I find it interesting that I've just always considered John 3:16 to be about Jesus' death on the cross. When Jesus says "God so loved the world that He have His only begotten son - that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life" - I never thought that he was referring to Himself in His discussion with Nicodemus. He was explaining that He was God's son - and that He was here to save the world from sin - individually.
The people in the day - including Nicodemus - a religious teacher, a member of the Pharisees, had to grasp the fact that Jesus was directly from God. I wonder if faith in Jesus is easier now - because He isn't here in the flesh. He is "somewhere out there" or "in our hearts." If a man walked up today and said He was Jesus, we would truly think him crazy. Now I know we aren't waiting for the promised Messiah to appear as the people were in Jesus' day - and they had the prophecies to check that all things lined up, then had to recognize that the time had come. But - that must have been terribly complicated. They put their faith in a man who did miracles - it's no wonder they were asking for more and more - Satan thrives on doubts of believers. Imagine a Pharisee, sure he had begun to focus more on the rules, but what else did He have to focus on, there wasn't grace yet. So when Jesus appeared - the common old Pharisee had to totally shift gears, figure out if this man was who He said He was, then believe and change his whole method of living life - moving from following the ten commandments - to following the whole Law. Yes I'm making excuses for the Pharisee. But I can imagine this rule-following was easy to fall into. Don't we do it today? The normal Christian gets so busy doing God's work - that we fail to recognize His grace and peace in our present times. We fail to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and deny His power in our lives.
To believe in the grace and mercy of Jesus and live by following the Holy Spirit takes great faith. I know mine falters daily - so give that Pharisee some credit. He was trying to do well - He was just a sinner as I am - who had to believe and test a man claiming to be the Messiah. I really don't know who has it easier.
"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, chidren born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."
Choose today to test him -to believe. Be like the Pharisee, Nicodemus, who questioned God and tried really hard to understand. Don't be like the Pharisee who walks away and continued in His vain, lifeless attempts at religion.
the hopefully-getting-it-right-in-Christianity writer