It was a day that I shall never forget as long as I live, that day started it all, a new way of life and a complete change in how I think about everything. I did not change that day but the seeds for change were planted deep within my heart. Before that day I was true to the traditions of my people, according to the Levitical priesthood, as I am the fifth generation Pharisee, and I excelled them all as the teacher in Israel. I became a leading member of the Sanhedrin, which is comprised of 70 men, plus the high priest, who serves as its president; the members come from the chief priests, scribes and elders.
But for all the power we wield over the people, that day made me feel completely helpless, overrun as it were and by only one man. I was in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, so the population burgeoned to over a million people, both in the city and the surrounding villages. There were literally tens of thousands of people in the temple area, plus animals, and there was buying and selling going on as usual, only now to a much greater extent.
I was in the temple speaking with some of my students when we heard a little commotion; I did not see anything at first but eventually I saw him. He was a very average man at best, not abnormally large, he was intense but not in any outrageous way; even in his zeal there was a calmness in his voice and actions. You could tell he was in control of his emotions. But this was the incredible part, the people just quietly listened to what he said to them, they just packed up and left the building. He had no authority that anyone knew about, he did not wield a sword but some ropes, he had no armed guards to assist him, but still they left – even the animals. There was no commotion, no, not enough ruckus to bring a garrison of Roman soldiers who were just itching to squelch any disturbance, and that they would do with real violence. Everyone just quietly left the area.
I tell you, it was impossible! It was a miracle! His first public miracle! This was the biggest day of the year; big for the high priest and his family who brought a great income into the temple treasury for our religion, big for the people who came to worship in the traditions of our religion, and big for me and all the teachers who esteemed the traditions of our fathers. It was the biggest day, and he brought it all to a crashing end by some words and a whip made of rope. It was impossible I tell you. No one can clear that many people that quietly and quickly without virtually any trouble. And it was the actions of that day that got me to thinking.
I heard about healings that were taking place, a blind man received his sight, a woman with an issue of blood was said to be healed, and many other things, but for me it was the day in the temple that got into my soul in such a way that I could not get rid of it. Finally, I brought myself to the place where I had to go and speak to him in person. Many were seeking to talk to him, but it was always with ulterior motives; the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees were continually plotting how they might trap him in what he said, so that they might accuse him before the people. I did not want to go to him in that way, so I decided to go to him at night, apart from the crowds.
I overheard people talking and in that way found out where he would be one evening; I left my usual duties early so I might travel a short way to talk to him. I wanted to show him do respect so I began by saying 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.” When he spoke to me his words cut me to the heart, it was as though he struck me in the deepest part of my being; he hit me at the center of all my pride. “Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When he started with the words truly, truly it was as to say, “I know what you’ve been taught but what I am about to say is the truth.” My immediate gut reaction was to say, ‘how dare you,’ but I held my tongue. He said to me, I could not even see the kingdom of God, and who does he think he is speaking to, I thought to myself. I spent my whole life studying the law and the traditions of the scribes and this man without proper learning was telling me that I cannot see; I was furious.
Instead I 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?” Once again his answer was not only pointed but he brought me back to the law and revealed God’s word in a way I had not really contemplated before that time. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” I was well familiar with the scriptures and his words sent my mind immediately to Psalm 51:2 “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” and also Numbers 8:5-7 “Take the Levites from among the Israelites and purify them. And do this to them to purify them: Sprinkle water of purification on them; then have them shave all their body and wash their clothes, and so purify themselves.”
My soul cried out as I knew in the depths of my heart that I needed to be cleansed of my sin, but I was the teacher in Israel, I was above the common people, I did not think of myself as a sinner. I worked hard to gain favor with God; I studied, taught, and behaved as I thought I should, so that God would be pleased with me. And now this man, that I did not know, said to me it was all for nothing, and that I needed to be cleansed from my sin, and to be born of the Spirit, which is to say, ‘of God.’ I was an Israelite; I was livid, but I did not show it. Or so I thought!
