TEXTS: John 3:1-21; 7:50-52; 19:38-42

INTRODUCTION:

  1. In this Preaching Series, we are focusing on people with whom Jesus had relatively brief contact, but which were chosen by the Gospel writers to appear in the records about Jesus. We hope these studies illustrate the use of Biblical research resources to help assemble a coherent and appealing story about each person.
  2. We don’t see Jesus spending much time with people in “high places,” and most of those important people He did encounter produced negative results:
    • Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas and Annas the High Priests, and King Herod
    • Sadducees, Pharisees, lawyers, scribes, teachers of the Law, and priests
  3. To the contrary, He was criticized for those He did often keep company with:
    • Tax collectors (publicans) and “sinners” (outcasts) – Matthew 9:10; 11:19
    • Prostitutes and sinful women – Matthew 21:31; Luke 7:37; John 4 (Samaritan woman at a well)
    • Fishermen, common people, and the poor
    • Non-Jews like Samaritans, a Canaanite woman, and possibly a Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10)

 

NICODEMUS MEETS JESUS – John 3:

  1. We encounter Nicodemus three times, all in the Gospel of John.
    • John 3:1-21 – very early in Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus visits with Jesus at night in Jerusalem
    • John 7:50-52 – Well into Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus questions his fellow-members of the Sanhedrin about their plotting against Jesus
    • John 19:38-42 – After Jesus’ crucifixion, he joins with Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus’ body
  2. Only the first story involves any interaction with Jesus, though the second and third are clearly significant as well.
  3. Timing of meeting:
    • According to John’s Gospel, this is early in the ministry of Jesus, shortly after His move from Nazareth to Capernaum – John 2:11-12
    • Jesus and His disciples have traveled to Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover – John 2:13. This is the first of three Passovers John records Jesus attending during His ministry – John 6:4; 13:1.
    • He entered the Temple and drove out the money-changers and merchants – John 2:13-22. He will do this again at the end of His ministry – Mark 11:15-17.
    • While attending the Passover, Jesus also did “signs,” apparently miraculous acts – John 2:23-25.
    • Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night – John 3:2. Nothing in the text indicates the reason for the late visit. Various suggestions have included:
      • Nicodemus’ fear of criticism by his fellow councilmen (John MacArthur’s commentary on John 3)
      • Being away from the crowds of the daytime, Jesus and he would have more privacy and time together
      • That both he and Jesus were otherwise busy during the day, and late evening was simply a mutually convenient time (Albert Barnes’ commentary on John 3)
      • However, no hint of the reason is actually given in the text!
  4. Who was Nicodemus?
    • A Pharisee – John 3:1. The Christian community’s view of the Pharisees is mostly negative because of their clashes with Jesus, His criticism of some of their beliefs and practices, and because their leaders participated in the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus. But there is more to understanding them, as reading this Wikipedia article will show.
    • A Ruler of the Jews – John 3:1. All the commentators are agreed that Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish Ruling Council, or Sanhedrin. A brief description of the Sanhedrin can be found in Easton’s Bible Dictionary, and a longer article on its history and inner workings on Wikipedia.
    • A Teacher of Israel – John 3:10. Whether Jesus is referring to him as a “Teacher of the Law,” an official position often identified as “lawyer,” is not entirely clear. Some 5+ years later in Acts 5:34, Gamaliel is also identified as a Pharisee, council member, and teacher of the law. Jesus may only be speaking generically, in the sense that the Pharisees considered themselves the teachers of Israel – see particularly Matthew 23:2-3,15; 16:12; Luke 5:17
    • The other two passages in John add no more to our knowledge about Nicodemus

JESUS’ CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS:

