John 3:1-13: Illumination

Read: John 3:1-13

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a Jewish sect in New Testament times that were zealous about the law such that they made the law stricter than it already was to ensure they wouldn’t break it in the first place. Nicodemus himself was a “ruler” among the Jews as he sat on the Sanhedrin, a council that handled religious law and affairs alongside the civil government of the Romans. John records a few acts of Nicodemus his gospel. Nicodemus gives defense to Jesus in John 7:51-52 and brought embalming supplies in John 19:39. Not much is said about Nicodemus, but much is implied by his actions. He was apparently open to what Jesus had to say and came to him inquiring about Jesus. Also, what Jesus had said to him did not make an enemy of him, but rather a friend. His generous donation of embalming supplies for his burial was something of note. Nicodemus was apparently an educated man too as Jesus notes this based on Jesus statement in John 3:10 and his seat on the Sanhedrin.

First, Nicodemus acknowledges him as a rabbi, a religious teacher. Next, Nicodemus says that Jesus is of God based on the signs he is performing. While the observation of Nicodemus is not incorrect, Jesus says that one cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is “born again”. This phrase obviously confuses Nicodemus as he takes it literally, but Jesus was speaking metaphorically about spiritual things. Jesus describes a contrast between that that which is born of the flesh and born of Spirit, and what Jesus was saying was something of the Spirit. One of the roles of the Spirit in the lives of Christians is to teach (John 14:26, John 16:13). Apparently, Nicodemus had not received the Spirit or any illumination from the Spirit to understand heavenly matters (1 Corinthians 2:1-16, particularly v. 12 and 13). The contrast between earthly things and heavenly things is made apparent here, and Jesus says that no man to reach heaven accept one who descends from heaven, namely the Son of Man which is a reference to himself. Jesus is saying the same sort of things that Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 2 which, which is that heavenly wisdom can only be revealed by that which is heavenly – which is God himself. God is manifested as Jesus in John 3 and elsewhere as the Holy Spirit.

Nicodemus had not received the testimony that Jesus had given and it does not appear that Nicodemus is obstinate to the testimony. But because the Spirit has not illuminated his mind, he could understand even with all his education and knowledge. Faith comes by hearing the word of God, but without the Holy Spirit there to illuminate one’s mind, testimonies pointing to Jesus will fall on deaf ears. This can be disheartening for those who share with loved ones and friends who have not yet believed. This does not mean one should stop sharing or stop witnessing. As Jesus says, the Spirit is like the wind. It comes and goes, and nobody knows where it comes from or where it goes. When the Spirit works in one’s life, nobody can know this. All we can do is pray for wind and be faithful to witness, and when the spirit comes, say, “It’s windy.”

Lord, help me to understand heavenly matters by the illumination of the Holy Spirit so that I might know and believe.

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