Nicodemus, in John 3: 1-17, was a learned Pharisee – a member of that strict
party within ancient Israel – who may have mistakenly believed that his excellent Jewish pedigree, his knowledge of god’s law and his devout pietism may have guaranteed him a place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus disabuses him of this by cutting through his formality with very imaginative and poetic language. He will need to be ‘born again’ of the Spirit before he can be part of what God is doing. If he wants to follow Jesus he will need to be prepared to think differently and change radically: so much so that it will be like being born all over again: living and growing by grace and faith
this time instead of by legal correctness.
We know that he was able to make this major change because at the end of
John’s gospel we see Nicodemus helping to bury Jesus’ crucified body:
publicly identifying himself with Jesus’ cause, whereas here in Chapter 3 he
has come to Jesus secretly ‘by night’. Jesus accepts him as he comes, and
puts up with his rigid and plodding questions, because he loves him and
wants to see him become a disciple.
Paul is at pains in Romans 4 to show that people have always been saved by
faith and God’s grace rather than by their ‘works’, or correct behaviour.
Why, even Father ‘Abraham’ believed God (concerning his promises in the
pioneering of a new people in a promised land) and his faith in God was
accepted as righteous, according to Genesis 12:1-4. What applied to Abraham,
says Paul, belongs to his offspring and to all who will respond to God in
faith and in willingness to receive God’s gift of life through grace.
Thus the most famous verse in the Bible, from John 3: 16: “God loved the
world so much that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in
him shall not perish but have eternal life”. One of the benefits of eternal
life – which is not ‘pie in the sky’ but a quality of life that starts on
earth from the time of rebirth – is that we are given increased power to
deal with temptation to sin. Jesus is our King but also our Priest: he
intercedes for us to protect us and empower us in the continuing
this-worldly struggle against sin, the flesh and the devil. Lent is a time
to reflect and celebrate on this as we turn back to God and turn toward