Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
I. THE SIMPLE FACT IS STATED. We are left to draw our own inferences. Evidently we are meant to think the worse of Nicodemus for coming by night, and we may draw inferences without making Nicodemus out to be an exceptionally bad character. Just the average man of the world, with a position made for him, having much to lose by taking up boldly with new ways, and therefore feeling he could not be too cautious in his first approach to Jesus. He did not want to be compromised.
II. JESUS DID NOT SEND AWAY THE MAN WHO CAME BY NIGHT. He did not stand upon his dignity. He did not say, "Go away again, and come by daylight." Jesus is the most accessible of beings. It is better to come by day than by night, because such a coming indicates a brave, determined mind, bent on getting at the truth, and so much the better placed for reaching the truth, because it has risen above that fear of man which bringeth a snare. But it is better to come by night than not at all; and it matters a great deal to us to know that Jesus did not send this man away because he came by night. Thus we have illustration how Jesus does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. If weak ones are to make headway in the path of faith and righteousness, they must not he dealt with hardly in the beginning.
III. JESUS HAS THE SAME MESSAGE WHENEVER WE MAY COME. Whatever hour Nicodemus may choose, it is the same truth he will have to hear, the same process he will have to go through. Come at midnight or come at noonday, the announcement is the same, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
IV. CONTRAST THE COMING OF NICODEMUS WITH HIS DEPARTURE. Not that we are told how he departed. He may have succeeded in his immediate desire. His visit to Jesus may have remained unknown to everybody but Jesus and himself, he came in the darkness of physical night, and in the darkness of physical night he probably went away. But nevertheless, uncomfortable consequences must have come to him in ways he did not at all expect, he came in the gross darkness of spiritual ignorance, but he can hardly have gone away without some dim rays of spiritual light upon his path. There must. at all events, have been a disturbing sense of a larger world than he had. been heretofore accustomed to. He had been brought face to face with more searching views of life. You may, perhaps, choose what you will begin and how, but how you will end is beyond your choice. The one thing that everybody now knows about Nicodemus is that he is the man who came to Jesus by night. What a commentary on the vain wisdom and expectations of men! The very means Nicodemus takes to ensure secrecy end in the widest publicity. And yet it is a publicity that does not hurt Nicodemus, and it is for the world's good. It is long, long ago since it could matter in the least to Nicodemus who knew the way of his coming to Jesus. - Y.
There came also Nicodemus (Text and
I. THE RULER'S SECRET APPLICATION TO CHRIST.
1. There was at heart a secret longing for what only Christ could give. No one would have supposed that Nicodemus was unsatisfied; he seems to have had almost every temporal good. But He had hours of anxious wondering, seasons when His thirsty soul turned away from earth as from broken cisterns which could hold no water, and a conviction that somehow what he so much wanted this Teacher sent from God could give. How little we know what is going on in those around us I No one could have thought this of Nicodemus.
2. But the gratification of that longing was opposed by great difficulties. No soul can try to make its way to Christ without finding an enemy there to prevent it; but in the case of some — those whose circle is more or less antagonistic to Christ; whose training has led them to believe that morality is enough — who have taken a position in a contrary direction from which it is hard to recede; the difficulties are almost overwhelming. They are illustrated here. This man was "a Pharisee;" as such he had set ideas on the subject of religion, was one of the council of the LXX. and a doctor of the law. Hardly anything can be more difficult than for a man, perhaps an old man, who has prided himself on his beliefs, to come to say, "Perhaps after all I am wrong, at least I am not satisfied, teach me and let me learn," but when one knows that he must have Christ or perish, he makes short work with these barriers.
3. When these difficulties were broken through, Christ received and taught the applicant. He might have said, "Come to Me by day, I am tired and would rest," or, "Why should I forego repose to listen to a Pharisee?" He might have upbraided him with his fear, or questioned his sincerity. Christ did none of these, "He will not break the bruised reed," &c. How full of help are the words, "The same came to Jesus by night"! Many come by day, and we see them. There are others whom we do not see, and wonder they do not come; perhaps they come to Jesus by night. All who come as he did, are welcomed as he was.
II. THE RULER'S UNCONSCIOUS CONFESSION OF ATTACHMENT TO CHRIST. What was the immediate result of the interview we are left to imagine; but that is not difficult. Christ gave him instruction because He recognized in him a sincere seeker, and we cannot doubt that from that time Nicodemus was at heart a disciple of Jesus. But he makes no stand; months pass; he is in the council-chamber, the hatred of his colleagues to Christ breaks out in a storm, and then in spite of himself he lets fall a word which reveals that secretly he is on the Lord's side. But why secretly? Many here may know what it would cost to stand fearlessly forward as the humble champion of righteousness in the social circle or in public, and they find the answer there. But let me remind you that such a position —
1. Is one of great injustice to Christ. If we were to judge by those whom we see come forward, we should be obliged to say that comparatively few are brought to Christ when early life is passed. I have rarely seen a man of years, and position, and learning take it for the first time; and when then, we ask, Are such men past hope? we think of Nicodemus and believe there are many whose surrender to Christ is the secret of their own soul. Such do not reflect how unjust that secrecy is. We cannot estimate what would have been the consequence if Nicodemus had come boldly out at first; many of the rulers secretly believed, and only wanted a fearless leader. He who has deigned to receive us has a right to expect that we let men know what He has done for us.
2. Involves considerable pain to the man himself. Those months in which this Jewish councillor kept his allegiance to Christ a secret must have been months of great discomfort. He could not listen to debates from which he revolted, nor walk the streets and be regarded as one of those who were against Christ, without a guilty conscience. Let one live below what he knows God requires, and from that moment his happiness is doomed.
