2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
I love the account of this exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus for two reasons other than appreciating the main lesson of the need for spiritual rebirth, which is reason enough. One, I think it invites an imaginative revisit which then allows one to experience the inherent power of this exchange, and, two, the wonderful example it provides of Jesus witnessing to the intellectual or academic type of person.
Nicodemus personifies the intellectual, the scholarly person, standing, as he did, at the apex of Jewish intellectualism; doctor of the law and divinity, he was a leader of the academia of his day.
Jesus however is not intimated one bit by his position, learnedness, or intellect; in fact, he seems oppositely inclined. On this occasion Jesus chooses to bypass the intellect completely. Like David of old, he instantly sizes up this intellectual giant standing before him and slings the one simple stone of truth where he knows it will hit the giant’s soft-spot and be most effective. He could have chosen to debate the giant on intellectual grounds but he didn’t.
I’m left wondering what was going through Nicodemus’ mind prior to and commencing this meeting with Jesus.
He at first patronizes Jesus:
Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Did Nicodemus really believe Jesus was that master (Rabbi) he was addressing as such or was he trying to get on Jesus’ good side? He first off uses the term ‘we’, not ‘I’. ‘We know that thou art a teacher come from God’. Has he come to Jesus for solely personal reasons or is he attempting to express the views of his colleagues, howbeit in a secretive manner? We aren’t really told. He’s obviously impressed by Jesus’ miracles because he also mentions them first thing.
Jesus answers Nicodemus before he even asks anything: I believe Jesus is answering to the heart in this case, not the head:
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
He, in effect says to him:
“Nicodemus, you know what the problem is, you know what you need? You need to get saved. You need to come down off your high intellectual horse, because that’s not going to take you anywhere near where you want to go. Humble yourself just like every other man or woman, and receive the truth; the simple, straightforward nonintellectual truth. The truth that can’t be analyzed only experienced.”
Nicodemus is floored, he’s flabbergasted: He can’t believe what he’s hearing. Here’s probably his one and only chance (remember, he’s come secretly to meet Jesus), to privately converse with this Jesus who has caused such as stir, that even one such as he should be taken up with him. Was he curious? He’s trying to get his head around Jesus’ words but his intellect has been completely scuttled, shattered, so that its lying in the pieces he’s trying to recover as he rocks from the gentle sting.
Immediately reasoning demands response:
How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Nicodemus just doesn’t get it. Jesus then continues his simple message of salvation, of the need for Nicodemus to be born again, to receive the truth of God’s love into his heart. He starts to choke on Jesus’ words:
How can these things be?
Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
In other words Jesus is saying:
Is that the best you’ve got Nicodemus, the best you can do? Given all the intellectualism, learnedness, and religiosity and you can’t contemplate and receive the simplest of truths? You don’t get the most important ‘it’ there is to get, you who personifies the epitome of man’s reasoning and intellect?’
Jesus is gently chiding him, although I doubt Nicodemus was feeling that gentle inside.
But Nicodemus, though he balks, questions, and intellectualizes must have been receptive despite it all. Jesus would have known and sensed this, because he is able to proceed further with his witness and fully deliver his soul to him. This is something you aren’t able to do when the one your witnessing to is not receptive; the lack of receptivity invariably stops, hinders the flow of the spirit. Jesus would also have known this was to be his sole opportunity to speak privately with Nicodemus and so he doesn’t squander it nor pull his punches.
This exchange culminates in Jesus sharing the clearest, simplest, yet most profound statement in the entire Bible:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
We’re not told how Nicodemus fared in the end. I wonder if he left still perplexed and struggling internally, or if the light bulb of truth was beginning to turn on? You can just bet that Nicodemus departed a changed man; although he probably didn’t realize it. The seeds of God’s truth had been implanted: His life was never going to be the same again. He’s gotten the simple, unvarnished, pared-down-to-the-core truth: He’d gotten almost more than he bargained for.
But don’t get me wrong. This is not meant to excoriate intellectualism; God knows we need our academics and scholars, our academia. The spiritual danger lies when intellectualism seeks to oppose, to defy truth and spiritual reality; to deify itself , that’s when a clear line of distinction needs to be drawn. Truth must be separated from its contenders and made clear, often ‘simply’ clear: The heart, not the head, must listen.
From In 52 Bible studies series
© Copyright 2013 John Hislop