On your faith journey, have you ever been seriously challenged with a concept that seemed unfathomable? What did you do? How did you process through it? Did you try to understand the concept through the physical world? How do you sort things out on the spiritual realm when they don’t make sense from the perspective of our physical world? Nicodemus was a master teacher—a Rabbi, and yet he didn’t understand the spiritual concept of being born again. When you don’t fully understand a spiritual concept, do you reject it, or are you like Nicodemus and willing to be stretched and keep growing? Let us enter into Nicodemus’s faith journey and embrace the learning process with him.
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God’” (John 3:1-21 NIV).
Nicodemus knew the Word of God. He knew that Jesus was a Rabbi from God because of the signs He was performing. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Luke 7:22 NIV). Why do you think he came to Jesus at night? Nicodemus may not have wanted a lot of attention drawn to them so that they could have a time of peace and quiet for a discussion. Could he have been wondering if Jesus was the One spoken of by the LORD through Isaiah? “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.’ Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy…And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way…only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isa 35:3-10 NIV). Even though he was Israel’s teacher, he had to learn spiritual truths revealed in the Word and mature spiritually. We, too, must learn spiritual truths so we can mature spiritually. Faith is a journey, and as we walk with Christ, He will stretch us so that we will mature in our faith. Nicodemus seemed quite willing to be stretched. Are we?
Nicodemus would have known the story of Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness so the people that were bitten by the venomous snakes would live if they looked upon the bronze snake. “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’ Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived” (Num 21:4-9 NIV). Now Nicodemus is being challenged to understand that story with a greater significance as one pointing to the Son of Man being lifted up so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.
Do you think Nicodemus understood the concept of being “born again” (John 3:3)? Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5-6 NIV). John explains, “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 did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:10-13 NIV). Do we fully understand this? If so, how does that influence our thoughts and actions? How does it affect the way we interact with one another? If we are born of the Spirit – born of God – children of God, do we truly “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16 NIV)? Does the Spirit guide our hearts in divine love?
Do you think Nicodemus understood the verdict and the great significance of the Light coming into the world? Jesus is eternal life and the Light of the world. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:4-9 NIV). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 NIV). “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19 NIV). Jesus is the true Light of the world, so if we walk with Him, we walk in the light of life. If we walk in the Light, then we “are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16 NIV). Do we light up the world with the Light of Christ Jesus?
Nicodemus’s faith journey continues to mature spiritually. “On the last and greatest day of the festival [Jewish Festival of Tabernacles], Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. On hearing his words, some of the people said, ‘Surely this man is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘He is the Messiah.’ Still others asked, ‘How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why didn’t you bring him in?’ ‘No one ever spoke the way this man does,’ the guards replied. ‘You mean he has deceived you also?’ the Pharisees retorted. ‘Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, ‘Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?’ They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee’” (John 7:37-52 NIV).
Nicodemus originally went to speak with Jesus at night, but now he is defending Him in broad daylight. He is taking a stand and opposing chief priest and the Pharisees. This is a bold move for Nicodemus and one that could bring much ridicule from his colleagues. Would we be willing to take a stand like that? Have you ever been tested in such a way? If so, did you stand for what was right or go along with the crowd? Praise God, Nicodemus was growing in his faith. May God bless us to stand strong in our faith.
Where is Nicodemus during the crucifixion? “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:38-42 NIV).
Notice how John points out that this is the same Nicodemus who visited Jesus earlier at night (John 19:39). He also tells us that Joseph was secretly a disciple of Jesus because he feared the Jewish leaders (19:38). So, both men boldly stepped up to take care of Jesus’ body in front of all the Jewish leaders. They grew in their faith and overcame their fear as they watch an innocent man die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He was lifted up so that we who believe in Him may have eternal life. Love drove out their fear. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18 NIV). What fears still have a hold on you? Nicodemus and Joseph matured in the faith, and their fears were made perfect in love. Their fears turned into pure love for Christ Jesus. “We love because he first loved us” (4:19). May God turn all of your fears into perfect love. To God be the glory. Amen.