One night, when the streets of Jerusalem were dark and quiet, a leader of the Jews went to the house where Jesus was staying. He was a Pharisee named Nicodemus.
Nicodemus had witnessed some of Jesus' miracles. After seeing the miracles he had no rest. He did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, for the Messiah would surely come in a much different way. He would be a mighty king who would chase out the Romans with the sword. He would judge and punish all heathen nations. The Messiah would not be a poor, simple, gentle person. And He would surely not come into the world as a carpenter's son!
Yet, there was something about Jesus that he could not understand. That made Nicodemus uneasy. Nicodemus always wanted to understand things, for he was a typical Pharisee. That's why he went to Jesus to talk with Him. He chose to see Jesus at night—perhaps because he was afraid that other Jewish leaders would laugh at him. Perhaps he simply wanted to talk to Jesus under peaceful circumstances.
Jesus was willing to meet with Nicodemus. In the quiet of the night they talked together. The Savior who had come to earth for sinners talked with the rich, prominent rabbi who felt virtuous and upright because he obeyed the law of Moses.
Nicodemus believed that God simply had to love him because he was pious. Surely he had earned himself a place in God's Kingdom!
Jesus told him something different. If Nicodemus wanted to enter heaven, he should start over, at the very beginning, with his life. The way he was living was all wrong. He should begin a new life and leave his pride behind him. He should become like the simplest of Jesus' disciples, who had confessed their sins to John the Baptist and had been baptized by him. The Holy Spirit would then come into his heart and make him a new man.
Jesus therefore told him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see God's Kingdom."
Born again? Although he was a scholar, Nicodemus had no idea what Jesus was talking about.
Surely he could not become a small child or a baby again. He was already a grown man!
Jesus explained it to him. Nicodemus should become just as humble and pure in heart as a small child. That was only possible through the Holy Spirit.
Nicodemus still didn't understand. But there was no need to understand the part about the Holy Spirit. No human being can understand the work of the Spirit, just as no one knows where the wind comes from and where it goes. Nicodemus should believe, even if he did not understand.
When Israel was punished in the wilderness with poisonous snakes, Moses made a bronze snake, attached it to a pole, and placed it in the midst of the afflicted people. Anyone who looked at the elevated snake in faith was healed of his poisonous snakebite. Anyone who tried to understand the miracle and refused to believe died of his snakebite.
Jesus said, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up. Everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life."
It was all so strange and wondrous to Nicodemus. Was Jesus, the Son of man, to be lifted up? What did that mean? Would He be fastened to a pole, just like the bronze snake? Would that somehow give eternal life to all who believed in Him?
No, Nicodemus did not understand.
If Nicodemus had known how wicked and sinful his heart was, he would surely have understood! He would find it even stranger that God could love him anyway. If only he would believe, eternal joy would be his.
Jesus spoke some glorious words to Nicodemus, "God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son. All who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life."
It was late night when Nicodemus finally went home through the quiet streets of Jerusalem. Jesus' words were still ringing in his ears: "God loved the world so much . . . ."
It was still dark in Nicodemus's soul—just as dark as the streets of Jerusalem. The first red rays of light were starting to appear on the eastern horizon. A new day was dawning. It would not always be night.
"God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son . . . ."
Had God already sent His Son? Who was the Son of God? Could it be Jesus of Nazareth?
"Yes!" said a voice in Nicodemus's heart. "He is the one! He is the Messiah!"
One day that voice would grow much stronger and drive away Nicodemus's doubt and unbelief. The light would break through fully in Nicodemus's heart.
When that happened he would come to Jesus openly, in the daylight rather than in darkness. He would come without shame or fear. But that day was still a long time away.
When Jesus was fastened to a pole—the cross—like the bronze snake fashioned by Moses in the wilderness, then Nicodemus would think back to that night. Then, at last, he would believe. Then he would finally understand what Jesus meant when He talked about being born again. The love of God, which he could never understand but only accept, would finally allow him to see the Kingdom.