ENCOUNTERS OF A SPIRITUAL KIND
Last of a series of ten
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said 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.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus 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?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:1-21)
While the rich young ruler went away sorrowing, and we do not know the final outcome of his life, with Nicodemus we are certain. Nicodemus also at first went away and did not follow the Lord. Later we see his faith demonstrated in his work at the burial of our Lord.
This example should give us great encouragement in that we may not see the results at first, though over time and out of our sight the Lord can work.
Nicodemus had been brought up in the work-righteousness and hypocrisy of Judaism. This has to account for his not understanding our Lord. But our Lord planted the seeds that the Spirit might later sprout in Nicodemus’ heart. On being born again (or anew) of water and the Spirit, he asks, “How can this be?” He does not at this point see that a break must be made with his past.
The Lord explains how the bronze serpent prefigured the Christ’s sacrifice. This is one of many Old Testament pictures of the Redeemer. To a man like Nicodemus high in Judaism and therefore familiar with the Word, this had to leave an impression. Over and over again in the New Testament record we read of how what Christ said or did was to fulfill Scripture. Even if the person to whom we are witnessing is not familiar with Scripture (unlike Nicodemus), we can still use the prophetic fulfillments in Christ to point out how He was the Messiah, the Savior. God promised. God fulfilled.
The Lord gives a warning to Nicodemus not to join in with those who reject the Son, the Light. And it is here that we have that best known gospel passage, John 3:16. Jesus does give Nicodemus the gospel, deeming him an inquirer and not one of those who came to test or entrap. We have to make a similar determination with our hearers. And we will know by how they received our witness. One who is honestly questioning should have the gospel left with him.
Many have loyalty to the wrong thing or person. Nicodemus’ loyalty was to Judaism and the Sanhedrin. In witnessing to Felix (Acts 24:22f.) Paul came across a man who had a head knowledge of the Way, while his loyalty was to Rome, power, and money. Paul tried mightily to show Agrippa the truth of Jesus and forgiveness of sins (Acts 26:1f), only to have the king fall back on his position and the Jewish people who had him for king. It is a matter of Christ or… (So very, very often many follow wrong loyalties).
With this series of spiritual encounters we have seen there is so much to learn about witnessing to our Lord. Yet one thing comes out starkly — we must witness. Like the apostles we cannot but speak. Like the untimely born, woe to me if I don’t. Our conscience should stab us. Necessity is laid upon us. But it is not a necessity driven from without, rather from within. We now love Him, because He first loved us and suffered and died for us. So we speak about Him. There is the inner compulsion.
This propounds in no way to be exhaustive in the study of one-on-one witnessing encounters in the four Gospels and the book of the Acts of the Apostles. But for what is here, may it serve to stimulate in a practical way.
Just to review, consider the following pointers drawn from the ten studied encounters.
• Make witnessing a healthy part of the purpose of your daily life.
• Really reach out with the Word of God to those beyond the ones who love you and whom you love.
• Pay attention to people and be interested.
• Depending on the situation, try to use the oblique approach.
• Leave a clear witness with something to think about.
• Study God’s Word and consider illustrations to get your points across.
• Try to establish a common ground for a relationship and a willing ear.
• If at all possible, end your witness on a positive note.
• When condemning hypocrisy, don’t be hypocritical yourself.
• Demonstrate your love in words and in deeds.
• Work to change the conversation from the mundane to the spiritual.
• Speak the law to convict of sin, and the gospel to convince of salvation.
• Build on the religious knowledge that the prospect has.
• To the impenitent leave the law with its barbs.
• Be clear in presenting the contrasts between Christ and mammon, etc.
• Be patient, knowing the Holy Spirit will work in His own time.
• And pray about the encounter, being specific, before, during, and after the encounter.
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.