I am using the book of John to explore how Jesus dealt with the contemporary church of His day. I love how John, in the first three chapters, underscores four new church inaugurating events:
1. He is the Word Incarnate: Moses came down from the mountain with the very words of God inscribed on stone. Jesus came down from Heaven as the very Word itself:The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
So, for the church, the people of God, we have a fulfillment of what Moses did all those years ago: he brought the word down to the people, and now Jesus brings down the Word as Himself. Wow! We are being presented with a "new and living way":Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let’s approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let’s hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let’s consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds, not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:19-25)
He called His disciples and He is calling us to embark as ambassadors of this new and living way.
2. He Calls Us as His Bride: His first miracle is at a wedding in Cana. By turning water (ordinary) into fine wine (extraordinary), He is reinforcing God's view of His people: His Bride will be made into something extraordinary under His touch.They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:8-11)
His Bride will be made new miraculously quick, but she will also take time to grow and be His partner on earth. God truly saved the Best until last: His Son.
3. He Clears Out the Temple: This is where Jesus is seeking to do a major makeover of His church. By casting out the worldly practices and compromises with the world, He seeks to cleanse His church and bring the holiness of God back into full view of His Bride. He so identifies with His Father's House that He calls Himself the temple in response to the leaders demanding He show His credentials:
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22)
God wants His Bride clean and pure, and only the blood of His Son, shed on the cross, will accomplish this.
4. He Calls Us as Individuals: Jesus sees His church, His Bride, not as one big mass of people whose faces blend into the crowd, but as precious individuals. The work of the church will be done by individuals, saving those, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who come seeking truth. So, now John narrows the scene down to Jesus talking with one person, a Jewish leader who comes to Him after the sun goes down:
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2)
Nicodemus is a leader in the Sanhedrin, and clearly is moved by the teachings and actions of Jesus. I find it fascinating that Nicodemus comes after the Temple incident; he could just stay put, utterly offended as his compatriots certainly are by Jesus' egregious action against their sanctioned practice in the Temple courts.
But no. He comes, when it is dark (Is John possibly commenting that not only was Nic using the darkness to secretly meet with Jesus, but that he himself was in the dark as well?)
Nic is curious. He is seeking, asking, knocking. Good start. He is coming from a very august body:
"According to the Talmudic sources, including the tractate Sanhedrin, the Great Sanhedrin was a court of 71 sages that met on fixed occasions in the Lishkat La-Gazit (“Chamber of the Hewn Stones”) in the Jerusalem Temple and that was presided over by two officials (zugot, or “pair”), the nasi and the av bet din. It was a religious legislative body “whence the law [Halakha] goes out to all Israel.” Politically, it could appoint the king and the high priest, declare war, and expand the territory of Jerusalem and the Temple. Judicially, it could try a high priest, a false prophet, a rebellious elder, or an errant tribe. Religiously, it supervised certain rituals, including the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) liturgy. The Great Sanhedrin also supervised the smaller, local sanhedrins and was the court of last resort."(https://www.britannica.com/topic/sanhedrin)
So, for Jesus, anyone, rich or poor, great or ordinary, is welcome to come. Nic acknowledges Jesus as someone extraordinary. He sees Jesus' miracles as coming from God. (This is a far cry from later on when the leaders will accuse Jesus of being possessed by the devil.)
Jesus cuts to the chase. Time is limited in this encounter. Nic could skitter out at any time, fearing he has been seen. He wants Nic to get on board quickly:
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[born from above]”
"How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)
Central to Jesus' church, to His new and living way, is a new spirit, born from the work of God in a person's life and taken from the very words that Nic and his ilk are so expert in:
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh... (Ezek. 11:19)
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek. 36:26)
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer. 31:33)
Nic knows these verses. He's a learned elder of Israel, well-versed in the sacred writing of the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet he reacts as if he's never heard them, or maybe he is so fearful of being seen with Jesus, his mind is shutting down with anxiety. Jesus responds that being born of the Spirit is the new and living way, the new church (really, it's the old one being fulfilled, longed for by the prophets) and that human works are never going to be sufficient to fully engage with God. Only a new spirit can do that.
Nic is stunned. He cannot fathom what Jesus is saying, and asks Him, "How are these things possible?" (John 3:9)
Then Jesus gets down to business. The new and living way is Him. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures:
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:10-14)
Jesus' use of the name, "Son of Man" is an Ezekiel reference and Moses and the bronze snake is from the Torah specifically, so Jesus is effectively covering the Hebrew Scriptures with His references. Nic knows these very scriptures, yet he seems to not realize what God is doing in Jesus.
Now Jesus tells Nic and us the very essence of Who He is, His mission, and the church that Jesus is building upon Himself as the Foundation:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:16-21)
This what I hear Jesus saying to Nic and to us:
You search the Scriptures, Nic, and they point to Me. I have come not to condemn, but to save everyone who is willing to seek Me. But be aware that disbelief in God's Son has its consequences: Your rituals will not save you as this new and living way comes forth. One day the Temple, of which you are so proud, will be destroyed by an army, to punish and decimate the children of Israel. What then?
You and everyone else who accepts My offer to be born from above will have new life and will be God's temple, not built of stone, but of a heart made right with God. This person will run into the light, be forgiven of his or her sins, and live in the truth of Who I am and what I am doing.
Come out of the dark, Nic.
You have to choose. Yes, you will lose your posh position and receive the condemnation of your peers; but you will gain eternal life with Me!
John does not record Nic's answer.
Jesus awaits our answer.