“Jesus the Messiah”: Preschool & Kids Leader Training for Unit 21, Session 3—Jesus and Nicodemus
The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 can be challenging, at least the middle part of it.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the few who seemed to be open-minded about who Jesus was. So early in Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus went to Jesus at night, likely because he did not want to be seen with the teacher who was becoming quite controversial already.
Nicodemus’ statement to Jesus is interesting. He called Jesus Rabi, affording the untrained teacher a level of respect, and acknowledged there was something special about Him. What Jesus had already done could not have been done by a normal person.
We have to be careful to remember that the Gospels do not provide us with an exhaustive record of what transpired. While everything in them is true, what we are given might not be the full account. Here, for example, Nicodemus might have said more. But with what we are given, it seems as if Nicodemus wanted to ask Jesus a question but could not bring himself to ask it: “Are you the Messiah? Are you the one to bring God’s kingdom?”
If Nicodemus didn’t ask it, Jesus seemed to pick up on this unasked question, which is why He responded that a person had to be born again to see God’s kingdom. And this is where the conversation became somewhat difficult with Jesus talking about being born of water and Spirit.
But then, Jesus shared a story from the Old Testament to drive home what He was talking about, an important story from Numbers that those of us who have been using The Gospel Project for a while know well.
The Serpent Raised on a Pole
In Numbers 21:1-9, the wilderness wandering Israelites grumbled because of their journey. Their complaint was the same one they had often repeated: “We don’t like this food and we are thirsty.” Yes, they sounded like little children.
So God sent poisonous snakes into the people’s midst, and many of the Israelites died.
The people went to Moses once again, but this time, their tune was different. “Save us,” they implored. They recognized their sin against both God and Moses and asked for Moses to intercede on their behalf.
So Moses did. And God told him to construct an image of a snake and place it on a pole. Anyone who was bitten could look at that image and be healed. So Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole. All who had been bitten who looked at the image was healed.
Before we move on to Jesus’ point of sharing this story, we have to think about what it took for an Israelite to look at the bronze serpent: faith. Looking at a bronze image of the very thing that is bringing death upon you makes no sense. Neither does it make sense to look up when snakes were down at your feet all around you. What was God calling on His people to do? To place their faith in Him for healing.
The Savior Raised on a Cross
Jesus connected this account from the Book of Numbers to Himself by saying that just as Moses lifted up the snake, so too would the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.
Faith is the key. Faith is what connects these two accounts together tightly and beautifully. God provided salvation to the Israelites by way of faith and He provides salvation to the world by way of faith too. We place our faith in what makes no sense to the world—a Savior dying on a cross (see 1 Corinthians 1–2). Faith is what Jesus was drawing Nicodemus to consider. It seems that Nicodemus was developing some form of a fledgling faith in Christ, but Jesus was encouraging the Pharisee to allow God to let it bloom within his mind and heart.
The Pharisee would soon see something that would make no sense—Jesus’ lifeless body on the cross. And then he would see something that made even less sense—an empty tomb. And when he did, Nicodemus would need to make a choice: would he gaze at the ground, or would he look up upon Christ in faith and believe. We too have the same choice. Where will we look?
True love will motivate us to make sacrifices that might even cost us our lives. Such sacrificial love makes God’s heart glad. This kind of love is worth it.” — Africa Study Bible“John,” in Africa Study Bible (Oasis International LTD, 2016), 1534.