From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 9 – What is ‘the love of the truth’ and why does truth matter so much to God?
Look now at this lengthy passage from John’s gospel where Jesus has a detailed conversation with another man called Nicodemus. He too was very transparent and honest, as Nathanael was. Note the sincere, almost child-like, questions which Nicodemus asks Jesus. He does so despite the fact that he was a prominent man in Israel and a highly educated teacher of the Law of Moses.
His earnestness and unpretentiousness come across very clearly in the simplicity of his questions. He evidently had the love of the truth. He was not trying to justify himself or to impress anybody with his own knowledge or sophistication. He just wanted to understand Jesus better and had no other agenda.
It is probably because he was so sincere that Jesus did Nicodemus the honour of giving him such a lengthy and detailed answer. It contrasted starkly with the short answers, or non-answers, that He gave to many of the other Scribes and Pharisees. Indeed, the most famous passage in the whole Bible, the one which contains John 3:16, was said directly to Nicodemus in answer to his earnest and childlike question. For many years I had not realised that John 3:16 was a direct statement made by Jesus Himself. I had somehow assumed it was apostle John speaking about Jesus. But it is actually Jesus Himself who says it. He is speaking to Nicodemus about Himself.
At any rate, the point is that Jesus gave a very long and detailed answer to Nicodemus, which runs to 16 verses, because He could see that Nicodemus was a sincere man who really wanted to know the truth. Therefore Jesus took the time to give him a complete answer. Jesus was clearly impressed by the humility of Nicodemus and his love of the truth. Therefore he opened up to him. Yet Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Indeed, he was a very senior Pharisee. Some say that he was the most senior teacher of the Law of Moses in all Israel.
The fact that a Pharisee could be a good and honest man might come as a surprise to some. Many of us tend to assume that all of the Scribes and Pharisees were proud and hard hearted, always trying to catch Jesus out rather than to learn from him. That is not the case. Many of them followed Him, as did Nicodemus. Here is the account of his conversation with Jesus:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode′mus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicode′mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:1-21 (RSV)
9 Nicode′mus said to him, “How can this be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
The way Jesus answered questions from His critics and enemies was very different from how He answered Nicodemus. Most of the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees were hostile to Him. When they asked questions it was not to find an answer or to learn the truth. Truth was not on their agenda. Their aim was to justify their own existing opinions and to discredit Jesus. They did not care about finding out whether He was telling the truth, or whether they were mistaken. They were determined to maintain their own opinions, regardless of whether they were right or wrong.
Indeed, many of the religious leaders were well aware that Jesus really was the Messiah. They knew it because they had seen and verified His miracles. That was the very reason why they were following Him around, i.e. to check up on Him and find out if His miracles were genuine. But some of them weren’t willing to admit any of that to Him or to the people, or even to themselves. They hated Him even though they already knew He was the Messiah. They didn’t like what he was saying, even if it was true, and they weren’t willing to change.