Evidence of Discipleship

Recently I have been pondering the story of Christ’s encounters with Nicodemus.  The first, infamous, meeting of the two occurred under cover of darkness, which many speculate was a result of Nicodemus’ fear of the other Jewish leaders. Others suggest he was sent by the Pharisees to investigate Jesus’ claims about Himself and an evening encounter would have been the only likely time when Jesus wasn’t being mobbed by crowds of desperate and eager followers. Either way, Nicodemus came. And what Jesus said jolted him. Born again? Born from above? What could it mean. I’m sad that we don’t see how the meeting wrapped up. We know Nicodemus was a bit incredulous to begin with, but did he leave with a fresh hunger for Truth? Did he acknowledge who Jesus was? Did he depart more amazed than confused? Or did he go out still blind, and disappointed?

We don’t know how he left, but we know what Jesus said wouldn’t leave him where he was. Did he mull it over secretly for days?  Did he tell anyone of the encounter? Did he pray? Slowly the message of the gospel was working its way into Nicodemus’ heart. Even if he wasn’t ready to make a public proclamation of his faith, at least once during the Jewish Council’s struggle over what to do with Jesus, Nicodemus stuck his neck on the line to defend Jesus.

The most telling evidence of his response to Jesus comes in John 19 after Jesus was crucified. And this is the part of the story that really gives me deep, abiding hope. Joseph of Arimathea, another wealthy, Jewish council member who had secretly been a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate to procure the Lord’s body. Nicodemus met Joseph and together they embalmed Jesus’ body with approximately 100 pounds of spices Nicodemus had brought. The jury is still out on the value of those spices, but some calculate they were worth up to $500,000 by today’s standards. Nicodemus’ financial sacrifice, however, is really just the beginning. Nicodemus was a member of the religious elite in Israel, the very guys who had just crucified Jesus. His identification with Jesus would, no doubt, result in the ostracism of his colleagues. Furthermore, embalming a body, requires touching it, which according to Jewish law would make Nicodemus unclean. And the Passover celebration was the next day!

We may not know how Jesus’ first meeting with Nicodemus ended. But we do know the results of that encounter changed Nicodemus for life. His participation in the burial of Jesus brought him out of the shadows of “secret discipleship” and into the light. And his testimony still calls others out of the shadows. For “secret disciples” can’t remain secret. As The Word sinks in, it empowers, it grows, it change lives. Nicodemus is just one evidence of that.

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