3. Is a position of great peril to spiritual hope. "Whoso shall confess Me," &c. Confession of Christ is indispensable to salvation because it is the necessary result of that union with Christ in which salvation consists.
III. THE RULER'S OPEN AVOWAL OF DISCIPLESHIP TO CHRIST. There is a point where the real disciple must emerge from secrecy. Where is it? Where he has a vision of Jesus crucified. We lose our courage because we do not look at the cross. There are mainly three hindrances to confession of Christ, and the cross conquers them all.
1. The cross is a declaration of redemption. That meets the difficulty in uncertainty as to our position. Many a one feels that he cannot acknowledge that he is redeemed because he is not sure of it. But can he look on the Son of God in the agony of an accursed death, and then doubt whether an atonement of such worth has not satisfied the law? If such a price was paid for my redemption it is enough, I am redeemed.
2. The cross is a revelation of Divine love. That meets the difficulty to confessing Christ in coldness of heart. It is because our hearts are cold that we are "disciples secretly." What we want is hearts aglow with love to the Redeemer, and for that we may go to Calvary.
3. The cross is a manifestation of the Divine will. That destroys the difficulty to Christian confession in ignorance of what He would have us do. Lord, what is Thy will about me whom Thou hast redeemed? "Follow Me," He says; and as we look we see Jesus in the crucified One. The cross becomes the symbol of Christian life which, as His people, we dare not and cannot refuse, for "he that taketh not up his cross and cometh after Me cannot be My disciple."
(U. New.)I. BY THIS SERVICE THE SACRED FORM OF THE CRUCIFIED WAS TAKEN OUT OF THE POWER OF HIS ENEMIES. The Romans had no respect for the sanctity of death. The common expression was, "The crows to the cross." The Jews acted on the old words, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree," and carted the bodies of the executed away to the valley of Hinnom, the great abomination into which were flung things unmentionable, and past imagination, a place thought of as the symbol of hell, and as one of its three doors. When, to satisfy the Jews, orders came that the bodies of the crucified should be instantly made away with, the weeping women were in the distraction, not only of grief, but of helplessness. Just then, when their thoughts were in hopeless entanglement, and the sorrows of a lifetime condensed into one desolating burst, two strangers approached the cross, had the shaft sawn through by workmen, then laid level on the ground, took charge of the body, and set about the observance of the last solemnities. As the watchers looked on the dead weight on their hearts was lifted, the nameless terror was gone.
II. BY THIS UNITED ACTION THE ROYALTY OF THE SAVIOUR WAS RECOGNIZED. In the acute moment when the two newly-revealed disciples bent over the face that was still shadowed by the crown of thorns, only the eyes of their faith could see the marks of royalty there. The text may seem to indicate that nothing more than ordinary was done at the funeral of Jesus, "as the manner of the Jews is to bury." The reference, however, is to the nature, not to the scale of the preparations. It certainly was not the manner of the Jews to use spices at a funeral on such a scale as this. Great quantities were used when it was intended to show high respect. At the funeral of Gamaliel the elder, eighty pounds of spices were burnt; and there were five hundred spice-bearers at that Of King Herod; but such a large use of aromatics in honour of the dead was limited to cases of distinction like these. At the Crucifixion His kingly claims had been treated with mockery. There was mockery of His crown, of His sceptre, of His robe, of a court of ceremonial in the offer of vinegar and gall, of a herald's announcement, in the title written on His cross; and His cross was the mockery of a throne; but now, with a love which broke through all bounds of calculation, these men tried to show some sign of their loyalty, now so penitent because it was so late, and were resolved to treat their crucified Master only as a dead king is treated.
III. THE BURIAL OF JESUS IN THE PARTICULAR TOMB SELECTED WAS OVERRULED TO WORK OUT CERTAIN VITALLY IMPORTANT PURPOSES. The tomb was not a structure of masonry, like most others, but a chamber cut out of the living rock. Few could enjoy such a luxury. There are not probably five hundred in or about Jerusalem, and as that city must, in the days of its prosperity, have possessed a population of from thirty thousand to forty thousand souls, and as there must have been a population on this spot for more than three thousand years the inference will be irresistible that the possession of such a tomb must have been one of the things that marked a man of distinction.
1. This act helped to make the actual death of Christ an unquestionable fact. It was no obscure grave, affording an excuse for doubt; no tomb in Jerusalem could have been more conspicuous; no fact more public than Christ's burial in it.
2. It prepared for, and made possible, complete and unanswerable evidence of His resurrection, which was further illustrated by the grave being in a garden.
3. Crowning all the other services to the Church; there were undesignedly instrumental in fulfilling this ancient prophecy, "He made His grave with the wicked," &c., or, according to the most careful reading, "His grave was appointed with the wicked, but He was with a rich man," i.e., His grave was appointed by men with the wicked — under usual circumstances, only such a grave was thought of for one who died on a cross; but He was with a rich man in His tomb after all. And why? "Because He had done no violence," &c.
IV. THE ACT OF THESE MEN ILLUSTRATES THE FUNCTION OF WEALTH IN THE SERVICE OF CHRIST, and this is another practical outcome of their profession. The gospel is full of words to comfort and dignify the holy poor; but the gospel creates no class distinctions. "The Church is the poor man's church;" yes, and it is also the rich man's church; for there "the rich and the poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all."
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
Extremes in Christ's history: — Twice was Jesus rich in the days of His poverty. Once immediately after His birth, when the wise men offered Him gold, &c., and now after His ignominious death, when a rich man buries Him, and a distinguished man provides spices to anoint Him. Yea! a rich Joseph has taken the place of that poor Joseph who stood by the manger.
(R. Besser, D. D.)
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