Learn a Lesson From Nicodemus
“IF ANYONE wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake day after day and follow me continually.” (Luke 9:23) Humble fishermen and a despised tax collector readily accepted that invitation. They left everything behind to follow Jesus.—Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:27, 28.
Jesus’ call is still heard today, and many have responded. However, some who take pleasure in studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses hesitate to ‘disown themselves and pick up their torture stake.’ They are reluctant to accept the responsibility and privilege of being Jesus’ disciples.
Why do some hold back from accepting Jesus’ invitation and dedicating themselves to Jehovah God? Granted, those who were not brought up with the Judeo-Christian concept of monotheism may need considerable time before coming to a full appreciation of the existence of a personal, almighty Creator. Yet, even after they have become convinced that God is real, some beg off from following in the footsteps of Jesus. They may fear what their relatives and friends will think of them if they become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Others, who lose sight of the urgency of the times in which we live, turn to the pursuit of fame and fortune. (Matthew 24:36-42; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10) Whatever the case may be, for those who keep on postponing their decision to become Jesus’ followers, there is a lesson to be learned from the account of Nicodemus, a wealthy Jewish ruler in Jesus’ day.
Blessed With Wonderful Opportunities
Only about six months after Jesus started his earthly ministry, Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus ‘as a teacher has come from God.’ Impressed by the miracles that Jesus recently performed in Jerusalem at the Passover of 30 C.E., Nicodemus comes, under the cover of darkness, to confess his belief in Jesus and to learn more about this teacher. At that, Jesus tells Nicodemus a profound truth about the need to be “born again” in order to enter the Kingdom of God. On this occasion, Jesus also says the words: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:1-16.
What a marvelous prospect lies before Nicodemus! He may become a close associate of Jesus, able to witness firsthand various aspects of Jesus’ life on earth. As a ruler of the Jews and a teacher in Israel, Nicodemus has a good knowledge of God’s Word. He also has keen insight, as seen by his identifying Jesus as a teacher sent by God. Nicodemus is interested in spiritual matters, and he is unusually humble. How difficult it must be for a member of the highest court of the Jews to acknowledge a lowly carpenter’s son as a man sent from God! All such qualities are invaluable in the making of a disciple of Jesus.
Nicodemus’ interest in this man from Nazareth does not seem to wane. Two and a half years later, at the Festival of Booths, Nicodemus attends a meeting of the Sanhedrin. At this time, Nicodemus is still “one of them.” The chief priests and the Pharisees send officers to arrest Jesus. The officers return and report: “Never has another man spoken like this.” The Pharisees start to belittle them: “You have not been misled also, have you? Not one of the rulers or of the Pharisees has put faith in him, has he? But this crowd that does not know the Law are accursed people.” Nicodemus cannot hold back any longer. He speaks up: “Our law does not judge a man unless first it has heard from him and come to know what he is doing, does it?” He then finds himself the target of criticism from the other Pharisees: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet is to be raised up out of Galilee.”—John 7:1, 10, 32, 45-52.
Some six months later, on Passover Day of 33 C.E., Nicodemus beholds Jesus’ body being taken down from the torture stake. He joins Joseph of Arimathea, another member of the Sanhedrin, in preparing Jesus’ body for burial. For that purpose, Nicodemus brings “a roll of myrrh and aloes” weighing about 100 Roman pounds, equivalent to 72 English pounds. It represents a considerable outlay of money. It also takes courage for him to be identified with “that impostor,” as his fellow Pharisees call Jesus. Quickly preparing Jesus’ body for burial, the two lay Jesus in a new memorial tomb nearby. Even at this moment, however, Nicodemus still is not identified as a disciple of Jesus!—John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:63; Mark 15:43.
Why He Did Not Act
Why Nicodemus begged off from ‘picking up his torture stake’ and following Jesus, John did not reveal in his account. However, he left some clues that might explain this Pharisee’s indecision.
First of all, John pointed out that the Jewish ruler “came to [Jesus] in the night.” (John 3:2) One Bible scholar suggests: “Nicodemus came by night, not out of fear, but to avoid the crowds that would have interrupted his interview with Jesus.” Yet, John referred to Nicodemus as “the man that came to [Jesus] in the night the first time” in the same context in which he referred to Joseph of Arimathea as “a disciple of Jesus but a secret one out of his fear of the Jews.” (John 19:38, 39) It is likely, therefore, that Nicodemus called on Jesus under the cover of darkness out of “fear of the Jews,” just as others in his day feared having anything to do with Jesus.—John 7:13.
