Wow, I am increasingly amazed at how rich the Scriptures are. I am unable to get through a chapter a day. I am attaching to this email a photo of a page in my Bible, in case you would like to see how I study the Word and make notes.
I haven’t had time to get past the interaction with Nicodemus, but it is so rich, that
this whole email will be focused on it.
In the process I hope to answer some questions that have come up regarding the topics of both baptism and grace Pam brought up a great question that I think we have all felt, namely when we see the Scriptures replete with examples of baptism, why is it that so many people want to argue about it or don’t seem to get it? Mark will be doing a more in-depth study on this in the future, but speaking from personal experience, frankly I didn’t understand baptism because of false teaching I received by my religious leaders and family in my youth. I took their word as truth and I never bothered to study it for myself.
I start with a bit of personal background that will lead into what I learned from the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus.
I grew up Catholic. I was a devout Catholic. I truly felt sorry for people who were not Catholic. I loved the traditions, the mass, the mysticism. I went to church regularly. Yet I did not at all live according to the Scriptures. I got drunk. I lived in immoral relationships. I lied. I stole. I don’t remember ever reading
the Bible. I had no idea what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus. But each Sunday I went to church and to Sunday school.
I was confirmed and took Communion. I went to confession regularly though I even lied to the priest about my sins. And despite all this, I sincerely believed I was right with GOD, but never did I take the time to find out what the Scriptures said. I took the word of my religious leaders and my parents and grandparents as fact and
no one in my life pointed out to me that how I was living was not in fact, in accordance with the Word of God.
Because no one pointed out my sin on a personal level, I didn’t think it was so bad. After all, there were always many others around me who are worse sinners…. And over and over, I heard about the grace of God.
Didn’t that mean that it was okay to sin because of His grace?
From this personal experience and through talking and studying the Bible with many people I believe, that it is our nature to base our actions on a few Scriptures we may have have heard throughout the years, but that we have not studied out ourselves. If pressed, most people don’t really know why they believe what they believe.
They most often won’t be able to tell you where to find the teaching that they cling to with such tenacity. Sadly, this is how I was. Isn’t it true that most of us are grossly ignorant of the Scriptures?
And aren’t we often so emotionally wrapped up in our traditions, that we simply cannot believe that what we are doing might be going against the Word of God? Or how many of us want to believe that “grandma” was wrong. After all, what would that say about grandma’s eternal destination?
It is so important for us to recognize these sinful tendencies in ourselves. We are all prone to be led by our emotions and feelings and we frequently neglect the Word of God. Many of us have heard of the Bereans, who were praised for examining the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true. They are said to have noble character because they did not just believe what was told the them. The Word of God was their standard. They studied the Scriptures daily and intently.
This is who and how I want to be.
In chapter 3 we see Jesus’ interaction with a religious leader, Nicodemus. I also see here that Jesus was always available (v.2) He didn’t say, “Nicodemus, it is late, come back at a more convenient hour.” Or he didn’t immediately question him on why he was afraid to be seen with Jesus during the day when the crowds were around. He knew what was in the heart of Nicodemus, and though Nicodemus didn’t come right out and ask a question, (vs. 2) Jesus answered the question that he knew Nicodemus had on his heart. Jesus had intensely personal conversations with people. Remember the rich young ruler who ran to Jesus wanting to know what to do to inherit eternal life? Jesus looked at him and loved him. Then, he spoke the truth to him.
This was love. This was Jesus showing grace.
Jesus knew what was in the rich young ruler’s heart. He knew he consumed
by his riches. That is why, when Jesus challenged him to give it all away, the man walked away sad. Well here, I see Jesus doing something similar in how he interacts with Nicodemus. He immediately delves into what is in the heart of Nicodemus.
As I put myself in the place of Nicodemus, I imagine a few things: he came at night probably because he was afraid of being seen with Jesus. After all he was a religious leader and Jesus was saying some radical things that were ruffling some feathers, so to speak. Nicodemus, I imagine was concerned for his own reputation and though he exhibits some humility and openness in coming to Jesus, he is still protecting himself and his reputation.. Also, Nicodemus was a Jew, so I have to remember that if he was probably thinking the way all Jews of the time thought: they were seeking an actual King who would establish a physical Kingdom and save them from the oppression they have been under. It seems that Nicodemus really wanted to know if Jesus was that person. Isn’t this just like the Jews in the previous chapter who were talking about a physical temple? The Jews were clearing thinking about physical things while Jesus was speaking about spiritual things.
I imagine being Nicodemus and Jesus telling me I have to be reborn again. Think about what you would be thinking if you do not have 2000+ years of hindsight to go by as we do today. In light of that, I really don’t think that it is odd that Nicodemus asks, “how can a man be born again when he is old?” Physically, can a man enter his mother’s womb again? I imagine he had a kind of dumbfounded look on his face as he asked that, thinking, “what in the world are you talking about Jesus?” Isn’t this why many thought Jesus was out of his mind? He was always saying things that didn’t make sense in the physical world. And isn’t this how I tend to be in my daily life? It is so easy for me to focus on the physical and forget the realm of the spiritual. Each day, I have to work hard not to be distracted from the spiritual realities of my life.
