Tag Archives: Born Again

God’s People, part 220: Nicodemus

Read John 3:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Patience is a good quality in a gardener; likewise, it is good quality in a Christian as well.

PRAYER
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.

Schooled

Read John 3:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 NLT)

38218634Perhaps the most memorized verse in all of the Bible, certainly within Christian circles, is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) Yet, I would wager that out of the people who have memorized that particular verse, very few know the context those particular words arose out of. As such, I think it would particularly helpful to shed light on that.

It seems clear that Jesus is in or around the city of Jerusalem. He had just entered the Temple and, in the court of the Gentiles, cleared out any and all who were trying to buy and sell animals, as well as anyone who was trying to exhange their own currency for the Temple Shekel. This angry and violent act had, no doubt, left many of the Temple leadership, the Pharisees, and the Romans on edge about this “teacher” from Galilee.

It is no wonder then that Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had probably witnessed the whole Temple scene take place, came to “discuss things” with Jesus. The question we must ask is this, why did Nicodemus come to Jesus? Had be been sent there by the the Sanhedrin to gather some information on Jesus? Did he come on his own accord, seeking to have a more private and intimate conversation with this teacher? Perhaps Nicodemus saw Jesus as a threat, or perhaps Jesus’ actions had convicted him in a way that caused him to seek answers to satisfy his soul.

What we do know is that Nicodemus, either on his own or instructed by his peers, came in the dark of night, hidden in the shadows and no doubt cloaked in order to make his visit to Jesus a secret. Whether or not he was their on “business” or for his own self-gratification, Nicodemus was not wanting anyone else to know that he was their in the presence of this teacher who had just questioned the authority of the Jewish political and religious leadership.

First and foremost, regardless of the reasoning behind his visit, it can be said that Nicodemus was a proud man. He was one who was exalted by the very position he held as a teacher. He was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling religious body of the Jews made up of the Saducees (Priests) and Scribes (many of whom were Pharisees). As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a teacher of the Torah, of the Law of God handed down by Moses, as well as a scholar who studied the whole of the Jewish bible (Tanakh). It was the Pharisees, in opposition to the Sadducees, who taught in a resurrection of the dead, and a life after death.

So, no doubt, Nicodemus wanted to know just exactly who this Jesus thought he was. What’s more, I am sure Nicodemus was truly intrigued and concerned by Jesus actions in the Temple and he, no doubt, wanted to test Jesus’ theological understanding, as it were.  So, in the dark of night, this Pharisee came to Jesus and began to question him. He tried to match wits with Jesus and probed him in away that ultimately exposed his lack of understanding in terms of the Spirit. Sure, Nicodemus had great theological knowledge, but he was lacking in his heart-knowledge of the movement of the Spirit. Jesus schooled him.

What’s important to pull from this is that in his pride,  Nicodemus was humbled. He was shown to not be as knowledgeable as he thought he was. He discovered that his exalted position as a Pharisee meant absolutely nothing to God. What matters to God is that one is in tune with the Spirit, that one is open to what God is doing in the here and now. All of the learning CANNOT and WILL NOT replace and openness to the Holy Spirit. And, as the Jesus warned in Mathew 23:12, the proud shall be humbled. The exalted shall be brought low. Today’s challenge for you is to humble yourself before God and open yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” – Thomas Merton

PRAYER
Lord, humble me that I may be caught up in the working of the Holy Spirit. Amen.