It was night. The light Spring breeze tugged at his clothing and sometimes whistled around the corners of the houses. Houses which had just been swept clean as every resident had attempted to remove all leaven, the symbol of sin, from the premises. The first loaf of leavened bread had been removed from the bench on the temple porch, indicating to all that leaven was no longer to be eaten. Less than a couple of hours later, the second loaf had been removed from its place on the bench of the temple court, indicating that it was now time to burn any leaven that had been found in the homes. The breeze had helped in blowing away the smoke of all the leaven fires. "Sin" had been symbolically purged from Jerusalem.
Passover was beginning. The trees would rustle and then stand still, waiting for the next little gust of wind. A baby's cry, a dog's bark, a window being shuttered against the superstitions of the night. Usual noises, yet at each noise he turned to see if someone was watching him and gathered his cloak more tightly about him. He was used to people watching him. You might even say that it was his job to be watched. An example to all who would be worthy of his position. But tonight, he did not wish to be seen at all, much less recognized. He believed his mission to be just, but he excused his stealth by not wishing to lead others astray. "They might not know why I'm going here." He breathed more freely as he left the city with no one calling out his name. He no longer heard the whistle of the wind around buildings, just the sighing it made in the branches of the olive trees. This hill, he had learned, was where Jesus could be found.
Nicodemus held a high position of trust in the Jewish Nation. He was wealthy, highly educated and very talented in many areas of life. He was an honored member of the National Council, the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the supreme ruling council of the Jews. You might even call him a Congressman. It consisting of seventy-one members. It had, by the consent of Rome, legislative, judicial and executive powers, both in civil and criminal law. They also supervised the observance of the religious calendar, the Temple procedures, and the priesthood. So, you might call it Congress and the General Conference all wrapped in one. What Nicodemus, a high member of this council did on this night was risk all of his power and reputation in order to ask this strange man from Nazareth a few questions.
Jesus had captured his attention. Something as fleeting as the wind that stirred the trees had stirred his heart. He had heard of what John the Baptist had said about Jesus. He had heard of, and had seen, the spiritual power that was within this man. He had been inspired to restudy the old prophecies. He even began to believe that these prophecies might just possibly have an inkling of being fulfilled in this Galilean. Now, Jesus was gaining more attention than ever. He had, just a few hours before, gotten a lot of undesirable notice from the Jewish leadership.
Yes, it was just before the Passover that Jesus had gotten a lot of people's attention as he swept the Temple free of the money changers just as people had been sweeping leaven out of their houses. Was there a symbol in that? Why did this act tug so at Nicodemus' heart? He must find the answers to questions that had not even truly formed themselves into words.
After Jesus had run off the money changers from the Temple, most of the priests and rulers hated Him, as well as feared His power. Such boldness on the part of an obscure Galilean was not to be tolerated! They wanted Jesus brought to an end.
But not all the priests and rulers were agreed in this. There were some that feared to oppose One who was so evidently moved by the Spirit of God. They remembered how prophets had been slain for rebuking the sins of the leaders of Israel before. And they knew that the bondage of the Jews to the Romans was the result of their stubbornness in rejecting reproofs from God. They feared that in plotting against Jesus, the priests and rulers were following in the steps of their fathers, and would bring fresh calamities upon the nation. Nicodemus shared these feelings. In a council of the Sanhedrin, when the course to be pursued toward Jesus was considered, Nicodemus advised caution and moderation. He urged that if Jesus was really invested with authority from God, it would be perilous to reject His warnings. The priests dared not disregard the council of this important man. And for the time being, they took no open measures against Jesus. This gave Nicodemus the chance he needed.
Turn with me to John 3. In John 3 we find words spoken by Jesus that have changed the hearts of innumerable people. But I believe that when we look at these words in the context of how and when they were spoken, that they will mean even more to us. John 3:1,2. Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."
This is an interesting way to start the conversation. Nicodemus calls Jesus, "Rabbi," a term usually used in respect, although some Pharisee used it rather lightly, almost condescendingly when speaking with Jesus. But I believe that Nicodemus is indicating that here, he is usually the teacher was here to learn. He also admits that others believe the way that he did: that Jesus is sent from God because he uses the word, "We." He's not alone here except in his wavering courage, to step out at night. Then he tells why he believes this. The miracles of Jesus indicate God's power. Whether Nicodemus was sincere in his use of the title, "Rabbi," we don't know. It seems that he believed that Jesus was a teacher from God but had doubts about Him being the Messiah. "Maybe He's not the Messiah. Maybe He's a forerunner of the Messiah. He's not doing what I think Messiah should do. Messiah should be relieving us from the bondage of Rome." Whatever was in the heart of Nicodemus, Jesus knew. Just look back at the three verses that come just before chapter 3.
John 2:23-25. Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs He was doing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.
