Nicodemus is remembered as the man whom Jesus urged to be ‘born again’. Some scold him for his hesitation, much as they scold Thomas for his ‘doubt’; but the Byzantine churches honour both for letting love carry them through, and remember Nicodemus on the second Sunday after Easter, together with the women who brought spices to Christ’s tomb.
NICODEMUS was a Pharisee, and also a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Temple in Jerusalem.* Having heard wonderful stories, he was sure that Jesus had been sent by God, and came looking for him – at night, since controversy was already swirling.
Jesus told him that a man must be ‘born again’ to enter God’s kingdom, meaning that one must be utterly renewed by God’s Spirit in baptism. Surely, Jesus added, detecting scepticism, Israel’s governing council still believed in the power of God’s Spirit?
The council perhaps did not. When they were asked for a preliminary judgment on Jesus, they mocked Nicodemus merely for wanting a fair hearing; later, they condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion. But Nicodemus defied them, bringing a king’s ransom in spices for Jesus’s burial; and it is also said that he was a frequent visitor to the grave of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, which lay near the home of Rabbi Gamaliel.
* The Pharisees (‘separate ones’) were a rather diverse movement in Roman Judaea, which sought to limit contact with contemporary Greco-Roman culture, and live instead by traditional Hebrew language, religion and law. Whether this was as a matter of individual choice or government policy, and whether it involved violent or non-violent resistance, was a matter of controversy among them.