The Most Important Teaching of JesusJuly 16th, 2013 by Oleg Kostyuk
I was asked once, “What is the most important teaching of Jesus?” So, I decided to find that most important message that Jesus himself gave. I began with conducting a mini survey to find out what people thought was the most important message. And then, I turned to Christian writers who tried to find the answer to the same question. So, what do you think, the most important teaching of Jesus is? Trust me, it is not an easy question to answer, since, ALL words of Jesus are simply fascinating and life-transforming. However, there is one dialogue in the Gospel of John that usually gets overlooked. It is the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in John chapter three. Many Christians are familiar with John 3:16 that states that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone and anyone who believes in him will have everlasting life. But, what else do we know about this discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus?
Ellen White, a christian writer, wrote that “In the interview with Nicodemus, Jesus unfolded the plan of salvation, and His mission to the world. In none of His subsequent discourses did He explain so fully, step by step, the work necessary to be done in the hearts of all who would inherit the kingdom of heaven.” (Desire of Ages, p. 176) Well, I think, I found the most important message that Jesus presented while here on Earth. It is the conversation with Nicodemus. But, why is it Nicodemus who was privileged to hear the most important teaching of Jesus. Who was Nicodemus, anyway?
Nicodemus was a highly respected Jewish Pharisee (John 3:1) – one of the prominent members of the high council – who appears only in the Gospel of John.
Intrigued by the authority of Jesus and the miracles he was doing, Nicodemus went to see him secretly, at night, in a serious attempt to discover who Jesus really was. Jesus challenged him with the need to be born again, if he wished to be in the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-8). The Gospel does not give us Nicodemus’s response. Later, however, in opposition to his colleagues on the Jewish high council, he strongly argued that Jesus should be given a fair trial (John 7:50). And then, after Jesus was crucified, he bought seventy-five pounds of expensive perfumed ointment for his burial, took it to the tomb, and assisted Joseph of Arimathea in burying him (John 19:39-42). Thus, Nicodemus appears to be an example of a Jewish Pharisee who came to believe in Jesus and was willing to express that commitment publicly after Christ’s death.
But what was it that turned Nicodemus from a secret disciple into the one who publicly confessed Jesus right there at the cross, even though the disciples of Jesus ran away? It was that very conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus. In fact, it was just one phrase that was repeated twice that made a difference in Nicodemus’ life and can make a difference in your life today. Jesus said to Nicodemus “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” let alone enter it (John 3:3). Then, Jesus repeated the same statement again with some clarification, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
Today the phrase “born again Christian” is a cliche. But what does it really mean? The answer to this question is presented by Jesus in this very chapter. You need to be born of water and of spirit. You can be born of water by baptism. That is a very straightforward process. You acknowledge before the community of believers that you are sinful and you want to live a different life from that time. But, does it mean that you are saved and the “ticket” to the kingdom of God is granted? Jesus says that you need to be born of water AND the Spirit. Now, we need to dig a little deeper. We learned that we can be baptized by the followers of Jesus, that means we will be born of water. John the Baptist was the one who baptized people in the Jordan river. Jesus’ disciples also baptized people, but Jesus never baptized anyone (John 4:1-2). Now, we are coming to the climax of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus: Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Spirit (Mat. 3:11).
Now, you may ask the question that Nicodemus asked, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). Jesus presents the answer in the same chapter, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–16). The baptism with the Spirit is the look unto Jesus who was hanging on the cross. For some people it would seem not to make any sense, and many Christians have found themselves confused by it throughout the past 2,000 years. “There are thousands today,” Elen white penned, “who need to learn the same truth that was taught to Nicodemus by the uplifted serpent. They depend on their obedience to the law of God to commend them to His favor. When they are bidden to look to Jesus, and believe that He saves them solely through His grace, they exclaim, “How can these things be?” (Desire of Ages 175) Nicodemus was born again. When Jesus was uplifted on the cross, Nicodemus was the one who boldly confessed Jesus Christ.
Nicodemus’ act is very significant. The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was the day when the Passover lamb was supposed to be eaten. According to Jewish law you could not eat the Passover meal if you were ceremonially unclean. In fact, religious leaders did not enter Pilate’s Praetorium (John 18:28), since, if you enter the place of the Gentiles you become ceremonially unclean. But nothing could compare with the touching of a dead body, it is the worst form of defilement according to the Jewish law. Despite that, Nicodemus is anointing the body of Jesus and puts him in the tomb. He does not care about human traditions and laws when it comes to his Savior.
We can have born again experiences every time we come to Golgotha and look at Jesus hanging on the cross. It can be done by meditating on the life and death of Jesus. Have you ever wondered why we have four Gospels, four accounts of Jesus’ life? The story of Jesus is so important that we need to read it over and over again. Ultimately, when we look at what Jesus has done for us, our heart will be overfilled with living waters that will flow into the world around us. Look at the cross, see Jesus, and rejoice in his love.