Part 3: To Believe or Not To Believe (John 3:12-18)
“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe;” Jesus challenged His nighttime visitor. “How then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” In this third look at a seeker’s shrouded visit to interrogate Jesus, we see the tables have been turned; Jesus now questions his examiner. He uses a rhetorical question to shed light on the real problem behind Nicodemus’ confusion – it is his refusal to believe. It is a challenge that transcends the moment in which it was asked.
Every one of us, here and now, is a recipient of that same question: “If you live life as if visible evidence is valid but invisible influences on life are suspect, how do you imagine you will have the capacity to understand eternal things?” It’s a good question for our empirical scientifically-based generation. We tend to make the assumption that scientific evidence bypasses and even negates the need for belief. In reality, though, there is a point at which we give mental assent to evidence before embracing that information as part of our domain, is there not? We believe a fact before we are willing to act according to it. Belief is an essential part of learning. It is the mortar for the brick construction of our life story.
Famous atheists would like us to believe (irony intended) that belief is an antiquated, self-destructive tool used only by fools and tyrants to access power. They lead us to believe that real, authentic, critical thinking occurs without the need for belief. They want us to believe that their form of thinking is without beliefs. Must we believe them?
Nicodemus, in fact, had earlier admitted a belief he held. He said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God…” He was willing to believe Jesus was a good man and a good teacher. That was easy. It required no investment of soul on his part to admit that. So why was he coming to see and question Jesus under cover of darkness this night? Did he suspect there was more to Jesus than just ‘good teacher’?
Jesus responds to Nicodemus by offering an explanation so clear and succinct it has become the pièce de résistance, the capstone treatise of the entire New Testament, if not the Bible. He says,
“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” (John 3:16).
Think those words through carefully.
‘For God so loved the world’—God’s love and compassion is directed to every soul on planet earth: that’s not only Nicodemus: it’s you and me and billions of others.
‘that he gave his one and only Son’—Jesus is the unique Son of God, not merely a good man or teacher, but fully God and fully man, the only one capable of paying the terrible moral debt humanity owed.
‘that whoever believes in him’—yes, belief is rational, foundational, essential and individual.
‘shall not perish but have eternal life.’—the new ‘born again’ spiritual life has literally no end. There will be no perishing or cessation of life when the physical body dies.
In Jesus we see a beautiful blend of ‘earthly things’ and ‘heavenly things’. He is God-with-us, and His offer of life comes with the condition that we believe in Him – the entrusting kind of belief that requires we ‘put all our eggs in one basket’. It’s all or nothing with Jesus. Start believing Him and there is no end to the changes that will begin to happen in every aspect of our lives. Belief is not for the faint of heart, but it’s everything for those who believe God could love them. Do you believe it?
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-19285-0002,_LPG_Niederndodeleben,_Gefl%C3%BCgelwart.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-19285-0002,_LPG_Niederndodeleben,_Gefl%C3%BCgelwart.jpg)