by Jason Thomley
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom unless they are born again.” John 3:3 NIV
I have always been intrigued by the story of Nicodemus. He was a respected and well advanced religious leader and member of the San Hedrin, the Pharisee’s ruling council. However, none of his religious training or connections prepared him to meet Jesus. John 3:1-21 tells the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night seeking truth that at the time he was not prepared to receive.
I am so thankful the gospel of John gives us a few more clues of how Nicodemus responded over time to his encounter with God made flesh (John 7:50-51, John 19: 39-42). When I read John chapter 3, I am convinced Nicodemus thought he was prepared to meet with Jesus, maybe even offer Jesus helpful advice to keep him from stirring up so much controversy. Yet, he finds himself confronted with a Jesus that does not make it easy, nor give answers that utilized the religious concepts Nicodemus has mastered; “You are Israel’s teacher, and yet do you not understand these things?” (John 3:10)
How many times I have felt the way Nicodemus must have that night when his assumptions about what is true came crashing down. How can we see the kingdom? Too often we assume we are in the kingdom in every way and find ourselves blind and unprepared to see what Jesus longs to reveal to us.
What was Jesus’ prescription for Nicodemus? The same that it is for each of us, we must be born again. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I am certain that this statement means many things, but I know that it includes laying down our “expert” status. Children are usually not experts in anything. We know that children need to be taught and given guidance for just about everything. Pride can keep us blind; pride has kept me blind.
I imagine Nicodemus left that night feeling confused, perhaps frustrated. And yet, something was planted in those moments that made him hungry. It made him question himself in ways that are important. Later in John 7:50-51, we see Nicodemus speak out before the council in defense of Jesus. Finally, in John 19:39-42 we see that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea both helped to make sure Jesus’ body was taken care of properly after his crucifixion.
So what is the point? Religious leaders are in need of salvation too. We need to have our assumptions crushed, our answers questioned, and our blindness exposed so that we can see the kingdom. We live in a world of religious terms and experiences that are too neatly organized. Salvation becomes an event, conversion becomes an event, even amongst charismatics (my tribe), being filled with the Holy Spirit becomes an event. I am thankful for the events on my journey, however, all these events are part of an ongoing process that takes time. The truth is, I am constantly being converted to the kingdom. That means I am often finding myself confronted with my own sin and shortcomings and then realizing Jesus is inviting me to be converted from my own delusions, into different aspects of the kingdom that He is revealing.
Everyone we are called to help, guide, or heal is on a journey as well. Principles and theology can be clean, but only as long as they are separated from reality. In the real world, life is messy. Birth is messy. It is beautiful because that messy life has so much value and potential.
Nicodemus was not nearly as put together as he thought before his encounter with Jesus. Neither am I and neither are you. But I find hope in Nicodemus because Jesus’ truth worked out in his life over time. In Greek, Nicodemus name means “the people’s victory.” When we submit to Jesus’ truth, to His life, we can experience this victory too.