Has there been a stirring in your heart that you don’t understand? Is there something in you that has been nagging at you to find out more about God? Are you interested in Jesus and feel like He has something to offer to you, but don’t understand why? Well, you are not alone. Those feelings that are drawing you to Jesus is the Holy Spirit working on you. He has done the same thing for millions of others for the past 2000 years now. It is His job to pull people to Christ. He works in the world calling people away from sin and death and to the One who can save. The only One who can save – the Way, the Truth and the Life: Jesus.
But what do you do when you feel that calling and want to respond but don’t know how? When you get enough of a glimpse of Jesus to want to come to Him, but don’t know a thing about Christianity? When you like what you know about Jesus, but still have doubts?
Jesus calls us all to come to Him, but what if we don’t know what to do or say when we get there? Jesus says just come anyway. Come as we are regardless of how much we understand and He will give us what we need.
The truth is that none of us is really prepared to get face to face with Jesus. Sinful man meeting sinless God is an understandably daunting appointment. If it were up to us the meeting would end terribly. But thankfully, it is up to Jesus to make it work and He just says “Come and I will give you rest!”.
Look at Nicodemus from John 3, a very impressive guy who lived at the time of Jesus. Nicodemus was a really big deal. He had everything going for him. Yet, when he comes to Jesus, Nicodemus gets it all wrong. He is just confused. You wonder what he is even doing there. Then you remember that the Holy Spirit drew him to Jesus and it is up to Jesus to teach him.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of night. Nighttime was different back then. There were no streetlights or electric bulbs so most of the world shut down as soon as the sun set. Night was associated with intrigue and mystery. Darkness is when you did things that you wanted to keep secret. It has been speculated that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night because he doesn’t want anyone to know he is talking with Jesus. He is interested in Jesus and the Holy Spirit is calling him to Jesus, but Nicodemus doesn’t want to lose all he has for Jesus, not yet, at least. He knows there is something good about Jesus and wants to get closer, but he doesn’t yet understand his need for a Savior.
Though we don’t know a lot about Nicodemus, what we do know is that he had quite the resume. He is a Pharisee, meaning that he is a member of a Jewish sect that was considered the super-duper religious Jews of that day. They were the Jewish religious commandos. They tried as hard as they could to keep every portion of the Law of Moses and to look appropriately pious while doing it. They gave to the poor, they did dramatic prayers so that everyone watched and righteously (in their minds) looked down on everyone around them. Jesus generally holds them in great disdain because of their pride and hypocrisy. Everyone else in Israel thought the Pharisees were awesome. They were believed to be the truly chosen of the chosen people. Nicodemus was a prominent Pharisee so everyone would have known him. He would have had the best seats at banquets, crowds would part to allow him through and people would want him to bless their baby. He was a pretty big deal on this account alone.
Nicodemus was also a ruler of the people. He was a member of the ruling council of Israel that governed the life of the Israelites, the Sanhedrin. 70 of the most important men were chosen to be part of the Council from all of the men of Israel and what they said was law. They were the chosen few from the nation that God called His Children. We don’t know whether he was a good ruler or a bad ruler of the people, but Nicodemus was certainly powerful and ran with a very elite crowd. A Pharisee who was also on the Sanhedrin would have been accorded even more honor.
Nicodemus also was an influential teacher of the Jewish faith. Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel” when talking with him. Not “a teacher” but “the teacher” which indicates a prominence held by very few throughout the history of the Nation. In this capacity, he would have been extraordinarily well trained in the Old Testament Scriptures and the history of his people. In a country that valued “rabbis”, teachers and those instructors were focused on teaching the Bible, Nicodemus appeared to have few rivals. He was the best Old Testament scholar around. Nicodemus later brings 100 pounds of spices to the tomb of Jesus for His burial. Such a large amount would have been hugely expensive, so the evidence indicated he was also rich.
Very impressive resume Nicodemus presents to Jesus, right? He comes to Jesus with way more attributes than most of us bring to the table. He is rich, smart, knows his Bible inside and out and was respected by everyone. He also was a leader among God’s own people. Can you get any more impressive?
Can anyone be more prepared to meet the Jewish Messiah? Nicodemus’ life was about studying and teaching the very Scriptures that testified to Jesus. Despite all this pedigree and preparation, when Nicodemus meets Jesus guess what happens?
Nicodemus comes to Jesus and is completely unprepared. It is obvious that he is confused by Jesus and doesn’t even know the right questions to ask, much less have the answers. He is interested in learning from Jesus and sets aside time to do so, but when they meet it is like he and Jesus are having two completely different conversations. Nicodemus has a glimpse of the truth that his Savior is standing right in front of him, but it is only a portion of the truth to start:
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 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.”
