When Nicodemus goes to have a private chat with Jesus (John 3:1-17), he goes as a Jew who knows the importance of belief in one God. His people had experienced the Egyptian, Greek and other stories of many gods, with rivalries, conflict, deceit and so on. They rejected these – we might think of teenagers trying to play one parent off against the other, or choosing a favourite celebrity. Judaism, (Christianity and Islam) hold firmly to one supreme being, who is trustworthy, good, and separate from all human failings. It was central to Jewish daily prayer, quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” (different translations have “the Lord is one” and “the Lord alone“).
Nicodemus brings a number of questions. He has much respect for Jesus – “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God”. But alongside Jesus healings and exorcisms, there is the popular teaching, which does not follow traditional lines. Jesus seems to assume authority in himself! If he hoped for discussion and answers, he may have been disappointed. The idea of being “born again” or “born from above” confuses Nicodemus. In time, he will understand that the Christian Way is no academic theory, but God’s gift of new attitudes in response to the love shown – yes, in Jesus. It won’t fully make sense until after the sacrifice of the cross, the resurrection, (and perhaps ascension and Pentecost too!). Nicodemus will be back, to bury Jesus (John 19:39), and then we guess to rejoice at his resurrection.
Christians would take time, knowing that Jesus was neither bad, nor mad, to realise that his actions (forgiving, healing, teaching) carried the authority of God. Not the delegated authority of a prophet or “estate manager”, but the full authority of God. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is no mere “power”, but carries this full healing and directing force of God.
Does this take us back to many gods, who can argue or be manipulated against one another? No. There is a distinction of three persons, but they are so close, so totally united in love, that they act always as one. One God, three persons.
It is unique, and beyond any other experience we might compare it with. Mind bending might be the word. But it offers the best “fit” with the facts. The God you thought amazing is totally awesome – and many other things, too. Beyond our full understanding, but we need to hold on to what we do know, and never lose our enthusiasm, and our thanks.
Glory – to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit. Amen!