God Told Nicodemus

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

May 23, 2024

Scripture — John 3:1-17 (NRSV)

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”


This passage parallels our Epistle lesson from yesterday. People are confronted with Jesus’ miraculous power. They issue a challenge to that power, and testimony is given proving that the source of that power is divine and unique. Then the people are asked to respond.


Yesterday in preparation for Trinity Sunday we read one of the great passages of Scripture dealing with the Triune God as One: Isaiah 6. Today’s Gospel, intended to be read on Trinity Sunday, is a passage where we see all three Persons of the Trinity at work.

This story from the Gospel of John has sometimes suffered from having one verse—John 3:16—pulled out of it and cherry-picked as “the” gospel. John 3:16 is, indeed, at the heart of the gospel message, but the whole story, as we listen to Nicodemus’s questions, gives us a much more detailed picture of how we come to be born “from above” (3:3), to know Christ, and to be brought into the family of God. And the whole Trinity is involved: the Father sends the Son (3:13-17), the Son redeems the world, and the Spirit is actively at work midwifing the new birth of those who enter the kingdom of God (3:5-8).

In addition to making it clear that the whole Trinity is involved in the work of redemption, reading the entire passage and not just John 3:16 helps us to see that the entire world, not just isolated individuals, represents the focus of redemption. We talked a few months ago when looking at Jeremiah 29 about the fact that many promises we’re used to thinking of as promises for our own individual lives and individual walks of faith are actually promises made collectively to the people of God. So too with John 3:16. We are individually called to be born of water and the Spirit (3:5), but that call comes against the background of a Son sent into the _world _to save it, and in the context of a community.

We know tantalizingly little about Nicodemus in the Gospels, but the brief other mentions made of him are intriguing. He shows up in John 7:50 as a member of the Sanhedrin, making a brief defense of Jesus’s controversial teachings by saying that Jesus is entitled to a hearing, and then he appears in John 19:39 after the crucifixion, bringing spices to anoint Christ’s body: “Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.” Had Nicodemus been born from above, brought face to face with his Savior, redeemed, and brought into the community of Jesus’s followers? We may never know. But we do know that the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills.


Where do you see the Persons of the Trinity active and moving in your life? In the life of your Christian community?


No song suggested itself to me while I was writing the devotion, so out of curiosity I googled “songs about Nicodemus” and discovered this great gospel classic from the 1940s, “God Told Nicodemus”! Pray and sing along. And believe and trust the Spirit.


(Prayer for Trinity Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer) Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jesus Teaches Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).

Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Editorial Coordinator

Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University; MSLIS, University of Illinois; MDiv/MA Asbury Theological Seminary) is the copyeditor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also senior editor of

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