This Week’s Scripture:
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night…”
Click here to read John 3:1-21 and John 19:38-42 on BibleGateway.com
How Can I Be Good Enough For A Perfect God?
One night, when I was 4-years-old, I lay wide eyed and terrified in the darkness, afraid to go to sleep. I was afraid that if I did, I might die, and if I died, that I would burn in hell forever. I got out of bed and went to my father and told him I wanted to pray to receive Jesus as my Savior.
And so that I how I met God- in terror. I spent much of the rest of my childhood, and adolescence, trying to avoid that big, scary God in the sky.
Things didn’t get much better in young adulthood. I was still afraid of God, still convinced that he was out to get me, but I began to long to be someone he liked. I tried very hard to be good enough, to look, sound, and behave like someone I thought God would approve of.
I learned to work really hard as I pursued his favor, but it was never enough. Much to my dismay, no matter how hard I worked, or how much I beat myself up, or how fervently I read the Bible and prayed, I still fell short over and over again.
It was exhausting.
An Impossible Healing
Nicodemus would have totally understood where I was coming from. This was a man who knew the scriptures, and genuinely longed to live a life that was pleasing to God. And it was hard work for him. There were so many religious laws to keep! (Take your guess as to how many in this week’s quiz below.)
Nicodemus was one of the leaders of Israel, a member of the Sanhedrin. Most of his fellow leaders hated Jesus because he just didn’t play by the rules around which they had built their power and security.
Jesus turned everything upside down. He healed on the Sabbath, cleared the Temple of the money changers, and hung out with sinners. He was a real troublemaker.
But Nicodemus sensed something true in Jesus. Like the scent of spring carried on the wind, Nicodemus smelled life in Jesus’s teachings. So, one night, under the cover of darkness, Nicodemus went to see the young rabbi from Galilee.
The conversation that followed shattered Nicodemus’s view of what it took to live a life pleasing to God. He had spent his whole life working hard to keep God’s laws, but Jesus offered him something utterly different- an impossible healing of Nicodemus’s very soul.
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again,” Jesus said to him.
Nicodemus was incredulous. It was impossible!
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.”
The Snake in the Wilderness
Jesus then pointed Nicodemus back to what the teacher of the law knew best. He reminded him of the story in Israel’s Exodus in which poisonous snakes entered the camp and began biting the people. God instructed Moses to craft a bronze snake on a pole so that when the people looked up at it, they would be saved.
Nicodemus knew, of course, that the power was not in the snake itself, but in the faith it represented. What he didn’t understand, and that Jesus was trying to explain, is that the snake was also a foreshadowing of the impossible healing God would bring to all humanity through Christ. Just as the snake was lifted up to save the Israel, Jesus would be “lifted up” on the cross. All who looked to him, would find healing of their souls.
Nicodemus went away that night, still under the cover of darkness and secrecy, but with a lot to think about. When we see him again, he has left the shadows to follow Jesus boldly.
It was Nicodemus, along with another leader who had secretly put his faith in Christ, Joseph of Arimathea, who used their influence to secure the body of Jesus after his crucifixion. The two men prepared Christ’s body for burial, and laid it in the tomb.
I have no doubt that as Nicodemus stood before Jesus’s body on the cross, that he remembered every word of their secret conversation. How could he miss the significance?
Surely, Jesus’s words from that conversation, which have become some of the most beloved words in all of scripture, came back to Nicodemus as he stood before the cross.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)”
Like the serpent in the wilderness, Jesus had been lifted up to make a way for Nicodemus to be born again. It was, and remains, an act of love and faith, an impossible healing.
The Bronze Serpent
Did you know that Israel turned the bronze serpent into an idol they called “Nehushtan”? 2 Kings 18:3-4 tells us King Hezekiah destroyed it as part of his reforms.