26: A Triumph of Reason and Logic (John 3:1-8)
26. A Triumph of Reason and Logic
We have just been told that Jesus “knew all” (John 2:24). He has already seen right through Nathanael, a “true Israelite” and now He sees through another. The pattern is going to continue through the rest of the Gospel. Jesus seeing right into the depths of people’s hearts. Next up is one of the Jewish leaders.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” (John 3:1)
Interesting! Jesus has just cleared the temple (in John’s gospel order – not the true chronology of how Jesus’ ministry unfolded). The religious leaders were obviously offended by it. But not all of them. In every group of angry people who seem absolutely set against Jesus, there are always those who don’t go along with the crowd. They may keep to the shadows, but the presence of Jesus draws them out. The kindness of Jesus calls them to Himself.
Nicodemus wasn’t the only one of the Jewish rulers who knew Jesus was from God. When He addresses Jesus he clearly says “we” know.
“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.’” (John 3:2)
Amongst the clammer of the angry disapproval that came from the courts of the temple, there was a whisper. It was probably kept hidden. But some of the “wise men” of the day, the rulers and leaders, looked at Jesus and knew that He could not be dismissed as the latest religious quack. There was something about Him that was different and had to be taken notice of. They knew, underneath, that He had come from God.
Even in the growing fervour of anti-Jesus sentiment, some were quietly beginning to believe. By Acts 6 a number of them had come all the way through into a living faith in Jesus.
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
Once those priests became Christ followers, it may have altered the atmosphere that existed amongst the religious power brokers of the day. Those that were open to believing that Jesus had really come from God would have tempered the rest whose hearts were already hardened in jealous anger against Him. It is no surprise then, that once those soft to Jesus have gone, the Jewish religious rulers were more free to express that unrighteousness rage.
A “great many of the priests” become obedient to the faith, and the next act of the religious leaders left behind, in Acts 7, is to arrest and execute Stephen and step up their terror campaign against the burgeoning church. That is the level of emotion that was swirling through the hallways of the temple.
Nicodemus, and others, could not join in with the growing anti-Jesus conspiracy. He was one of the more wise and thoughtful leaders. He could lay aside his natural emotions and fears and look at the cold facts. Jesus was a teacher who spoke like no other. He was a miracle worker who could do signs and wonders which would only be possible if God was with Him. This wasn’t a judgement based on “feelings”. It was just straight logic and good reason.
God wants us to love Him and to love our neighbours. Love isn’t all about feelings and it isn’t based on feelings. But feeling and emotion is important. No one wants cold logical “love”, not even God.
However, for many people, they will not find God by following their feelings. It often takes looking at Jesus with stone cold logic. Sometimes cold logic trumps prophetic inspiration. It certainly trumps emotional reaction (which is what He got from most of the religious leaders). Jesus got a more positive emotional reaction from the crowds, but when the wind turned, so did their emotions. Many ended up as strongly opposed to Him as they were in favour of Him. Emotions and feelings can change.
United States President John Adams said “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Nicodemus didn’t come to Jesus on the basis of his emotions, wishes, inclinations or passions. If he was living by those, he would have stayed at home where it was safe. He came to Jesus because of reason. He reasoned that no one could do what Jesus was doing unless God was with Him. And Nicodemus didn’t want to be opposing God.
But Nicodemus didn’t simply come because of a logical deduction. He was hungry for something. He was hungry for something more than all his many years of training and experience could give him. He may have been shocked by the temple clearing too, but he pushed past the self righteous indignation that engulfed many of his fellow religious leaders. He went looking for the answer to all of the longings of his heart, for he must have had them.
He went to the temple-clearer to help him clear out the religious clutter of his own heart and mind and see the truth.
He was looking for the light, so Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Whatever his question was going to be, Jesus didn’t let him get past the introduction.
“‘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.’” (John 3:2-3)
Nicodemus is acknowledging that he and those like him, could see that Jesus was different. They could see, from what He was saying and doing, that he had come from God.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he can’t see at all. Not unless he is “born again.”
If you were Nicodemus what would you think? You have kept the law diligently since being a child. You have done everything asked of you and more. You have listened to your teachers and obeyed their teachings. You kept it straight, you weren’t partying and drinking when others were. You’re on the right track, surely, after all that you have done.
Now you are recognised by your peers as a godly and righteous man not only as a devout Pharisee but as a ruler among your people. But you are still not satisfied, there is a thirst that has not been quenched yet. You hear about Jesus and, unlike most of your peers, you are astonished by what you have heard. Reason and logic tell you that He must have come from God and you begin to believe that He might be able to help you. And so, unlike those who have dismissed Him, you go to visit Him to see if he can help you find what you are missing. You go at night in the hope that you will not be seen. What can He add to everything you have already known and done with religious zeal since your childhood that can bring it all to completion and peace?
You call Him “Rabbi’ because you know He has something you want and need and you want to ask Him the deepest question of your heart. But before you can even get to your question, Jesus, who already knows your deepest need anyway, pretty much blows you out of the water.
“You must start again.”
No, really? Go back to my mother’s womb and start again? Nothing that I have learnt and done counts? Are you saying I have studied every day for as long as I can remember but I still haven’t even seen the kingdom of God never mind entered it?
Yes, that seems to be what Jesus is saying.
You have to love Nicodemus, like all the characters John highlights. He puts them in such a light that causes you to love them, quirks and all. What I have described above is where I would have gone: A self righteous pity party. I have to start again? It all counts for nothing?
