Was Nicodemus a Believer?

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Was Nicodemus a Believer?

In John 3:1-21, we read of a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night.

Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin ("leader of the Jews") and obviously feared what the people - his fellow Pharisees in particular - would say if they saw him visiting Jesus. It is not yet clear in this passage, whether Nicodemus was wearing a mask or if he was a genuine seeker of truth. In the second verse he says, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

By "we" Nicodemus was most likely identifying himself with the leading Jews. He was a member of the powerful Sanhedrin. His statement is similar to that of the Pharisees in Matthew 22:16, who said, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Both of these statements are true of course, but if the speakers didn't believe it was true, they were knowingly telling lies!

Jesus knew the heart of Nicodemus and I think that he recognized genuine interest. He took the time to explain the plan of salvation in great clarity. Many Christians have memorized John 3:16 and a few of us have memorized the entire third chapter of John.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (verse 3). The term "born again" is quite common today, but the expression only appears here in scriptures. Nicodemus is incredulous. He asks,  How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? I think that if I had never heard of being born again, I might have reacted the same as Nicodemus. His was a logical question.

An English professor was explaining to his students about using double negatives. Then he added, “I don’t know of any double positives.” A boy in the back of the classroom spoke up, “Yeah, sure!”

The Bible is full of double positives! "Verily, verily," "Behold," or "I tell you a truth…" are different ways of saying, "Listen up! What I am about to say is very important!" Repetition underscores importance. Consider the following in our text:

v3: Jesus answered him…
v5: Jesus answered him…
v3: Verily, verily, I say to you…
v5: Verily, verily, I say to you…
v3: unless one is born again…
v5: unless one is born of water and the Spirit…
v3: he cannot see the kingdom of God.
v5: he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
v15: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
v16: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Nicodemus raised the question of natural, physical birth. Jesus answered, "No, Nicodemus, you must be born both naturally and spiritually." The natural birth comes first. The amniotic sac of a mother bursts just prior to childbirth and we say of this event, "Her water broke!" In v.6 Jesus reinforces this interpretation when He says, That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. God formed man from the dust of the ground, but he did not become a living soul until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

Jesus continues with another common occurrence in nature. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Once again, Nicodemus responds with bewilderment. "How can these things be?" Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (v. 8-10).

Jesus presented the plan of salvation to Nicodemus in the clearest and most emphatic form possible, but then he said something in verse 11 that should make us sit up and take notice!

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

Note the switch in personal pronouns! Nicodemus was thinking and speaking in the "we" form as a good Pharisee would. He did that out of fear, but Jesus boldly included his disciples (us) in his response!

God loves the world; Jesus died for the sins of all mankind; the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and leads us in the truth. That is an amazing cooperative work of the deity, but WE ARE ALSO PARTNERS WITH GOD, CHRIST and THE HOLY SPIRIT! It is one thing for us to identify with Christ, but its absolutely awesome that God identifies with us and even names us as his co-laborers! He has given us a truly GREAT COMMISSION!

In verse thirteen, Jesus declares his deity - he is the promised Messiah! And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. That should have been enough to humble Nicodemus. He has been teaching the people that the Messiah would soon come. According to Luke 3:15, the entire nation of Israel was anticipating the coming of Christ. Nicodemus is standing in the very presence of the Messiah! He should be lying prostrate on the floor or at least kneeling!

The final repetition in this passage is unmistakable. Verse 15 says, …that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 concludes with these same words!

Verses 17-21 are powerful words that deal with the age-old problem of man's sinful condition and God's salvation. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, but he came to the Light of the world! Did he believe? Our text doesn't say, but in John 7:30 - 53, Nicodemus tried to defend Jesus in a meeting of the Sanhedrin and harvested the scorn of his colleagues. We still don't know where Nicodemus stands.

Then, in John 19:38-42, two wealthy and influential men lay the crucified body of Jesus in a tomb. One of them was Joseph of Arimathaea, a secret disciple for fear of the Jews. Joseph had given his own tomb to bury his Lord and Savior. The second person was none other than Nicodemus. Was he now a believer? We still don't know for certain, but I hope to meet him in heaven!

Ralph V Harvey