17th September 2023

Nicodemus goes against his own crowd’s opinion

Passage: John 3:1-15, 7:45-52, 19:38-40
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Automatically Generated Transcript

It's a pleasure for me on Sunday mornings to come down and to join the crowd that I belong to. It's human nature actually for all of us to have connections with a lot of different people, but generally speaking we all identify with one crowd or another, whether you're a sporting person and you wear t-shirts that talk about the football or whether you're someone who has a club that you go to, but we all are in our humanity very familiar with the fact that we have a belongingness with different groups of people. And in the storyline that we're looking at today, it's about a man called Nicodemus.

And Nicodemus had a crowd, and you'd miss this reading the scriptures if you weren't alerted to look for it, but in John's Gospel in Chapter 3 and Verse 1, we get to meet Nicodemus. He appears about three times in the Gospel of John, and the storyline right through the Gospel of Jesus revealing why he'd come into the world and people discovering what that's all about, Nicodemus is one of the people who has a response that's slightly different from his crowd, and there's quite a tension that exists for him because the people that he is associating with jump the opposite direction from him. And that's what we're looking at today about Nicodemus and his crowd, and what happened as Jesus comes into the scene, and they have these varied reactions.

But John Chapter 3 and Verse 1 says, Now there was a man of the Pharisees. And the way it's written there, you could glide over it and not realise, what does it mean to be a man of the Pharisees? It means a little bit more than just the fact that he was a Pharisee, but that his entire personage is one which marked him out as a Pharisee. He had a lot to do with them. In fact, he was quite a leader. He was called a ruler of the Jews. When you read through the Gospels, you often confront the fact that sometimes when it says Jews, it means just the people living in that district, but in other places it actually means the leaders, and particularly the ones who are bent on their beliefs, the crowd that they're in. And the Jewish leaders who ruled the nation were basically the ones who were led by the Sanhedrin, and there were different Jewish sects, S-E-C-T-S, and the Pharisees were pretty much the strongest of those. And so he's marked out by his belongingness to his crowd, and he's also a ruler. He's a person, because of the teaching that he's had and the opportunity that's been his, to lead lots of discussions and to make decisions for and give teaching to the general populace. So that's Nicodemus, and we're tracing his journey through life with Jesus coming on the scene, and to how he and his crowd got out of sorts, and what that meant for him. Now if we go across to the same chapter 3, but verses 5 to 8, and you'll see this beginning to bring out.

There are not a lot of spots, but as you go through the Gospel of John, the general thing that's happening is that Jesus is very popular at first, as people see some of the wonderful things he did, and they listen to his teaching, but bit by bit you'll find that what Jesus does teach puts a bit of a challenge to them, and this is the moment when Nicodemus goes to see Jesus at night time. People speculate as to why he went at night, because he didn't want to get seen, or because he wanted to be able to tell Jesus what he really thought. We don't know. But he went at night time where people wouldn't see him, and in the conversation, this is where Jesus begins to turn up the heat. Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, your human birth got you here, all of us here share the same with Nicodemus. That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit, there has to be two births for you to get in the door with God, one physically to make you a human, and the second one spiritually. Let me keep reading.

Do not marvel that I said to you, you must, this is Jesus, you must be born again. There's a mystery about some change that comes over people when they come to Christ, and God steps into their lives and changes them. He doesn't make them a different person in terms of not their same person, but that person he makes different. That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit, don't marvel that I said to you, you must be born again. And Jesus explains the spirituality with the metaphor that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a bit like the wind that you might quite notice and hear, but you can't see exactly where it's coming from or where it's going to. The wind blows where it wishes and you hear it sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. So Nicodemus is hearing from Jesus that the business of being right with God is not just a matter of being a Jew, or not just a matter of doing the right things in the temple, not just a matter of the teaching that comes from the old covenant, proper teaching in its time, given by Moses, not just keeping the rules, which those Pharisees were very good on telling people how they should do it, keep the rules.

But it's a spiritual thing. And it raised a question in Nicodemus' mind, no doubt, about himself. If you were there too, the same would happen to you. In fact, that's what happens when people are confronted with the gospel, the gospel, the good news of how Jesus came into the world to bring us back to God. And that coming back to God is something that needs this event of your being born again. And Nicodemus knew nothing about that. And he's meant to be a Pharisee, a man of the Pharisees, and he's meant to be a ruler of the Jews, and he doesn't know anything about it. And Jesus actually rubs it in a bit and says, how come you're a teacher of the Jews and you don't know these things? Nicodemus is given a shock to discover that what his crowd believed and taught, and he was a marvellous representative of, was not sufficient. Jesus actually, I haven't quoted the entire storyline, but Jesus said, you can't see the kingdom of God unless you're born again. And I don't know how he felt when he left, but he immediately had begun to experience a difference between what his crowd taught, and he had gone along with it, and what this man Jesus was saying. We'll move ahead and go across to the next verse in John chapter 7, verse 45.

