The Pharisee Who Took a Chance
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2, NIV)
It has often been speculated that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night because of the risks involved. If the ruling council saw his actions as supporting or endorsing Jesus, it could have had serious consequences for him. Nicodemus could have been thrown off the council, or at the very least endured criticism and persecution.
On the other hand, perhaps he went at the council’s request, and was there as an intermediary to try to get a fix on Jesus and report back. But the fact that he went at night suggests that he was avoiding public scrutiny, and was not there on behalf of the council. If that was the case, then he was risking ostracism, persecution, and the loss of his social (and vocational) position in Jerusalem. Since he took such a huge chance, perhaps he was just an honest man seeking the truth about Jesus.
Most Important Conversation: Really?
Whatever his motives, this talk with Jesus became arguably the most quoted and pivotal conversation in all of human history. It certainly contains perhaps the best-known and most quoted Bible verse. From this brief encounter we get “born again” (v 3); “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (v 6); and the fact that the Son of Man must be lifted up (v 15). And from this brief conversation, we get this:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (v 16).
If you’ve never read that verse before, read again and think about what it means. It’s the verse everyone knows, and the most quoted verse in the Bible. It rocked Nicodemus’ world, and it changed his life. From the snapshots we get of Nicodemus later in John’s Gospel, a story of transformation emerges. In John 7 he subtly advocated on Jesus’ behalf in the Sanhedrin. He was still on the council, but flies in the face of the overriding hatred of Jesus.
The Rest of the Story
And then this: We see Nicodemus again in the terrible aftermath of the cross, helping to take down Jesus’ body to prepare it for burial (John 20:39). He has stepped out of the shadows of night to identify with him even when it no longer seems to matter. By performing this service, Nicodemus indeed places himself in the crosshairs of the Sanhedrin as a dangerous nonconformist. He risks his life and his reputation to identify with Jesus the crucified “criminal”.
This conversation from John Chapter three obviously meant something to him. The real question is, however: what does it mean to YOU?
Late at night, he smelled the alleyways;
Secretly, he stalked the truth in silence.
Darkness fouled his progress with its murky haze;
The echoes whispered softly, and with violence…
The Inner Council would not see his coming here
As anything but blatant heresy;
His heart beat faster as he walked along in fear,
A lonely and conflicted Pharisee…
He paused before the doorway, now unsure,
Should this conversation even start?
He wavered now, so righteous, so impure,
Listening to the beating of his heart…
The quiet night created space for him to doubt;
What would happen to him if they knew?
What penalty awaited him if they found out?
Should he be here? Or run? What should he do?
He froze in fear of who he’d meet behind that door;
Confused anxiety almost made him run,
But Nicodemus knocked because he wanted more,
And Jesus smiled and said, “Come in, my son”.
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