Seems straightforward, right? Nicodemus may have been buttering Jesus up a bit calling Him “Teacher” but he does acknowledge very important aspects about Jesus: that He is a teacher, that He is from God and that God is with Him. Good start, but the statement also is greatly lacking in wisdom. Jesus is not just a teacher, He is Lord and Savior and Nicodemus hasn’t gotten there yet. Until he does, he will remain stuck in his sins and trespasses. Jesus sees this and responds to Nicodemus pointedly attempting to get him to the real issue at hand:
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus came to Jesus in all his finery and with all of his cultural baggage. He was a Jew and a Pharisee. They were absolutely certain that they were the chosen people. They had no doubt that they were be blessed by God on a straight trip to heaven. He may have had questions about Jesus’ miracles and the signs that he had heard about, but Nicodemus appears to have no idea that he needed to be saved by Jesus. He was a Child of Abraham he did not need to be saved.
There was a cultural teaching at the time that Abraham stood by the gates of Hell watching the people going in to make sure none of his children went in by mistake. It was being born a Jew that saved people according to Nicodemus. Nicodemus is obviously confused in his response:
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Put bluntly, do you think any of the many questions we present to God and to others about faith sound any sillier than this one? Did Nicodemus know that this was being preserved in the Bible? Do you think he said to John, “Can’t you just put that I said to Jesus that I did not understand, please explain?” Jesus does not give him the Holy “duh” though in answering. He is patient, He is kind and He goes on in the passage to teach Nicodemus what he needs to understand to leave his false sense of assurance behind and follow Jesus.
Nicodemus is one who is well respected in the Nation of Israel. Everyone listened when He spoke. As a Pharisee and as a leader, he was sure of his own holiness, his opinions and his knowledge of the Scriptures. Yet, it is obvious that he has no idea that Jesus is the Messiah and God. It is also clear that he has no idea of his own standing relative to Jesus. Despite what would have been fancy robes and a feeling of great self-worth, Nicodemus is a filthy sinner standing before the Most High God. He desperately needs to be saved by Jesus and he doesn’t know it. Rather, it appears that he wants to engage Jesus in a theological discussion, one Rabbi to another. While this is somewhat astounding when you think about it, it also testifies to the beauty and love of Jesus as our Savior and Mediator.
Jesus doesn’t strike down Nicodemus for his ignorance. He doesn’t punish Nicodemus for his many sins. He doesn’t reject Nicodemus like Nicodemus has been rejecting Jesus up to this point. Do we realize that God is standing in front of Nicodemus and he is not falling on his face in worship? Jesus does none of these things. Rather, Jesus reaches across the divide between the divine and the earthly and patiently teaches Nicodemus what he needs to know in order to gain eternal life. If you continue in the passage, Jesus even goes back to Moses in the Old Testament and shows how the Serpent on the Pole in the Book of Numbers points to Jesus. He does so without anger, judgment or condemnation. Nicodemus should have known all this as “the teacher of Israel”. This is what the entire Old Testament was for, to teach them about the Messiah to come. If you miss that, you did not have anything. Nicodemus missed it because he is just a fallen man like you or I despite his resume. As a result, Jesus’ mercy and grace are on full display when faced with Nicodemus’ confusion and reluctance.
No matter how qualified we appear on paper, since we are fallen men and women when we go to Jesus for the first time it will be a great mismatch. He is God, we are not. We may feel we have everything going for us or we may feel know absolutely nothing other than there is something special about Jesus. Regardless of how we come, because of the amazing love, mercy and grace of Jesus we are accepted. We are received with love and patience. Like Nicodemus, most importantly, we are taught the things that we need to know in order to follow Jesus.
It is toward the very end of John’s Gospel that Nicodemus is mentioned for the third and last time. He helps Joseph of Arimethea prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The rich, famous, powerful Pharisee who came to Jesus in the darkness is obviously greatly changed. Where once he hid in the night, he now openly does a task that would have been seen as menial to the other Pharisees and Rulers in service of the man they just Crucified. He is serving Jesus in a humble and open manner when it will likely cost him greatly. His life was greatly changed because he came to Jesus. His own confusion when he came couldn’t stop the work of the Lord in His life.
So if we are in doubt, come to Jesus. Feel confused or unqualified, come to Jesus. Know that we are a desperately wicked sinner with nothing to bring to the table, come to Jesus. He never says we have to be qualified. He just says come and He will take it from there.