“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘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.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’”
I have typically heard the set up of this story – Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the night – recounted with a focus on Nicodemus’ fear and desire not to be seen by the other Pharisees. And I can see how that may have been a factor in his timing.
But as I contemplated this passage yesterday morning, it occurred to me that there might have been more to it. That perhaps Nicodemus realized the vital importance of his questions. Perhaps he wanted there to be no distractions as he came to have a conversation with this powerful man from God. Perhaps he sensed the gravity here.
And rightfully so.
Because what could be more important than this?
The verses above lead into the words of Jesus that capture the whole purpose for His coming to earth. And the great danger of missing it. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
This is important.
We cannot miss this.
I don’t want to go all “fire and brimstone” and try to scare people to Jesus. But I do want us to realize the vast importance of this great salvation He came to offer. Because Jesus didn’t come just to be nice to people and bring healing to those He encountered, or to bestow blessings and give some joy while we’re here.
He came to take the wrath of God for us.
He came to be sin for us.
To take the place we rightfully deserve. Death on a cross. Separated from God forever, destined to be eternally unfulfilled and empty and enduring the cost of our sin. Because God is just, and wrongs must be accounted for.
God is also abundantly, amazingly gracious. And because of that amazing grace, and because of the great love with which He loves us, He made a way for us. He loved the world, He loved you, so much that He provided a sacrifice that would completely satisfy both His justice and His mercy. A sacrifice that would save us. His own Son. And the Son, because of His love for us and His obedience to the Father, came to die. And to rise again in power and glory, paying for our sins and conquering death forever.
But we have to make a choice.
And ignoring it, putting it aside – that in itself is a choice. Please, please don’t ignore it. There’s a battle waging for your soul, and there will be distractions and thoughts that you still have time. Your sense of pride might rise up in defense of how you want to live your life as you choose, or you want to make your own way to salvation so you can say that you’ve done it.
But there is no other way. If there was, Jesus wouldn’t have died in agony and betrayal and shame. He did that for you. And you won’t always have time. We don’t know when our last breath will come. We don’t know when Jesus will come back to cleanse the world of all sin and evil once and for all – because He is coming, and it will be as unanticipated as a thief in the night.
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it…how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:1-3).
Oh, let us not miss the wonder of this salvation. The blood of the Son of God, poured out on our behalf. All the power of God working to save us. Humbling Himself to the lowest state. Betrayed by one closest to Him, ridiculed by the religious leaders, cast out of the city in which God established His name and His temple, silently setting His face like a flint as the crowd around Him shouted, “Crucify!” Beaten beyond recognition. Skin torn all across His back. Nailed to a cross. Creation itself mourned His torture, the sky going black for hours at mid-day and the earth quaking when He breathed His last.
That was for you. All of it.
And at dawn of the third day following? That is our hope. Because the torment and death – that is not the end of His story. Jesus rose. They went to the tomb to find Him, and He was no longer there. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:5-7). Our Savior rose. In glory. In victory. In unquestioned, unmatched power. All the forces of darkness – even death itself – could not hold Him. And “if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). But you must call. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead – this is salvation for you (Romans 10:10). And “everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11) – because God will not fail to save you to the uttermost. He will seal you with His Spirit, claiming you as His forever, committing Himself to your salvation and His cleansing, perfecting work. Transforming you into your truest, freest self, reflecting the character of Jesus Christ, to present you blameless before His throne of grace with great joy.
All of this is at hand for you. What will you choose? Please, do not hesitate. Don’t let the forces of darkness sway you with deceit. Your God of salvation has come, to fill your soul with light, peace, and the assurance of a steadfast hope and an unfailing love. And may those of us who choose this salvation never lose its wonder and deep, abiding joy.
“By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas”