We hear a lot of discussion these days about the proliferation of social media platforms and questions being raised about the impact they are having on society and our mental health. For example, if anything like me, you’ll have posted a status update or picture – and checked 10 minutes later to see if people have liked or commented on it. If no one has, then you can start to wonder: “Does any one care about me?”
Many of us are concerned about what other people think about us, but have you ever wondered what God thinks of you?
There is nothing that bestows more dignity upon our humanity, than the fact that Almighty God has become one of us, in the person of Jesus. So let me tell you the true story about a man called Nicodemus, who came to meet Jesus “by night” (v.2) – which is ironic since Nicodemus is in the dark – unable to see who Jesus is fully, nor see himself truly.
Notice what we’re told about Nicodemus’ identity. Firstly, he’s “a Pharisee” (v.1) – which means that he is a member of a strict religious order which emphasised rigorous moral behaviour. Secondly, he’s a “ruler of the Jews” (v.1) –he sat on the high council of Israel, which means he was successful and enjoyed high status. Thirdly, Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel” (v.9) – because he was highly qualified and learned in the Holy Scriptures.
Based on what he knows, what he does, and how other people look up to him, Nicodemus is a man who might feel very self-satisfied with himself. Perhaps he could be forgiven for imagining: if anyone is in God’s good books, if anyone qualifies for entrance into God’s heavenly kingdom – then it’s him! But just to make sure, he comes to see Jesus for a private interview. You see Jesus performs miracles and speaks as though He were God Himself – if that were true, then Nicodemus wonders, what will Jesus make of him? Will Jesus agree with his self-assessment and give him God’s validation?
Jesus immediately and abruptly, challenges Nicodemus’ self-satisfaction. “Truly, truly I say to you: unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v.3). That’s not something you hear every day so Nicodemus asks the next question that we all are thinking: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v.4) To which Jesus cryptically answers: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v.5-6). Jesus is drawing on an OT prophecy that one day God was going to do a new thing: to transform the sinful and self-righteous hearts of His people. What Jesus is saying to Nicodemus is that it’s going to take a divine miracle for him to be admitted into God’s kingdom! Nicodemus is not acceptable to God in his current state.
Now this raises a dilemma for us: If very good, knowledgeable and respectable Nicodemus doesn’t qualify for acceptance into God’s kingdom, then what hope do any of us have? The answer is it will take a miracle for us too!
Before you start to think that God is being harsh or unreasonable, someone has explained the problem facing us in this way: “God cannot let me into his kingdom because – as I am – I would spoil it. It is going to be a place of no tears – but I make people cry. It is a place of harmony – but I fall out with people. It’s a place of truth – but I lie. And I suspect you do too… Jesus did not come to help us turn over a new leaf. He came to give us new life – a miracle so radical it would be like a new birth” (Mike Cain).
So Jesus confronts everyone one of us with the bad news that without a miracle – we will be excluded from God’s new world and perish forever outside of His good kingdom. That’s the bad news.
But this same passage in John’s gospel goes on to record some of the best known words of good news: “For God so loved the world [the world that rejects and ignores Him] that He gave us His one-and-only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (v.16-17. Later in another of John’s letters he tells us: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Our sin offends and separates us from God – not only is there a gap between our IDEAL self and ACTUAL self, but there’s a huge gulf between our ACTUAL self and God – filled with guilt, shame, regret, sin. But the good news is that Jesus, God the Son, has come to remove our sins and restore us into relationship with God His Father.
Jesus wants Nicodemus and us to realise: acceptance with God and entrance into His new world is not something that we have to strive achieve, rather it is a gift that we can receive. Just as we did not contribute anything to bringing ourselves into this world – instead life was a gift from our parents who did all the work – so also the new birth and new life comes entirely from God and is not based on our own efforts or contributions – rather it is based entirely on the work Jesus has done for us in His life, death and resurrection.
So Jesus demonstrates that God sees us as we are – both the good and the bad – and yet still chooses to love us as we are. Also he loves us far too much to leave us in the state in which He finds us. He has grand plans and dreams for our lives, now and forever!