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I heard a Baptist say recently that the average Baptist is baptized 3.3 times during his or her lifetime. I’m not sure about the decimal, but the figure was over three. The man reckoned that the first baptism was as a child out of a desire to do what the family and parents advocated. The second was during the teen years because the person didn’t think the child baptism was valid. The third was in the person’s late twenties when he or she regretted their sinful foolhardiness in the teen and college years.

When does a person truly become a Christian?

It is a trite answer but true: God knows. I hope we have, by now, rejected the common evangelical understanding that a prayer prayed with just the right words after coming forward at an invitation is a one-and-done. Boom. Salvation. You’re good. Is salvation possible after such a prayer? Absolutely. Unfortunately, too often, it is not.

In the light of the truth that only God knows the condition of one’s heart, let’s consider the man Nicodemus. If you are a Christian, you know well the account of Jesus and His encounter with this Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. He wanted to talk to Jesus but was afraid of the repercussions from his fellows. Anyone who has wielded power even in a minor sense would understand the pressure that ensues based upon his or her decisions concerning the Lord. Should we criticize Nicodemus for that? Easy to do from our armchairs. Thus, he came at night, looking for answers. This is a positive thing. After all, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a).1 Was the Father drawing this man?

Upon arriving, Nicodemus made a statement of belief, it seems: “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” (John 3:2). However, Jesus knew that miracles do not always lead to belief. So, He gives this baffling response: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), to which Nicodemus responds with incredulity. Wouldn’t you have? “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).

So, Jesus offered some more information, which Nicodemus also did not understand and which we wouldn’t have, either: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). In other words, this is spiritual stuff, Nicodemus. You won’t be able to comprehend it with your natural mind—just like you didn’t understand being born again.

Jesus continued to teach Nicodemus and said in sum, “God loves the world so much that He sent Me, His Son, to bring eternal life, and you are expected to believe that.”

John chapter three ends without a further word.

Was this the last we are to hear of Nicodemus? No. No, because the process of salvation, which may be occurring in this case, is often a strange, slow path.

When we see Nicodemus again it is in a very positive light. Remember, he was a ruler of the Jews and therefore present at the trial of Jesus. He rose to His defense. “Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’ They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee’” (John 7:50–52).

Something was going on in this man’s heart. He was risking the derision of his fellow ruling Jews. If he pushed it, expulsion from the synagogue—a social and economic disaster.

However, that is not the last we see of Nicodemus. We see him again performing a worthy deed. “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:39–40). Seventy-five pounds. That’s a lot of spices It would take planning and labor to gather and transport them. Did he load them on a donkey? We don’t know all of those who were there, but from this account it was only Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who were about this distressing task.

We see three snapshots of Nicodemus in the book of John. The first did not give us a very clear picture of what was going on in his confused heart. Had he sorted things out by the time he stood in Jesus’ defense when He was on His way to His glorious sacrifice? When he brought the spices? Was he a believer? God knows. But remember Jesus’ commendation for the woman who anointed Him for burial: “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:8–9).

Nevertheless, we do not know the nature of Nicodemus’ final status with God. But we should learn here that we often see snapshots of people whom we encounter who are doubtful, confused, and bewildered by what their eyes have seen, and their ears have heard. Our job? To communicate the truth, as Jesus did, speaking of spiritual realities, but not with the thinking of natural man. The Father will draw them. The Holy Spirit will give witness to the truth.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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