Nicodemus – Neville Clark
He was basically an honest man, Nicodemus, he had a lot of status, but you could appeal to his better judgment and he really would tell the truth. Nicodemus recognised Jesus was something special, he was a teacher come from God. Nicodemus wanted the truth on his own terms. He knew all about the coming of the Kingdom of God, because he was Bible student and a powerful member of the Sanhedrin. If Jesus was “the king who was to come” then he, Nicodemus, wanted to be in an influential position in the Kingdom age.
The Sanhedrin was a group who lived in the shadows, disciples of darkness, closet disciples. They would never stand apart from any ecclesial decision. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and if he wasn’t what they were looking for they would lose everything. Jesus did not think much of that attitude, Matt 10:34, think not I have come to send peace on the earth. Jesus did not think much about closet disciples. I want people to stand up and be counted individually.
In John 3, this powerful little group had to find out for sure whether this man really was the Messiah they were looking for. As a consequence of that they sent in Nicodemus, their best representative. He was a ruler of the Jews, and he came by night. “We know that thou art a teacher come from God. For no man can do these miracles unless God be with him.” Nicodemus was a man of the Pharisees, John 2:25, and Jesus knew what was in “man,” and here was a ‘man’ of the Pharisees. Jesus knew all about man.
V 2. Nicodemus was impressed by the miracles Jesus had done. Many believed when they saw the miracles. 2:23, 24. Jesus did not commit himself unto men because he knew all men. The word “believed” and “commit” are the same word. Many people believed in him but he did not believe in them Nicodemus was no more believing than the rest of the nation. But his disposition was right. We all believe in Jesus Christ, but does he believe in us. Does Jesus trust you as his representative.
Nicodemus means ‘victor of the people.’ The ultimate victory Nicodemus has is over himself. He would have to stand up for what he really believed. Nicodemus was from the Pharisees, “separate ones” the strictest sect of the religion. A strict observance of the Torah was everything to the Pharisees. Yet there were Sadducees, and Essenes who resented the Pharisees. Their traditions that grew up became “burdens difficult to be born.”
Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews,” John 3:2 means he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Art thou a master of Israel and knowers not these things. He was ‘the’ master of Israel. At the top was the president, he ran the Sanhedrin. No 2 was the vice president, he led discussion on disputed points, under this was the sage, the referee, he put into shape all the subjects under discussion, the Wise one, he was Nicodemus. Nicodemus had so much he would have to leave behind to accept Jesus. When Jesus tells him that he must see ‘born again’ Nicodemus asks, v 4. “How can a man be born when he is old.” It would appear that Nicodemus was probably about 60 years old and mot probably a wealthy man, and here he is, sitting at the feet of an unlearned carpenter. He came to Jesus at night. John 7:50. John 19:39. Men love darkness because their deeds are evil. To enter the kingdom of God it would be necessary also for Nicodemus to step out of the shadows and face up to the light of God’s word. The only other person who is referred to in these terms of moving in the shadows like this is Judas, he moves from the light and slips into the shadows into the darkness. But here is Nicodemus who comes into the light from darkness.
Nicodemus knew all about Jesus. He says “We know that thou art a teacher come from God. Nicodemus story most probably began 18 years ago in the temple, Luke 2:46. He being a “Master” in Israel was probably one of those who was here when Jesus was sitting in the middle of the doctors when he was 12 years old. V 3. Jesus answered, except a man born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus knew what Nicodemus was thinking. Nicodemus wanted to talk about the coming kingdom. But he didn’t have a clue about what it was all about. He did not understand that the Jewish religion would be no part of the kingdom of God.
“Except a man be born of water and of the spirit” says Jesus, “he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” V 5. You won’t enter enter the kingdom of God Nicodemus and, v 3, you won’t ‘see’ the kingdom of God, ie comprehend the kingdom of God unless you forsake all. To the Pharisees your physical birth was everything because they were “Abraham’s seed and had never been in bondage to any man,’ but Jesus is telling Nicodemus that unless he forsakes his old identity he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Matt 3: 9, “Think not to say to yourselves that you have Abraham to your father,” he says, and the Jews had a major problem with the status they had and the status they had inherited.