And as we look here, this is an occasion where you begin to see that Nicodemus gets put in a position where he maybe would wish to stay quiet, but because he is a person with a fair degree of assurance in his thinking ability, and he's been a leader of others and a teacher of others, he ventures a bit of a squeak. Nicodemus is not necessarily going to be comfortable with the viewpoint of the crowd, his crowd. The officers then came back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, why did you not bring him? Now they'd been sent to arrest Jesus, and they came and went and stood at the back of the crowd, and Jesus kept teaching. And they were spellbound by what Jesus said. There was something about Jesus. A lot of people experienced it when they came and listened to Jesus, because what was happening through Jesus wasn't only human ideas. He had come from heaven, he said so himself. Jesus, who he was, was God's eternal son. And he came to earth and took on humanity, not a swamp, but an addition, and he became the God-man, if you like, both man and God. But because he took on humanity, he took on the role of walking in obedience to the heavenly Father, he only did the things the Father led him to do. He represented us, because he came to do what we, the human race, had failed, and that was to obey God and to live the life God created us to be in, because we failed. There was no solution, but Jesus came that he might succeed on our behalf.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the mediator. There's one mediator between God and man, the Bible says, and it's the man, Christ Jesus. One hand, metaphorically speaking, on the shoulder of the Father, and the other hand reaching out for you and for me, that he might mediate and bring us together. So Nicodemus had already, by visiting Jesus at night, felt that confrontation effect that when you hear about Jesus and begin to think through about what he says, you're beginning to be wooed to come back to God through Jesus. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me, and he'd already experienced what it is to be on the receiving end of that call that comes through, that Jesus delivers, and here the chief priests and the Pharisees, his crowd, had sent some of their men, probably soldiers, to arrest Jesus and bring him back, they're going to deal with Jesus. But while they were up the back of the crowd listening, they were aware of that spiritual dimension, no doubt, that was happening when you listened to Jesus. Something gets through to you. That still happens today.

Jesus speaks through his word, and when the message of the Bible, it's called the gospel is delivered, there can be people reporting, I know there are some people who don't notice anything, but there are others who report that while they heard that message, God spoke to them. The apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost, talked to the crowd and said that the Lord is calling, and said, I've told the people, to as many as the Lord our God shall call, the message is for them. Anyway, that was happening, beginning to happen to Nicodemus, and it was happening to the people, the soldiers or whoever they were, that the Pharisees and the leaders, chief priests, had sent to arrest Jesus, and they couldn't do anything. They went back without trying to arrest Jesus. That's why they're saying, how come you didn't bring him? The officers answered, no one ever spoke like this man, or how true that is. When God begins to get through to you, sometimes we welcome the assurance his call gives, and we run to him. Other people wrestle with their conscience. I don't need to, all sorts of excuses. It's always interesting when you watch a little distance, someone that you know that is on the receiving end of that call, and they're fighting it.

The officers answered, no one ever spoke like this man. The Pharisees answered them, they're their own people, the Pharisees answered them, have you also been deceived? Because they believed Jesus was deceiving everybody. Have any of the authorities of the Pharisees believed in him? Now, there weren't any that had put their hands up that they did, but there was one in their midst, his name was Nicodemus. And I reckon he was more than just a little bit already on the way in. Have any of the authorities of the Pharisees believed in him? What did Nicodemus think when he heard them say, do they know I've been considering what he told me that night? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed, the Pharisees talking about the people who were listening to Jesus. Nicodemus, who'd gone to him before, and he was one of them, he was a Pharisee as we saw, said to them, does our law judge a man without first hearing him, without first hearing him and learning what he does? Nicodemus is actually asking his own crowd to start behaving a bit more properly. Are we people that just judge folk without even investigating? They replied, are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee. So they're getting annoyed at Nicodemus.

