Nicodemus is introduced to us early in the Gospel of John, and we do not see the last of him until near the close. Three times in all he is spoken of, and it does not seem difficult to see an advance in each occurrence.
The most familiar, and may we not say the most important, is when he first came to the Lord Jesus by night (John 3)-apparently from timidity, the fear of man-and acknowledged, "Thou art a teacher come from God!" The Lord’s answer goes to the bottom: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." It was no question of following a teacher, of acknowledging miracles, but the entire nature of man; he himself needs, must be, born anew, if ever he is to see or enter God’s kingdom-whether in its earthly display for Israel, or the heavenly home prepared for the Church and shared with other saints of former and later ages. How helpless, and in himself how hopeless, is man in face of this great necessity! And what infinite grace of the Lord to present along with this the great fact of the cross, and life through the crucified One, provided in the love of God. John 3:16 is the fitting and divine companion to John 3:3.
Thus Nicodemus is left with our Lord’s full testimony of his need and God’s provision for him. We do not know the immediate effect upon him, but we cannot fail to think it produced deep exercise and searching of heart.
We next see Nicodemus a member of the Sanhedrin, or council of rulers (John 7:50-52), where many of the Pharisees were seeking to make away with the blessed Lord. The opposition and enmity had been steadily increasing. Every act of power, every word of truth and of grace, instead of softening their hearts, only made His enemies more determined to compass His destruction. Here at the Feast of Tabernacles, where His words of grace were so clear, and His testimony so unequivocal, they sent officers to arrest Him. Returning without Him, the officers, in answer to the question, "Why have ye not brought Him?" reply, "Never man spake like this Man!" Again the Pharisees seek to put contempt upon Him: "Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on Him?" As though to answer their question, one of their own council speaks out, pleading at least for fair treatment for the Lord. And if they were willing to give a fair, impartial examination of His acts and words, there would be but one result. Here at least Nicodemus comes out openly and claims the fairness which the law of God demanded when one was accused. He refuses to join in the persecution of one who was not proven guilty; may we not well believe he would have gone further and say how He was innocent?
But human and satanic hatred will not be denied. They must go on to the full accomplishment of their awful hatred. The holy Lord, to accomplish His Father’s will, does not use His divine power to thwart their wickedness; indeed, He had come into the world to effect redemption by the sacrifice of Himself, and so goes to the cross without a murmur. Blessed Lord! Well could it be said of Him, "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." And so He goes on until the last prophetic word written of Him is accomplished, and He can say, "It is finished!"-finished all the predictions of His death, all the types and shadows, all the demands of a holy law broken by us; all that the glory of God required justly to let His infinite love and grace flow out to lost, guilty man. All was provided for this-all was finished.
But there, in the eyes of His enemies, is the lifeless body of One whom they branded as an impostor and a malefactor. It was the hour of apparent triumph for Satan and his dupes. The world had its way. But just here at the time of the greatest darkness, the faith of Nicodemus shines out brightest. He, along with Joseph of Arimathea, identifies himself with a rejected, crucified, lifeless Christ! By so doing, they proclaimed their faith in Him, and their separation from those who had rejected Him.
And so may we not think of Nicodemus as identified with the fragrant spices which he brought? Like Mary’s, the perfume was not only the tribute of love and devotion to the Lord, but a witness of a faith in Him which had at last shaken itself free from all fear of man, and in the darkest hour, apparently of the Lord’s defeats proclaimed Him as the Victor, and offered the sweet savour of His victory as a worship and thank offering.