When I was growing up in the church, I was always taught to think one way about the Scripture John 3:1-21 – that Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and because of that, his heart must have been hard and he was blind to Jesus’ message and teachings.
But today, as I read the passage again, my eyes have been opened to an entirely new viewpoint: that, although Nicodemus was a Pharisee, that didn’t actually mean he was just going to see Jesus in the middle of the night because his heart was hard and he didn’t want other people judging him.
No – I don’t think that’s the point the writer John was trying to make. You see, John was one of Jesus’ disciples, often called “the one whom Jesus loved”. He was with Jesus pretty much everywhere He went. And because of that, we get a lot of stories from his account that we can’t get anywhere else. Why? Because he was literally with Jesus everywhere.
In the middle of the night, a Pharisee, a person Jesus least expected to intentionally come and visit him, shows up at his door (or wherever they were staying at the time). Now here’s where things get interesting – I’ve always viewed Nicodemus questioning Jesus as his heart being stubborn and corrupt because of the leadership and strict regulations he’d learned to follow his entire life.
However, I really don’t think this is what we should be looking at. It was a really big step for him in the first place to admit to Jesus that he believes He is from God, “for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (vv. 2).
Let’s take a second right now and pause – do you really see how big of a confession this is? The Pharisees were so obsessed with not believing Jesus was from God that they literally killed him to try to prove their point. So by Nicodemus admitting that he believed Jesus was a teacher sent by God and who had God with Him, he was essentially admitting that he had been listening to Jesus and his heart wasn’t yet hardened like the rest of his fellow Pharisees.
Friends, this is HUGE. Instead of seeing Nicodemus as just another religious leader who wanted to kill Jesus and rid him of the earth, he was literally coming to Jesus to reconcile his Old Testament knowledge with what the Messiah was teaching!
The beauty of Jesus’ response is that He was kind. He still called Nicodemus out for his shallow knowledge and for not understanding things he should fully be aware of due to being a religious leader, but this wasn’t because he was trying to be nasty and “holier than thou”.
In fact, Jesus was doing this in the way He brings our brokenness out – He pulls it into the light, and then reconciles it. Immediately after Jesus exposes Nicodemus’ intentions, He launches straight into teaching him the Gospel message He was sent into the world to share – that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life (vv. 16).
Wow. This is just so dang powerful. It’s a beautiful reminder that the people we read in Scripture really are the exact same as we are – broken individuals who are just trying to understand Him, His teachings, and trying to survive a messed up world.
There is room for growth in understanding, friend. Don’t think you need to have it all figured out right away (or, if we’re being honest, ever) – if a religious leader who’s been studying Scripture his entire life still struggles to grasp what Jesus is telling him, and he’s literally standing right in front of the Savior of the world, we need to give ourselves a little grace.
And He gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.James 4:6-8a (NLT)
Thank goodness we serve a loving God who graciously shows us patience and compassion as we grow with Him. Let’s take that first step this week to draw closer to Him because it’s truly not up to us.