Nicodemus (Part 1)
Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night
Reading: John 3: 1-8 (New Living Translation)
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you [plural] are born again [anew/from above] you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You [plural] must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
- I don’t suppose that many of us enjoy ‘long’ nights and short periods of daylight!
- For some children, darkness is frightening and opens their imaginations… Owls hoot, hyenas howl, spiders scuttle and scary creatures lurk in the shadows!
- “Leave the light on” is a plea uttered by countless numbers of children down the years.
Switch on the light and everything is fine!
During the ‘black-out’ throughout the 2nd World War, road accidents and crime levels increased dramatically…
- The need for darkness to thwart enemy bombers also gave criminals opportunity to rob and steal with little chance of detection
The Bible also refers to spiritual darkness… Jesus commented over the tomb of Lazarus (John 11: 9-10):
During the day, people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. But at night, there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.
So both physical and spiritual darkness brings problems… and both types applied to Nicodemus!
- He was a night-time prowler with a night-time spirit that yearned for the light!
We don’t know a great deal about Nicodemus… but we can glean two facts from the first two verses…
- Nicodemus was a Pharisee… a member of the Ruling Council… He was a ‘somebody’… He had status, job security and was almost certainly quite wealthy
- Nicodemus knew about Jesus and where to find Him…
- He had probably talked about Him with other Pharisees
- Quite probably, he had seen Jesus and heard Him preaching and teaching
- Perhaps he had met Jesus before… We don’t know.
What we DO know is that Nicodemus was unsettled in his spirit…
- He needed to find the truth… He needed to know the way
- He had all the head knowledge of the Scriptures (‘good Bible knowledge’)… He could discuss the finer points of the law… He could recite from the Torah and the prophets…
Yet his heart was yearning for something more…
- Jesus had unsettled him and exposed a gaping hole in his heart
There were plenty of self-styled preachers around, each of them insisting that they had received a revelation from God
- But the man Jesus was different… He spoke with authority…
- His words pierced the heart and divided the soul…
And Nicodemus was determined to find out, once and for all, who Jesus really was and whether He could lighten his darkness!
So who is Jesus?
- Some say he’s a fairy tale character for children and simpletons or elderly folk or those needing an emotional ‘crutch’
- Some say he was a real person, whose life and actions have been exaggerated and fantasised by over-zealous followers
- Some say he’s a great teacher and prophet ranking alongside other great teachers and prophets
- Some say he’s a ‘theological’ character to be discussed by academics but of little relevance to ordinary folk
But who do YOU say I am?
- That’s what Nicodemus wanted to find out!
- It is the single most important question that can be asked.
Nicodemus came by night
- Perhaps he was too busy during the day… perhaps it was the time when Jesus was more likely to be alone and available to talk
- Perhaps he was uncertain about the reception that he would receive from Jesus… After all, Pharisees were always giving Jesus a hard time.
- Or perhaps Nicodemus didn’t wish to be seen in Jesus’ company …and certainly not overheard asking about eternal matters! Nicodemus was supposed to be the expert!
Nicodemus had his spiel all ready… “Rabbi we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him!”
But Nicodemus was in for a surprise!
- Religious niceties and flattering speech cut no ice with the Master of the Universe!
- Jesus reply must have startled Nicodemus… “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again (born anew/born from above)”
Nicodemus is stopped in his tracks as Jesus cuts through the formalities and exposes the root of the matter: You must be be born again!
Jesus is not interested in our polite conversation or perfunctory prayers or squabbles over trivial matters or words muttered in darkness…
- You must be born again (anew/from above)
- Unless people know the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit, their attempts to please or praise God will fall like water on sand!
We might be tempted to be critical of Nicodemus in coming at night and not being open about meeting Jesus… but how about you and me?
Do we only come to Jesus in the shadows… out of sight… away from public view?
- Secularists and atheist pressure groups want to relegate Christian faith to a private matter… “Believe what you want but keep it out of the public sphere!”
- Some of us are evangelical by conviction but nominal when it comes to expressing our faith publicly
Perhaps we need to recognise the privileges we still possess to be Christians and declare the truth about Jesus Christ…
- Many Christians are subjected to abuse, violence and discrimination
- In particular, the treatment of people who convert to Christianity from Islam is truly appalling
- While it is true that in the so-called “free world”, religious liberty is under threat, it scarcely compares with the situation in many other countries
Notice, too, that Nicodemus referred to “we” and not to “I”… Thus: “We know that you are a teacher, etc.”
- To whom does “we” refer? Nicodemus was alone!
- Perhaps he was referring to other Pharisees or cloaking his individuality (“I”) by using a more general word (“we”)
But God doesn’t deal with “we” when it comes to knowing the way of salvation… He deals with “me”!
He has called us by name, one by one:
- And in the Lamb’s Book of Life, each name is recorded, one by one!
There are church-goers, sometimes referred to as ‘nominal’ Christians, who need to nail their colours to the mast more firmly…
A friend’s son-in-law worked for the police and, although a Christian, he didn’t make a stand early enough and was gradually sucked into the worldly ways of his colleagues. Contrast his casual attitude with the following statement, which was found among the papers of a young pastor in Zimbabwe after he was martyred…
I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.
My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colourless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits or popularity. I don’t have to be right or first or tops or recognised or praised or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer and labour by Holy Spirit power.
My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.
I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognising me.
My colours will be clear!
Nicodemus thought that a polite word spoken to Jesus in the shadows would provide him with the answers … but Jesus had other ideas:
YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN!
We shall discover more about Nicodemus’ response and their implications for us in Nicodemus Part 2.