2269) Why I Like Nicodemus (part one of three)


Nicodemus Came to Jesus by Night…


John 3:1-17  —  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.”  Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  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.’  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.”  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?  Very truly I tell you, 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.   Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.  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 did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”


     One of my favorite people in the Bible is Nicodemus.  I am drawn to Nicodemus because I am like him in so many ways.  He is a teacher, says verse 10, and I also like to teach.   Teaching is a big part of one’s work as a pastor.  And, Nicodemus is part of the religious establishment; a member of the Jewish ruling council, says verse one, and therefore, probably a rabbi, or, as we would say today, a clergyman.  I too am a clergyman, and tightly bound to the religious establishment by my education, my letter of call, my job, and by my health insurance and pension plan.  Not only that, but I am also like Nicodemus because I am on the conservative end of the theological spectrum, and so was he.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and of the two major factions of Jews in Jesus’ day, the Sadducees were the liberals and the Pharisees were the conservatives.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and therefore a conservative, and so am I.  So how could I not like Nicodemus?

     There is one other aspect of Nicodemus that I want to have within myself, a way I want to be like him.   And that is, he was open-minded.  He was open to looking at new things in a new way.   This can be a problem for conservatives.  The word conservative comes from the word ‘conservare,’which means ‘save, preserve, or guard.’  Conservatives want to guard and preserve the wisdom of the past.  We are not apt to pursue every fad and not likely to jump on every bandwagon that happens to be going by.  We want our lives be guided by the faith and wisdom of the ages, rather than by whoever is on the cover of this week’s People magazine.  I believe that wisdom that has stood the test of time is far better than trying something new every week.  When I was growing up in the late 1960’s and early 70’s we were told by the ‘new wisdom’ that drugs were cool, soldiers were bad, cops were pigs, down with the establishment, and don’t trust anyone over 30.  How silly that all sounds now.  Conservatives don’t fall for such nonsense.

     But conservatives have to be careful.  They can have tendency towards being close-minded.  Preserving the wisdom of past traditions is usually wise, but not always.   Not all traditions are good, and sometimes they must change.  The 1960’s were a crazy time in this country, but it was also the decade of the civil rights movement.  That was a good and righteous movement that changed many old and wicked traditions and beliefs; and one that was opposed by many conservatives to their shame.  A conservative has to work at being open-minded.

     That is another reason I like Nicodemus.  While most of his other conservative Pharisee colleagues were immediately opposed to these new teachings taught by this new prophet with all his new ideas, Nicodemus was open-minded enough to come and meet with Jesus in person and find out for himself.  The conservative Pharisees did not like Jesus.  He was teaching too many new things.  The liberal Sadducees did not like Jesus either.  Jesus always wanted to talk about eternal life, and they believed themselves to be too sophisticated to believe in that.  But liberals, to their credit, are usually more apt to let everyone have their say (although that is less common today among liberals than in the past).  And so the most vehement opposition to Jesus came from the Pharisees, afraid as they were of anything new that might upset the social order.  But Nicodemus was open-minded enough to want to hear more.  (continued…)