Jesus knew what was inside Nicodemus. That is why Jesus says what He does in John 3:3: In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
That doesn't make sense does it? In order as a reply, that would be like coming up to me and say, "Hey, Kent. How are you doing?" And I say, "I love the burritos at Taco Bell." That's what this looks like. He's not answering the question. But we just read in those verses: "Jesus knew what was in his heart." He skipped the formalities, He skipped all the trappings and got right to the point, right the center of what Nicodemus needs. "Forget the pretense, forget the niceties. Let's get to the center of what you need, Nicodemus." He knew more about the needs of Nicodemus than Nicodemus did. Just as He does with each of us! You don't need to come before Jesus with any show. He knows you better than you know you. He knows what your desires are and He knows what your needs are. And He knows if they don't match. Our desire should be for Him to take care of what He sees, not of what we think that He sees. Nicodemus came inquiring about Jesus' relationship with God and Jesus turns the conversation back on Nicodemus by talking about Nicodemus' relationship with God. Something good to be said of Nicodemus is that He, at this point, followed Jesus' lead. He didn't say, "Whoa, how do you know what I'm talking about? I'm talking about this." No, he joins right into this conversation, not without a little struggle, though. Look at the next verse.
John 3:4. "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
I think Nicodemus is here just kind of biding his time a little bit. "Hey, give me a chance to think of something. What are you talking about, Jesus? What are you getting at?" Nicodemus knows that Jesus is not speaking of an actual physical birth. That would be impossible. But just as impossible to his way of thinking was the concept that something needed to happen in him, a Pharisee, before he could be found acceptable to God. To his credit, Nicodemus did not leave this meeting in a huff at this point. Few people enjoy coming face to face with the idea that the way that they have always done things or the way that they have always believed may not be right, or enough. But Nicodemus does not shake the dust off his feet and stomp off. He continues to listen, which is a good thing because the next verses are some of the most remarkable, life changing words, found in Scripture!
Let's look at verse 5. Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no man can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
The Jewish people had some comprehension of being born of water. John the Baptist had been baptizing people and they understood baptism. They knew what it was symbolic of. We too understand the symbol of baptism. We know that baptism is a symbol of the death and burial of our old self and a resurrection into new life, or a new birth. We call it, "Being born again." It is called being born again because just as we break through the water in our first birth, we do so again in our rebirth in baptism. Nicodemus would have been very familiar with this. But what was it that Jesus said about the Spirit? That was a new one on him. Again, Jesus knew that Nicodemus needed further explanation on this point. So, He continues in verse 6.
John 3:6-7. "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at My saying, 'You must be born again.'"
And, here I picture a pause. As Jesus pauses His speech, the wind blows over the Mount of Olives. And Jesus continues, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
"Dear sincere Nicodemus, I know that this does not seem tangible. The Spirit is not something you can see, much like the wind. But you can tell where it has been! You can see the rustle of the leaves. You can see a changed life."
John 3:9. "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked.
"Yes, how can it be that I, a teacher, do not understand the basics of my subject." It is wonderful to have knowledge. But knowledge is meaningless with out the Author of knowledge giving the wisdom to know how to use it. I like to be lined up with Paul, who said it well in 1 Corinthians 2:2. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus and Him crucified.
And Jesus agreed with Nicodemus. A teacher in his position should know these basic spiritual things. Look at verses 10-13 "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the One who came from heaven--the Son of Man."
"Who are you, Nicodemus, to question my view on Heavenly things when I have been there and you have not? Well, let's talk about something you do know about, Nicodemus--because every good Pharisee knows everything there is to know about a man called Moses."
John 3:14-15. "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life."
You've seen these little cartoons where they have a light bulb going off above somebody's head. What does that mean? They get it, right? "Ah, I've got it! I know what you're talking about." I believe that a light bulb just lit up above Nicodemus' head at this point. Nic at night began to see the light! In comparing the story of the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up on a pole in the wilderness to save those who had been poisoned by real serpents, Nicodemus would have seen the connection to the true purpose of the Messiah. The Messiah not be here to conquer Rome. The Messiah would be lifted up in the likeness of sinful flesh for those who had were in the deadly wilderness of real sin to look upon and live, eternally! If Nicodemus didn't connect the dots on this night, you can believe that he did when he witnessed Jesus being lifted up on a pole at Calvary!
But this doesn't make sense. Why would anyone do this for anyone like me? Why will all this happen? It doesn't make sense.
John 3:16-17. "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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."
I wasn't planning on mentioning this. Last week I was sitting here watching you. I like to do that. I like to see who's here. And I got this feeling that, it just started rising up in my chest, I felt that it kind of burning. It wasn't a heart attack. It was a feeling of... I don't know a better word than Love. I just looked at you and I am so in love with you. It felt good. By the way, it's not the first time I've felt that way. I was sitting there and thinking about it. And as I was preparing the sermon for this week, I came to this part about how God loved us and I said, "Oh well, wait. Do I love them enough to die for them? Hmmm. I have to give that one some thought." Now, I look over at my family; no problem. Instant, "Sure I'd die for them without even thinking about it." You are not family. Some of you would be easier to die for than others. But I'd have to think about that one a while. But we don't have to worry about God thinking about it because we're His family. He loves is. In fact, He made this plan before we were born. Wow! That thrills my soul. I'll work on it for me, but, God is our Father.