Jesus’ response makes it clear that Jesus, though man in the flesh, is so much more than we are. He always spoke the truth. He was never afraid to speak the truth. He recognized the sin in a person and spoke directly about it. He wasn’t interested in small talk or “beating around the bush.” Just imagine for a moment that you are Nicodemus and Jesus says to you, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not not understand these things?” What an awkward thing to say…. I am tempted to think, “Jesus, isn’t that kind of harsh? Wouldn’t it be kinder to say it like this….? Wouldn’t I want to soften the blow somehow? Or, as Nicodemus, might I not think, ” I’m trying my best, why do you say unkind things to me?”
But what was the problem with Nicodemus? Jesus saw that though he was a religious leader, he still looked at things from a worldly, physical perspective. Imagine me going up to Brenda as she is leading a Bible study and saying to her, “Brenda, here you are a teacher of the women’s bible study and yet you do not understand these things?” Wow. How would that go over? How would you feel if you were there for that interaction? What would you feel for Brenda? What would you think of me?
It is so obvious to me that I absolutely do not like confrontation and I have a really hard time having one on one discussions like this with anyone. They make me uncomfortable. This is a very silly example, but how much do any of like to point out to someone if they have a snotty nose or their fly is down?
Here is a very personal example: I took the girls on a special outing to a Dollywood one day. I was wearing a skirt. Imagine this….. my skirt got caught up in my underwear after I used the toilet. Sigh….. and I walked a great distance through the park before some kind sole came up to me and whispered in my ear what was going on. Was I embarrassed? Sure was! But boy was I grateful that someone finally spoke up. I wonder how many snickered or how many just went on their way too embarrassed or busy with their own lives to say anything to me.
We struggle with being open about things like this.How then do we
feel about talking with someone about how they are training their children
or about how they manage their finances or about their marriage? As things get more and more personal, it gets harder and harder to do.
This is where the description of Jesus from chapter , as being full of grace and full of truth is so incredibly powerful. It needs to be understood correctly in order for any believer to live an effective life for the glory of God. Jesus was full of grace and full of truth. Being full of grace didn’t mean he said things in a nice flowery way, or that he beat around the bush. Speaking the truth to someone was His grace. Loving them, meant speaking the truth.
As a very clear example that I think we can all understand and possibly all relate to at some level, consider this: how loving would it be for a doctor to not tell me I have cancer? I don’t feel well, I go for an exam, it is obvious to him that I have a terminal illness. Would it be a hard thing for him to tell me? Probably. Would it be a hard thing for me to hear? Incredibly so! Yet, wouldn’t it be wrong and incredibly unloving to not tell me?
His silence would rob me of an opportunity to address the illness. Isn’t this how Jesus is with us when we are spiritually ill? He tells us the truth. He tells it like it is. He loves me so much that He tells me the whole truth without mincing words. He doesn’t put off telling me for fear of how I will react.
Isn’t this what Jesus did with the Rich Young Ruler?
Isn’t this what He did with Nicodemus?
So, then isn’t this how I should be? Shouldn’t I be this way with fellow believers when I see sin in their lives? Shouldn’t I be this way with the lost? I am convicted that more often than not, I am led by fear. I value popularity above people’s salvation. Jesus was not concerned with popularity. Jesus, as God made flesh, clearly loved people more than he loved His reputation.
And how exactly should that manifest itself in my daily life?
I clearly see that speaking the truth to others is an essential part of being like Christ. Should I beat people over the head with the truth? Clearly not. Jesus didn’t. He said what needed to be said and he was willing to move on if a heart was not receptive to his message. In an age of political correctness, I think we all need to seriously consider how we are doing in this area.
How often do I hold my tongue and keep silent when the Holy Spirit in me is nudging us to say something?
On the flip side, I must also be willing to hear the truth. I need others into my life to speak the truth to me. What does my reaction to instruction or correction reveal about my heart? Am I eager to hear it because I know that it is necessary for my spiritual growth and to keep my heart soft? What does it say about my humility if I am unwilling to let others be involved in my life. What does it say about my heart if I am unwilling to take correction? What does it say about me if I think I have somehow arrived and I know it all?
Again, I compare the rich young ruler to the Nicodemus: the rich young ruler, when challenged by Jesus, went away sad even though he came to Jesus with an initial humility and zeal. But, is it not Nicodemus who we find at the tomb preparing Jesus’ body for burial? Did you ever notice that? He too heard some challenging words from Jesus and yet it seems this exchange eventually led to a relationship with Christ, because he is one of the two named at the tomb.
I pray that each of us will have that same heart and attitude of humility. Let’s not just read and hear the Word of God and go away unchanged and sad, but let’s let others into our lives on a much more personal level so that we root out the sin. Please speak with me in this way. It may be uncomfortable, but please do love me with Christ’s love and do not be afraid to point out whatever sin you see in my life and character.
Hugs to you each this day. Thank you for sharing your insights. It is wonderful to be in this together!