And then he made matters even worse when he went on to say, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
I understood his meaning from the outset, in my soul and in my heart but I refused his words with my mind. I knew that he was speaking of something spiritual, something that is not accomplished through human and even sinful endeavor, but my pride would not accept these things as true. He said that the flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and that I must be born from above, that is by God. I knew that we are all created by God and that we do not ask or take any part in being born. Even though men and women procreate the scripture is clear; all life is in the hands of our creator. So he was telling me that entrance into heaven is of God, and that it is not by human means, but I rejected his teaching. I was too engulfed in a life of works. He solidified his teaching when he said, ‘the wind blows where it wishes…’ I knew the life of God is like the wind, it is the very breathe of God; I understood all too well that God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul. But it was so hard to accept that my entrance into heaven was not by the works of my own hands; that I must be born from above and by the Spirit of the living God.
I was undone but I rebelled! “How can these things be” I answered him. "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” was his reply. When He asked me, ‘Are you THE teacher in Israel…’ it went through me like a knife. I was THE teacher in Israel, I understood beyond all my contemporaries but now I was made to feel like the fool. He told me to my face that I did not accept his testimony. “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know,” he said, “and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony,” He knew my heart. “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” He declared himself to be the Messiah, the sent One, the redeemer of Israel, the Son of God, and in the same breath told me the means of His death. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;” that was preposterous, outrageous, laughable. How could the Son of God, redeemer, and conqueror for Israel be taken, and killed by Roman crucifixion? But before I could recover from that outrageous statement he concluded by saying, “so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
In less than three years the temple guards would return to us having been sent to arrest Jesus, but failed, and tell us, "Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks" and I knew that all too well. Never did I expect the Messiah to appear with the miracles that this Jesus did and then say to me, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This was the manner by which the Son of Man would save Israel? “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” In light of our present conversation I would have to conclude that he was saying that my life and deeds were evil, and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."
It is true, I couldn’t receive his teaching at the time, but I continued to watch his life and ministry from afar, I kept silent amidst all the growing hatred toward this man among my countrymen and fellow Pharisees, but I could not find any real fault with the man. Then nearly three years later when once again they tried to have him put to death I spoke out, I could not help myself, and in a moment, I revealed my hand for all to see, and I said, “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” They replied, “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” They ridiculed and mocked me in public, and I understood, as I felt previously, that no matter what my reputation and standing among them that I must fall before them as Jesus was about to do. What happened to Jesus was by His consent, in fact it was His intent, and it was for this very purpose that He was born. The question was now before me; would I follow in His footsteps?
I witnessed His miracles, heard His words, observed His life and in the end could not deny the man but had to receive that He was true, even though it meant judgment against me and would prove to be my undoing. It was as though I was constrained to believe. Everything that He told me came true, however He was judged unjustly; I observed the false witnesses as they were gathered for what became a mockery of a trial. I saw the villainy of my fellow councilmen as they prepared to lie and put to death an innocent man because of who He proclaimed Himself to be by mighty deeds and teachings among the people. It was for jealousy and envy that they desired to keep their place, which was built on hypocrisy and greed and not a true love for God and the people. And I was one of them or I had been. Then He was put to death, after being scourged. I witnessed the trial and His death, I heard Him say, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” I was one of those who beat my breast like a woman as I left that horrible scene and wept like a baby at the horror that I observed.
When it was done and Jesus was dead, I went to a fellow disciple, one like myself, who also feared the Jews but who could not live in fear any longer; Joseph was his name, of Arimathea. He asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus, and we took it away and brought it to a new tomb where no one had been laid. We did not know it at the time but in so doing we were fulfilling the scripture. Out of great respect for Jesus, who we now believed to be the Son of Man spoken of by Daniel, we brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes that weighed about seventy-five pounds, and wrapped his body, with aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs.
It has been some years since that time, I have been put out of the temple, lost my position, financial holdings, and even been banished from the city. My family remains and I constantly fear for their lives and well being. We now live in poverty and fear that the time of my death is near; I am hated with a great hatred by those who once called me brother. But, I regret nothing for in my loss, I have gained Christ, for whom I have suffered the loss of all these things, but I have gained eternal life, His life, righteousness, and believe it or not, glory.
I am Nicodemus, and my name ironically means victor, but the only victory that I have known is at the feet of Jesus, who took my place and paid the price for my sins. I am no longer a Pharisee, a priest, a member of the Sanhedrin, or the teacher in Israel, but I am a follower of Jesus Christ.
All the references for these events are found in John 2, 3, 7, and 19.
The life events following are taken from church tradition.