  1. The discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus seems to divide into two parts:
    • John 3:2-10 – the conversation about being born again, with both Jesus and Nicodemus speaking
    • John 3:11-21 – a monologue by Jesus about why He has come into the world
  2. John 3:2-10 – The Conversation about Being Born Again
    • My observation about this section is that: (1) John was probably present as a witness to exactly what was said, and (2) these 9 verses are just the “highlights” or “main points” of what was said. I make the 2nd observation based on how abrupt the flow of the conversation seems to be, and think John is both conserving space and getting to the core of the discussion. Possibly the entire visit of Nicodemus with Jesus might have lasted an extended time, of which we only have recorded perhaps 4 minutes of dialogue.
    • Nicodemus says:
      • “Rabbi” – according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary this Hebrew/Aramaic title meant, “My master,” and was used as a term of respect by disciples of a Jewish teacher. At the least, Nicodemus was being courteous, but the rest of the sentence shows he respected Jesus as a true teacher as well.
      • “We know you are a teacher who has come from God” – “We” seems to indicate Nicodemus was part of a group who had come to this conclusion. How had they come to this conclusion?
      • “For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” – John’s Gospel is a book of evidence about who Jesus was and is. John chooses the words of Nicodemus to make the argument of who Jesus is based on the evidence of his miracles, then drawing a logical conclusion. The logic of Nicodemus is something like this:
        DOING MIRACLES –> MAN FROM GOD –> TEACHING MUST COME FROM GOD
    • Jesus’ response:
      • “Truly, truly” – Literally in the Greek it is “Amen, Amen.” A favorite expression of Jesus as recorded by John. It appears 25 times in his Gospel. Similarly, Matthew records Jesus saying, “Truly I say unto you…” some 30 times!
        1. We are familiar with how we say, “Amen,” at the end of prayers; and this practice is also found in Scripture. Why is that the word used by Jesus here? Because those joining in the prayer are saying, “This is true,” or “This truly expresses our prayer as well.” This word study is worth more research at another time.
        2. But all these instances of double “Amen” in John (use a Bible concordance or the search function in your Bible software to find them all) and the many other singular instances in Matthew, Mark and Luke are not in the context of a prayer. What did Jesus mean by using “Amen” this way? Note some translations:
          1. NIV – “I tell you the truth” – accurate but likely not a strong enough affirmation
          2. NASB, ESV – “Truly, truly” – accurate but possibly not fully communicating what Jesus meant
          3. KJV, ASV – “Verily, verily” – older English term, from the same root as veracity and verity
        3. In my own words I would say it this way: “This is absolutely and unchangeably true!” This is different than, “I think it is true” or “It is generally accurate to say this” or “Most people believe this as a fact.” Jesus is claiming  to give an absolute statement of truth!
        4. Nicodemus has just expressed his confidence that Jesus is a teacher from God, with the evidence to logically back it up. So Jesus then presents a “God truth,” for God is the very foundation of what is real and true. What He says, His Word or Words, always reflect reality. And what is the “God truth” Jesus speaks?
      • “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” – We are going to delay until another time the detailed study of “Being Born Again.” This study is about Nicodemus and his interaction with Jesus.
    • Nicodemus: “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus does not grasp what Jesus is talking about. By stating what he knows is not likely to be true, he is seeking clarification from Jesus. Jesus’ next sentence (“…born of water and spirit…”) only deepens the mystery for Nicodemus. “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)
    • Jesus: “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” According to Jesus, Nicodemus should understand what He is talking about! Jesus on several occasions pointed out to the Pharisees how they had failed to understand, or perhaps even noticed, certain Old Testament teachings.
      • Now, neither Jesus nor John identifies specifically what Scripture Nicodemus should have known.
      • But there is a passage which contains the key words or concepts Jesus had just used: “water,” “spirit,” and “kingdom.”
      • That passage is Ezekiel 36:25-28. Go and read it. The only word or concept missing is “born,” but it is implied by the words “clean,” “new,” “remove,” and “give you.” The “kingdom” is called “living in the land that I gave your forefathers; so you will be My people…”

NICODEMUS AFTERWARD:

  1. John in chapter 3 does not record the impact this conversation had on Nicodemus. However, we are blessed to have Jesus’ comparison of Himself with the story of the brass serpent of Moses. We also have His declaration in that most famous of all Bible verses: John 3:16.
  2. We next meet Nicodemus in John 7:47-52. The time of this incident is perhaps two years later than this John 3 event. In John 7 Nicodemus is protesting the condemnatory judgment of his fellows without them ever letting Jesus “present His case” to them. This implies that  Nicodemus had let Jesus make a case for His identity; it also shows he is at least neutral or perhaps favorable toward Jesus by this time.
  3. The third and final meeting of Nicodemus is at the crucifixion of Jesus in John 19:38-42. He joins Joseph of Arimathea in removing the body of Jesus from the cross, preparing it for burial, and then placing Jesus in Joseph’s own unused tomb nearby. Such a public act in the midst of a highly charged event marks him now as a believer of Jesus, willing to risk his position and reputation ( and possibly his life) to show his faith in Christ. We do not know if he expected Jesus to rise from the dead (though I doubt it), but he is doing what even the apostles were afraid to do.

OUR LESSON:

  1. We see that Nicodemus was willing to come to Jesus to see if what he was hearing was true. So many today either show no interest at all in learning more about Christ, or simply accept the now common view that everyone has a right to their own views (as long as they don’t insist others believe the same way).
  2. Nicodemus had examined the evidence, and was willing to follow where the facts led him… to faith. Unlike many of his peers who could not be convinced no matter how great the evidence, he was already coming to faith very early in Jesus’ ministry. Surely he continued to observe secretly the mounting evidence over the next 2 years until his confidence was total.
  3. Belief is more than assent to the truth; it moves the believer to act. Nicodemus put his “good standing” on the line in John 7 in objecting strongly to the unjust plans of the Sanhedrin. He went even further at the crucifixion and joined with another believer to courageously demonstrate his faith and love for Jesus, even though it likely cost him much, and could have cost him his life! We need to urge professed believers today to demonstrate their faith by their actions as well!

Henry Ossawa Tanner painted “Nicodemus Talking to Jesus” in 1899. The image is available on Wikipedia.