John 3:16 is likely the most well-known verse of Scripture in the Bible. In it Jesus declares, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.” This verse is the gospel. Because God loves us, he gave us his Son, Jesus, so that we might receive forgiveness and eternal life. What we may not always consider is the context of this wonderful verse.
Nicodemas, a religious leader had come to visit Jesus at night. I believe Nicodemas came at night because he wanted his visit to remain unseen. Before we criticize Nicodemas for coming in secrecy, let’s rememner that he actually came to Jesus. Where do you go when you have spiritual questions? If you’re anything like me, you have moments of fear, frustration, or stress. If you’re like me, you have questions that others can’t answer. Sometimes those questions, stresses, and fears may keep us up at night. Where do we take our concerns? Let me suggest that we follow in Nicodemas’ footsteps. We go to Jesus.
Nicodemas and Jesus had a fascinating conversation. In one part of the conversation Nicodemas noted, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” A theme in John’s Gospel is the identity of Jesus as God. It seems that is part of what is Nicodemas is asking. Jesus didn’t respond to Nicodemas like he might have wanted. Rather, Jesus stated, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Before we explore what Jesus said, observe that he didn’t really speak to Nicodemas’ statement/question. Jesus gave Nicodemas what can be identified as a cryptic reply. What does being born again have to do with the signs that Jesus performs? Even when we go to Jesus, even when we ask the right questions, even when we make the right observations, sometimes Jesus doesn’t answer us directly. Sometimes his replies might be cryptic. Why is that? First of all, we need to remember that Jesus is sovereign and knows all. Sometimes in our limited perspective we ask the wrong questions. Sometimes we ask the right questions, but hold the wrong assumptions. Secondly, and most importantly, we need to remember that Jesus knows what is most important to us. He said to Nicodemas, and by extension, to us, “You must be born again.” Nothing matters more than this.
When talking with my six year old about this passage, he replied like Nicodemas, “How can we be born again?” I explained that Jesus was talking of a spiritual birth. More important than Nicodemas’ initial questions, more important than our own, more important than anything else is whether or not we’ve been born again. Yes, we can ask questions. Yes, we should go to Jesus with our concerns. And we can hope that he will give us the answers we seek. But more than we need answers, we need Jesus himself. That is exactly Jesus’ point in answering Nicodemas. We must be born again. And when we are, we have right to go to Jesus at any time for anything. But when you go to Jesus, don’t be surprised if he answers a question more important than the one you are asking.