Nicodemus was a "man of the Word" - he studied the Word of God and was intent on understanding the principles taught, keeping the requirements of the commandments, and living a life as an example of right-living. As such, he comes to Jesus - curious, intent on finding out why this "great Teacher" has such insight, does such awesome things, and seems to be pretty well connected to some power from above. His approach to Jesus is much like most of us would approach - he wanted to understand, but he sought to understand with is mind, not so much his heart. Don't get me wrong - Jesus doesn't want a bunch of followers who trust solely in what he heart directs, but he does want us to go beyond what we can "compute" in our brains and truly begin to "rest upon" truth regardless of whether we fully "comprehend it" or not. We may not always understand fully, but this is actually why there is this little thing called "faith"!
Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God? (John 3:10-12 MSG)
Examine closely Jesus' response to Nicodemus. He really is being loving in his response, though at first we may suspect he is being a little "cutting" or "harsh" with him. He points out Nicodemus' current status - a respected teacher in Israel. In other words - he is a student of the Word (or Law as they called it). Then he gently reminds him that he may have been so focused on all the learning he has amassed through the years, he simply forgot the basics. I think there is value in returning to the basics now and again in our lives - they are the foundation upon which all other truth in our lives is built.
Then, to help Nicodemus begin to transition from needing to understand this truth with his head and to begin to assimilate it into his heart, Jesus turns the focus onto his trustworthiness as someone Nicodemus can take at face value. Here we see Jesus reminding Nicodemus of several truths:
- A witness is one who has an eyewitness account. He has been up close and personal with the subject he is giving testimony to. This is important because Nicodemus is having trouble fully accepting that this "great Teacher" is the Messiah. So, the concepts Jesus speaks of - like that of needing to be born again - are hard for him to grasp until he can be assured of Jesus' "right" to give testimony. An eyewitness has all right to give testimony - nothing he shares will be hearsay (third party accounting). Jesus is establishing for Nicodemus that all he shares is because he actually experienced it.
- A witness has experiences others may not know about until he gives his testimony. We all experience certain things, each experiencing them in unique ways because of our individual make-up and frame of reference. Those sitting in a large stadium at a football game see and experience the game in different manners based on where their tickets allowed them to sit, correct? They are all "eye-witnesses" in one respect, but their experience is determined by where they were seated. The same is true with Jesus - his experience is made all the more vivid and trustworthy because of how "close his seat" is to the throne of the Heavenly Father.
Look next at how he tries to help Nicodemus make the transition between what he "comprehends" with his mind and what he "accepts" with his heart:
- He shows him the importance of asking the right questions, but not getting hung up constantly asking! This is sometimes the hardest place for us to get "unstuck" in our walk. We "HAVE" to know the answers - so we keep changing the questions until we finally come to the conclusion that we understand something from ALL perspectives. The important thing Jesus wants us to remember is truth is "revealed" in segments - rarely does it come all at once. To coin a phrase from a movie: "You could not handle the truth"! Truth is a series of growth steps. Today's truth builds the place tomorrow's truth will take root - don't get hung up on needing to understand all truth before you grab onto the truth you have today!
Now, if you know the rest of the story, you realize Nicodemus likely came to the place of accepting truth, but he struggled so much with the evidence of truth in his midst because of his initial reaction to truth - the need to fully comprehend it with his "brain". Remember, God's truths are sometimes revealed in ways which impact our "heart" long before our "brain" ever gets hold of the truth and settles on it as being fully trustworthy! Just sayin!