Bobbie Houston posted a photo of the story of Nicodemus and somehow it struck me this time, after growing up with it my entire life.
I never cared for the story of Nicodemus. I always thought Nicodemus was an idiot. Like duh, an old man can’t go back into his mother’s womb – Jesus obviously was not talking about physical rebirth cause that’s impossible (yet Jesus did exactly that). Don’t you just get it?
But here’s why it struck me this time.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. “How can someone be born when they are old?”
Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
It’s not the first time I’ve had to have the conversation of why I won’t date a non-Christian.
I’ve even talked about it with Ed Westwick before, true story (that I will elaborate on in this post, don’t worry).
This time was something different – I had a 3-hour long conversation at 8am my time. If you want to strike me when I’m vulnerable, it’s when I’ve just woken up. Though, I’m always battle-ready so don’t mess.
And the other reason is: the conversation was with someone I care deeply about, someone that we knew that if there wasn’t the barrier of differing beliefs (amongst many other reasons beyond our control), I’d already date.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
A part of why that conversation took 3 whole hours is because we reached the classic headlock: “if faith were the only barrier, why can’t I just date him already?“
So here’s what I explained to Ed Westwick when I told him I couldn’t date this boy:
“Let’s say the boy and I saw beautiful scenery with mountains and everything. It’s gorgeous. In my head, I’ll be going ‘Wow, God, that’s so cool. You created all of this for us to enjoy. I’m humbled.’ And he’s gonna be like ‘Cool mountains.’
And that’s just the small thing of mountains, what about when we talk about marriage, raising children, how much to tithe etc.? I need someone that sees the world the same way I do.Me, to Ed Westwick, paraphrased but the concept is there.
Because it is frustrating to constantly explain the way I see the world through my Christian lenses, especially to someone who knows me so intimately.
I’d rather spend our time together growing with Jesus, rather than describing the most important and mystical man in my life to my boyfriend/husband.
And Christianity is mysterious to those who don’t get it. Sometimes the mystery is what draws them closer to Jesus, and sometimes the mystery is what pushes them away to something more familiar than a heavenly God that would come down in a human form die for their sins.
The thing is: he grew up religious and Catholic/Christian too. “Girl, I was an Altar boy and all.” – his words.
So to him, he gets the reason of why I won’t date him. But he persisted in his pursuit of me by saying what if he started going to church and doing all the things that made him Christian.
Being in relationship with Jesus and calling myself Christian isn’t about my actions that are ‘religious’.
Being a child of God is all about relationship. And relationships are all about the hearts involved.
I told him that I’ve seen so many ‘Christians’ who do the motions without the heart, and everything is meaningless when their motives are corrupt. So all I care about is the heart – when the heart is right where Jesus is, the actions and motions of ‘religion’ are meaningful.
And I’ve seen enough of my friends fall away from faith to know the difference between someone in a relationship and someone keeping up with religion.
He could try to keep up an image of being a Good Christian Boy™, but I’d rather him be honest about where he is in relation to Jesus even if it is a non-existent relationship, rather than be a liar in order to impress me. Dishonesty encourages legalism, and we all know how Jesus feels about Pharisees (religious dudes, kind of like many White American Christians™ today).
At the end of the talk, I said, “I’m just as stubborn as you are persistent.” He just groaned.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?
No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
A few days after the conversation, I realised that Nicodemus wasn’t an idiot like I thought he was – he was just human.
The boy isn’t an idiot – he’s far from it. He’s just human. Humans like to know tangible things, and that’s why he couldn’t understand the concepts like being born of water and Spirit, or where the wind is going, or the Son of Man coming down from heaven. After all, I’m human too, and I don’t always get Christian concepts and theology (I’ve just been doing this for a really long time).
And it’s human nature to value things we understand, like science, religion and The Law™ – things that we can work on and strive towards and understand with our human brains.
But when we’re told to have faith that Jesus conquered death for all our sins and rest in His love and goodness, to simply believe in something that we had zero participation or contribution in, something we actually just don’t understand – we’d rather leave the beautiful too-good-to-be-true mystery for what’s comfortable and digestible.
For context, Nicodemus is a Pharisee (not-so-cool religious dude) and a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel. He was a huge deal in Jesus’ society, and was a part of the group that greatly opposed Jesus.
From society’s point of view, Nicodemus was primed to go to heaven because he was a Good Christian™. Yet Jesus pointed out, he didn’t have faith. His heart was in the wrong place.
‘But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?’
The reason why the Bible is alive and applicable to me, I still go to church on Sundays, I can write/talk publicly and non-stop about my faith is, even to Ed Westwick: my heart’s in the right place.
That’s what I meant when I kept telling the boy: it’s all about the heart. It’s not about knowledge of the communion sacraments, or church attendance, or how nice and kind you are towards others. Those actions stem from the heart.
It’s all about the heart.
The good news is that Nicodemus didn’t harden his heart after this conversation with Jesus. He accepted Jesus’ words as lessons for the soul and Jesus’ love as the source for his motives. He surrendered his heart to Jesus.
Even though Nicodemus came shadily to Jesus in the middle of the night at the start of the book of John, the final mention of Nicodemus in the Bible was that: he was present at Jesus’ death and assisted in Jesus’ burial, which was incredibly taboo for someone of his stature, and contributed 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. This is the amount of spice that was fitting for a royal burial, for a King.
So in this Easter season, if you are Nicodemus in John 3, wondering about the mystery or frustrated by the lack of ‘clarity,’ I pray that you’ll have a soft and open heart. I pray that your heart will find the right place this Easter.
Because it’s not about trying to be a Good Christian™ – no one is ever good enough – but about a soft heart that is willing to surrender, open to learning, and ready to receive the love of Jesus.
And when your heart’s with Jesus, you’ll be able to join me in saying ‘Wow, God, that’s so cool.‘
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.