When Knowing the Bible Isn't Enough
Knowing the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean you know God. You can have a thorough knowledge of Scripture, and still have a darkened heart toward God. This was the case with Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Ruling Council. He was known as the most outstanding Bible teacher in Jerusalem. Only the High Priest was better known in the capital city than Nicodemus. Yet, despite all his learning and privileges, Nicodemus did not know God. He knew about God, but he did not know him. The darkness of his heart becomes evident one night in a very famous conversation with the “Word Who Became Flesh” version of the Bible.
The story is found in John 3. Nicodemus is intrigued with Jesus, as he should be. Jesus had just driven the money
changers out of the temple. The Jews are aghast, so they ask Jesus for a sign to indicate his authority for doing these things. Jesus prophesies about his death and resurrection. That would be a convincing sign, for sure! Most of the Jews are skeptical of Jesus. They don’t trust him. He doesn’t square with their concept of what someone sent from God should be like. He surely cannot be from God.
But Nicodemus is intrigued. So, he approaches Jesus under cover of darkness, presumably because he is afraid of these Jews. Jesus engages Nicodemus in a probing conversation. Every detail of this conversation is worth pondering, but I only have space for a couple of the elements of this conversation.
The first observation I want to make is how starkly the Lord reveals to Nicodemus the reality of his need. Jesus tells
Nicodemus that those who are outside the kingdom of God cannot understand the things concerning the kingdom. And what does Nicodemus say in response to this? "I cannot understand what you're saying!"
Nicodemus' inability to grasp what Jesus was saying was indicative of a serious problem—his heart was darkened. He needed a new heart. Why did he need a new heart? Because spiritual things are not grasped with superior intelligence. You are not able to comprehend spiritual realities simply because you might be able to grasp rocket science or perform brain surgery. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). Until we come to realize the gravity of our condition—that by nature we are all outside of the kingdom of God, we’ll never be able to understand.
The second observation I want to make is this—Jesus tells Nicodemus what the remedy is for his situation. When Nicodemus hears this remedy, he is perplexed. It’s all news to him. But Jesus expresses amazement that the premier teacher of Israel doesn’t know what He (Jesus) is talking about. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be "born again" (John 3:3, 7), or more literally, he must be born from above. When Nicodemus heard the word “born” his mind immediately focused on obstetrics. Exactly how could he enter again into his mother's womb and be born a second time? Nicodemus is still thinking in terms of something he can achieve. Think of the wind, Jesus says to him. "You cannot command it to come; all you can do is to feel it when it blows. The new birth is like that! You cannot command it to occur by something you do; you must resign yourself to doing nothing and let God do this work in you." The solution to our spiritual
darkness is God's ability to transform us. All we can do is cry for mercy and ask Him to change us. The allusion to being born "of water and the Spirit" in verse 5 is probably a reference to Ezekiel 36 which speaks of washing and cleansing and of a new heart. The need for a new birth is tightly connected to the need for a new heart.