What a neat concept, Nicodemus. "The Father loves you so much that while you are yet your sinful self in need of a new birth, He sent Me to die for you, to be lifted up so that you can have real life. All you have to do is believe in Me! Then what happens inside of you begins to show up on the outside. When Desire of Ages [by EG White, p. 172] speaks of this story, there is a wonderful quote, "The Christian's life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature." It is not a matter of becoming more conservative or more liberal or more anything. It is a matter of total change. When we are born again, we have not been improved, we have been transformed! We will never be improved enough to be able to be in the kingdom of heaven with Jesus. But He can transform us.
Look at verse 21. "But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
"Yes, Nicodemus. You are used to people looking at you, at your good deeds. But now, people will not praise you. People will praise God. Now, people will not want to be like you. People will want to be like God. Now, people will not really see you. People will want to see God. The light that you will bear will lead others to true freedom found only in Me."
We attended the fireworks display in Collegedale this week. As we sat there, waiting for it to get dark enough for the fireworks to start, I found it easy to look around me and see who was there. But once the fireworks began, it was hard to take my attention away from them. I no longer was distracted by who or what was around me; I was focused on what was before me. Even when I shut my eyes, I could still see the imprint that those bright lights had been blazed on my brain. There were bright lights and I couldn't see who was igniting those fireworks, but whoever it was kept my eyes focused upward.
Our works are not for drawing attention to ourselves, but for lifting others eyes away from Satan's distractions to the Light, Jesus Christ.
Those fireworks were in honor of the freedom that we have in our wonderful country. A young man was asked yesterday, a member of our church, a little boy, "What does the Fourth of July mean?" "Freedom!" "Freedom from what? how did we get that freedom?" "We had a war." "Who was the war with?" "The Philistines."
We have freedom in our wonderful country. Much blood was shed so that I could live here in freedom from tyrants under our Constitution. I am proud to be an American! I'm proud of Josh Oliver. Tomorrow afternoon he flies to Germany to serve his country. God be with you. I know you're proud to be an American. But there is something you need to be more proud of, and don't forget it in Germany. You need to be proud to be a Christian because Jesus' blood was shed so that I could be free from tyranny, the tyranny of Satan, the tyranny of sin. Not under a constitution but under a covenant.
So, whatever happened to Nicodemus? First, he became a secret disciple of Jesus. In John 7:50, we find him calming down the religious leaders in regards to Jesus. He was rebuked by the council. We next find him in John 19:39-42, preparing the body of Jesus for burial. The secret is out. Yes, he did see Jesus lifted up for his sins. I believe that when Nicodemus saw the crucifixion of Jesus, he knew that He was the Messiah. All doubt was gone. Desire of Ages tells us that Nicodemus quit being a secret disciple. This timid, secretive believer, became bold for Jesus. Yes, he lost his reputation. Yes, he lost his position. Yes, he lost his wealth. Actually, he gave his wealth away in supporting the spread of the good news of the risen Savior!
Yesterday, Steve Morse pointed out to me a butterfly inside a building trying to force its way through a window pane. Guess what. The butterfly didn't have a chance. It was fluttering madly. I watched it there. The window pane wasn't even shaking. But what was ironic is that not two feet away was an opening to the outside the size of a garage door. Yet the butterfly was positive that it was trying to go the right way. It wasn't the way. Steve had to go and help the poor creature find the real way out. He tried first to shoo it that way. It fluttered right back. He had to catch it and throw it up into the breeze. Then those wings that had been fighting a useless battle caught the breeze and it was carried away to a much better place.
Allow the Spirit of God take you and to set you free from whatever binds you. Don't be so sure you're going the right way. Let the Spirit set you in the right way. Allow that same Spirit to take you to a much better place, closer and closer to Jesus. Have you turned your eyes to look upon the lifted up Messiah? You don't have to wait until you are good enough to do that: that would be one long wait! You simply have to allow the Spirit to turn your gaze upon Him in belief. You don't even have the power to do that. Allow the Spirit to turn your gaze to Jesus. Then, the Spirit of God through faith will produce new life in the soul. Then, our thoughts and our desires are brought into obedience to the will of Christ. Then and only then and not before then, the law of God will be written upon our hearts.
Nicodemus waited three years to see what would happen with Jesus. But we already know what happened! God so loved us that He gave His Son. We have no reason on earth to wait to give our lives to Him.
Just as Nicodemus held on to the words of Jesus, cling to what He is saying to you today. Those wonderful words of life!
Sources: The Desire of Ages by Ellen White SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 5 Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, Watson E. Mills - Editor Nelson's Encyclopedia of the Bible, John Drane - Editor
Hymn of Praise: #243, King of Glory, King of Peace Scripture: John 3:16,17 Hymn of Response: #286, Wonderful Words of Life
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last updated 7/6/2003 by Bob Beckett.