by Norma Koehne
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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 (John 3:16).
This well-known text comes at the end of the story about a searcher, Nicodemus, who comes with lots of questions for Jesus. He acknowledges that Jesus is a teacher sent by God. Jesus sees into his heart and tells him that he must change completely – be born again – before he can enter the kingdom of God as a child of God. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would be relying on his obedience to the law to achieve this. Poor Nicodemus! He is even more puzzled. He immediately thinks of physical birth rather than spiritual rebirth. Even when Jesus talks about being born of water and the Spirit, he remains perplexed, ‘How can this be?’ We might feel that Jesus is a bit hard on Nicodemus, but, as Jesus says, he is ‘Israel’s teacher’, and he should be steeped in the Scriptures. Words such as, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me’ indicate that it is God who changes us and makes us pleasing in his eyes.
Jesus sends him back to the Old Testament when Moses lifted the snake in the wilderness, and the people were saved. He tells Nicodemus that the ‘Son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’. There the story ends rather abruptly, and we aren’t told of Nicodemus’ response.
Then comes this statement of perfect, incomprehensible love. God loved the whole world, all of fallen humankind, so much that he sent his Son to the cross to bear our sins and endure the agony of separation from him so that we might not perish but have eternal life with him.
We know that Nicodemus became a believer, helping with Jesus’ burial (John 19:38–40). Together with Nicodemus, we thank God for his amazing love that he has brought us to faith through water and the Spirit and we have life with him now and forever.
We praise you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the way you have worked together to bring us your love and salvation. Amen.