Have you put off the decision to become one of Jesus’ disciples because of what your relatives, friends, or colleagues might say? “Trembling at men is what lays a snare,” says a proverb. How can you deal with that fear? The proverb continues: “But he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.” (Proverbs 29:25) In order to build that trust in Jehovah, you need to come to see for yourself that God will sustain you when you are in sore straits. Pray to Jehovah, and ask him to give you the courage to make even minor decisions regarding your worship. Gradually, your faith and trust in Jehovah will grow to the point that you will be able to make major decisions in harmony with God’s will.
Nicodemus’ position and prestige as a member of the ruling class may also have prevented him from taking the important step of disowning himself. At that time, he must still have had a strong attachment to his position as a member of the Sanhedrin. Do you hesitate to take action to become Christ’s follower because you may lose a prestigious position in society or may have to sacrifice certain prospects for advancement? None of these things can compare with the distinction of being able to serve the Most High of the universe, who is willing to satisfy requests you make in harmony with his will.—Psalm 10:17; 83:18; 145:18.
Another possible reason for Nicodemus’ procrastination might have been related to his riches. As a Pharisee, he might have been influenced by the others, “who were money lovers.” (Luke 16:14) The fact that he was able to afford an expensive roll of myrrh and aloes testifies to his means. Some today keep delaying the decision to take up the responsibilities of a Christian because they are anxious about their material belongings. However, Jesus admonished his followers: “Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear. . . . For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—Matthew 6:25-33.
He Had Much to Lose
Interestingly, the account about Nicodemus, which appears only in John’s Gospel, leaves unsaid whether he ever became Jesus’ follower or not. According to one tradition, Nicodemus took a stand for Jesus, got baptized, became a target of Jewish persecution, was removed from his position, and was finally banished from Jerusalem. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: He had much to lose by procrastinating while Jesus was here on earth.
If Nicodemus had started following Jesus at the time of his very first encounter with the Lord, he could have become a close disciple of Jesus. With Nicodemus’ knowledge, insight, humility, and awareness of spiritual needs, he could have become an outstanding disciple. Yes, he could have heard the amazing speeches by the Great Teacher, learned vital lessons from Jesus’ illustrations, witnessed eye-opening miracles that Jesus performed, and gained strength from Jesus’ parting admonition to his apostles. But he missed out on all of that.
Nicodemus’ indecisiveness meant a great loss on his part. Included was Jesus’ warm invitation: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Nicodemus missed the opportunity to experience this refreshment literally from Jesus himself!
How About You?
Since 1914, Jesus Christ has been present in heaven as the King of God’s heavenly Kingdom. Foretelling what would take place during his presence, he said among other things: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) Before the end comes, that worldwide preaching work must be accomplished. Jesus Christ takes pleasure in having imperfect humans take part. You too may have a share in this work.
Nicodemus recognized that Jesus came from God. (John 3:2) From studying the Bible, you may have come to a similar conclusion. You may have made changes in your way of life to conform to Bible standards. You may even be attending meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses to take in further knowledge of the Bible. You are to be commended for such efforts. Yet, Nicodemus needed to go beyond simply showing appreciation for Jesus as the one sent by God. He needed to “disown himself and pick up his torture stake day after day and follow [Jesus] continually.”—Luke 9:23.
Take to heart what the apostle Paul tells us. He wrote: “Working together with him, we also entreat you not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose. For he says: ‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and in a day of salvation I helped you.’ Look! Now is the especially acceptable time. Look! Now is the day of salvation.”—2 Corinthians 6:1, 2.
Now is the time to develop the faith that moves you to action. To that end, meditate on the things that you are studying in the Bible. Pray to Jehovah, and ask him for help to display such faith. As you experience his helping hand, your appreciation and love for him will move you to want to ‘disown yourself and pick up your torture stake day after day and follow Jesus Christ continually.’ Will you act now?
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At first, Nicodemus courageously stood up for Jesus
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In spite of opposition, Nicodemus helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial
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Personal study and prayer can strengthen you to take action
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Will you accept the privilege of working under the leadership of Jesus Christ?