There is not a lot said about Nicodemus in the Bible, but there are many lessons and illustrations applicable from the little that is mentioned. In fact, there is a whole chapter devoted to Nicodemus in The Desire of Ages. Ellen White makes this statement: “In the interview with Nicodemus, Jesus unfolded the plan of salvation, and His mission to the world. In none of His subsequent discourses did He explain so fully, step by step, the work necessary to be done in the hearts of all who would inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Ibid., 176. This is quite a statement, if you stop to think about it. “In none of His subsequent discourses did He explain so fully ….” It seems to me that since inheriting the kingdom of heaven is our goal it would be important to study this interview carefully to see what is the necessary work. So, we will focus on one small portion of the interview as an illustration of what is necessary for the first step of salvation. It is a step often missing from the lives of professed Christians, yet it is the very first requirement for salvation. Without this step, there are no others.
Nicodemus was what, in our society today, would be called one of the “rich and famous.” He held a high position in the Jewish society. He was highly educated. He possessed unique talents “of no ordinary character.” (See Conflict and Courage, 291.) He was an honored member of the national council. He was a strict Pharisee filled with good works. He was widely esteemed for benevolence; in other words, he cared for the poor and destitute, and for his liberality in sustaining the temple service, he gave liberally to the Lord. What more could he do or be? It seems he had all the bases covered. Nicodemus himself was secure in his salvation. And if we are honest at looking at his life today, we would have to admit that from an outward point of view, he had it all together. Yet it is clear from the interview he had with Jesus that he was lacking something.
Do you want to be in the position where you feel secure of salvation but don’t have it? Jesus explained that situation in Matthew 7:21–23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” What a fatal, crushing realization, and when it is too late! How can we avoid being in that position?
Let’s continue on with our story of Nicodemus. Let’s join him as he seeks Jesus on that night; that night when a rich, satisfied, successful ruler of the Jews initiated an interview with the meek, humble, poor teacher from Nazareth; that night which was to be the turning point for Nicodemus’ entire life.
Jesus has retired to the Mount of Olives. It is late. The night is peaceful and quiet. Silently, clothed in the darkness so as to conceal his destination, Nicodemus makes his way to Jesus’ retreat. He does not want to be seen; he reasons that he would not want to set this example for the common people.
Under the light of the stars and the moon, speaking with the One who created these things, Nicodemus begins with an air of composure and dignity. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him.” John 3:2, AKJV.
Picture it. Nicodemus is in control; rather he perceives that he is in control. In fact, he probably has the whole conversation planned out in his head. You know what that is like. You have something to say; you know how you will say it, and you know exactly how someone will react to what you have to say. That is Nicodemus’ situation. Well, this is where the story gets interesting. Nicodemus has begun, but his well laid plans don’t work out. Jesus completely ignores Nicodemus’ statement. Immediately, Jesus takes control of the conversation, going directly to the heart of the issue of conversion. He says, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Verse 5.
Nicodemus is startled. Where did that come from? He had said nothing of conversion. He didn’t need conversion; he was already saved! This is not where his well planned conversation was to go. He loses all sense of his self-possession. He is no longer aware of his surroundings, or his own preconceived conversational ideas. Rather he is focused intently on One who reads his heart like an open book.
Nicodemus had, of course, heard the preaching of John the Baptist. He was aware of the message John had preached concerning repentance and baptism. But never had he related the need for repentance and baptism to himself. He was startled, surprised and self rose up in irritation. What? He, a strict Pharisee not good enough? He, benevolent and liberal yet not good enough? He, highly educated and intelligent but not good enough?
We need to stop right here and reflect a moment. What just happened? Truth was brought home to a heart. And what happened when truth hit home? What happened when Nicodemus was confronted with truth? Is it not the same with many as with Nicodemus? Nicodemus didn’t like the close application of truth to himself. “The pride of the Pharisee was struggling against the honest desire of the seeker after truth.” The Desire of Ages, 171. Let’s think about this for a moment. This is the crux of where so many people lose their way. There are many, many examples of this very thing. In fact, this same situation happened with Lucifer in heaven. Sadly, Lucifer chose to retain his pride, and consequently, he lost all heaven.
Here is where a basic requirement must take place in the heart to begin the process of regeneration and conversion. It is at this point that something must happen in order to gain salvation.
This first basic requirement is succinctly described at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3, 5, 6, where it says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are the meek … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”
These same basic attitudes and attributes are beautifully portrayed in David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10, 11. He says, “Create in me a pure heart, O, God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.”
What common attributes do you see woven between these two texts, Matthew 5 and Psalm 51? It is humility of heart, an admission of need, a desire for righteousness. Without these, we cannot take the first step towards regeneration and redemption.
Were these attitudes valued and exhibited by the Pharisees? (Remember, Nicodemus was a leading Pharisee.) Not if I read my Bible correctly. In fact, a Pharisee’s thoughts went more like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” Luke 18:11. No wonder the statement Jesus made hit Nicodemus with such force.
Now let’s turn the conversation to our day, to the last church that will exist before Jesus’ coming. As you read the following text, see if there is any correlation or parallel with the statement regarding the Pharisee we just read in Luke 18.
Revelation 3:17, 18 says, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ ” Does that sound familiar? Doesn’t that sound something like what the Pharisee said? Next it says, “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” Do you think this is saying the same thing that Jesus said to Nicodemus on that night when He said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”? John 3:5.
This is a serious subject, a crucial subject for those interested in gaining eternal life. And it cuts right to the heart of our salvation. Even more, it is a requirement for anyone wanting a relationship with the meek, humble, lowly Jesus. Do you want an intimate relationship with Jesus? Do you want to be like Him?
“We may have flattered ourselves, as did Nicodemus, that our life has been upright, that our moral character is correct, and think that we need not humble the heart before God, like the common sinner: but when the light from Christ shines into our souls, we shall see how impure we are; we shall discern the selfishness of motive, the enmity against God, that has defiled every act of life. Then we shall know that our own righteousness is indeed as filthy rags, and that the blood of Christ alone can cleanse us from the defilement of sin, and renew our hearts in His own likeness.” Conflict and Courage, 292.
Do you and I today have the humility and meekness, the hunger and thirst for righteousness necessary for salvation, or are we like the Pharisee or the Laodicean? Let us pray earnestly for the Spirit of Christ, as it is the only way unto salvation.
(Bible texts quoted are New International Version unless otherwise noted.)
Brenda Douay is a staff member of Steps to Life. She can be contacted by email at: email@example.com or by phone at: 316-788-5559.