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By Barbara Kugle
Special to The PREVIEW
In a previous column, we listened, like a fly on the wall, to a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. Although Nicodemus came to Jesus with no identifiable agenda, he came nonetheless. What was there about Jesus that drew him? He had witnessed Jesus’ miracles firsthand, heard Him speak with unusual authority, and teach with an unprecedented knowledge of Scripture.
Sometimes I am tempted to think that if I had been in Nicodemus’ shoes, I would have recognized Jesus immediately for who He is, son of David, son of the Most High God, and Messiah, and I would have fallen to my knees to worship Him. But, least I get too boastful, I remember that I am saved by grace and not because I’m smarter than anyone else, least of all Nicodemus.
The point of Jesus’ message to Nicodemus that night is the same for me as it was for him, that until Jesus opens my eyes, I am blind. I do not have the human capacity to understand that my salvation comes not by my choice, but because God chose me before the foundations of the earth. (Ephesians 1:4,5) It was not until Jesus gave me a new heart and new spirit that I could see the reality of His truth — “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)
Before then, I was deaf, dumb, and blind to this truth, the truth that set me free from the power of sin and death.
I left you hanging last time with a question. If we can’t be born again of our own will, and if it is entirely the work of God, how then can a person be born again and find salvation? I said then that the answer is so simple you will fall out of your chair when you hear it.
I remember well the day I discovered the secret. I had been reading and studying the Bible daily. I longed to understand it. I wanted “it” … whatever “it” was. (Some of you may remember the popular bumper sticker, “I found it” from the ’70s) So, what did I do? I didn’t try to offer up all the good things I had done in my life, promise to go to church, or be a better person. I had a hole in my heart and I wanted God to fill it, but I was afraid to ask, and for days I put it off.
Finally the day came. I didn’t get on my knees or take any other posture I thought might win God’s approval. I was sitting on a stool at my breakfast bar, alone, and I asked. That was it. I simply asked. The day was Jan. 9, 1977. I asked God to forgive my sins according to what I had read in the Bible, trusting Him to cleanse me from all my unrighteousness, and then I simply believed He would. I asked Him to make His home in my heart according to the Bible, trusting Him to give me understanding in His word. At that time, I believed in re-incarnation and a host of other ideas I’d picked up in my 29 years on earth, but I remember asking Him to show me the truth about those things. I asked. It was as simple as that. I have never doubted for a moment that what He promised, He would deliver.
Well, if Nicodemus wanted to understand what Jesus was telling him about the spiritual truth of rebirth and how to get into God’s kingdom, why didn’t he ask? Maybe he was afraid of making a commitment he couldn’t keep. Maybe he was afraid he’d have to change his ways. He went home that night with unanswered questions on his heart. I’ll bet he didn’t sleep a wink. I’ll bet he replayed the conversation in his head through the long, dark hours, wrestling with the unasked question. How could he be reborn into the kingdom of God? But He didn’t ask. So Nicodemus disappeared between the lines and pages of John’s gospel…
Until he reappears in Chapter 7.
Two years have passed since Nicodemus’ nighttime encounter with Jesus. Jesus has been teaching in Galilee, the area where he grew up. The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles is approaching, and the people are migrating to Jerusalem to celebrate. Along the way, rumors are flying. Who is this man called Jesus? Some said He was a good man, while others said no, he is a deceiver.
Meanwhile, the Pharisees and the chief priests are in Jerusalem, watching, waiting, and plotting, expecting Him to come with the rest of the populace for the celebration. And when He does make an appearance, they will kill Him.
Knowing what is in the heart of man, Jesus waits until the celebration is half over before coming to Jerusalem. He goes straight to the Temple and begins teaching. Here, too, the people speculate about His identity. Some in the crowd think He is the Messiah, and some say He is a prophet. Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem is causing controversies and divisions. For the Pharisees and chief priests this is the opportunity they had been looking for, and they quickly dispatch the Temple guards to arrest Him. But, when the guards enter the temple area and hear Jesus teach with unheard of authority and power, they can’t bring themselves to lay a hand on Him.
The guards return emptyhanded. No explanation satisfies the Pharisees and chief priests, and they accuse the guards of having been deceived along with the rest of the people. (John 7:47) It’s as though they were saying, “Look, we’re the teachers here, and He hasn’t pulled the wool over our eyes, has He?” They emphasis this further, “Has any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him?” (John 7:48)
That latter statement would include Nicodemus. He is not yet a believer in Jesus, but, to his credit, he is willing to put his reputation on the line, because He questions their rush to judgment. “Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, ‘Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?’” (John 7:51)
But these rulers aren’t interested in due process for Jesus. They turn on Nicodemus, their respected leader, like ravenous wolves. Nicodemus is scorned by his peers. What must the following days and months have been like for Nicodemus serving in this ruling body?
Finally, another year passes, and Jesus Christ has been crucified. The ruling, religious body in Jerusalem finally succeeds in their quest to kill Jesus. To their dismay, Pilate puts this notice on the cross to which Jesus has been nailed: “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews. “
It is at this time that Nicodemus appears one last time in John’s gospel. He is with his colleague, Joseph of Arimathea, also a member of the ruling party. Evidently, neither had consented to the murder of Jesus and both had secretly become followers. “Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.’He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” (John 19:38-4)
According to tradition, Nicodemus was the only person who stood up at Jesus’ trial before Pilate to defend Jesus; he was later baptized by Peter and John; and because of his confession of faith in Jesus, he was unceremoniously relieved of his position in the ruling council; he was deprived of his entire fortune, possessions and property, and then banished from Jerusalem by the same ruling council in which he served.
Nicodemus lost everything to become a born-again follower of Jesus Christ. How did it happen? How is anyone born again? The Apostle Paul tells us what we must do.
Like Nicodemus, Paul—before he became a believer—was a Pharisee. Paul was born about the same time as Jesus. His name was Saul then, and he was even more zealous for his religion. Saul was a young man when Nicodemus was at the pinnacle of his career. Although, according to Acts 22:3, Saul sat under the tutelage of the famed Gamaliel, he probably knew Nicodemus and could have been greatly influenced by his teaching as well. So, when Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus, imagine how that might have further inflamed Saul’s passion to rid the country of Christ’s Followers.
And then Saul, too, becomes a follower of Jesus after the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus Road. (Acts 9:1-6) What did Saul do to become born again? When Jesus confronted Saul with the truth, Saul did what we all must do. He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” After Saul’s conversion, Jesus gives him the name Paul. In Romans 10, we see Paul’s heart breaking for his fellow unbelieving Jews.
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4)
How can one be saved? How can we be born again? We must ask. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Paul then asks his audience,”“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
In those days, hearing came by word of mouth, by preachers. But that was before the written word. Today, Bibles are readily available. The word of God is a powerful tool, and we have no excuse for not reading it. Reading the pure word of God convicts the heart of sin and every individual is responsible for asking for understanding, asking for forgiveness, or even asking for help with unbelief.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8,9)
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.I will be found by you,” (Jeremiah 29:13)
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12,13)
All Scripture is quoted from the New International Version, NIV, unless otherwise noted.
To read Barbara’s blog, go to www.heartscryblog.wordpress.com.
Send your faith articles to firstname.lastname@example.org — 500 to 800 words. All faiths invited.