The account of Nicodemus in the book of John has always interested me. From his encounter with Jesus to his being with Joseph of Arimathea to get the body of Jesus and prepare it for burial, there is much we can learn from Nicodemus. I believe that as Gentile followers of Christ, we have neglected and in some cases ignored the significance of our Jewish heritage through Jesus. I believe that there is much we can learn and a depth of understanding we can gain in the words Jesus spoke when we consider Jewish context. The source I have used for this week is the “Complete Jewish Study Bible.”
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and part of the Jewish ruling council. He seeks Jesus out at night and the first words Nicodemus speaks are: “Rabbi, we know it is from God that you have come as a teacher; for no one can do these miracles you perform unless God is with him.” (John 3:2 CJSB).
This in itself is amazing, we all know about the antagonism that existed toward Jesus from the Pharisee’s. But here was one of its prominent members, he was not only a Pharisee but a part of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus is even mentioned “glowingly” in the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism. So this just wasn’t a nobody like myself, Nicodemus was important and influential.
Jesus immediately responds, “Yes, indeed, I tell you that unless a person is born again from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
– John 3:3 CJSB.
Born again. How many times have we heard that phrase? I have always considered that to be a “Christian” term. But it has great significance in Jewish culture and was a term with which Nicodemus was familiar. I have always thought that Nicodemus responded in a smart aleck or absurd way when Jesus said he must be “born again from above.” However, it could have been out of frustration.
Nicodemus would have been familiar with “born again” because in Jewish culture and life there were six ways to be “born again.” If you were a Gentile and converted to Judaism or was crowned king, then you were considered “born again.” These two opportunities would not have been available to Nicodemus. But there were four ways Nicodemus had already been “born again” as a Jew: 1) when he experienced his “bar mitzvah” at the age of thirteen; 2) when he married, he was said to be “born again”. Members of the Sanhedrin were required to be married; 3) when he was ordained as a rabbi; and 4) when he was made head of a rabbinical school. In verse 10, Jesus would say, “You hold the office of teacher in Isra’el, and you don’t know this?”
So Nicodemus was very familiar with being “born again.” In his mind, he had already done so in all of the ways possible. So in verse 4 when Nicodemus responds, “How can a grown man be ‘born’? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time”, he was trying to understand what else was required of him. It had to be less ridiculous to ask could he go back into his mother’s womb than if he could become a Gentile or be crowned king.
In response to Nicodemus, Jesus would get to the most famous scripture in the Bible, John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Som, so that everyone who trusts in him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed.”
– John 3:16 (CJSB).
We read about Nicodemus again in chapter 7. The Pharisee’s seem to be in full “tizzy” mode about Jesus and are upset that the temple guards did not bring Jesus in. Nicodemus would say, “Our Torah doesn’t condemn a man – does it? – until after a hearing from him and finding out what he’s doing.” (John 7:51 CJSB). The other Pharisee’s would ask him if he was from Galilee as well and to look into it, that no prophet comes from Galilee.
The final time we hear about Nicodemus is when he goes with Joseph of Arimathea to get the body of Jesus. Nicodemus would bring seventy pounds of spices to use in preparing Jesus’ body. They would be the ones who would lay the body of Jesus in the tomb. Both of these men had secretly followed Jesus, up to this point. This very public display of preparing and burying the crucified Christ would tell the world that they were followers of Christ.
Nicodemus would first seek Jesus out in the cover of darkness. But he would eventually show courage to stand against the other Pharisees and come to faith in Jesus by publically seeing to the proper burial of Jesus. There is much to learn from Nicodemus. Do we seek Christ only by the cover of darkness? Are we afraid to let the people we work with or only see in social settings know that we follow Christ? Jesus calls us to acknowledge Him before men. Have you?
“Whoever acknowledges me in the presence of others I will also acknowledge in the presence of my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
– Matthew 10: 32 & 33 (CJSB).
Saying nothing is the same as disowning. If you have never acknowledged Jesus publically, be courageous like Nicodemus and do so today.
Run to the Cross!