Nicodemus doesn’t go there. He is not going to be side tracked by any desire to defend himself. He must have been hungry for the truth, very hungry. He hasn’t come to challenge or find fault. Neither has he come to listen as the educated leader that he was. He has come as a learner. He wants to know the truth and he believes Jesus has come from God and can help him.
Nicodemus doesn’t go into the self righteous pity party because his heart has already been touched. He has to be born again to see the Kingdom of God, but he is already beginning to see it otherwise he wouldn’t be there with the attitude that he has. He knew the signs and wonders meant that Jesus had come from God. Something wonderful is happening in his heart. All the religious clutter is passing away and something new is beginning to rise through the shadows. The signs of new birth.
I have always understood Jesus’ response to mean: “You don’t see the kingdom of God because you are not born again. Therefore you must be born again to even see it.”
However, Nicodemus is already “seeing” Jesus in a different way to most, if not all, of his peers. Something is already stirring in his heart.
You could interpret Jesus’ response to be an encouragement.
“Nicodemus, you are already beginning to see something otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Something wonderful is coming to birth within you. You cannot even see the kingdom of God without being born again (because it is only the children and childlike that see it). But you are beginning to see it. Therefore you are already showing signs of new birth.”
He has met Jesus in the flesh and his heart has become like an eagerly inquisitive child.
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)
The same thing, to a much greater degree, happened to another fervent Pharisee. When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus, His heart was instantly changed from hardness towards Christ to humility before Him, from murder to submission. All of his great learning suddenly became as “loss” in his eyes for the surpassing greatness of encountering and knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:7-8). He went from being proud of his own learning and religious accomplishments to being like a child in one moment, one meeting. It was as if he had gone back into his mother’s womb and come out again a totally new person. He had been born again.
Nicodemus has met Jesus. We are not sure that he understood the answer that Jesus gave him to his questions. All we know is that later on, when his peers were accusing Jesus, Nicodemus stood in the face of their rising hatred to appeal for a fair trial for Him.
“Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,’Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’” (John 7:50-51)
More logic and reason in the midst of a storm of emotion. Not “cold” logic though, it came from a heart that had been warmed by the blowing wind of the Holy Spirit. He blows where He wills. He had even been blowing through the hardened rock walls of the temple courts.
It cost him. He was treated with the same mocking disdain they gave to Jesus.
“They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’”
They dismissed him as someone of little consequence, low breeding and even less learning. If he had desired respect and position in Israel previously, he had just lost them both to stand up for Jesus.
There is no record that he stood again to defend Jesus, even when death was the outcome. Maybe he had backed off?
Not so. Whatever had happened to Nicodemus here on this night encounter with Jesus had seemingly changed irreversibly the course of his life.
He went to Jesus at night again. This time not to where Jesus was living but to where He had just died. Ignoring all the religious rituals of purity he had been brought up to so strictly observe, he helped Joseph of Arimethea take the body of Jesus down towards a tomb. He made himself ceremonially unclean. He wouldn’t be able to participate in the rest of the Passover celebrations. I don’t think he even thought about it.
All that learning, deeply ingrained in him from his childhood and suddenly he wasn’t thinking about it any more? Yes, that’s right.
Why? Because it is as if he had gone back into his mother’s womb and been born again a new person.
Instead of looking after his religious purity he brought 75 pounds of Myrrh and Aloes to embalm the body of Jesus. 75 pounds!
Mary had been praised by Jesus for the extravagant outpouring of her expensive nard perfume upon Him in preparation for His burial. It was worth 300 denarii (John 12:1-8). Nard was maybe a more expensive fragrance than Myrrh and Aloes but she had only used one pound of it on her Lord.
When Nicodemus came to Calvary, he brought 75 pounds of fragrances with him. This is all the more astonishing because Jesus was dead. Most of the rest of the disciples had scattered. All hope seemed to have gone. If Nicodemus had still been looking to Jesus to bring him the peace and life he was looking for, there was no point in coming now.
But Nicodemus didn’t need Jesus to be alive to find the life that he was looking for. He had already found it. Now He just wanted to honour the One who had given him.
It had started with reason. He came to Jesus because of logic. No one could say and do what Jesus was saying and doing unless God was with with Him. But the Spirit had already been at work in his life. That is why he was beginning to see what others, blinded by jealousy and selfish ambition, couldn’t see.
“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.” (John 3:8)
The wind had been blowing in his direction.The Spirit had begun to bring something new to birth in Nicodemus and it had blossomed well beyond his logic and reason into agape love. He loved Jesus, more than he loved his life and reputation. That is why he came to Jesus a second time at night.
And so, lovingly and gently and without any thought for his own reputation, religious status or safety, he takes the body of Jesus, with Joseph of Arimithea and they carry it to the tomb. They probably wash the blood away, every spot and stain. Then they begin to bind the body in linen cloths pouring out ointment onto those cloths as they went.
When He was born, Jesus was wrapped in cloth and now He is wrapped again. As they gently wind the linen round the body, they close and cover the deep wounds that lacerate the Savior of the world. They bind the body from the top of the neck to the bottom of the feet and lay it out on the rock. Then they look at the face one more time in the flickering lamplight. That beaten, swollen, bruised face. They cover it with a face cloth before leaving into the dark night, ensuring that the stone is rolled over the entrance before they go.
It would appear that whatever had happened in his first encounter with Jesus, had changed Nicodemus for ever. Meeting Jesus will do that to a person, if their heart is childlike enough to lay down all previous knowledge and experience and go back to the beginning and start again. Such people don’t just see the kingdom of heaven, they enter it.Posted on: June 4, 2018Peter Todd