Most of us know unbelievers, whether Jewish or Gentile, who are such good people that we have difficulty believing that when they die, they will not enter the Kingdom of God. Everything in our finite minds wants to assure us that, somehow, God will make an exception for these people. We remind ourselves that we should not judge. Only God really knows their hearts,” we may tell ourselves. While we are not to judge according to our own perceptions, and while it is true that only God knows the heart, we cannot deny the words of Jesus when He said, “You must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
When I meet people who find it hard to accept that Jesus is the only way, I like to point to a man named Nicodemus in John chapter three.
Here is a perfect example of a good Jewish man. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. From this brief description, we can assume a few things. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a very religious man. He believed in God, prayed, fasted, attended religious services and gave of his tithes and offerings. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he had earned a position of respect and had knowledge of Jewish law. And, unlike many of the others in his situation, he had come to Yeshua believing good things about Him, seeking answers. What did Jesus tell this righteous, well-respected and, I believe, godly man? That he must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
At first, Nicodemus did not understand. The terminology made him do a double take: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (verse 4). But as I reflect on this man, I can’t help thinking it was not merely the terminology that caused him to do a double take. I imagine a man of his standing might have wondered why God would not be happy with who he was and what he was doing. Indeed, if anyone deserved to be on God’s good side, wouldn’t it be this very pious man, Nicodemus? It must have been a real shock for him to hear that, even with all of his qualifications, there was no way for him to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven apart from a supernatural act of God. And although Nicodemus may have been nominated “most likely to succeed” by his friends and neighbors because of his good deeds and religious life, God was not impressed.
By the time we get to John 19:39 we see Nicodemus identified as a follower of Jesus, as he brought about 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe for His burial. The verse describes Nicodemus as being the one who “at first” came to Jesus by night, implying that at this point he is openly identifying himself as a follower. Jesus had told Nicodemus that, as good as he was, he needed to be born again to enter the kingdom of God … and apparently Nicodemus believed Him.
Let us remember that Jesus Himself dictated the requirement for entrance to God’s kingdom: “You must be born again.” It is something that only God could do for Nicodemus. It is something that only God can do for all the “good” people we encounter in our everyday lives. If we care about those people, we need to take God’s Word seriously so that we do not shy away from sharing the truth. Some may be offended to hear that only an act of God can save them … but others, like Nicodemus, will listen.