God’s People, part 220: Nicodemus

Read John 3:1-21

“With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.” (John 19:39, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

nicodemusJesusPart 220: Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a character well-known and beloved for his interactions with Jesus, especially in the fact that he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, was responsible for making sure that Jesus had a proper and honorable burial as opposed to being thrown into a fiery pit. The Romans were not usually known for such concessions when it came to traitors, which Jesus was convicted of being; however, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin and had political sway. No doubt, Pilate saw this request as a political win/win as he was able to rid himself of a rabble-rouser, all the while showing a small measure respect to the followers of Jesus and to the Jewish religious establishment.

Yet, Nicodemus was not always such a brave and audacious person when it came to showing respect for Jesus as a rabbi. While Christians have traditionally held that Nicodemus believed in Jesus and became among the first Christians; however, the Bible does not give us a clue as to the depth of Nicodemus’ belief in Jesus; however, he clearly did come to respect him enough to put his neck out there and request a proper burial.

In the beginning, Nicodemus was more of a curious observer of Jesus’ ministry. We are told in John 3:1 that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a religious leader. In verse 2, we are told that Nicodemus came to Jesus one evening, in the cover of the darkness. This obviously means that he was not comfortable with his colleagues and other people seeing him associating with this itinerant rabbi. Nicodemus clearly did not yet endorse his teachings and, though curious, he was not about to be caught in the same company as Jesus if he could avoid it.

Yet, Nicodemus did have a cautious respect for this obscure rabbi too. He said in verse 2, “Rabbi, we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Nicodemus was not making a statement of faith by saying that, he was simply observing Jesus in light of the Biblical Jewish standard for discerning if a prophet is of God or is false. Clearly, according to Nicodemus, there was something to Jesus and his ministry, because without God there was no way that Jesus could perform the signs he was performing. Again, as was expressed in the previous devotion, the signs point to God’s presence in Jesus.

For Nicodemus, however, Jesus was nothing more than a prophet whom God sent. He did not know Jesus’ true identity and, perhaps, that was exactly why he came to seek Jesus out under the cloak of the dark night. He wanted to find out more of who Jesus ACTUALLY was and, though Nicodemus was perplexed by Jesus answer to him, he got exactly what he was looking for.

In verses 16-21, Jesus proceeded to tell Nicodemus who he was. In fact, in the famous verses 16-17, Jesus gave Nicodemus something hadn’t given anyone up until this point: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17, NLT). In other words, Jesus blatantly told Nicodemus that he was God’s only begotten son and God’s salvation plan for the world.

He also shared with Nicodemus the way in which one might be saved through him: being born again. Throughout the years, this phrase has been hijacked by some Christians to mean “Bible-believing fundamentalist who jams his/her faith down people’s throats.” Yet, that is NOT what Christ meant by born again. Rather, he explains to Nicodemus, one places their faith in God’s only Son, they are born again of the Holy Spirit and become a new creation as a result of that birth.

By the end of the whole exchange, one is left feeling like Nicodemus walked away confused and dejected, feeling as if the whole meeting was incomprehensible and uncertain. Yet, regardless of how Nicodemus may or may not have felt leaving Jesus that night, a seed was planted and something clearly changed within him. How do we know this? In John 7:51, while the Sanhedrin was plotting to arrest and kill Jesus, Nicodemus spoke up in the Nazarene’s defense, “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing” (NLT)? Also, in John 19:39, Nicodemus was with Joseph of Arimathea (another secret follower of Jesus’) when he buried Jesus in his own tomb. No doubt, Nicodemus (a man with religious and political influence) played a role in procuring Jesus’ body from Pilate.

All of this should remind us that one cannot judge a book by its cover. We never know how God is working in the lives of others. Change almost never happens overnight and one never knows when and how God will bring even the most stubborn person into salvation. Rather than judging people based of who we think they are based off of their status, vocation or any other external factor, we ought to refrain from judgment and just be willing to seed planters, trusting that God will nurture and nourish those seeds. In doing so, we will be following Jesus’ model of patient, compassionate, loving evangelism.

Patience is a good quality in a gardener; likewise, it is good quality in a Christian as well.

Lord, give me the patience and trust I need to know that you are working in the lives of those I have planted seeds. Amen.

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