I had the opportunity to teach about the story of Nicodemus from John 3:1-21 this weekend. There are lots of fascinating things going on in this passage that I never noticed before, but one in particular stood out to me.
John ends this narrative without at all describing Nicodemus’ response to Jesus. The story ends with Jesus talking for twelve verses. Next thing we know, Jesus and the disciples are whisking away to another place, and we can just assume a perplexed Nicodemus goes home to ponder all that Jesus said.
Fortunately, that’s not the last we hear of Nicodemus. We hear of him two more times in the gospel of John. In John 7:45-52, we read how Nicodemus mildly rose to the defense of Jesus in a meeting of the chief priests and Pharisees. That story alone has some intriguing stuff going on, but…
The most interesting mention of Nicodemus comes from John 19:38-42. Nicodemus basically goes against his peers to show great respect for Jesus by publicly stepping out to care for his body. I was familiar with this response from Nicodemus, but here is what I never had thought of before. Nicodemus puts everything about his current life at risk to take care of the body of a dead rebel rabbi. I think it’s safe to say that Nicodemus, like Joseph, was making public the fact that he was choosing to follow the teaching of this rabbi that he had perhaps been secretly following for quite sometime. This is before Jesus rose again! There is no reason to believe that Nicodemus was anticipating the resurrection. From what he saw of the life and death of Jesus, that was enough to stir him to follow. The resurrection a few days later was simply a bonus! (I think this fits in quite well with Conrad Gempf’s recent entry on the importance of the death of Jesus as well.)
Too often, I believe, Christians simply live out their faith because of the promise of a reward in heaven someday. We simply tolerate this world until heaven. What if that hope was taken away? Would Jesus still be worth following? Would we see so much value in trying to live as he did that we wouldn’t imagine living any other way?