“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” John 3:12 NIV
Jesus is having a conversation with a very important man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is important because he is a highly respected religious leader in a context where religious leadership carried a ton of social and political weight. Nicodemus is basically asking Jesus what in the world He is talking about. Jesus had just said to him, “no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Nicodemus didn’t understand. His understanding was so challenged that he, (an intelligent man who had earned respect using his intelligence) was only able to think within the black and white box created by the religion of his birth. Nicodemus was serious when he asked Jesus “How can someone be born when they are old?……Surely they cannot enter their mother’s womb a second time to be born!”
I think it is easy for us to judge a character like Nicodemus in a time such as this. It’s complete folly, but still easy. Here he is, really wanting to find some answers from Jesus and when Jesus gives him the answers, answers that are quite literally, well literal, Nicodemus didn’t get it. To be “born again” is a concept easy for someone who has been transformed by the redemptive blood of Jesus, and is living in relationship with Jesus to understand. We understand that we must “die to self” in order to enter into this glorious relationship with the creator of the universe. When that “death to self” occurs, we are “born again” into a new life, following Jesus.
For Nicodemus however, this kind of talk wasn’t even on the map. He had no point of reference for God’s love being so extreme that a mere act of will could allow a person to sit underserved, as an heir at a royal table as if it were something that was deserved. That after all is what to see the Kingdom of God is isn’t it? Then later in the conversation Jesus makes a the statement in the verse that grabbed me; “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” John 3:12 NIV
When Jesus says to Nicodemus, “how then will you believe if I speak of Heavenly things?”, He is asking him a rhetorical question. Jesus had just been speaking to Nicodemus about Heavenly things. The question Jesus asks is the answer that hopefully opens the eyes of the skeptic. Hopefully Nicodemus finally “got it”. The evidence says that he does. He defends Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin, and finally assists Joseph of Arimathea, in anointing the body of Jesus at the beginning of the three darkest days in history. But what did he get?
He got that the heavenly things about which Jesus was speaking were things of the Father. He understood that the world in which he lived, and we live in today, is a fallen world. A world that had made a choice to separate itself from God. But most of all he understood that what Jesus brought had nothing to do with a set of rules to be followed in order to earn something. Jesus brought pure, unadulterated love! Love that builds and doesn’t tear down. Love that redeems instead of rejects. Love that heals where some would hate. Love that beings correction for the intent of freedom, not ridicule. These are all heavenly things. These are all things that our flesh has no point of reference for. These things are just a few in the litany of ridiculous, impossible seeming, undeserved and grace filled heavenly things of the Father. The Heavenly things Jesus is talking about are available now, on earth, in the midst of what ever mess we may be living in. The question is, will we receive these heavenly things?