By J.L. McKinley
For centuries the character of Nicodemus has endured much criticism. He’s been referred to as a coward because he chose to come to the Lord at night. I believe this is an unfair assessment of the situation. Nicodemus may have had reasonable motives for his visit with the Lord under such conditions. When we look past the fact that it was night, there is a lot we can learn about ourselves and the world around us by his example. In comparison to the multitudes in the world who will die in their sins, at least Nicodemus came to the Lord, even if perhaps it was only for a visit.
First we need to know a little about this man Nicodemus. John 3:1 says that he was a “ruler of the Jews,” no doubt, a member of the Sanhedrin, a very prestigious position during that time in history. The fact that Nicodemus belonged to the very organization that sought the demise of Jesus made his visit risky. If anyone confessed to believe in him he would be cast out of the synagogue (John 12:42). It’s understandable why Nicodemus chose a veil of darkness to conceal his visit to the Lord. By coming to the Lord at night he could stand in his midst without interruption from the biased crowds. There is no doubt that Nicodemus, like others, was expecting a national Messiah who would deliver Israel from Roman captivity. He knew nothing about a spiritual kingdom.
During our Lord’s three-year ministry, the disciples were continually under the impression that Jesus was going to set up an earthly kingdom. For centuries, the promise of a Messiah who the Jews believed would bring Israel back to its pinnacle as in the days of David was what gave the people hope. When Christ was nailed to the cross their hopes were dashed to the ground. Nicodemus was willing to put this belief that he had held all his life to the test in coming to Jesus.
I’ve met many people who have preconceived ideas about religion and the church that they had received from places other than God’s word. When you offer to sit down with them and show them the truth they shy away. The unlearned person’s last line of defense is usually in this form, “Well, we all have our own interpretations of what the Bible says!” Nicodemus was willing to lay aside his ideas and what he had been taught to hear ” a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). It’s an admirable trait that this man of such authority came to Jesus in the first place. People who obtain important (but unscriptural) positions in denominational churches seldom want to sit down and hear the truth. They choose to live in ignorance of God’s will verses relinquishing their coveted position. A person who is “shacking up” with someone would prefer not to hear any-thing that might make him uncomfortable, therefore any thought of becoming a Christian or attending a religious service is forgotten. In the case of Nicodemus we do not see any of those traits. Here is a man who is willing to put all that he is and believes on the line to seek the truth.
It’s also interesting to see that this man, who was a teacher of the Law, referred to Jesus as “Rabbi.” In the Greek this word rabbi primarily denotes “a master” in contrast to a slave. The Scribes and the Pharisees were known to be very haughty and self-righteous. Nicodemus stepped out from those who thought they knew it all to have the divine truth revealed to him from the very Creator himself (John 1:1-3).
Jesus said unless people become as little children, they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt.18:3). There is nothing more humble or impressionable than a child; their desire to learn by asking questions can drive the average grown-up crazy. It is without a doubt an admirable quality in the eyes of God to see a new-babe in Christ searching and asking for knowledge. Children are dependent on their parents for their needs and guidance into adulthood. A child of God should learn through prayer and diligent study of the Scriptures to rely completely on Jehovah who is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).
The fact that Nicodemus sought out the Lord proves that some of the required qualifications were present. When a person already believes he knows it all, he is unteachable. Not only were the Scribes and the Pharisees very knowledgeable of the Law of Moses, they placed their salvation on the fact that they were descendants of Abraham. Nicodemus knew that Jesus had come from God because he said, “no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2).
Because of curiosity he had the opportunity to hear how to become a part of the greatest kingdom that will ever stand. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5 ). Many people will pass through the murky waters of eternity with-out even considering their sinful condition until they stand guilty before their Creator on the margin of eternity. We must remember that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
We are never told in the Bible whether Nicodemus obeyed the teachings of Jesus, but it is clear by his actions later that he grew as a believer in Christ. The very fact that the Lord, who “knew what was in man” (John 2:25), told him about being born again proves Nicodemus was a sincere seeker, unlike the Jews in chapter 2 (John 2:18-25). In John 7:50-51 we read of Nicodemus standing up for Jesus amidst his peers. Then after the Lord had uttered his final words, “It is finished,” Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arametha, pleaded with Pilate for the body of Jesus and buried it with expensive myrrh and aloes. During a time when all his disciples had returned to their old lives with their hopes dashed, this man who came to Jesus by night was still there. What started out as visit shrouded in secrecy, bloomed into a public display of loyalty. Would we have remained true, even when it seemed like all was lost?
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 24, p. 11-12
December 19, 1996