John 3: 18 – 21
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3: 18)
St John sets this statement in a scene in which Jesus is responding to doubts expressed by Nicodemus. He knows who Nicodemus is, and he knows that the group to which he belongs is hostile. This is a serious warning to Nicodemus. Jesus is saying to him:
- I am the Son of Man, that is, God’s one and only Son;
- I am not here to condemn you;
- If you believe in me, you are not condemned;
- If you don’t believe in me, you are already condemned.
Remember, Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, in the darkness.
This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear their deeds will be disclosed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3: 19 – 21)
Remember, too, what Nicodemus said at the start of his meeting with Jesus.
‘Rabbi, we know 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.’ (John 3: 2)
It seems to me that Jesus is saying, ‘Look at yourself, Nicodemus. Why have you come to me secretly, in the dark, rather than coming to hear my public teaching? What are you hiding? If you believe that God is with me – then come into the light and show your belief publicly.’
And Nicodemus says nothing in reply.
There is a great deal of theology in these verses, but I don’t want to try and unpack it here. I want to look solely at the narrative and see what it tells me about Jesus. So let me sum up this story, and also look ahead at the other references to Nicodemus in St John’s gospel.
The theme of the story is set out in John 2: 22 – 25. Jesus performs signs in Jerusalem and many people believe as a result. But Jesus wouldn’t trust himself to any of them. He knew what was in each person.
John then tells us the story of Nicodemus as an example of how Jesus knew what was in people. Nicodemus is shown that he has no idea of what Jesus is doing, or of his significance. Jesus states that he is the only Son of God; he challenges Nicodemus with it, because to an orthodox Jew such a claim was blasphemy.
Jesus does not condemn Nicodemus – he has not come to condemn, but to save. And sharp though the challenge is to Nicodemus, it is an invitation to respond.
Although that is where this part of Nicodemus’ story stops, it is continued later in the gospel. The temple guards have been sent to arrest Jesus, but have returned empty-handed.
Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why didn’t you bring him in?’
‘No-one ever spoke the way this man does,’ the guards replied.
‘You mean he has deceived you also?’ the Pharisees retorted. ‘Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law – there is a curse on them.’
Nicodemus who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, ‘Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?’
They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee. (John 7: 46 – 52)
It would seem that Jesus’ words to Nicodemus are starting to bear fruit. He speaks out, to remind his fellow Pharisees that Jesus deserves a fair trial.
Then, after Jesus has died, Nicodemus makes another appearance.
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about thirty-five kilograms. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. (John 19: 38 – 40)
Nicodemus plays a major part in Jesus’ burial; he shows his belief publicly. The words spoken to him by Jesus bear fruit!
Thank you for sending Jesus to save the world. Thank you that he speaks to us and encourages us to follow him. Please help me to hear what he says to me and to obey it.
In Jesus’ name,