Now there's not a lot in the scriptures about this middle phase in Nicodemus' experience. There is a very popular production by Christians. It's what I would call a faction. It's fiction and a little bit of faction. So it takes all the biblical facts and tries to fill in the gaps where we're not told anything. I think it's that series, is it called, what is it called, what was it again? Yeah, The Chosen. Put your hand up if you've seen any of the versions of The Chosen. Just want to see. Look, I would commend to you, all right, to look at that. It is terrific. But in it, they paint the story of Nicodemus running into the Mary of Magdalene when she still was a demon-possessed person. And him trying to do something as a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews, and he can't. He's got no power over demons. And she bumps into Jesus and he casts the demons out and she's healed. And he can't believe when he runs into her again. I think it's a fantastic show. If you get a chance to type in and see it through one of the ways, you know, one of the media, watch that episode. Nicodemus, are you from Galilee too? Well, so what, Jesus spent some time at Galilee. He might have been born in Bethlehem and he was known to be from Nazareth and he spent time in Galilee and whatever. But that was a stupid thing for them to say.

You search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee. Maybe they hadn't heard of how busy John the Baptist had been up there. He was a prophet. Anyway, this is interesting that Nicodemus finds himself sticking up for the truth about Jesus and he's speaking out against his crowd to some degree. He's doing it tentatively. And often that tension comes about when people are confronted with Christianity and they have a mindset that they've thought through and come to previously but it's being disagreed with by what's coming in through their eyes. That can happen 101 different ways. Most of us here can probably tell of when some of us got brought up in a Christian home so maybe we've always believed. But others here came through a change just like Nicodemus where they felt themselves suddenly being called not to stick with their crowd. What is the truth? What are they going to do? Well, as I said, there aren't that many things here in the scriptures but there are spots that talk about something very similar that happens sometimes even in churches. And I want us to turn to the book of Revelation and it is in chapter 3.

So Revelation in chapter 3. And this is the passage where John has been on the Isle of Patmos and John is given letters to write to the churches from Jesus. And in the seventh of these he writes to the church at Laodicea. And just a little point, many of you will be familiar I'm sure with this passage because Jesus speaks to them about the fact that he knows how they're getting on and that they think rather highly of themselves doing pretty well, the church at Laodicea. And he says, I know your works that you're neither cold nor hot. They thought they were pretty good. When you look into the history of that town, they were doing a lot of things successfully as a church. Would that you were either cold or hot. So because you're lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I'm about to spit you out of my mouth, is how another translation has it, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I'm rich and prospered and need nothing. Not realising that you're wretched and pitiable and poor and blind and naked. Now this is a church. What's interesting, we'll go to verse 20, if you can, I'm giving him a bit of a job for him, verse 20, he's quick, behold, I stand at the door and knock. Now this is Jesus talking further to that church, but what's fascinating is something that you could glide over this passage, having read it many times, and never realise that Jesus is standing outside the church and he's knocking.

Now he's the Lord of the church, I think he could come straight in, but he knocks at the door because it's a lukewarm church, and because they don't have a close relationship with him as he would want. I stand at the door and knock, and then he says, if anyone, and the wording means any individual, this is a bit that, I know I read this verse many times and never noticed, he's outside the door knocking for the whole church to hear, but he says, if any one individual will hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and fellowship with him, eat with him, and he with me. And Jesus is making it clear that this business of coming to know him, what was started with Nicodemus hearing you've got to be born again, is always a personal business. You don't get in the door by being a part of the right crowd. Being right crowd might hinder you or might help you, but Jesus gives the call to individuals to make an individual decision, and even though we live in a generation that's really big on group decisions and very big on people having corporate associations and whatever, nonetheless, when it comes to the question of coming to God and being born again, it's always an individual matter that you've got to face on your own.

You have to decide for yourself. You have to make up your mind as to which, whatever crowd you may belong to, whether you'll believe what they've told you to believe, or whether you'll answer from those things that happen when Jesus does the calling. I know what I'm talking about because it happened to me. My conversion was a time when Christ called, and very trivially, I answered, I responded. And what the very nature of evangelism is about, a lot of people who think evangelism is we go around and bully people into your opinion, it's not actually, it might look like that, and it might even be done like that by some. But evangelism is when people hear the call of Jesus, come unto me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and mild of heart, and you'll find rest for your souls. The voice of Christ, it is the Master's voice, is what those men sent from the Pharisees, standing at the back, or sitting at the back of the crowd, heard. No man speaks like this man. There's a moment when God comes to us and he calls, and there's something about God that because he's the one who made us, everyone, because he made our hearts, that we should know him, we've been built to be in touch with him. And when he calls, there's something in you who jolly well knows it. The reason why we have services in church, one reason, it's a general teaching thing we have because we develop a crowd, do you know that?

