Nicodemus: A Night and Day Difference
February 4, 2012 2 Comments
This blog post was adapted from a sermon that I gave at the Harvard Avenue Student Ministry youth group on Wednesday, February 1, 2012.
How many times is Nicodemus mentioned in the Bible?
We all know about the passage with him coming to Jesus to talk about salvation in John 3. We think of him as a guy afraid to come to Jesus during the day for fear of what it might cost him. Many know about his struggle to understand the meaning of what it is to be born again: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4 ESV).
What happened to Nicodemus after that night? It’s easy to forget that characters of the Bible existed beyond the passages that they are mentioned in. It is likely that Nicodemus had more run-ins with Jesus during His pre-ministry life and during His ministry too. He certainly heard about Jesus going into the temple and running out the money changers, he probably examined many of the people that Jesus healed to declare them “clean” again according to the OT law. Nicodemus makes two other appearances in John’s Gospel. These other two mentions paint a different picture of Nicodemus than his not-so-good first impression.
Nicodemus went from being a fan of Jesus who sought Him out under cover of darkness to a follower of Jesus who identified with Him in the light.
In his book Not a Fan: Being a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, Kyle Idelman talks about some of the differences between fans of Jesus and followers of Jesus. He defines a fan as an “enthusiastic admirer” whereas a follower is a “completely committed individual.”
Here are some of the differences:
- Being a fan costs nothing, but being a follower will always cost something
- Every person must choose between religion [following rules/routine] and a relationship with Jesus.
- There is no way to follow Jesus without him interfering with your life.
All three of these points can be seen in the life of Nicodemus in John’s Gospel.
Let’s do a quick refresher on who Nicodemus is based on John 3:1-21. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, but not just a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin governed the Jewish people, heard trials, and enforced the Mosaic Law. They also provided direction and interpretation for the entire Jewish people. So, Nicodemus had religious power and status.
He also had financial status: Nicodemus was an extremely wealthy man. According to one extra-biblical source, the Talmud, he was one of the three most wealthy men in Jerusalem. The combined wealth of the three men could keep the city running for 21 years. That’s a lot of money! Jerusalem was like the New York City or Washington DC of it’s day, making Nicodemus similar to someone like Donald Trump. No wonder he wanted to visit Jesus at night so no one would recognize him! There was a lot at stake for Nicodemus, similar to the rich young ruler seen in Luke 18:18-30.
Let’s look at the second mention of Nicodemus in John 7:44-52. Before this passage takes place, Jesus has continued to amaze the people with His teachings. People are flocking to Him and the Pharisees (the group Nicodemus belongs to) have sent people to arrest Jesus. Even those who are sent to arrest Him recognize His authority! When the Pharisees speak negatively about Jesus, who is it that speaks up? Nicodemus! The one who snuck around to meet with Jesus a few years earlier is now defending Him before his peers, certainly a risky move that could cost him not only his personal reputation, but his job and position among the people of Israel.
Nicodemus is mentioned one other time in John 19:38-42. He’s moved from a skeptic to a defender, but he’s about to make another transition. In this passage we see Nicodemus has become a disciple, a true and committed follower of Jesus Christ. At a time when many of Jesus’ fans had abandoned Him because of His arrest and death, Nicodemus is still there for Him. Nicodemus’s friend and fellow follower, Joseph, was much like him: wealthy, a Jewish ruler, and a former skeptic. Now these two men are giving of their wealth for their King. To give up the tomb that he had carved into the rocky hillside for himself and his family shows us that Joseph: either 1) believed Jesus promise that He would rise from the dead again [I favor this option] or 2) was willing to not have a proper burial for himself and his family (ie be buried in a shallow grave, if at all) so that Jesus could be buried like an important man of high status and influence.
The amount of myrrh and aloes brought by Nicodemus was very unusual, especially for someone who was crucified on a cross like a criminal. That large amount of spices was normally only reserved for a king, so the fact the Nicodemus brought that much shows who he thought Jesus was: the King of kings and Lord of lords. It wasn’t cheap either. It would have cost Nicodemus tens of thousands of dollars. There is another story from the Talmud of a Rabbi finding Nicodemus’s daughter begging in the street because he had given away all his wealth to charity. While it’s important to note that the Talmud isn’t the inspired Word of God like the Bible is, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see this in the life of Nicodemus (and other believers).
How does the story of Nicodemus apply to us today? It comes down to this:
“Are you a fan or follower of Jesus?”
Like Nicodemus was at first, many are willing to acknowledge Jesus as a teacher in the dark or call themselves a believer without experiencing a spiritual rebirth. This may be true for you: you have a knowledge of who Jesus is and may even desire to know more about Him, but your life hasn’t changed at all. You still just go after Him or claim Him when it won’t cost you anything. Like Nicodemus, you may have status and influence with your peers, you may even be looked to as a religious leader, but you are still just a fan of Jesus. You’re curious, but not committed.
By God’s grace, Nicodemus was eventually born again and it showed. He knew what the cost would be, but realized that Jesus was worth infinitely more than any of it. He became a committed follower. Are you? Are you willing to defend Jesus in front of your peers, even at the cost of your reputation? Do you recognize that all you possess is a gift from God and it belongs to Him? Would you be willing to give it all away for the sake of Christ, even to the point that you and your family have to beg for food?
I know it sounds radical, but that’s the potential cost of discipleship. Jesus steps into the believer’s life and becomes the priority. He replaces our false idols of self, possessions, and everything else and wants us to find satisfaction in Him and Him alone. This is anything but a miserable existence; it is why we were created: to bring glory to God!
Following Jesus made a night and day difference in the life of Nicodemus, has it made one in yours?
Learn It. Love It. Live It.
[image credit: Alesa Dam on Flickr]