Nicodemus deserves credit (John 3:1-17). He comes to Jesus – yes, at night, which might look embarrassed, but also allows him to ask questions freely. He already has a life of disciplined goodness. We suspect Pharisees, and some were guilty of pride and religious red tape, but for others the life meant knowing and living the Old Testament Law in detail. Perhaps most important, he wants to know more. That is good.
So, why does Jesus ask him such difficult questions? We might have thought this polite man an ideal disciple – or church member. But it seems that he won’t do. Why? Jesus refers (v13,14) to his ministry and his coming death. What Nicodemus knows is not enough – for him, or for other good people. Christian faith depends on what God does and gives – Jesus and his sacrificial death. There are real benefits in living a good life, following the commandments, but that is incomplete.
Nicodemus goes away puzzled, but doesn’t give up. He reappears in the pages of the gospel story at John 7:50, and again at John 19:39. Sometimes the most important changes come “between events”, as the Holy Spirit works.
Our passage hasn’t finished. v16 is one of the best known in the gospel, but we should read on. John 3:16-21 goes on to speak of judgement. This picture does not see God handing out suffering and pain (a deity we would find it hard to worship!) It seems that Nicodemus was ready to come into the light. We have to ask if we are also ready to be examined, and perhaps embarrassed, in order to receive the gift.