One night, when all was quiet and darkness had blanketed the earth, a man named Nicodemus quietly came to visit Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and did not want to be seen talking with Jesus. However, the Savior had gotten his attention.
Jesus’ words to Nicodemus are summarized in our text today. Even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the Law, he did not understand what Jesus meant by saying, “You must be born again,” He was confused and asked, “How can it be? Certainly a man cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born.”
Jesus explains more and ends with the words, “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.”
Think of all the ways we define a Christian in our society. We would say he is a good man, a fine father, a loving husband, a faithful worker, an excellent person in the church. All these qualities are good, and a Christian should possess these characteristics. However, this is not what makes him a Christian. According to Jesus’ definition, a Christian is one who claims Him as Savior and Lord, one who believes He died for him and will one day take him to his heavenly home.
I believe Nicodemus left feeling confused but was not able to get Jesus out of his mind. I can’t help but think that in their Sanhedrin meetings sometimes, when Jesus’ name came up, Nicodemus may have tried to get them to understand Jesus. His words may have gone like this: “You sit there and condemn him. How can you try a person unless you have something against him? How can you condemn him and crucify him if you find nothing bad in his character? Jesus has caught my heart, and he can capture yours, too.”
One day Jesus said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit.” This is a very important verse regarding baptism. Tom Wright, a noted theologian and Bishop of Durham in England, has helped me a great deal with this. He concluded that there are two parts to baptism. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, preached the repentance of sins. Then he would baptize the people in the Jordan River. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one (Jesus) who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
That is the picture Jesus gives: be baptized with water, then begin to learn from Jesus so you may be baptized the Spirit and his words become faith.
Often we will hear people say, “I am a Christian for I have been baptized.” Water baptism is necessary, for it leads us to learn of Jesus’ words, biblical preaching and teaching, and a daily devotion. However, water baptism by itself is not enough, for it needs to be accompanied by the Holy Spirit in order to create faith in our hearts.
We do not know if Nicodemus came to faith in Jesus Christ or not. But I believe he did. Looking at his life, we see him standing at the cross of Jesus and hearing Jesus say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And when the soldiers took Jesus’ body down and gave it to Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus came with ointment and anointed it as it was laid in the tomb. He may have still been confused about Jesus, but he was also thoroughly convinced that those who trust in Him will have the forgiveness of their sins, the promise of everlasting life, and will one day enter into the kingdom of heaven.
When we hear people talking about being a Christian, but showing little evidence of their faith, let us allow the Holy Spirit, working through us, to help them learn who really is a Christian. That is what God’s Word teaches us today.
How many people that you talk to on Sunday morning do you suppose are Christians? How many who kneel at the baptism font or at the communion table have invited Jesus Christ into their heart? That question is not for us to answer. It is only for God to know the answer. However, it is our concern that they understand Jesus’ words found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”