Last week we met Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The title “ruler of the Jews” was a title of religious authority. The Romans were the governmental rulers at that time, so the Pharisees were the teachers and rulers in the synagogues and were the ones who taught the Jews in all matters of Judaism. But as we saw last week, Nicodemus did not have all the answers. His personal need to find out who gets into heaven and who does not, left him with an emptiness inside, and eventually led him to seek Jesus for the answer.
The Pharisees always had spies following Jesus around, listening to His every word, trying to find fault so they could put Him to death. They were jealous of His popularity. There is a good chance that Nicodemus heard Jesus speak many times and had listened to His message of “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) We might note here that John the Baptist also brought this same message in Matthew 3:2. John was to introduce Jesus and His message as a forerunner to prepare the way for the Messiah and Savior. John the Baptist lost his life because he offended Herod, the appointed Roman ruler at that time.
It seems to me that too many of our churches have lost sight of the message “repent.” What does repent mean anyway? Webster says it means to feel regret or remorse; to resolve to reform oneself morally. The Bible teaches us that repentance is a change of mind. As we see in Matthew chapters 3 and 4, Jesus and John the Baptist were encouraging the Jews to repent in the sense of recognizing their sinfulness and repenting of that sin, and turning from their belief of salvation based on works and placing their faith in Christ’s death on the cross for cleansing from those sins.
Salvation based on works is impossible, because to do so means that one must live a perfect life without ever committing even one sin. Adam and Eve could not accomplish a sinless life in their perfect world in the Garden of Eden. As they could not be perfect, neither can we.
Next week we will look at Jesus’ response to Nicodemus in John 3:3.