“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The same came to Jesus by night . . . and there came also Nicodemus, which at first came to Jesus by night.” (John 3:1-2; 19:39)
Three windows are all the Holy Spirit gives us to understand His work in the heart of Nicodemus, that intriguing man who visited the Savior by night. Curiously enough, the trio of accounts are in the same Gospel, the one written by fisherman John.
We find the first in chapter three, so famous for its sixteenth verse. Here the influential teacher of Israel is introduced to us as he made his initial, secretive, nighttime visit. No specific reason is given for why he chose to approach Jesus after dark, but quite clearly he did not want to be seen. Whether that was out of pure fear, professional discretion, or simple practicality will remain a mystery until we get to heaven.
The scene closes after a lengthy answer by the Lord, in which He draws special attention to the striking Old Testament story of the bronze serpent. We have no recorded response of Nicodemus, but this prophetic illustration must have made a huge impression on him.
In chapter seven a second window opens, this time into a larger setting. A furious group of Pharisees and priests are scolding some of their officers who failed to haul in Jesus as ordered. As they ridiculed the men for being swayed by the Lord’s words, the whole bunch is stunned by a voice that spoke up in Christ’s defense. It was Nicodemus.Again the passage closes with no comment by the teacher.
The third and final window swings open in chapter nineteen, and this time we see things happening in the broad daylight of a crucifixion scene. As the Lord is being lowered from the cross, a rich member of the Sanhedrin steps forward. This man has been in the shadows for a long time, afraid to identify himself with Jesus. But now, setting aside his fears, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the crucified body. As he goes to get the body, he is joined by another wealthy Jew − Nicodemus!
Though it is impossible to enter his mind for the exact thoughts, the implication is that they were triggered by the “lifting up” of the Savior. For many months he had remembered, watched, hesitated . . . but when he saw Christ raised high on the cross, the light of understanding pierced his soul.
This was what Jesus had told him would happen, back when they had had their private conversation. He was the One to look at! He was the One to believe in! He was the Savior Who loved the world!
Nicodemus’ story can remind us all of an important truth as we sow the Gospel in tough hearts. God is not necessarily in a hurry like we usually are and can be working in a soul when we have no inkling of progress.
As His Spirit softens the mind and cracks its brittle arguments, the sinner is being guided to a specific crossroads. When it dawns on him that Jesus was crucified in his place, all the previous intellectual obstacles can be vaporized in a second.
And God alone will be glorified.
Dear Father, You are always doing way more than I realize, and Your calendar is perfect. Help me be faithful in sowing and confident in Your Spirit’s work.