21 Verses — Treasures of Understanding…
I have long been intrigued by the exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus in chapter 3 of the New Testament Gospel of Saint John. In 21 verses we learn the relationship between being born again, baptism, and gaining entry into the kingdom of God, the necessity of looking to the Savior for salvation, the requirement of an infinite atonement, the magnitude of the love of God for His children to offer His Only Begotten in sacrifice that we might have eternal life, and the correlation between the light of truth and good deeds as a manifestation of godliness. These verses contain some of the most quoted scripture in holy writ. All of this is made available to our eyes and ears today by the devotion of the Master Teacher, and the inquisitive willingness of a devout Pharisee to open his ears and heart to continuing revelation, and to share these treasures of understanding.
What we know from the New Testament of Nicodemus is that he was a Pharisee and “ruler of the Jews,” a member of the powerful Sanhedrin —the Jewish senate and the highest native court in both civil and ecclesiastical matters, deriving its extensive powers from Roman masters (Bible Dictionary). Nicodemus first came to Jesus by night, as recorded in John 3. Clearly Nicodemus was a just man with courage as he lifted his voice to the Pharisees in defense of the rights of Jesus to not be hastily judged without providing for His own defense and evidence (John 7:50-52). We may also deduce that Nicodemus became a friend and disciple of Jesus Christ from John 19:39, as he “brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight,” for His anointing and burial after the crucifixion.
I am made curious by the fact that Nicodemus came to the Savior by night, coming to Him in private for their first recorded encounter. A rabbi member of the Sanhedrin, he would have pretty easy access and responsibility with investigative authority to learn more about what the man Jesus was teaching. Perhaps he came to Jesus at night to avoid the increasing spectacle of crowds, as the Lord’s fame became greater among the people? I am more inclined to believe that while Nicodemus was probably attempting to avoid the public spectacle, he being a fair and just man with an open mind and heart, was a willing listener to all sources of truth and goodness. The work of Jesus Christ and His teachings would certainly be worthy of the ear of an honest man.
When Nicodemus became a disciple of Jesus Christ is unsure, but we can at least deduce that the 21 verse exchange in John chapter 3 most certainly would have planted the seeds of conversion.
I love thinking about being born again unto new life. The born-again of which I speak is the fundamental change that comes upon us when we willingly and intently listen to truth and law, and then live and keep the commandments which we learn. It is an eye-opening experience as light glistens from truth into the widening iris of our minds. Being born again, allows us to see the kingdom of God, as described by Jesus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (John 3:3). What a marvelous fruit yielding act, to ask in sincerity a question and receive the light of truth as it comes from the presence of God through His Holy Spirit! I am overcome in the thought.
Keeping the commandments is an act of faith. When we try the Lord, try His word, and do some thing based upon our faith, like keeping a commandment, reading the scriptures, praying, fulfilling a calling or assignment that we have received from the Lord through our leaders, or asking another sincere question of faith to increase our own understanding, these are acts of faith and the Lord will bless us with greater faith, unto newness of life, a rebirth, a fundamental change. Indeed it is true that living the gospel, acting in faith, will provide us “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
If these moments, Nicodemus likely moistened his lips with that first droplet of living water, and began to see the kingdom of God, even in the faintest of ways, but saw it nonetheless. His heart stirring, he asked another inspired question, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4).
Jesus lovingly answered in a message for Nicodemus, and for us all. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’” (John 3:5). A man must be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost, that he might enter into the gate which is baptism, access to the eternal kingdom of God, on earth and in heaven. As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Being born again, comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.”
The revelatory conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus continued as the Lord indicated that He would one day need to be lifted up that all might look to Him for salvation, even as Moses lifted the brazen serpent before the children of Israel, that they might look and live. Jesus explained, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
God loves His children as we love our own, even infinitely more, as His understanding of our place in His kingdom far eclipses any twinkling of light that we might have on such an eternal matter. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “The first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength” (General Conference, April 2016). The words of the Savior to Nicodemus, and one of the most quoted statements of all time, are ever more poignant. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
To his understanding, Nicodemus must have been overwhelmed to hear such words, a glimmer of light in the darkness to know the magnitude of the love of God, and to hear it from the lips of the great and infinite sacrifice Himself. Nicodemus did not probably understand at that time what was to come, but it must have been faith verifying, when in the aftermath of the cross and resurrection, he came to a brighter light of understanding. Since to our knowledge, only Jesus and Nicodemus were present during this exchange, either the Lord Himself or Nicodemus shared these beautiful teachings with John to write. I believe it is correct to suppose that Nicodemus came to full understanding.
In the final words the Lord shared with Nicodemus, He equated the manifestation of good deeds with the coming to light of truth, both of which are enabled in God, the very work of the Almighty, the exertion of His power to affect change. “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21).
Of this godly change, Elder David A. Bednar taught, “Conversion … is mighty, not minor—a spiritual rebirth and fundamental change of what we feel and desire, what we think and do, and what we are. Indeed, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change in our very nature made possible through our reliance upon ‘the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah’ (2 Nephi 2:8). As we choose to follow the Master, we choose to be changed—to be spiritually reborn” (General Conference, April 2007).
I am grateful for these 21 verses, the treasures of understanding from them derived, the humble rabbi willing to seek and record wisdom with open mind and heart, and the Savior who made rebirth possible by overwhelming love and sacrifice. It is my prayer that we will all be born again to see the kingdom of God, be baptized to enter therein, and always drink of the waters that the Lord has provided, with promise that if we will, never will we thirst more. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the Savior Nicodemus came to know, the Redeemer of us all. May the seeds of our conversion be implanted in our hearts and in our minds, followed by good and miraculous deeds wrought by the power of Almighty God. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.