Secret Lessons from a Secret Meeting: John 3:1-22


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During one of Jesus’ earlier visits to Jerusalem after starting His ministry, John’s gospel describes a fascinating secret meeting Jesus has during the night with a leading Pharisee. In this secret meeting is found one of the most famous verses in the entire Bible, and one of the most concise summaries of God the Father’s view of humanity.

However, while this summary is at the heart of Jesus’ response to the man named Nicodemus, in many ways, it is simply the starting point for our understanding of God the Father. Let’s read Nicodemus’ secret conversation with Jesus and discover what else we can learn from this discussion.

We will be reading John, chapter 3, using the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, we learn that:

There was a man named Nicodemus who was one of the Pharisees and an important Jewish leader. One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God, because no one can do the miracles you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot be in God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus said, “But if a person is already old, how can he be born again? He cannot enter his mother’s womb again. So how can a person be born a second time?”

But Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born from water and the Spirit, you cannot enter God’s kingdom. Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit. Don’t be surprised when I tell you, ‘You must all be born again.’ The wind blows where it wants to and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. It is the same with every person who is born from the Spirit.”

Nicodemus asked, “How can this happen?”

10 Jesus said, “You are an important teacher in Israel, and you don’t understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we talk about what we know, and we tell about what we have seen, but you don’t accept what we tell you. 12 I have told you about things here on earth, and you do not believe me. So you will not believe me if I tell you about things of heaven. 13 The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven—the Son of Man.

14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. 15 So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.

16 “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. 18 People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son. 19 They are judged by this fact: The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things. 20 All who do evil hate the light and will not come to the light, because it will show all the evil things they do. 21 But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God.”

22 After this, Jesus and his followers went into the area of Judea, where he stayed with his followers and baptized people.

In this secret discussion, we find a number of interesting topics we could focus in on. As I was preparing this episode, I had planned to focus in on talking about how Jesus had used the phrase “Son of Man” in this conversation, and that this phrase would foreshadow how Jesus would often refer to Himself during the gospels.

But just now, as I read this to you, I don’t think I had ever noticed a different phrase. Before Jesus lets Nicodemus in on a secret, verse 13 says, “The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven”.

Even as I quote this, I am reminded of Enoch, who walked with God and according to Genesis 5:24, was taken by God, supposedly to Heaven, as tradition would tell us. This is later restated in the book of Hebrews, chapter 5, verse 11.

I am also reminded of Moses, who even though he died before entering the Promised Land with the children of Israel, was resurrected and taken to Heaven, and Elijah, who was one of the more famous Old Testament prophets. Both Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus later on in His ministry known in the event called “The Transfiguration of Jesus”, and this event is recorded in three of the four gospels.

I am challenged by Jesus’ description of the Son of Man in this regard, because we have three clear other individuals who appeared to go up to heaven prior to Jesus having come down. However, while this might be a reason for some to doubt Jesus’ words here, in the three cases we have before us that seem to contradict Jesus’ words, every one of these individuals was “taken” to heaven rather than ascending on their own.

This is a key distinction, because this also means that no one is able to ascend to heaven on their own. Jesus is the only one capable of taking people to heaven. While it is not politically correct to state this, Jesus is the only road that leads to Heaven. This is confirmed by our pair of famous verses, John 3, verses 16 and 17 which tell us: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.

This is simply a starting point, because Jesus hasn’t stopped talking. He goes on to describe in verse 18 and 19 that “People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son. They are judged by this fact: The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things.

In our passage, like bookends on the famous set of verses, are a set of challenges for all of us.

The opening bookend challenges us to always depend on and believe in Jesus Christ, who is the Son of Man. While we might be tempted to think that we can earn salvation through something we do, we are unable and incapable of taking ourselves to heaven. Ascending to heaven is only something Jesus can do, and He promises to take us to heaven if we believe in Him, which is another way of saying that we depend on and trust Him.

The closing bookend tells us that belief in Jesus is the key to avoiding judgment. However, belief is not the only condition, because Jesus describes those who do not believe as people who did not want light, because they were doing evil things. Belief in Jesus is connected with living like Jesus, which means that we are living a life that represents God as best as we can, and these two things together are how we live a life that intentionally avoids the judgment. When we combine faith with a life that is surrendered to Jesus, we avoid facing the judgment.

With all this said, here are the “official” challenges I am leaving you with at the end of this podcast episode:

Apply both of these bookend challenges into your life. Choose to depend daily on Jesus for strength to face each day, and trust that He is the only one who saves. While those living in the Old Testament had the lamb as a symbol pointing forward to Jesus, through the gospels, we actually have the record of Jesus’ life and what He was like.

Also, choose to study this record of Jesus’ life personally and prayerfully for yourself. By prayerfully reading the gospels with the goal of learning what Jesus was like, you will let the Holy Spirit into your life and begin to let Him change you into the person that God created you to be.

And when this happens, never stop short or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 5: Cam focuses on Jesus’ secret meeting with a man named Nicodemus and he draws some challenges for each of us from what Jesus tells Nicodemus in their conversation.

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