Are you thinking right now, “Kathy, what do you mean by that?”? Here’s what I mean. Sometimes we can feel responsible for the response of someone and it feels as serious as if we’ve failed to help someone find Christ as their Savior.
Sometimes I think of this with a metaphor like, “I’m holding up the Titanic.” The burden of making something happen seems so great, it’s as if I must make sure the Titanic doesn’t sink.
I’m so glad Jesus never felt like that. Just look at his interaction with Nicodemus. Jesus has just told this spiritual leader he must be born again. Nicodemus misunderstands and says, “How can these things be?”
In that moment I would have treaded lightly not wanting to mess things up, thinking, “I need to help God work by not offending Nicodemus.”
Yet Jesus goes for the jugular and is confident enough to say to Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? (John 3:10)
Nicodemus, the “teacher of Israel,” has come to Jesus in the night whether because of fear of being seen with the rebel Jesus, or he wants an extended time with him without the crowds interrupting them. Or he doesn’t want anyone to think he needs to be taught. After all, as a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin, everyone believes he knows everything.
He comes to Jesus with flattery. “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” (3:2). He might be thinking, “I hope this covers up my feelings of inadequacy and neediness.”
Notice Nicodemus doesn’t ask a question but John 3:3 says, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ “ Answered him?
Jesus delves right into the question in Nicodemus’s heart which the Pharisee most likely can’t even formulate.
Nicodemus just knows his knowledge of the Law doesn’t quench his spiritual hunger. Other Pharisees aren’t willing to admit their striving for perfection isn’t working. Or they believe their efforts are working.
The Greek word for “again” is a vague adverb with three possible meanings: born from the beginning, born a second time, or born from above. Which door do you choose Nicodemus? And Nicodemus goes for the “earthly” door. I must re-enter my mom’s womb, which although is impossible, is a way of solving a riddle with human ingenuity. The door meaning “be born from above” will open revealing the fulfillment of the Law in a perfect heaven where there is no need to strive. But Nicodemus is depending upon the door of knowledge, not an eternal perspective.
Jesus replies, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (v. 12). Jesus is saying, “You are wanting to solve your spiritual hunger with man-centered solutions. I am offering you a completely God-centered way because the Holy Spirit must make the new birth possible—‘from above.’ All your knowledge won’t open the door for you into heaven, nor will your striving for perfection.
“You are at the first step, admitting your need. Now believe I am descended from heaven in a miraculous birth as foretold. Recognize my powerful Spirit must do the work just like the wind makes a difference. You can’t control it. You only see the results. Your new life will result from my powerful work of a heart change, not more human effort.”
Nicodemus must have made a heart commitment to Jesus because he later defends him before the Sanhedrin (John 7:50-51) and helps Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus (John 19:39-40).
If you’ve ever shared with someone about the freedom of depending upon Jesus for salvation, yet were met with resistance, be comforted realizing only God is powerful enough to create a spiritual hunger. TWEET THAT!
It’s not up to you. It must be the Spirit moving in a heart.
Here are two questions to ask yourself along with a prayer.
- What situations of life most seem like God is not powerful enough to make a difference in your loved one’s life?
- How could trusting God’s power make a difference in the way you respond to someone?
My great God, I praise you for your power, which sees no obstacle, even the resistance of a human heart.
Thank you that I can trust your will is never thwarted or changed.
(This is an excerpt from my newest book, God’s Intriguing Questions: 60 New Testament Devotions Revealing Jesus’s Nature.
This new book is a companion to the first book, God’s Intriguing Questions: 40 Old Testament Devotions Revealing God’s Nature, both co-written with my husband, Larry).