The crux of the matter
People often talk about getting to the crux of a matter. They mean it is time to sweep away all the facades and tangents, cut through the layers of superficial issues, and get to the vital or pivotal point. The Lord always did this. He continually dealt with people putting on religious airs, asking silly questions, trying to trick Him into saying something they thought they could use against Him later, and missing His point all together. He often responded to people with answers that did not seem to match the inquiry. That was because He saw right past the covers to the real issues. This came to a climax the week before He died (Matthew 21-22).
Nicodemus was part of the ruling body of Jewish religion in the day called the Sanhedrin (John 3). He believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was afraid to say so publicly for fear of getting tossed out of the "club" he was in (John 7:13, John 9:22). He wanted to speak to the Lord, but not in front of his colleagues and the crowd. So he went to Jesus under cover of darkness. The first thing he did was acknowledge that they knew He was from God because of the miracles He did. A typical reaction would have been for Jesus who had been trying so hard to get people to believe to get excited. "Really? That's great!" He did not even acknowledge this comment. He cut right to the crux and told him he must be born again (John 3:3). This verse starts with "Jesus answered". That was His response. It had nothing to do with what Nicodemus said. It was as if He was saying, "You believe my teaching? Great! Get saved." If Christians talked to people today the way Jesus did, the courts would be full of lawsuits against them. "You can't call me that. You can't judge. You can't talk to me like that." He called people poisonous snakes, dogs, foxes, and rotten bones. He was not worried about being politically correct.
The Lord went further, elaborating on the idea of being born again. He said it was of water and the Spirit, which correlates directly to what Peter told the people when he said to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and to receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). Then He said something else deeply profound. In verses 17-21, He spoke about salvation verses condemnation. He said that condemnation comes to men not because this is what He is seeking to put on them. It is because they reject His light because they love their sin more than Him. They do not want to be held accountable to Him for their deeds. That is the crux of the matter. When people deny God and His word the Bible, what they are really saying is that they enjoy their sin too much, and they would rather have it than God. There is a difference between honest searching and having questions, and arguing and contradicting. The problem is not with God or the Bible. It is in the heart of the unbeliever. Jesus saw right through the masks to the heart of man (Matthew 9:4, Mark 2:6-8, Luke 16:15). The previous verses to John chapter 3 show this (John 2:23-25). Many people professed to be believers, but He knew their hearts.
The root word for crux is actually cross. The cross of Christ lays bare our feeble attempts at self-justification and arguing with God. It makes clear the real issues of life. Paul spoke of those who wanted to appear religious before men, but refused to be identified with the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:12). These pretenders are the enemies of the cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18). Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." You cannot fool God any time. God already knows all our weaknesses and failures. He just wants us to come to Him humbly, sincerely, and in repentance. When it comes to God, the only one we are fooling is ourself. Instead of dodging around the real issue, we will get a lot further if we cut right to the heart of the matter before the Lord and ask for His help. He sees us as we really are, but He still loves us. He also sees what we can be when we give Him the room He needs to work His will in us. " Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need Hebrews 4:16)."