“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The same came unto him by night, and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him!” (John
Three passages in Scripture tell us something about this man. Even though we might desire further information, enough is told us of him in these passages to give us a clear picture of his character and development.
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The first time we meet Nicodemus is in the above passage of Scripture. The second time he is among those whom the scribes have sent to lay hold on Jesus; these returned without their prisoner, but with the report that they had never heard anyone speak as He.
In a burst of temper the chief priests and the Pharisees cried, “This multitude that knoweth not the law is accursed.” To this Nicodemus replied, “Doth our law judge a man, except it first hear from himself and know what he doeth?” This courageous reply, containing a judgment over those who boasted of knowing the law but still broke it, shows us Nicodemus as a man who had a high regard for truth.
The third time we hear of him is when Jesus was dead. The friends of Jesus had fled in doubt and despair; Nicodemus was then one of the two who came to bury Him. This reveals him to be a friend of Jesus. It was a courageous act on the part of one who was a member of the council which condemned Jesus.
At times I seem to see Nicodemus as he came to Golgotha and found that Jesus was dead. The words he heard that first night about a serpent that was raised in the wilderness must surely have come back to his mind now with a new meaning. In the shadow of the cross he saw the relationship between the brazen serpent and Christ. He was fortunate in knowing Moses and the prophets so well. All the sayings about the Messiah which he had often pondered over came to his mind; now he saw them gathered in Christ on the cross — gathered as light in a lens.
It is not unreasonable to suppose that Nicodemus was the first of the followers of Christ who understood the mystery of the cross.
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These glimpses into the life of Nicodemus reveal to us his steady development toward a clearer light and a more courageous faith in Christ. All of this growth was rooted in his meeting with Jesus that first night.
It appears to me that Nicodemus was a great man even before he met Jesus. By nature he was a lover of truth, a good teacher, a wise and just counselor, and an asset to his people.
When he went to Jesus that night it was certainly not because he saw himself as a great sinner. If Jesus had referred him to the Commandments, he would surely have replied, “All these have I kept from my youth up.” But he did not have a great deal to say about himself. The only thing he could do was to make a short speech about his view of Jesus. He did not bare his inner life for Jesus; he could not do so because he did not understand himself. But Jesus unlocked the door to the secret chamber of his heart and showed him what was needful.
What might it have been that brought him to Jesus? Is it possible that a person goes to the Savior without being a sinner in his own eyes?
I think there must have been something gnawing away within — something which he could neither understand nor remove. There was a dark room deep down in his honest soul that he was not able to enter. It made him restless, questioning, and brooding; perhaps he also lost sleep. Perhaps he thought that this teacher, having come from God, might help him. And so he came to Jesus.
That was sound reasoning and wise action.
Face to face he sits with Jesus. The Savior quietly opens the door to his inner life. It is as though we can read between the lines these words: “Nicodemus, you are a good man, but you are not born of God. All of your works are products of your own efforts rather than God-wrought deeds. If you have been successful in shying away from all that which is evil in the world and practice that which is good and right, you are still far from realizing the purpose of your life. Nicodemus, you must be born again.”
The heart-door is in the process of being opened. The light from Christ’s words shines upon the mystery of his life. Now he must choose either to follow the light or take offense at Jesus. He followed the light and found life.
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We shall now turn from Nicodernus to those people who today resemble him in so many ways.
This age is one in which godlessness holds sway. Sin has penetrated all of life, and it is easy for evil to find expression, but it is more difficult for the good to come to the fore. Yet in the midst of all sin and misery there is many a Nicodemus who shuns evil and seeks to do that which is right. We can find these people in all levels of society. They are found in royal palaces and in the poor man’s cottage. We find them in the schools of higher learning and in government service; we have them among farmers and laborers. Not least do we have them among our young people.
I should like to direct my words to this last group. How I should like to be able to give you some light on the road you must travel through this dark world. So far your life has been all sunshine; you have come from a good home and have a wonderful inheritance from your parents. Even though we are all lost in sin, we are not all equally enslaved in sin. Therefore there are many good people who are not Christians.
Perhaps you have also had a praying mother who brought you to Jesus even before you were born. Kind hands have hedged about you all your days. By nature you are quiet and reserved; you do not feel at home in sin. Evil does not have a strong hold on you. Your parents testify that you have been a good child; all who know you consider you to be an exemplary person.
You are possibly the last one to admit that such commendations are wholly true. Nevertheless, you know that you have not done anything particularly wrong; you are not a great sinner. But you are not satisfied with yourself; you wish that you too might be converted and saved. You listen to God’s Word, and long to be gripped by its message. Yet nothing happens; life becomes more and more of a riddle to you. In the quiet hours of sleepless nights tears moisten your pillow.
In the midst of this life of longing and uncertainty you are certain of one thing; that is that you do not have peace with God. You know it. You know that the end of such a life as yours will be perdition. This is one thing of which you have no doubt. Yours is the experience of the poet who wrote:
Apart from Jesus I lived in sadness;
I had many comforts, but no gladness.
I had all the world could offer me,
But lived my life in constant misery.
I seem to hear someone say: Such is my case; but how shall I proceed to solve my problem? I cannot pretend to be what I am not, nor make myself any different from what I am.
That is right; but there is nevertheless one thing which you can do. You can go to Jesus with your problem. You can do that if you really want to.
Is it not necessary for one to be awakened first and to see himself as a lost sinner? Listen: He who knows that he is not saved, and realizes that he needs to be saved, is already awakened; such a one is not sleeping. You know this too. The Bible does not specify how much a person is to be awakened; nor does it say how great sinners we must be before we can be saved. Is anyone ever sufficiently awakened? If we were completely awakened all at once we would scarcely be able to live. We know well that all of one’s Christian life is one of continued awakening to see more and more of ourselves and of the grace of God.
The important thing is not how we come to Jesus, but that we come. Both Nicodemus and Nathanael came to Jesus, but in different ways. No one goes to Jesus unless he realizes his need of a Savior; nor is anyone cast out because he has not come in the right way.
Come, then, you Nicodemus-souls—young and old; do as he did and come to Jesus. Do so even if you, like Nicodemus, cannot understand yourself and do not know what to say to Jesus. Remember that the Savior, now as then, can tell you what is wrong with you.
What bliss, my soul, what pure delight
By darkness gently sheltered,
To sit one Nicodemus night
With Jesus undisturbed.
‘Tis granted him who seeks to find
The Lord with all his souls and mind.
With peace and joy within his heart
He shall depart
To live a life for God apart.
Are you afraid that someone might see you? Is fear of man a powerful force in your life? Then go to Jesus at night while others are sleeping. “He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” He who made Nicodemus so courageous that he could defend Jesus when all others railed against Him can make a fearless Christian of you also. Many a timorous soul has been filled with courage after meeting with Jesus. You will have the same experience if you go to Him.
Just a step, just a step, you who wavering stand
On the road that you know leads not home;
It will open the way to the heavenly land,
Full of peace, if no longer you roam.
Just a step to the way that leads upward to God;
Do you dare to come forth on that heavenly road,
That leads from the world back to God?
Yes, for you there is just one step from the world to God. It is that one step which so few have the courage to take. For failure to take this one step they lose their soul.
If you would save that one precious life that you have, then take this step at all costs. It can never be too costly. Take the step now; it will not be easier another time. If you come, God will make you into a new creature.
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