- The Sinner’s Crisis
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:1)
Did you know that no one ever doubted Jesus’ power to do miracles? His enemies didn’t. Instead, what was their explanation for Jesus being able to do miracles, so they wouldn’t have to bow to Him as Lord? They said His power to do miracles came from the devil. This made them guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and committing the one sin that can never be forgiven – the sin of rejecting Jesus as Lord. In fact, it’s only now, 20 centuries later, that skeptics are so wise in their own eyes that they reject the testimony of eyewitnesses, saying to themselves, “Those ancient weren’t smart enough to know what I know today!”
So who was Nicodemus? He had a Greek name as many Jews did at that time. Nico means conquer and Demus means people. So put it together, and what do you get? Nicodemus, “victor over the people.” Don’t read too much into that. It was just a name. Nor should we read a lot into the fact that he came to Jesus at night. I’m not convinced, as some preachers suggest, that “night” is a metaphor for the darkness of his soul. I think he just hadn’t made up his mind about Jesus yet and was being careful because he knew the Pharisees were keeping a blacklist of those who followed Jesus. Instead, what we need to remember about him are these facts:
1) He was a Pharisee. The word means “a separated one.” These were the ultra-conservative, Bible believers of Israel who interpreted the Bible literally. They believed in angels, devils, miracles, the six days of creation, heaven, hell – all of which made Nicodemus anxious because he knew he wasn’t ready to stand before God in judgment. They were also conservative in lifestyle. You know the ultra-orthodox, Hasidic branch of Judaism today? These were its founders, and they were absolutely rabid about keeping the Law, priding themselves not only in the fact that they kept all 613 commandments of the Old Testament (Remember the rich young ruler? “All these things I have kept from my youth!”); but they had also come up with over a thousand laws (mitzvot) of their own, to make sure they never came close to crossing the line.
For example, one thing a Pharisee would never do, or let his wife do, was look in a mirror on the Sabbath. Why not? She might find a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it, which was considered working on the Sabbath! A Pharisee could eat an egg laid on the Sabbath, but only if he killed the hen that laid it as a penalty for her work on the Sabbath. That’s how ridiculous it got. And all for nothing! Because as holy as they thought they were (We’re good at fooling ourselves, aren’t we?), Jesus called them whitewashed tombs who looked beautiful on the outside, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones and every kind of uncleanness.
By the way, based on everything that’s said about the Pharisees in the Gospels, you might think they were a large group. Not so! There were only 6,000 of them in all of Israel at the time. But then it doesn’t take a huge group to change the world for good or bad, does it? Just a highly dedicated group! That’s what they were! The Pharisees believed if they could somehow get the entire nation of Israel to keep the Law for just one day, God’s Kingdom would come to earth. “But now, with this carpenter from Galilee defying our laws and challenging our authority, the Kingdom will never come!”
No wonder that of all Jesus’ enemies, they were the most vicious. They hated Him so much that only one Pharisee in the Bible, other than Nicodemus, ever came to Him. Who was that? The Apostle Paul who would have never bowed to the Lordship of Jesus if he hadn’t been struck blind on the road to Damascus! Later, Paul wrote of his life as a Pharisee, “I was a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless! But whatever things were gain to me…I now count as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:6)
2) He was a ruler of the Jews, meaning that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council made up of its 70 most powerful leaders, including the high priest. It comprised what was in essence the Congress and Supreme Court of Israel. This means Nicodemus was a very powerful man. Church tradition says he was one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem at the time.
3) He was, according to verse 10, not just a teacher, but “the teacher of Israel.” Jesus uses the definite article to indicate that of all the rabbis in Israel at this time, Nicodemus was the best and brightest. He would have been like a walking Bible dictionary, able to quote the entire Old Testament by memory. That means when talking to him, all Jesus had to do was mention a topic and every verse on that subject would have come to his mind.
4) But above all, he was a lost and desperate soul. After all, what do you do when you’ve spent your whole life scaling the ladder of self-righteousness and reached the pinnacle of your religion only to learn that it’s gotten you nowhere and has all been in vain? The only thing left to do that point is to turn to Jesus! So that’s what he did. He came to Jesus lost, fearful, and wondering how to be saved. That’s the sinner’s crisis. Tomorrow we will continue with the Savior’s counsel for sinners like you and me.