Nicodemus Has Another Go at It
I have broken out these three verses from the end of chapter seven for special treatment, This is the second time Nicodemus is mentioned in the Gospel of John. The first time we meet him is in chapter three when he comes to Jesus at night. In that study we saw that the darkness of the night reflected upon the darkness of Nicodemus’ heart. Some commentators thought Nicodemus had come by night because he could have a more relaxed meeting with Jesus. But when we looked at the end of chapter two, it seems much more likely that Nicodemus was afraid of being seen by his fellow Pharisees. We also learned that others felt the same was as Nicodemus that there was something about Jesus that rang true.
We discovered that things did not go so well for Nicodemus. Jesus revealed to him that he was far from being the teacher of Israel that he was reported to be. Jesus lovingly but bluntly revealed to Nicodemus that he needed to be born again. Nicodemus left that night still in the dark. Why didn’t Jesus hammer home the salvation message and get Nicodemus to the old fashioned altar to say the sinner’s prayer?
When we read the gospel of John, we have several character sketches. Some like Nathaniel are given one short episode in which the character is instantly brought to faith. Others like Peter, Nicodemus, and Thomas make several appearances throughout the text. In each of these pictures we get a little snapshot of the progress of their faith journey. Others like Pilate are witnessed to, yet never can make the profession of faith in Jesus. Others like John the Baptist are presented as always faithful to the task of proclaiming Christ through every appearance in the Gospel. Then there is Judas who is presented as a devil in every appearance.
Today we get another look at Nicodemus. Let us get a progress report on how he is doing.
Jesus had just finished his appeal to the people at the Feast of Tabernacles. We saw last week that the crowd was quite divided. Some believed on Jesus and others were bitterly hostile to Jesus. The Pharisees had sent the Temple police to arrest Jesus but were unable to because they were swayed by the power of Jesus’ teaching. As a result, they came back empty to the Pharisees who were astonished and dismayed. They were quite dismissive of the guard’s plea that no one had ever spoken like Jesus before.
The last statement that the Pharisees made before Nicodemus makes his second appearance was that none of the Jewish leaders or the Pharisees believed on Him. This was an attempt to insult the guards for their lack of judgment. The Pharisees claimed solidarity with the other Jewish leaders who were for the most part Sadducees. The Pharisees and Sadducees both hated each other, yet they made a claim of solidarity against Jesus. But perhaps this unanimous consent of the Pharisees was not so unanimous at all. Perhaps it was also a warning to all the Pharisees that they had better toe the line or else. The guards had defected and they surely did not want any of their own to defect also.
Not all of the Pharisees were so rigid. We can see from the Book of Acts that another famous Pharisee, Gamaliel, stood up for Peter and John when the Sanhedrin meant evil or death against them. Even though that Pharisee did not agree with the Apostle’s doctrine, He was willing to let God be God. If Christianity was not of God, God would judge and bring it to ruin by whatever means He desired. However, the Sanhedrin would find itself fighting against God if they tried to punish Peter and John. We know that God was with the Apostle’s and used Gamaliel as the means of preventing their death. Gamaliel had worked then unwittingly as the defense lawyer.
We do get the idea from the Gospel of John that Nicodemus was willing to listen to Jesus and not stop his ears and dismiss Him. We saw this in His first encounter. And we see this same thing again at verse 50. The Pharisees had cursed the rabble for their ignorance of the Law, introducing the statement with the strong Greek word for “but” to emphasize that they were as far from blessed as possible. But the irony in their statement is immediately exposed by Nicodemus. He reminds his fellow Pharisees that it was against the Law to condemn someone without an impartial hearing into the matter about what the ma did. This involved the necessity of sworn testimony and the agreement of two or three witnesses in the case of a capital offense.
By making this statement, Nicodemus not only exposes the fact that the Pharisees were willfully ignorant of the Law, it also made them the subject of the same curse that they had just said about those in the crowd who followed Jesus. They were cursed for their own ignorance by their own mouths. Nicodemus had exposed the evil in their hearts just like Jesus had exposed his.
The reaction of the other Pharisees was quick and derisive of Nicodemus. Nicodemus who was called “the teacher of Israel” before is now compared to what the Pharisees considered to be unlearned ignoramuses. “Certainly you aren’t one of those Galileans, are you!” they replied. They had already argued with the crowd that “no prophet arises out of Galilee”. The lack of a definite article (the) with prophet seems to indicate not even a single prophet would come from there. However, Jonah and Nahum were both from Galilee. And even if one takes “prophet” to refer to “The Prophet”, then one would only have to look to Isaiah 9:1 and following for a Scripture that supports the idea of the great light arising out of Galilee of the Nations who would be called “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the prince of Peace.”
So we can see that it was the Pharisees who were utterly ignorant of the facts and therefore cursed, not the people in the crowd who believed on Him. They were more in the dark than the Temple Guards or even Nicodemus. Nicodemus had come a long way from his earlier encounter with Jesus. He was at least willing to stand up as Jesus’ defense lawyer. But he was not yet a disciple. The difference between a defense counselor and the disciple is that after the lawyer argues the case, he or she goes home at night, whether or not the client is found guilty or not guilty. The willingness to give Jesus His due process under the law is good, but it does not raise one to a believer in Jesus.
A disciple of Jesus will live or die with His Master. Of the eleven, all but perhaps John would follow Jesus on the road to execution. Jesus reminds all who would be His disciples that they have to deny themselves every day, take up their cross and follow Jesus. At least, anyone who would be a follower of Jesus must do as Paul mentions in Romans 12:1-2 and be living sacrifices. Every day we have to present ourselves to be lain down as sacrifices by the renewing of our mind which is another way of saying daily repentance. Nicodemus was brave to stand up for Jesus in a limited way and was dealt with viciously by his fellow Pharisees for it. But he was only halfway there.
Now we must consider this on our daily walk that we cannot walk the road of compromise. We cannot identify ourselves as sophisticated people of the world and be a disciple of Jesus at the same time. James tells us that friendship with the world is to be God’s enemy. In like matter, friendship with God makes you the enemy of the world. If you try the compromise path, you will be treated by your worldly peers in the same manner as Nicodemus was. If you are bold in the faith, you will still be held in contempt, but at least you will be respected as an adversary rather than a wimp. The most uncomfortable place one can be is on the fence trying to please two different masters who are at utter odds with each other. You need to get wholly on one side of the fence or the other. If Baal is God, then worship him. But if the Lord is God, then you would be dead wrong to oppose him. Where are the prophets of Baal who withstood Elijah at Mt. Carmel? Where is Elijah? The first group paid with their lives; Elijah was carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot.
It does not seem to me at this point that Nicodemus had passed the test. But He would get another chance later. Let’s sees how he does with that.