10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:10-15
We don’t often think of Jesus as calling out someone and being sarcastic. But that certainly seems to be the case with Nicodemus. Jesus is chiding him for being a teacher of Israel, a religious leader, a Pharisee, and not understanding what Jesus is saying about spiritual things. Nicodemus has a lot of head knowledge about things of the Bible but he does not have insight into spiritual truth.
Then Jesus proceeds to tell Nicodemus some of the most deeply spiritual things you would ever hear. First Jesus is saying that he has descended from heaven with spiritual truth. He is the Son of Man that the Old Testament speaks about as the coming messiah. By saying that he has descended from Heaven Jesus is connecting himself with God in a direct and intimate way. He is claiming to be more than a man. He is claiming to have some connection to the divine that is beyond what anyone ever anticipated. But Nicodemus and others should have anticipated it if they would only have searched the scriptures looking for the deeper spiritual truth.
If that is not hard enough to understand Jesus makes reference to Moses lifting up a staff with the form of a serpent on top and miraculously healing people in the wilderness. Just as Moses lifted that serpent Jesus says that he will be lifted up and not only bring healing to people but actually bring eternal life to anyone who puts their trust in him. Nicodemus has no idea what Jesus is talking about until the crucifixion takes place three years later. At that point it somehow sinks in that he must honor and trust in Jesus. Nicodemus and another Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea take the body of Jesus and place it in a new tomb.
It is somewhat baffling that time and again Jesus says that eternal life comes by faith in him and not by our works or knowledge or effort and yet time and again people refuse to put their trust in Jesus and keep trying to earn God’s favor. Nicodemus as a Pharisee would have taught people about living according to the law to have a right relationship with God and have eternal life. It took standing at the foot of the cross for it to sink in for him that salvation would be by putting his faith and trust in Christ and not his own religious obedience to rules. That is the heart of the Gospel. Jesus preached that Gospel in countless ways from the very beginning to the very end of his ministry. It is Good News. Trust Jesus with all you have and rely on his work on the cross for your righteousness and salvation.