Gospel of John 3: 5-15 (NIV)
5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No-one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
This passage is a continuation of Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus after Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. We encounter Nicodemus only in the Gospel of John. This occasion, the first of three where he is mentioned, was probably in the early part of the first year of Jesus’ public ministry.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He would have studied and known well the Hebrew Scriptures. But despite his considerable learning, it seems he had no vision for the Hebrew people and no understanding of the kingdom of God. He did not realise that, in order to follow Jesus, people have to put to death every facet of their lives that stands in opposition to God, every element of sinfulness, and to be renewed by the Holy Spirit – “born again”. Only through believing in the Son of Man could (and can) people have eternal life. This is re-emphasised in verse 18 of this chapter:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Jesus gives us a vision for the future, not just for this life but for life in the world to come. We are meant to seize this vision and cling to it, to rely on it, on the basis that we know from our reading of Scripture that God is good, God is trustworthy, God is reliable.
It took Nicodemus the best part of three years to come to realise this. For some it takes much longer. We find it heartening to read that, after Jesus’ death on the cross, Nicodemus was there with Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body down, wrap it and place it in a new tomb (John 19: 39).
Some seeds, when planted, germinate almost immediately. Some take much longer but we would be wise to refrain from hastily believing a seed has failed, has died completely. It is for us who believe in Jesus to plant seeds. Others may water. As with Nicodemus, in his own time God gives the growth.