A crowd that hears the word of God. But the reason why we have services is because not every time that God is on the business of turning up, I mean he does turn up every time, but you wouldn't know necessarily, but not every time does his call come so loud. Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anybody hears my voice and opens the door, I will come on into that one and fellowship with him, even in the picture of sitting down and having special fellowship with the one who got up and opened the door. And I declare to you this morning that the person who wrote those words, or gave them through the Apostle John to be in the scriptures, is the person who this morning is knocking. And I don't know who you are, but he may well be knocking for you to hear. He's in the business of delivering a call. Well, along the way, we don't know exactly when Nicodemus gave in to that call. How do I know? I love the scriptures because they don't start a story without telling you the end. There are some things we're not told, but in this case we have, and let's go now to John 19, no, where is it now, let me see, to the verse where, let's go to John 19, 38 to 42.

There's a couple of spots which we're going to need to go to, but John 19, 38 to 42, let's see. Now what's happening here is going to tell us a bit of evidence, I said I'll show you how I know that Nicodemus responded to that call of Jesus. It's just a little bit of evidence, it says, after these things, and what's happened is that Jesus has come, he's been tried, he's been crucified, and he gets to rise again. He hasn't risen yet, but he's in the tomb. And after these things, Joseph, or he's to get into the tomb, as we read, and after these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, that means the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, because Jesus has died. And Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, look at verse 30, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came, along with this bloke, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds in weight, which would be very expensive. And he's turned up with all of these things to anoint the body of Jesus.

So they took the body of Jesus, they bound it in linen cloths with spices, as in the burial custom of the Jews. And in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden, a new tomb, in which no one had been laid, I think it's the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. So because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. But this man, Nicodemus, did a very dangerous thing. And the dangerous thing was that now that Jesus has been killed, what the enemies of Jesus would have would be to hunt down the other disciples, that was normal procedure. And here in Joseph of Arimathea, he's going along laden with spices and asking for the body. If he were a sensible man, and going to be as safe as he could, he'd just stay quiet. Don't go and ask for the body of Jesus. But something has happened in Nicodemus. It's actually quite a tradition. We don't have other spots in the Bible that tell us more. But there is another document called the Gospel of Nicodemus. We don't know whether it is, how reliable it is, but it tells of Nicodemus being a Christian. And so there is the idea in things that are written, it's not in the scriptures, so we don't trust it as the same as we might in the Gospel of John. But there's plenty of evidence to bear in the history of things and all the ideas that floated around, that Nicodemus became a thoroughgoing disciple. And to me, that adds up with the fact that he was prepared to go to Pilate and take the risk of asking for the body of Jesus, and along with Joseph of Arimathea, of seeing that Jesus got properly buried. We know the rest of the story from the Gospels about the resurrection of Christ, but this is happening in between his death and his resurrection.

Someone has said that if you are a secret disciple of Jesus, eventually the secrecy will kill the discipleship, or the discipleship will kill the secrecy. And this is a beautiful example in the case of Joseph of Arimathea. He was a secret disciple, as the text told us, and Nicodemus as well. That there, having been, I believe, born again, has killed the secrecy. And they've gone to the most dangerous person, Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus, and put him in a rich man's tomb. Something happened to the storyline of Nicodemus. He had a conflict with his crowd, and I want to ask you, has there come to you that call from Jesus? Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any individual, if any one, hears my voice and opens the door, I'll come into that one and fellowship with him, and he with me, or she with me. Jesus calls, he doesn't do it in ways that we might expect. One way he is known to do it, is when this simple message of the gospel is promulgated, told, put in books, made in songs, put available, the Bible doesn't have any need for it to be any special way of delivery, but if this message arrives at your ears, look out and see whether or not it's coming from Jesus, and he's waiting on your response. Nicodemus suffered a clash between him and his crowd, and praise God, lucky for him, good for him, and good for us if we choose to listen to the voice of Jesus, no matter what our crowd may be, no matter what others might see of us, and that's the moment you get born again.

Let's pray. Heavenly Father, I thank you for this message, and thank you for Nicodemus who's in the scriptures. I thank you, Father, for him going along with Joseph of Arimathea and risking what it was to go and ask for the body of Jesus, that he was placed in a rich man's tomb and actually fulfilled the prophecy that he so did. But I pray, Father, for people here today, who knows how many, have never really answered the call of Jesus, that in their own time and when they're willing to give in to Jesus' call, may that happen, we pray in his name. Amen.

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