I want you to consider a principle: Faith makes you a canvas upon which the Redeemer can paint the beauty of his grace.
What do you think this principle means? And how does it apply to the situations, locations and relationships of your everyday life?
Take a moment to meditate on these questions, and when you’re ready, grab a Bible and read John 3:1-21.
In most of the gospel narratives, the Pharisees are identified as a group of people, but in John 3, we’re introduced to a specific Pharisee by name—Nicodemus.
Nicodemus was a member of the ruling legal council, the Sanhedrin, which was essentially the Supreme Court of the Jewish people. The Sanhedrin was virulently opposed to Jesus and his messianic claims, and they repeatedly tried to trap him with questions and publicly expose him as a fraud.
In the ultimate miscarriage of justice, the Sanhedrin arrested Jesus, put him on mock trial, convicted him of blasphemy, and then turned him over to the Roman authorities to be crucified.
With that being the case, it makes sense that Nicodemus, being a member of that Sanhedrin, would approach Jesus under the cover of nightfall. This meeting was incredibly risky—who knows what would have happened to Nicodemus had his colleagues learned that one of their own was so convinced that Jesus was from God that he sought him out to have questions his answered.
It makes sense that Nicodemus was afraid, but he had little seeds of faith planted in his heart. As they began to sprout, these seeds of faith caused Nicodemus to take that life-changing walk at night to meet the Messiah. The conversation that followed would result in the most memorable words ever spoken.
A LITTLE FAITH
Isn’t it comforting to know that Christ doesn’t require us to possess a big and bold faith? Rather, in forgiving and understanding grace, he accepts us as we are, with miniscule, weak, doubt-filled faith.
He never mocks our wobbly knees and shaky hands. He never turns his back on us when fear mixes with faith in our hearts. The story of Nicodemus proves that Jesus doesn’t ask us to march toward him in the broad daylight. No, he joyfully receives us when we sneak toward him under the cover of darkness!
Our Lord is just that tender, just that patient, just that kind. He knows that the mysteries of redemption confound and confuse us. He recognizes that the truths he reveals about himself are counter-intuitive to us. He understands that the things he calls us to do are intimidating for us.
With compassion and empathy, he graciously invites us to come as we are, and he promises that when we do, he won’t turn us away.
THE FAMOUS CONVERSATION
As you read John 3, it’s striking to note that Jesus does not question Nicodemus’ timing, motive or manner. He doesn’t rebuke him for coming under the cover of night. He receives him without judgment and is immediately willing to answer his questions.
It’s also important to note that while Nicodemus’ opening question is about the true identity of Jesus, Jesus responds by confronting Nicodemus with the eternally crucial issue of the moment. In grace, Jesus cared more about the spiritual state of this man than he did about defending his personal messianic claims.
In the moments that follow, Christ unpacks for this fearful and wobbly faith-filled member of the Sanhedrin the mysteries of new birth and the essentiality of his impending sacrifice. There’s laser focus to this conversation, because the Redeemer is talking to a man in desperate need of redemption.
You can tell from Nicodemus’ responses that Jesus has taken his mind to places that it has never gone before! Jesus is revealing to the heart of this man what only God can make known to us.
This is an important concept to grasp: It takes divine grace for us to understand the mysteries of, and our need for, divine grace. You and I don’t run to, or rest in, divine grace because we have faith. No, we have faith because we’ve been met by divine grace.
Nicodemus has been drawn to Jesus by divine grace. He’s hearing the words of Jesus because of divine grace. He’ll embrace what he has heard because of divine grace.
The whole narrative of John 3 is not driven by the resolve of Nicodemus, but by the power and glory of rescuing, revealing, forgiving, accepting and transforming divine grace!
A CHOSEN CANVAS
I want to return to the principle we considered at the start of this story: Faith makes you a canvas upon which the Redeemer can paint the beauty of his grace.
Nicodemus had no idea of what was happening through him in this moment of history. He had been chosen to be with Jesus on that life-changing night, not just because he needed to personally receive the truth-revealing, heart-changing grace of God, but also because he had been chosen to be an instrument of that grace in the lives of an untold company of believers down through the ages.
Nicodemus was completely unaware, but he had been chosen to be the canvas on which Jesus would paint one of the best-known portraits in all of Scripture of his redeeming grace!
Under the cover of darkness on that world-changing night, Nicodemus was more than just a seeker of truth and a recipient grace. Because he was those things, he became a canvas as well. And on the canvas of Nicodemus’ heart, propelled by little sprouting and fearful seeds of faith, Jesus would paint the glorious colors of his work of redemption.
With the skill of a divine artist, Christ took his brush and painted, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).
What a stunning portrait of the entire narrative of redemption!
THE COLORS OF REDEMPTION
I’m a painter by avocation, and painters tend to have a color palette that they regularly work with. So, let’s consider the color palette of John 3:16 that Jesus used to paint the story of his redemptive work for all believers to see.
What are the primary “colors” of the grace of redemption? Four stand out:
1. The Color of Love
“For God so loved the world…”
These may be the most amazing words ever written. God looks on his fallen and broken world, populated by people rebelling against his authority, not with revulsion, but with love.
Without this love, there would be no redemption story. Without this love, humanity would have no hope. Without this love, there would be no incarnation, no crucifixion, no resurrection and no daily intercession on our behalf.
You and I have life because God’s response to us is colored with love.
2. The Color of Generosity
“…that he gave…”
Hope and change never begin with us, but with what these three powerful words capture. Hope and change start with the boundless generosity of God toward people who actually deserve his wrath.
It was his generosity that sent Jesus to the manger, to walk the roads of Palestine, to preach the good news with wisdom and power, to willingly endure the cross, to walk away from the tomb, and to ascend to his right hand.
Every day you and I live in the blessings of lives that are colored by the generosity of the Lord.
3. The Color of Sacrifice
“…his only Son…”
Consider what these words mean. God didn’t send his Son to set up a regal earthly kingdom. No, he sent him for one purpose: to be the Lamb of Sacrifice. Without his perfect life and without his perfect sacrifice, there would be no forgiveness of sin and no acceptance with God.
The cross was always in Jesus’ future. God not only sacrificed his Son by sending him to earth, but also by sending him to earth to be the sacrifice that would forever satisfy his anger with sin.
We’re the children of God because the canvas of redemption is colored with the blood of sacrifice.
4. The Color of Life
“…that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…”
What’s the result of the boundless love, the incalculable generosity and the willing sacrifice of the Lord? Life—eternal life!
Sin leaves us dead in our tracks and tragically separated from the One for whom we were created. It’s the tragedy of tragedies from which we’re not able to extricate ourselves. We all stand in desperate need of divine intervention because there’s nothing that we can do to earn or deserve life.
But, because of God’s love and generosity, because of the sacrifice of the Son, death has been defeated and eternal life has been given to all who believe. The final color painted on the canvas of redemption is the beautiful color of eternal life.
What an amazing painting, painted on the canvas of Nicodemus!
WHO’S THE HERO?
It’s tempting for us to praise Nicomedus as the hero of this story, and in some ways, he should serve as a model for us. He risked his reputation (and potentially much more), coming fearfully to the Messiah in possession of only little sprouting seeds of faith. In doing so, he became the canvas for one of the best-known portraits of New Testament redemption.
But, as is the point with every story of faith from Scripture, God is the true hero. He is so generous and glorious in his grace that he does with those who seek him things that are way greater than anything they could ever ask or imagine.
Nicodemus came under the cover of darkness, yet his name—and more importantly, the words that he heard—shine as a bright light down through the generations by all who believe.
Isn’t it amazing what God can do with a little faith at night?