Jesus has one more thing to say, v 14, “John 3:14 NIV, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” V 14, As Moses lifted up the serpent .. Jesus was to be lifted up, Num 21 The Jews died of snake bite, and so human nature had to be destroyed. All they had to do was look upon the brazen serpent and believe. Christ was going to be lifted up and all who looked on him would be saved. Under the law there were things that had to be done to cover sin, Lev 4:13 If the sin be a sin of ignorance, offer a young bullock for the national sin. There was no provision under the law for salvation to be by a serpent on a pole. What Moses had done by lifting up the brazen servant was outside the law of Moses, and it involved hoisting up human nature on a pole and destroying it and believing. Nicodemus would have known about the serpent on the pole, the Jews, however, never really understood that story. They thought the serpent on the pole was a symbol of forgiveness. They had no concept of their own nature and that it had to be destroyed. The law in that sense would be no use to them.
Nicodemus leaves the Lord’s presence confused and completely humiliated. He had been told that he had to undergo a new birth which he didn’t understand. He had been told that human nature had to be lifted up and he didn’t really understand that. As he walked out the door of probably John’s house in Jerusalem the last words ringing in his ears were the words of Ch 3:19, By the way, “men love darkness because their deeds are evil,’ and off he goes, scuttling into the night, because it was “still night.” A humiliating end to his discussion with Christ.
Two and a half years roll by, John 7:1 and it is 6 months before the final passover and the crucifixion, it is the feast of tabernacles. We are in the last straight now. In John 7:45, the religious leaders are looking to stop Jesus. The Sanhedrin calls a meeting, and they send the Jewish temple guards to arrest Jesus and they sit waiting for Jesus to be brought back to them, and in John 7:45 they ask the returning guards, “Why have you not brought him.” The answer they receive is nothing short of amazing. “Never man spake like this man.” John Carter describes this meeting. “This is one of the strangest explanation of failure to make an arrest put forward by police of any age of any country.”
The response from the Pharisees is venomous. “Are ye also deceived?” 2 1/2 years later Sanhedrin still haven’t shown themselves or declared what they believe, but “the common people believed.” But Cornelius is starting to come out from the dark. He says, v 50, ” Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find it what he has even doing?” Their law required that they do not show partiality in judgment, Deut 1:17. You condemn the multitude for not knowing the law v 49, but you are prepared to condemn a man without a hearing just because you don’t like him, Jn 7:51. This is an elementary principle of justice and you are violating it, he says.
Nicodemus is stepping out of the shadows now and has declared his hand. He can’t hide any more and the Sanhedrin note it, v 52 “Art thou also of Galilee. Out of Galilee rises no prophet, they say.” Who are they talking to? They are talking to number 3 in the Sanhedrin, the doctor, and they speak to him like they do in disgust because it is clear to them now where Nicodemus loyalty lies. So they say, search and look in the Bible. And who are they talking to? They are talking to the doctor, the “master.” They are telling him to “search and look in his Bible and find that no good thing comes out of Galilee.” They are saying this to the academic leader of their class. If anybody has “searched” and “looked” it was Nicodemus. They were the ones who were ignorant because they should have known that there were at least two other prophets from Galilee, Jonah and Nahum so it should have been no surprise that there could be a third prophet from Galilee.
