Learning, Growth, and Humility


"Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” " (John 3:1-2)

I have heard a number of people say over the years that Nicodemus was scared to meet with Jesus during the daytime, that he didn’t really understand what Jesus shared with him about the spiritual life, and that he took things that Jesus said too literally. (Read the rest of the interaction between them in John 3:1-15)  These statements are probably all valid.  But Nicodemus did come and seek Jesus out, and that is no small thing.

Yes, he probably came at night because he was scared and perhaps didn’t want others to see him with Jesus.  So what?  He was experiencing a feeling; he was scared.  You and I get scared about different things, too.  He still sought Jesus out, because he saw the presence of God in him.  (See the quote above.)

Yes, he was way too literal when he said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)  Okay.  You and I can be pretty dense at times and take things too literally, too.  Nicodemus still sought Jesus out.

There seems to be a moment when Nicodemus threw his hands in the air in utter confusion when he asked, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)  Have you never been utterly confused and lost when it comes to trying to understand the ways of God or the deeper things in life?  Let me say it again:  He still sought Jesus out.

I believe one of the greatest traits any leader can have is the desire to keep growing... to keep learning... to keep being transformed by God.  This trait encompasses a certain amount of vulnerability and a certain amount of humility.  Wouldn’t you rather hear from a leader, “I don’t know the answer to that.  I still have a lot of questions about that.  I’m still searching, still seeking, still wondering” - rather than “This is the way it is.  Just believe this.  I know I’m right!”

Of course part of being a leader is knowing when to be decisive, and making the difficult decisions in times of challenge or crisis.  But we’re not going to grow as leaders if we think that we’ve got everything figured out... if we never question... if we never look at our own actions or our own beliefs and say, “Hmmm... I wonder why I think or believe the way that I do.” Or, “Wow!  I realize I don’t really know what I’m talking about (or doing) right now!” Or, “God is infinite and quite unsearchable and I realize that anything I say about God is really my best guess, based on my experiences of God.”

By the way - what else do we know about Nicodemus?

We know that Nicodemus spoke up on behalf of Jesus in front of the chief priests and Pharisees at a later time, when the group was advocating for Jesus’ arrest, saying, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (John 7:51)

And, according to John, it was Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, who took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in spices with linen cloths, and placed it in a new tomb. (John 19:38-42)

Apparently Nicodemus was transformed by that first encounter with Jesus, when he seemed so dense and confused.

Good things happen to us when we seek out God... when we truly want to learn... when we have a spirit of humility.