This past summer, at our Vacation Bible School family night, I gave a talk on Nicodemus and the questions he asked. Nicodemus is a great example of someone who was not ready to believe Jesus was who he said he was right away but had genuine questions. I know plenty of us can identify with Nicodemus as we have questions about who Jesus really is.
When we first meet Nicodemus in John chapter 3 he believes that Jesus is a “Rabbi” or teacher who has come from God (vs 2). What I think is funny about the beginning of this conversation is that Jesus is not answering a question but making a statement. Verse 3 says Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” It is easy for most of us who have grown up in a religious culture (think the South) to think that being born again doesn’t sound too crazy. But look at that statement again and think as if you had never heard it before. You have to be “born again”. I don’t know about you but I am six feet tall and two hundred pounds, I do not want to be thinking about being birthed again and I am sure my mom would have some protests! This is what Nicodemus was asking in vs 4 “How can a man be born again when he is old?”, a perfectly reasonable question. When Nicodemus asked this question Jesus didn’t say “Don’t ask questions” or ignore the question. He broke it down for Nicodemus. One is a birth of flesh and bones the other, the second birth, is spiritual. Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” From what we can see though this answer didn’t immediately convince Nicodemus.
For people like me who grew up in Christian culture the fact that Nicodemus didn’t become a disciple right away is flabbergasting. What do you mean Nicodemus didn’t see the Truth? Jesus was literally saying John 3:16 to his face! JOHN 3:16! Come on man! Why do you think he didn’t understand? Jesus points out here that Nicodemus was “Israel’s teacher”. This is someone who KNOWS scripture. Which we would think is a good thing, and it is, but most of the group he was talking to were people who had learned to use scripture for their own benefit or to point out the flaws in others. These “teachers” knew what the scriptures said but were not applying it to the world around them. Maybe Nicodemus was an exception, but being so entrenched in a culture of rules, it just took him longer to recognize that the scriptures he had were about the man right in front of him.
So does that mean this is the last of Nicodemus? No, we see him again asking questions in John chapter 7.
Now we see Jesus in front of the Pharisees and Nicodemus, probably a little over a year later. Nicodemus asks the other Pharisees “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” From this question we can not really ascertain if Nicodemus is sympathetic to Jesus or as he showed earlier he knows that such a good man must come from God. We do know that he was taking a stand because he was made fun of for asking this question. The Pharisees, like most bullies, didn’t address the actual question; they just made fun of where Jesus was from and said to Nicodemus “Are you from Galilee too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” Besides being wrong (Jonah came from Galilee) this did not address the question Nicodemus asked, “Can we condemn a man without evidence?” This taunt was also similar to when Nathanael asked “Nazareth! Can anything good come out of there?” or when Peter was identified by his accent. These examples show me that in our journey to find truth there are going to be naysayers along the way. These people are not legitimate critics pointing out the flaw in your thinking or beliefs, but are like the mockers in Proverbs who hurl insults at those who are offering correction. I would say at this point Nicodemus was probably not a believer by what is said in John 6:48 but he was someone being pulled by God towards The Truth.
The next and last time we see Nicodemus is after the crucifixion in John chapter 19. Here it is obvious that Nicodemus is a believer now. He is with Joseph of Arimathea who had been a secret believer up to that point. These two were there to take Jesus’s body and prepare it for burial. They were there when almost all the other disciples had abandoned Jesus. Why was Nicodemus there now? What had happened? Well, the most important thing that happened was the cross. The cross is central to any conversion experience. But between the John 3 and John 19 there was more than a year and maybe two. During this time Nicodemus went from questioning to believing. He probably believed for a multitude of reasons. He sees that the scriptures he has devoted his life to actually point to Jesus. He sees the miracles Jesus performs and ultimately he goes from questioner and “Israel’s Teacher” to a disciple.
My hope and prayer is that if you identify with Nicodemus, where you have real questions about what it means to follow Jesus, that we at Pioneer Community can be a place where you can feel comfortable to ask those questions. Whether that leads to a journey where the questions are answered the first time you come to a Bible study or you continue to ask tough questions for two, three or even eight years, we will prayerfully and from scripture try to answer those for you. We love questioners and truth seekers at Pioneer Community and hope you will give us a chance to find the answers with you. We build our faith on the Truth and would love to share that with you.