Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night with his own idea of the gospel and what it should accomplish. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night in order to be sure that Jesus has come to deliver Nicodemus from Roman subjection rather than the subjection to his own sinful heart. Nicodemus wants a gospel for political change. Jesus has come to proclaim a Gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit that creates new birth.
We’ve been asking three questions in studying John 2:23-3:15:
Who is Jesus (or Who is God)?
Who is Nicodemus (and by extension, Who am I)?
How Should I respond (in light of what I now know of God and myself)?
We’ve seen that Jesus is:
1. God in the flesh (John 1:14)
2. The one for whom and through whom all things were created (Colossians 1:15-20).
3. The only one who is worthy of our worship and ultimate affection (Philippians 4:7-8)
And I would add in addition to what’s already been said,
4. The source of ultimate, lasting joy. Psalm 16:11,
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
We’ve also seen that Nicodemus:
1. Intellectually believes that Jesus is the Messiah (John 3:2).
2. Believes superficially, i.e., believes in order to receive what he selfishly wants (e.g., political revolution).
3. Cannot earn eternal life in the kingdom of God through doctrinal precision or strict moral practice, but rather must be born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-8).
As people with a nature like that of Nicodemus we can finally ask ourselves,
“How should we respond to what we now know of Jesus and of ourselves?”
Jesus calls the listener, the Nicodemus in all of us, to “believe” in Jesus Christ, the one who was “lifted up” on the cross to die for sin.
And 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.
Obviously, this call to belief is a different sort of “belief” than what Nicodemus and the crowd believe when they see the “signs” that Jesus performed (John 2:23-3:1). It’s helpful to consider what Jesus references here when he talks about Moses and this serpent in the wilderness.
In Numbers 21, there’s an account of Israel’s grumpiness (read: sinful dissatisfaction with God’s provision) as they wander in the desert. Their complaint is this,
Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.
Psalm 78 portrays this complaint, in song, like this, “They spoke against God, saying,
‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?'”
In other words, “We know we’ve been delivered from slavery. We know we’ve been promised a land of our own (that we don’t deserve). We know that you’ve rescued us (miraculously) time and time again from our enemies. We know that you’ve been protecting us as we go. We know you’ve been giving us food (from heaven) but we’re not satisfied with that…how about a lavish banquet?
The penalty for their obstinance is a plague of serpents that bite and kill the people. Their only salvation? A bronze serpent, lifted up, that they must look upon to be saved. They look upon it because it’s their ONLY hope. So, Jesus, to point out Nicodemus’ helpless condition and call him to really believe, tells him that the Son of Man must also be lifted up so that all who look to him will be saved.
The natural condition of man is a state where we are constantly trying to be satisfied by something other than God. Therefore, no matter how many good things come our way, they always fail to satisfy us because (1) they’re temporary and (2) they’re not designed to satisfy our greatest need. God is the only one that can satisfy our greatest need and supply us with superior joy (see Psalm 16:11 again).
So, our only hope for a new promised land, our only hope for lasting joy, happiness, peace and freedom is to believe on Jesus Christ as:
1. Our substitute
2. Our source of Righteousness
3. Our satisfaction
Our response to God’s holiness, justice, grace and mercy, displayed in Jesus on the cross, and our own helplessness is to fall face first at the foot of the cross and trust Christ’s death as the only substitute for sinners and only source of final justification in God’s court. But it is also to trust him as your only lasting joy and satisfaction.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”