The Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, Jack the Ripper, the Shroud of Turin, crop circles, the Egyptian Pyramids are mysteries. According to the standard dictionaries, a mystery must be beyond understanding. Not irrational (stupid), but supra-rational. Welcome to the world of Nicodemus in John 2:23-3:15.
“This man (Nicodemus) came to Jesus by night and said (verse 2)” basically, “Who are you? I can’t figure you out!” Jesus is a mystery to Nicodemus. Jesus responds to Nicodemus in verse 3 and it does not help: “Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old?!’” What Jesus is saying is a mystery to Nicodemus. Jesus responds again to Nicodemus in verses 4-8 but Nicodemus is about to lose his mind! “How can these things be?!’” he says (verse 9). Who Jesus is and what Jesus is saying is a mystery to Nicodemus. Some of us can relate.
Reason is not enough to solve the mystery of Christianity. It takes revelation: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (verse 13). Jesus is saying that ultimate reality comes from heaven not earth, from revelation descending to earth not human reason ascending to heaven. This is why Jesus says three times, “Truly, truly, I say to you…” In other words, “I am telling you the truth. I am giving you ultimate reality.
This passage reveals three mysteries inherent to Christianity that require revelation. The first is the mystery of Sin. Nicodemus is not stupid, he is spiritually blind: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born (from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (verse 3). Practically this means Nicodemus is addicted to ascending. Nicodemus speaks four sentences to Jesus, which is a lot for any character in the Bible. However, in every sentence (all four), he says something about human ability, strength, or power. Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is saying because he only knows human effort. He cannot conceive of a world without human ability. In other words, he cannot conceive of a world of grace.
The conversation moves next to the mystery of a new nature: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above” (verses 6-7). Jesus means that the nature we come into the world with (the flesh), the one imprisoned in Sin, cannot deliver or heal itself. In other words, it cannot ascend. Someone must descend to us, and make us new (spirit). How does Jesus descend to us to make us new?
Jesus answers in verse 13 with the mystery of mercy, “And 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 (which includes a new self).” It took a substitute-serpent in Moses’ day to deliver and heal all those infected by the lethal poison of vipers. And it still does today. The Son of Man (Jesus) is our substitute-serpent, poison, curse, or Sin in order to deliver and heal us of Sin’s lethal poison coursing through our hearts and lives. Look at Him and live!