I wrote this for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) and it is reproduced here by kind permission.
John’s narrative of the Easter story differs from that of the other three Gospel writers in that it is a much more intimate portrayal, seen less from the standpoint of an observer, and more through the eyes of Jesus himself. John, as Jesus’ closest earthly friend, had ample opportunity to observe and listen to Jesus and to get a feel for how He Himself saw events. In particular, he records far more than the other writers of Jesus’ own words in the period leading up to His arrest.
John records how, at the last supper, Jesus took a towel and performed the function usually reserved for the lowest servant in the house – washing the feet of everyone present at the meal. And he prefixes the story with this interesting observation: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” The security that Jesus had in facing the cross came from knowing what authority He had, whose He was and where He was going.
John’s Gospel makes three references to a character who is overlooked by Jesus’ other biographers. His name is Nicodemus, and we first encounter him in chapter three. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council, is fascinated by what he has heard of Jesus and wants to meet Him for himself. But, wary of being seen to associate with him, he cautiously visits him by night. “Rabbi,” he says, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” – an admission which, at present, he lacks the courage to make in broad daylight or in earshot of the other Pharisees.
Jesus makes Nicodemus welcome, and has a serious conversation with him about the need to be born again, born of the Spirit, in order to be included in God’s kingdom. He gently teases him in a way people only do with someone they like: “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?” Nicodemus is forced to face the reality that, unlike Jesus, he does not yet know what authority he has, to whom he belongs, or where his destiny lies.
Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus has a lasting impact on him. He not only retains his confidence in Jesus’ divine origin, but he begins to gain a boldness in defending Jesus to the religious leaders. When they denounce His teaching and berate the temple guards for not arresting Him in chapter 7 of John, Nicodemus risks (and receives) a rebuke by venturing to ask, ““Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
The final time we meet Nicodemus, he has flung caution to the winds. Jesus has been crucified, has died, and His body is about to be taken down from the cross for disposal. The normal fate of crucified remains is to be flung out into the valley of Hinnom, the place where the rubbish is burned. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea boldly go to Pilate and demand the right to take care of Jesus’ body. Permission is granted, and in broad daylight, in front of all the Jewish and Roman officials who have been present to witness the crucifixion, they tenderly remove the body of Jesus, wrap it in strips of linen and Nicodemus applies seventy-five pounds of spices which he has brought with him for the purpose. It has been estimated that such a quantity of spices would have cost the equivalent of about £110,000 in today’s money.
Nicodemus is making a very bold and very public statement about his estimation of Jesus’ worth. What a journey this man has come from the timidity that had him scurrying furtively to Jesus at night. Somewhere along the way he has learned what authority he has, whose he is, and where his final destiny lies. This has not come through any intellectual process of reasoning, but simply through keeping company with Jesus, feeling the warmth of His appreciation and acceptance, and realising his worth in God’s eyes.
And what about us? We all arrive at adulthood hampered by things that make us insecure and uncertain of our identity, whether that is the result of a physical or learning disability we’ve grown up with, abuse or neglect in childhood, being the victim of school bullies, or even just the self-doubt and longing for acceptance that are part of the normal experience of adolescence.
From there we have a choice. We can either go through life hamstrung by these limitations that we or others have placed on us. Or, like Nicodemus, we can associate freely and regularly with Jesus, observing His confidence and security that come from knowing what the Father has given Him, His total acceptance and belonging to the Father, and His ultimate destiny in taking the full place the Father has reserved for Him.
So, this Easter, let’s not continue to dwell on the things that hold us back or make us feel inadequate. Instead, let’s be confident in our authority (for Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me… go in My name”), in whose we are (for Jesus said, “You did not choose Me but I chose you… I no longer call you servants… instead I have called you friends”) and where we are going, that our destiny is inextricably bound up with that of Jesus (for Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also”). Armed with these three confidences we can face with complete trust in God anything that lies ahead, knowing as Nicodemus eventually did, that our allegiance to Jesus matters more than anything, and is worth any sacrifice of reputation or wealth.
As C.T. Studd said, when he gave up a glittering international cricket career and an inherited fortune to take the Gospel to parts of the world where Jesus was unknown, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice is too great for me to make for Him.”