Who is a good example of a man for our times? It just so happens that we are given a good example of just such a man in Nicodemus. What kind of man was this mysterious Nicodemus? Why would he be a good example of a man for our times? From this short account in John 3 we begin to learn a few interesting things about him.
(1) “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin. He was one of the nation’s top politicians, holding a position of great authority and responsibility. He wielded a lot of respect, and honour. Nicodemus was a man in control, a true Father figure for the people of Israel. Those are traits I think we can all relate to, not just the men. Everyone likes to be in control. Everyone likes to be respected and honoured. Everyone enjoys at least a little responsibility. It may not have to be the kind of control, respect and responsibility that come with running a country; but everyone feels it. Men and women in control of their family or their home. Respect at work, or school by both your peers and your superiors. Being trusted enough to oversee a project or take out the car for the first time by yourself. Those traits of Nicodemus are important to us all.
(1) “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” We also read that Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees. Often we Christians give the Pharisees a bad name simply because so many of them gave Jesus such a hard time. But they weren’t all bad. In fact, you might even say that the Pharisees were the favourite Sons of Israel. These were the men who devoted their lives to learning and living out the ancient histories, and laws of the Israelites. These are the guys who wore the phylacteries and tassels mentioned in the Old Testament. These are the guys devoted to a life of prayer, and giving, and devotion, and service. Nicodemus, as such would have been a man of unswerving duty. Again, I think that’s a trait we can all relate to. Maybe we’re not always all that good at it, but at least we try. We try to be good fathers and mothers. We try to honour our parents. We avoid lying and stealing. We help out where and when we can.
(10) ‘Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”’ We are further told that Nicodemus is a teacher of Israel. Part of his duties as a Pharisee would be to take all of that knowledge and wisdom that he had accumulated and share it with everyone. The Pharisees were the Spiritual Leaders of Israel. Nicodemus was a man of wisdom and learning. He had a heart for sharing that wisdom and knowledge with the everyday person on the street. Again, this is not a trait that we all share equally in, but one that we can admire and in some way relate to. The world respects wisdom. People look up to those who have knowledge. We all strive in our own ways to gain wisdom and knowledge. To build ourselves up, to help others out. To make the most out of all we have been given.
Yes, Nicodemus certainly has a lot in common with us today. But perhaps the most striking similarities are the ones we haven’t spoken of yet. You see, even though Nicodemus is seen as a Father figure, a Favourite Son, and a Spiritual Leader; his actions in our text show us a very different side of him. A side we can all relate to not just in desire, but in perfect fulfillment. Why did the Father figure of Israel slink through the night like a guilty adolescent? Why did a Favourite Son of Israel, a man well versed in the history and law of God, not understand whom he was really talking to? How could a Spiritual Leader of his people be so stubbornly blind about the simplest of spiritual truths?
The answer to each question is one and the same … sin. Nicodemus, all other things considered, was still every bit the sinner that every human being is. He was not so much a man in control, as a man at the mercy of the forces around him. The forces within him. He was afraid of going against his fellow Pharisees. He was concerned about being seen as a fool. He was a man, proud in his learning, but who didn’t understand, but who only wanted to find out on his own terms. He was a man who in many ways was searching for all the wrong things.
Sound familiar? For all these reasons Nicodemus could not be considered a man FOR our times, but simply a man OF our times. In and of himself he really was no better off than any of us. Even as a Father figure, a Favourite Son, and a Spiritual Leader. We all struggle with the same sins. As an example Nicodemus lacks assurance and certainty. He has no ability to shape the present or the future through his example. No man really does. Nicodemus, like us, had been shaped already by the forces around him and the sin within him. But, you know, there is someone else in our text that we can look to for those things. God. God THE Father, God THE Son, and God THE Holy Spirit.
Where Nicodemus (and we too) fall short on each account, God shines through in Holy perfection. God is not merely a Father figure but THE Father of all creation. Nor is He an absentee Father like so many today. He is the one who continues to nurture and sustain all that He has so lovingly wrought. Daily He provides all that we need, and more than we could ever possibly use. He is the Father who moment by moment watches over His children to keep them from harm and evil. He is the Father who doesn’t know a limit to His love for you. Loving you even in the face of all that sin. In verses 16-17 we read: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
But God is also THE Son. The Favourite Son of both God and us. He is the Son who out of duty came down from heaven to be born among us. The Son who set aside His divinity so that he could live a life under His own Law, even to the point of giving up His own innocent life blood on behalf of those who in their sin deserved to die. The perfect Son who was so beloved that his sacrifice was counted as the payment of all sin forevermore and he was raised again to life on the third day. As we read in verses 13-15: “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
And last, but certainly not least, God is also THE Holy Spirit. The true Spiritual leader of all who would have and live a new life. He is the one with true knowledge and understanding. He is the one that allows us to see and love and believe in Jesus Christ our Lord and all that He has done for us. The Holy Spirit gives us life itself in our baptism. A life of hope and peace and joy in the face of all that life brings. He is the one who enlightens us through God’s Holy Word, teaching us to live that new life more fully every day. As we read in verses 5-8: 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, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.’
God is the only true man for our times. A loving and compassionate man. A new man for a new time in our history. A man not afraid to do what needs to be done to end suffering. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all working together in perfect harmony to bring about all that is good in your life, whether you realize it or not. Protection, food, clothing, shelter, and all that we need to sustain this life. Duty and service even to the point of laying down His life for ours. New life, and faith, and hope, and joy; a change in who we are and what we do. May you take comfort not in the example of God, but in His very power at work in your life to see you through all that life brings. And the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will bring you to life everlasting.