Guest blog by Greg Denham
History reflects that when certain individuals are in the same room, great things can happen.
For example, when Theodore Herzl met with an influential Christian named William Hechler who was willing to help him with the plan to reestablish a Jewish state, the cogs started to move. Herzl reflected on their conversation: “Hechler declares my movement to be a ‘Biblical’ one, even though I proceed rationally in all points. He wants to place my tract in the hands of some German princes. He used to be a tutor in the household of the Grand Duke of Baden, he knows the German Kaiser and thinks he can get me an audience.”1 The rest, as they say, is history. Similarly, when Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin were in the same room together in 1776, they produced the final version of the masterpiece called the Declaration of Independence which has impacted millions of lives. Many believe Margret Thatcher’s personal meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev was the catalyst that brought down the Berlin Wall. Private conversations can have enormous effects.
Yet nothing in history can compare to the impact from a conversation that took place on a first-century evening when Rabbi Nicodemus and Jesus were in the “same room” together.
Their meeting and the conversation that took place between them is one of the greatest and most impactful conversations ever recorded in history.
Their discussion revealed both revelation and truth that has transformed billions of lives for millennia since that private evening meeting together. This remarkable conversation is found in the Gospel of John, chapter three. A Pharisee named Nicodemus who was the chief Rabbi in Jerusalem and a member of the Sanhedrin of Israel came to Jesus at night and started a private conversation with Him. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus believed that the physical birth of a Jew was enough to guarantee entrance into the Kingdom of God. In fact, a Pharisee believed that it was impossible for children of Abraham to be sent to Gehenna.
Nicodemus approached Jesus and said,
“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.”
Before the conversation got off the ground, Jesus answered,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus’ response not only challenged Nicodemus, calling for a course-correction on his doctrine, but it stumped Nicodemus. Not because the concept of being “born again” or “born from above” was new to Nicodemus (even today the idea of being born-again reflects a Jew returning to Orthodoxy), but more specifically, because Nicodemus could not understand how a man could be born again, “when he is old?” In Jewish culture, a Jew could be born again in four ways: at their Bar Mitzvah; in Marriage; in becoming a Rabbi and finally in becoming a Chief Rabbi. Nicodemus had run out of options at his age!
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, 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.” (John 3:5-6)
Nicodemus then asked, “How can these things be?”…
Jesus answered in a three-fold manner:
First, Jesus revealed who He is, the “Son of man”, which took the conversation between them to a completely different level! (John 3:13) The term Son of Man is a weighty and prophetic reference that Nicodemus would have known very well from the book of Daniel. It refers to God revealing Himself by coming down to earth to establish an everlasting kingdom. Daniel 7:13-14 says,
“…One like the SON OF MAN, coming in the clouds of heaven … given a kingdom That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.”
Nicodemus was being challenged to realize that he was not merely in the presence of a great Rabbi, as he thought, but in the presence of the prophesied coming Son of God – the King of Kings!
This realization for Nicodemus as a Jew raises a question that is just as significant for Jews today as it was for Nicodemus then— “Can a Jew believe that Jesus is God?” The answer is, of course! The Scriptures reveal that Paul (who was a Jew) when writing about the nation of Israel and the Messiah of Israel said, “…Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” But as Dr. Michael Brown penned,
“To believe that Jesus is God is not to mean that God ceased to be God in heaven and came down to earth in human form, like one of the ancient mythological incarnations of Zeus. Or, when people saw Jesus, they literally saw God—in his very form and essence. But rather, that God is a complex unity. He sits enthroned in heaven, filling the universe with his presence, infinite and uncontainable in his majesty, and yet at one and the same time, manifests His glory among us in the tent of a human body.”
Secondly, in their conversation Jesus made reference to the story found in the book of Numbers where God instructed Moses on how to respond to the deadly snake bites that were taking place in the camp of Israel in the wilderness. God told Moses to lift up a brass serpent on a pole and that anyone who looked upon it would be healed of the deadly snake bites. (Numbers 21:9) It’s in that context of that story that Jesus explains to Nicodemus that He had descended from heaven to be “lifted up” on the Cross to bring healing from a different type of “snake bite” – the “snake bite of sin” that effects all of humanity and leads to death and judgement.
Thirdly, Jesus captured God’s unfolding plan for mankind’s salvation in just twenty-four words:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“Everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth, comes to the light …” (John 3:19-21)
We live in a broken world. Sin has impacted every facet of life – even down to DNA. There are no perfect genes, chromosomes, parents, societies – even churches! Genetics can explain one’s inclinations, but it does not excuse wrong choices or sin. The Bible says that,
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
God has commanded everyone therefore, to repent. To turn from sin, and turn to Jesus Christ to be healed and to be made whole (Acts 17:30).
The wonderful result of the time that Nicodemus spent with Jesus, is that John’s Gospel tells us Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus! It was Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who removed Jesus’ body off of the cross after His crucifixion and prepared his body for burial in a newly hewn tomb. Nicodemus is even mentioned three times in the Talmud. It identifies him as a wealthy man who owned a business digging wells. The Talmud also attributes two miracles to Nicodemus and notes that in his later years he experienced intense adversity and trials.
Rabbi Nicodemus, the head of a Rabbinical school and of whom Jesus called “the teacher of Israel” became “born again of the Spirit”! And because of his transformation he then embodied what it meant to be the faithful remnant of Israel. Paul wrote about this faithful Jewish remnant of Israel in Romans 11:1-2; 5,
“…has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew… Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
The faithful remnant of Israel are Jewish believers in Jesus the Messiah! As of now in Israel, it is estimated that there are 40,000 Jewish followers of Jesus. They are a minority today, but one day they will be the majority when, “…all Israel will be saved!” (Romans 11:26) But it won’t happen in a vacuum. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Our generation needs to do its part to make Jesus known and to be faithful with the “divine playbook” that Paul identified in Romans 1:16-17. Paul wrote,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Paul wrote this in the present tense, which means that if the gospel is still the power of God “for” salvation and is still for “everyone who believes,” then the gospel is still “to the Jew first.” The term “first” does not merely speak of sequence, but priority.
Consider the impact a simple conversation can have. Who will you talk to today?
1. Display in the Christchurch museum, Jerusalem