Today, the issue is still one of disclosure, coming out of the darkness. In the world in which we live humanism is making inroads into the ecclesia. It used to be just in the workplace. Now the battle lines are drawn at the gate of the ecclesia. “A man’s foes will be those of his own household,” Matt 10:36. No one any longer in the workforce questions our beliefs, the conflict now has moved from the workforce to the ecclesia. Now, within the ecclesia you won’t make friends, and you will be called a Pharisee, you will be called self-righteousness, judgmental. At the birthday party they are going to be doing karaoke and so you say ‘no’, but you’ve got to say ‘why.’ The Sunday School says you’ve all got to come to my house and we will watch movies. Why would you do that? What has that got to do with Sunday School? So you say ‘no,’ but, again, you’ve got to know why. But it has to be said, because you’ve got to come out of the darkness and stand up and be counted. Silence is darkness. Ezek 33:6 The watchman must blow the trumpet to warn the people of imminent danger. If he doesn’t blow the trumpet then upon his head is their blood. You know there is something wrong in ecclesial life and you say nothing, perhaps there are casualties and someone leaves the truth, you could perhaps have stopped it. If you say something and they don’t act upon it, you are resolved from responsibility, but it is life and death. You must not remain in darkness. Heb 13:17 We are told to obey them that rule over you, such as the AB, but they must stand for right, because they are going to stand in the last days, and they have to “give account, Heb 13:17. Silence is darkness.
But here it is “The Jews” who are talking and they are the leaders who have rule, and Nicodemus is intimidated by them. “Your testimony is not valid,” they say, John 8:13, v22 ‘The Jews’ = Jewish rulers not just common people. In John 8:23 Jesus talked to these leaders and he says, “Ye are from beneath, I am from above, You are of this world, and I am not of this world Jn 3:3 and you shall die in your sins,” v 24. And Jesus tells Nicodemus that he has to be born from above Jn 3:15. V 28 when ye have lifted up the son of man. It all comes flooding back into Nicodemus mind. He hadn’t stood up for what he believed then.
John 12:6 It is the last week of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, the final passover and Jesus last words to Nicodemus are, Jn 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world. If I be lifted up will draw all men unto me,” and Nicodemus has been thinking about this for 3 years. There is an issue, v 42, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers many believed on him, but because of the pharisees they would be put out of the synagogue.” Nicodemus knows what he should do but look what is at stake, v 43. The Pharisees loved the praise of men. V 44, 46 “I am the light that has come into the world,” you cannot abide in darkness. Nicodemus had lived in darkness. He had been a disciple of darkness.
Matt 23. The 8 woes against the Pharisees v 7. No doubt Nicodemus heard this discourse. You love greetings in the market place. Matt 23;10. You must not be called master, and Nicodemus was ‘the’ master of Israel. Matt 23:16 fools and blind and they love darkness. Matt 23:33Ye are a generation of vipers. Upon your head is the blood of all of the prophets. All the pieces fell into place for Nicodemus and he would now understand about the son of man being “lifted up.” He knew who the serpents were they were the Pharisees, and hypocrisy was their disease. In that discourse in the temple court all the pieces would have come together for Nicodemus. It would have dawned on Nicodemus the significance of that prophecy. He now knew who the serpents were. He’d spent three years thinking about it. The leaven of the Pharisees was killing the people.
In the last hours of Jesus life, Nicodemus converted. He most probably saw the trial and the travesty it was. Luke 53:21, Joseph of Arimathea had not consented to the death of Christ. John 19:38 they were probably both present at the trial of Christ. John 19:28. Joseph of Arimathea being a disciple of Jesus but secretly. He took the body of Jesus and Nicodemus came also. He brought myrrh and aloes, 100 lb weight. You have the disciple of darkness, but it is not night time any more it is broad day light and here is the master of Israel who stood for the Law, he has just broken the law, because the passover starts in two hours, and the feast of unleavened bread after that and he has just touched a dead body which will make him unclean for 7 days. He has just missed the most important feast in the Jewish calendar, and he doesn’t care! because he has just found the true passover lamb and he now understands that salvation is outside the law and irrespective of the Mosaic passover he has found the true passover lamb and he has come to rescue it himself.
Encounters With Christ: Minor Characters of the GospelsFrom the first meeting Jesus had with him in John Ch 3, when this ‘doctor’ first walked in the room, the Lord must have known that it would be he who would pull out the nails. When they first met, Jesus said that the son of man will be lifted up and he was talking to the man who would lift him down. The prophecy that Nicodemus had heard three times in the last three years had now come to pass and Nicodemus now comes out of the darkness no longer he who came by night, but a faithful servant of God.
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