And the Word became flesh and lived among us – John 1:14a
I had some thoughts during Adoration, as I was reading the first few chapters of the Gospel of John. Some statements jumped out at me. For example, “The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. I thought the contrast between the word “law” and the words “grace and truth” was significant. As though the law was not grace and truth. Then what was it? The Law, as I understand it, was a set of rules to live by. It may also have alluded to the first five books of the Bible, which are a history of God’s presence with His people, the Jews. But the Law could be thought of as grace, for they were a sort of blessing by God on His people, telling them what was necessary for a righteous life. And in the Law was truth, for the Commandments came from God. Could the statement be saying that what came from Moses was over lain with human weaknesses. We are told that later many rules were added that made it impossible for the average person to follow all of them. Or as Paul alluded to, that the Law showed man how sinful he was?
John points out Jesus twice to his disciples. The second time John’s disciples follow Jesus. Why is that? Why did they not follow before? Was it that they really didn’t understand what John was saying, that John needed to clarify his statements with other teaching that is not recorded here? Did they need time to think about the choices presented to them? Or was John saying, as he did at another point, “He must increase while I must decrease.” Was that John’s way of saying that it was time for the disciples to go, that they had a higher mission?
Jesus asks John’s disciples “what are you looking for?”. Though the question was addressed originally to Andrew and John, that question is addressed to all of us – me as well. What am I looking for? Why do I follow Christ? Why do I seek to know more about Him? I seek Him because I believe that He is the Son of God, that His words are Life. And as grasping as it may sound, that I want what He offers – a connectedness with God and eternal Life.
Then in John Chapter 3, we meet Nicodemus. At first this was a curious incident. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Obviously – I think – Nicodemus does not want others to see him, as the other Pharisees, his friends and acquaintances, will belittle him, separate themselves from him- he might lose status in the community or a sense of connectedness that is so important. But then I thought, Nicodemus is “in the dark” as to who Jesus is, though he states to Jesus that “we know” – so just not him ( perhaps there were spirited conversations and arguments between them about Jesus), although this may be a way of hiding that Nicodemus is the one who questions – “you are a teacher come from God”. The things (signs) that Jesus has done Nicodemus knows are not humanly possible, that what Jesus does must have a spiritual dimension. At first I wondered why Jesus responded to Nicodemus as though Nicodemus were asking a question. But Nicodemus did have a question. His statement was only a way of opening the conversation, much like all of us do when we don’t want to come right out and ask what may be an embarrassing question.
Nicodemus knew the prophesies about the Messiah. The Jews had a pretty good idea when the Messiah would come – from the prophesies of Daniel. Nicodemus knew that there would be signs, for the Scripture says there will be. Perhaps the questions Nicodemus had were ” Are you the Messiah?” And if you are, “when will you set up your kingdom?” Those were the questions most Jews had, for they had suffered for centuries under foreign domination and the domination of those who hated them. They looked “forward” to the fulfillment of God’s promises, that a Messiah would come and establish his kingdom.
Then Jesus responds to this unasked question by saying “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born or water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be astonished that I said to you, “you must be born from above.”” This statement shocks Nicodemus who replies, “How can this be?” To which Jesus reminds Nicodemus that he and his friends do not believe in Him and doubt His words. Jesus speaks as though He is amazed that Nicodemus, though highly educated in his faith, knows so little of the spiritual truths. Was this a way of reminding Nicodemus that it is not through learned discussions and study that we come to know God. That knowing God is experiential.
Jesus goes on to describe some of Jewish history and predicts that even as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert to heal the Israelites when they had been bitten by poisonous snakes, Jesus Himself will be lifted up (on the Cross) so that all can have eternal life – so that we can be healed. Jesus connects Himself with the Father and relates why He is here – to save this world. Jesus tells Nicodemus that those who believe in the Name of the Son of God have eternal life. Then it is interesting that Jesus says the “people loved darkness”. How does this coordinate with Nicodemus coming in the dark of night? Does this allude to the human desire to “be in the dark” as far as God’s commands are concerned, for in the light we must make the hard choices to put our desires aside and follow God. How easy it is to sin when we think no one can see!
Jesus knew that underneath the statement by Nicodemus were questions, so He changes the subject to answer the questions. No need to beat about the bush – get right to the point as we see Jesus doing so often. By the statement Jesus makes, he affirms Nicodemus suspicion that Jesus is who Nicodemus is surmising He is, and the statement says that to be part of this new kingdom requires more than just being a Jew, a follower of the law. Even here, perhaps Jesus was suggesting, that All will be invited, not just Jews. You must be “born from above”. Christians understand this being born again as baptism, for the Holy Spirit comes to us in baptism, therefore we are born from above, from an act of God not an act of man.