Nicodemus was a Pharisee who belonged to the exclusive Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the most prominent religious group in Israel who ruled the religious life of the Jewish people. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus’ focus was strictly on obeying all of the traditions and laws of the Old Testament. He was educated, wealthy, and was a highly respected teacher. Nicodemus lived a life of privilege and enjoyed the esteem given to him by the people. And in John chapter 3, we find him risking everything by searching through the night for Jesus. The same man his fellow Pharisees were plotting to kill.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus warned of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. a hypocrisy which blinded them from seeing their need for repentance and for a Savior. Eight times Jesus pronounces woes against the Pharisees and calls them hypocrites, fools, and serpents. (Matt. 23:13-33) He compares them to whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful but inside are filled with dead man’s bones. Pharisee’s cared only about the outward appearance of righteousness. They saw Jesus not as their Messiah, but as a threat to everything they held dear. But Nicodemus was different. He acknowledged Jesus as a teacher sent by God, and came to Him seeking the truth.
Jesus begins by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This of course thoroughly confuses Nicodemus who asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born can he?” I can just imagine the wheels spinning in the mind of Nicodemus. For he observed all of the laws of cleanliness and piety. Yet Jesus told him that it wasn’t enough to be physically clean. A person’s nature also needs to be cleansed, or sanctified, by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. But what did Jesus mean about being “born again”? I love this explanation…
“The new birth is an instantaneous spiritual experience which occurs when the Holy Spirit leads a person to understand that Jesus Christ died on the Cross to provide forgiveness for their sins. We are born again the moment we accept that Jesus Christ is the only One who can redeem us and we confess Him as our Savior and Lord.” ….(Dr. Charles Stanley)
This is the beautiful truth Nicodemus not only received, but believed. We know this because Nicodemus is mentioned two more times in the book of John. In John 7:50-52, we find him arguing in Jesus’ defense. And in John 19:39-42 we find him boldly beside Joseph of Arimathea preparing the body of Jesus for burial. Nicodemus brought a mixture myrrh and aloes. Spices which weighed about a hundred pounds, the amount usually reserved to bury a great king.
The transformation of Nicodemus is a beautiful example of God’s redeeming love. Through his story we learn that when we come to the Lord with a heart that seeks the truth, day or night Jesus is there. Only through receiving Jesus as our Savior can salvation be found, and no matter how much we give, it could never compare with the greatest gift Jesus gave by laying down His life for all!