In John 3, we learn about two different people and their different reactions to the appearance of Jesus. One man is highly educated and has studied the Scriptures his whole life in preparation for recognizing the Messiah when he appears. The other man is an uneducated wild man who spends his life preparing the way for the appearance of the Lord. Shouldn’t both of them respond similarly to the Messiah when He comes on the scene? Yet these men react very differently. Let’s look today at Nicodemus and John the Baptist.
Nicodemus is the educated man, one of the Jewish leaders. When Jesus comes on the scene, it seems to turn everything that Nicodemus knows on its head. He comes to see Jesus under cover of darkness as he seeks answers to his deepest questions and Jesus is eager to address them. Jesus tells him that he must be born again in order to get to heaven. Nicodemus does not respond with an overwhelmingly faith-filled reaction or even a stimulating debate. Instead, he asks, “What do you mean?” It’s as though he has never heard this concept before. He asks this same question of Jesus not once but twice during their discussion of spiritual rebirth. He is being given the key to eternal life and yet he struggles to understand it.
In contrast, John the Baptist fully understands his position with regard to Jesus. He understands that his life’s purpose was to prepare people for the arrival of Jesus on the scene, and when Jesus appears, John the Baptist has no problem fading from the public view. In verse 30, John the Baptist tells his followers, “He [Jesus] must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” This is a concept with which many believers have a hard time grappling, and yet John the Baptist is crystal clear on this point in his own heart and life. He also clearly understands what it takes to have eternal life, as he explains to his followers in verses 34-36.
So how do two such different men with such a similar purpose come to have such different reactions? Nicodemus looks at Jesus’s teaching through earthly eyes. This is evidenced when he says in verse 4, “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Although he has studied things of the spiritual world his whole life, he has a hard time seeing things in the spiritual realms. On the other hand, John the Baptist has no problem seeing with spiritual eyes, even though he has had no formal training. As we see in verse 31, he fully understands where Jesus comes from and what his nature is, and he also understands his own place in the equation.
Seeing into the spiritual realms can be a difficult thing for us humans. We understand things from our earthly perspectives, but it can be hard to understand spiritual things around us. Whenever I struggle to understand the spiritual realms, I take comfort in Jesus’ response to Nicodemus. He doesn’t mock Nicodemus or chastise him for not understanding; instead, he provides more information and gives Nicodemus handles to try to grasp what He is saying. Doesn’t He do the same for us? As James tells us, God will give us wisdom and He won’t resent our asking. Let’s ask Him today for eyes to see into the spiritual realms.