because he did not understand it. Nicodemus’ question is a pale reflection of the cry of Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” In that moment, the unspoken question of Nicodemus and every lost soul was an absolute certainty in Isaiah’s heart, he was “undone”, ruined and lost because he was sinful. No one could look upon the Lord and live, it was a sin and he was guilty.
Isaiah was cleansed of his sin by the touch of a burning coal from the altar of God. The children of Israel were saved from death by the fiery serpents when they fixed their gaze on a bronze serpent raised up on a pole by Moses. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus what Isaiah experienced in his vision. God works through means, things of this world to manifest or make happen the glory of His will. A burning coal to the lips removed sin, washing with water and spirit kills the flesh and gives birth to the new spirit.
In time Nicodemus would come to believe in Him, and that is what Jesus is getting at with His answers to Nicodemus. Whoever believes in the Son of Man, will have eternal life. This Son of Man is the same Lord Isaiah saw sitting on His throne high and lifted up. He is the Word through which all things were made. He is the one who descended from heaven and ascended back up into heaven. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and He is the one in whose name the Holy Spirit has been sent.
When Jesus, the Son of Man says that you must be born again, He answers the great question. To enter the kingdom of God we must die to this world of darkness, fear and confusion, and be reborn into light and life. To receive this spiritual rebirth, Christ gives us a new mother, the Church who has and continues to give birth to new believers. This death and rebirth happens through the waters of Holy Baptism into the name of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost who is One perfect unity.
Dear Christian believers, baptized children of God, the world cannot say, “Yes, you are saved.” You cannot grasp it by reason. Education or experience will not sort it out. You cannot get it by the sweat of your brow, and it cannot be purchased with gold or silver. The price of your salvation is paid by innocent blood from the body of Jesus Christ on a cross. It is given to you as a free gift, and you must believe. Believe that He was lifted up on a cross for your sin, because He said, whoever believes in the Son of Man will “have eternal life.” So rejoice and hold fast to your rebirth in Holy Baptism. You have died to sin and are reborn to new life in the Spirit. And the answer is YES! Yes! And Yes! You have eternal life now, in Christ.
Amen, and amen!