Gospel: John 3:1-17
Epistle: Romans 4:1-8, 13-17
Lesson: Genesis 12:1-9
Psalm: Psalm 121
CLB Pastors Network – Rev. Brent Juliot
Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Why? He probably fears that, if he is seen publicly with Christ, it will hurt his standing with his fellow Pharisees. If that’s the case, what would possess him to take such a risk to his career?
Nicodemus seems to be driven to meet personally with Christ. He has a personal question, one he must ask Jesus in private. Yet his initial statement is no question at all—just an observation of praise to Jesus, his host.
Although Nicodemus fails to ask the question burning in his heart, it is revealed to us by Jesus’ reply. The reply seems unresponsive to Nicodemus’ statement, but it is based on Jesus’ knowledge of Nicodemus’ seeking heart. From Jesus’ reply, we can assume that Nicodemus’ unspoken question is, “How can I know that God accepts me? How can I be saved?”
Further evidence of this is in Nicodemus’ follow-up questions (v. 4 and 9). Rather than steer the conversation back to his own agenda that supposedly brought him to Jesus that night, Nicodemus simply responds in the flow of the conversation, eliciting more truths from Jesus regarding the nature of the new birth. Jesus knows there was no other agenda. This is why he came. This is what Nicodemus is burning to know for himself.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law, has an innate sense that the Law cannot save. The Law cannot deliver one into a right standing with God. He seeks the truth. We assume that the Holy Spirit has been drawing him for some time toward Jesus, who is the truth. This explains the nocturnal visit.
In answering the unspoken question, Jesus shares much more about personal salvation, the role of faith, and the love of God for people than Nicodemus can fully understand at this point. We have the advantage of seeing Jesus’ words in light of the whole of Scripture—not to mention a Christian heritage that celebrates salvation by faith alone. Put us in Nicodemus’ shoes at that time, and we might be even more overwhelmed than he.
Of course, this is speculation. We can’t tell if he was overwhelmed because, after participating in the conversation three times, Nicodemus disappears. He does not appear again until John 7:50, where he seems to defend Christ before his peers, and John 19:39, where he assists in preparing Jesus’ crucified body for burial—thus publicly presenting himself as a follower of Christ at a time when it would seem to be too late and a foolish risk on his part. But we conclude, based on his encounter with Christ in our text, that Nicodemus has at last received the new birth himself and is finally living out his faith in Christ.
But why does John the evangelist write Nicodemus out of the story after verse 9 in our text? John’s concern in recording this event is not to tell us the story of Nicodemus so much as it is to allow Jesus to present the good news to sinners who are reading John’s gospel, i.e., you and me today.
In preaching the text we have a wonderful opportunity to discuss why one birth is not sufficient (vv. 3-8), the tremendous analogy of the snake on the pole in Numbers 21 to Christ on the cross (vv. 14-15), the necessity of faith (vv. 15-16), and the amazing love and purpose of God for our world (vv. 16-17).
For those of us who, like Nicodemus, feel the burning question of how we may come into right standing with God, our text is a treasure of God’s truth to us (and love for us) in Jesus’ own words.
Interpretation of Saint John’ s Gospel
“John records this conversation because it really constitutes a summary of Jesus’ teaching, dealing, as it does, with the kingdom, regeneration, faith, the Son of man, God’s love and the plan of salvation, judgment and unbelief. The observation is correct that, as in the forefront of Matthew’s Gospel the Sermon on the Mount presents a grand summary of Christ’s teaching on the law as related to the gospel, so here in the opening chapters of John’s Gospel this conversation with Nicodemus presents a grand summary of the gospel itself”
Lenski, C.H., Interpretation of Saint John’s Gospel. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943.
People’s Bible Commentary – John
“Jesus directed Nicodemus to his well-studied Scriptures for understanding. He drew an analogy between the act of Moses lifting up the brass snake in the desert (Numbers 21:8,9) and his own saving work for the world. The snake was lifted up on a pole; Jesus was to be lifted up on a cross. Everyone who looked in faith at the snake was healed from the bite of deadly snakes. Everyone who would look in faith at Jesus would be saved from the bite of eternal death and have eternal life. This is the life that begins with the new birth by the Spirit.
“The promise belongs to ‘everyone’ who believes. It is universal. No one who believes is excluded. At the same time, the promise belongs to each one who believes. It is personal.”
Baumler, G.P., People’s Bible Commentary – John. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1997.
The Gospel According to John
“Because John 3:16 is sandwiched between vv. 14-15 and v. 17, the fact that God gave his one and only Son is tied both to the Son’s incarnation (v.17) and to his death (vv. 14-15). That is the immediate result of the love of God for the world: the mission of the Son. His ultimate purpose is the salvation of those in the world who believe in him. Whoever believes in him experiences new birth (3:3,5), has eternal life (3:15,16), is saved (3:17); the alternative is to perish, to lose one’s life (12:25), to be doomed to destruction (17:12). There is no third option.”
Carson, D.A., The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991.