we learn by working from the known to the unknown and in this passage Nicodemus is moving from the known to the unknown.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are 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 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I 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 wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
At school we learn by working from the known to the unknown. Teachers take students on this journey all the time. Mathematics and Music. Science and History. Accounting and Art. Good teachers know that students need to know what they already know, so they can move from what they know into what they don’t. At school, we move from the known to the unknown.
In the discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus, it’s like one teacher says to another, ‘I know this, but I want you to move me into the unknown.’ In verse 2 Nicodemus says to Jesus: ‘We know you are a good teacher…’ and invites Jesus to teach him. Nicodemus, like a good teacher who is always learning, wants to learn by moving from the known to the unknown.
When Jesus responds, he moves Nicodemus from the known to the unknown. Nicodemus and Jesus were both Jewish teachers, and Jesus teaches Nicodemus from what Nicodemus knows (the Jewish Scriptures, our Old Testament) to what he doesn’t know (the purpose of Jesus’ mission): 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. 16 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.”
Nicodemus knew about Moses and ‘the snake in the wilderness’, but he didn’t yet know what it meant for God to ‘give his one and only Son’. So Jesus bridges the gap between known and unknown – he says both involve ‘lifting up’. It’s going to take time for Nicodemus to understand what Jesus is saying, but later – when Nicodemus sees Jesus ‘lifted up’ on the cross – the penny will drop, the circle will close, everything will all add up. And then Nicodemus will have to decide what to do with what he has come to know.
For us, the movement from the known to the unknown goes the other way. Most of us aren’t Jews. We didn’t grow up knowing the Old Testament by heart. We know about Jesus being ‘lifted up’ on the cross, but snake-handling stories about Moses have us running for cover!
Yet we don’t need to be afraid of the Scriptures. We too just need to move from the known to the unknown. Since we know the story of Jesus being ‘lifted up’ on his cross in John 19, God invites us to know the story of Moses back in Numbers 21. And when we know the story of Moses, we can better know what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus. More pennies will drop for us. More of our circles will close. Our understanding of the cross of Jesus will keep adding up to more and more. And we will know even more what we are to do with what we have come to know.
Head: Johns’ gospel is full of Old Testament imagery that colours and deepens our understanding of Jesus. What’s one Old Testament story that you might enjoy re-reading after dinner tonight? Or read for the very first time?
Heart: In the first 3 chapters of John that we’ve been looking at this week, we see clearly that Jesus is portrayed as a new Moses, a greater Moses who is leading the Jewish people into a whole new promised land. Assuming you are like me and not Jewish, how does it make you feel realising that Jesus, the king of the Jews, invites us to be part of his new, multiethnic, chosen people?
Hands: Grab your Bible and take 30 seconds to read the story of Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness, in Numbers 21:4-9. Then, look up to heaven and pray with your eyes open, realising that as we have looked up to Jesus on his cross, we live!
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, thank you for helping me to believe in your one and only Son. Thank you that I am no longer condemned. Thank you that I shall not perish, but enjoy eternal life! Thank you for helping me to believe John’s testimonial about Jesus, and Jesus’ own testimonial about himself, so that I can enjoy the newness of new life today. In the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit of Jesus, I pray, Amen.
A song to listen to: Spirit of Jesus
This Grow Daily was originally posted as part of a previous series called the Spirit of Jesus in 2016. During the School Holidays we take the opportunity to look back at the best of Grow Dailys over the years.