I wonder what Jesus would have said to me if I’d been Nicodemus who’d gone to see Jesus at night in John 3, or I’d been the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well in John 4, or the man who’d been crippled for thirty-eight years in John 5.
With each person in those three chapters Jesus entered into a fairly lengthy conversation that challenged their thinking. They didn’t come out of their conversation with him quite the same people they were. Something remarkable happened to Nicodemus, for instance, because fourteen chapters later – in John 19:38-41 – the same Nicodemus is helping Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ crucified body for burial, at great risk to his reputation and position as a well-respected Jewish leader.
Nicodemus was a changed man. He’d changed from sneaking under cover of darkness to talk to Jesus and seeing Jesus only as “a teacher who has come from God” in John 3:2, to openly and fearlessly wrapping Jesus’ body with linen (infused with seventy pounds of spices, John 19:39-40) and seeing Jesus as the one sent by God “to save the world,” just as Jesus said back in John 3:17.
The same thing happened to the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well. To begin with she only saw Jesus as less “than our father Jacob” in John 4:12. But a dramatic change happened in her thinking, because in verse 29 she began to realize that Jesus really was who he said he was, Christ the Messiah, and she raced back to her hometown and fearlessly convinced her neighbours that Jesus was “Saviour of the world” too, in verse 42.
And then in John 5, when Jesus told the cripple, “Pick up your mat and walk,” the man didn’t hesitate for a second in doing what Jesus said, despite carrying one’s mat being a blatant breach of the Jewish Sabbath law (verse 10). Suddenly, this pathetic invalid, incapable of doing anything but moaning about his lot in life in verse 7, is transformed into a fearless man who wasn’t intimidated one bit by the Jewish authorities who wanted to take him to task for disobeying their law. Jesus “had made him well,” and that’s all that mattered, verse 15.
In the lives and minds of all three of these people, dramatic changes happened after conversations with Jesus. How come?
Because Jesus pierced through their guard and ignorance with a clear demonstration of his authority. Here was a man to be listened to and trusted. And when they listened to him and trusted him an entirely new way of thinking they’d never experienced before began to enter their minds. And this is what Jesus meant by being “born again,” in John 3:3, or “born from above” as some translations phrase it.
It means a total change of mind that comes from hearing and trusting what Jesus says. “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit,” Jesus said in John 3:8. A birth by the Spirit leads to a belief in Jesus’ obvious authority, as one to be looked up to, above all else.
Jesus actually illustrates this very point in John 3:14-15, when he said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
The “snake in the desert” refers back to the time in Numbers 21:4-9 when the Israelites “spoke against God” (verse 7) for dragging them out into the desert after they left Egypt to die from starvation, and God only providing them with miserable manna to eat (verse 5). So God hits these ungrateful, untrusting Israelites with “fiery serpents,” killing many who are bitten (verse 6). When the Israelites admit they’ve sinned (verse 7) Moses seeks God’s intervention, to which God replies in verse 8, “Make a fiery serpent and set it (or lift it up) on a standard (or pole),” and if anyone is bitten by a snake he can “look up to the bronze serpent and he shall live.”
To “look up” means they are to fix their full attention on that snake, believing that God’s way of saving their lives will work. Jesus then uses the “lifting up” of the snake on the pole to refer to himself being lifted up (John 3:14), which in John 12:32-33 points to his crucifixion as the means by which we are saved from our sins and “we shall live” as well.
And this is the conversation Jesus has with Nicodemus, but by extension to the rest of us humans too, because Jesus immediately continues in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus includes us all in this conversation. So do I believe it? It’s certainly worth my belief because Nicodemus obviously believed it and look what happened to him. He experienced an entirely new way of thinking in his head that gave him the courage and confidence to obey and trust Jesus in this life, no matter what, which in turn gave him total freedom from sneaking around in the dark and worrying about his reputation. And that then enabled him to “look up” and see in Jesus’ crucifixion the doors opening up to eternal life as well.
Just one conversation with Jesus and believing what he said, and this is what happened. And since that conversation was for all of us, I don’t have to wonder what Jesus might say to me, because he’s already said it.