“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
“But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” – John 3:19-21
These words are from the Lord’s admonition to Nicodemus. They were spoken under circumstances which should have brought the point home to Nicodemus. Frequently the Lord used His environment to enforce a lesson. The conditions on this occasion were such as to point up His remarks.
This lesson of knowing and not doing, a lesson on light and darkness, was given to one who had sought the Lord at night. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. Occupying a high position, he was solicitous about what the people thought of him. He had heard of the miracles that the Lord had wrought, or possibly he had seen some of them, especially at the Passover. However it had been, he had become convinced that Jesus was sent from God; for he reasoned that if Jesus were not of God, He could not have performed such miracles.
Two forces are struggling in Nicodemus. One convinces him that the Lord’s claims are genuine and makes him desire to know more about Him. The other causes him to think of his official position, and of the hatred of the Jews for the Lord, which will be turned against him if he is known to be a disciple of Jesus. Which shall he do – serve the Lord and incur the ill will of his associates, or keep his office and deny the Lord?
Here is that conflict so familiar to us all, the conflict that comes when the mind sees clearly what is true and right, but to follow where truth points the way requires great sacrifice. Over and over again in each regenerating person comes this conflict, the conflict between the forces of light that illumine the understanding to conviction, and the desires of the heart that cling to the world in the fear of the seeming losses and hardships which following the truth will impose.
So Nicodemus devises a plan; he goes to the Lord by night, when no one can see him. He will confess the Lord but keep it a secret. No one shall know it save the Lord and himself. But is it possible to make the truth one’s own by acknowledging it only in secret? When the internal and the external are opposites, what is the effect on the soul?
When Nicodemus found the Lord, he confessed Him in the words, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” The Lord’s reply went directly to the problem that was troubling Nicodemus. It is not sufficient for one to confess the Lord intellectually, to acknowledge Him in secret. Regeneration must reach the heart. The prophet Jeremiah declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” So the Lord says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is surprised at such a teaching. The Lord then tells him about the second birth, about His mission in coming into the world, and of God’s love for mankind, and finally He tells him how important it is to believe in Him.
Nicodemus believed intellectually. He knew enough to be convinced in mind, but his heart was still unchanged. He had the power to see, but lacked the will to do. It is for this state of mind and heart that Nicodemus stands.
Then the Lord said to him and to all in similar states of life, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Nicodemus chose the time of darkness in which to come to the Lord. Why? Because at heart he put his position and the kingdom of this world above truth and right.
The Lord used the conditions under which Nicodemus came to Him to disclose the nature of all those who see the right but for various reasons do not live it. To Nicodemus coming at night the Lord said, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” This was the reason why Nicodemus came in the dark, lest the Pharisees should find it out and reprove him – lest, if he be loyal to the truth, that loyalty would exact some sacrifice, And this is always the reason if, when truth is seen, it is not lived.
Those who love the truth do not desire to cover their deeds. To them the truth matters more than the sacrifices essential to doing it. It is not the nature of love from the Lord to conceal itself, for in His love is the desire to bring it to others. He seeks to confer it upon all. “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” Truth, when acknowledged with both the mind and the heart, compels us to proclaim it and to make the necessary sacrifices to establish it. It is not possible for us to be false to the truth and at the same time true. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” A true Christian cannot hide his light under a bushel; he must put it on a candlestick that it may give light to all.
This incident in the life of Nicodemus is a parable, containing far-reaching truths. It lays bare one of the weaknesses of human nature. It discloses the principles of the new birth by showing the nature of truth and the way one acts if he truly loves it. It reveals that relation which must exist between the internal and the external act if the heart is to be made new.
One of the most difficult things for us to acknowledge is that if we outwardly do what is wrong, we inwardly hate what is right. Few even of those who knowingly live evil lives would acknowledge that they hate the truth. It does not seem to them that they hate what is right. Yet our text declares, “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light.”
Nicodemus is mentioned three times in the Word. First when he comes to the Lord in the dark. Second, he is with the chief priests when the Lord is judged to be worthy of death. He is then still holding intellectually to his perception of truth. A sense of justice rises in him, and he raises his voice in the Lord’s defense, pleading a legal technicality: “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” His brethren turn upon him with the sarcastic remark, “Art thou also of Galilee?” The same old fear seizes him, and he ventures not again to speak. By his silence he acquiesces in the unjust judgment against the Lord, because he really loves the darkness rather than the light – because “every one that doeth evil hateth the light.” Once again Nicodemus appears. It is after the crucifixion. He comes with the myrrh and aloes to embalm the Lord’s body. We might infer from this that the words of the Lord on that first night of their meeting had sunken deep and produced an abiding effect. We may at least hope so. He may have thought how weak and wrong he had been when, as a ruler of the Jews, he had been so easily silenced and had acquiesced in allowing Jesus to be crucified. So he now brings the spices. But external acts of this character in themselves avail nothing.
When one enters the spiritual world, his character has become fixed, and he cannot change interiorly. And we are told in the writings that Nicodemus remained precisely the same after death. He then could perceive interior things, just as he had perceived that Jesus was of God, and he greatly wondered at what he perceived in the spiritual world. He could understand truths, but shortly he receded from them and returned to those who care nothing about truths. Such is the case with all those who acknowledge truths yet do not embody them in their lives by living as truth teaches.
How strongly our text appeals to us not only to learn truths but to live them, to have at all times the courage of truth, to be the same inside and out! What the intellect is able to perceive counts for little if we do not use what the mind sees to be best. Rather, it condemns, for “this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” So the Lord keeps many away from truth, because they would not use it to cleanse the mind from falsity and the heart from worldliness.
We are under the condemnation of all that we know but do not do. When truth appears on the one hand, and on the other some apparent gain, we find the same two forces contending in ourselves that were in Nicodemus – the fear of loss, a sensitiveness to reproof, a fondness for the old ways, and a hope that sometime we can make a sudden change and gain at least the heavenly kingdom.
“Every one that doeth evil hateth the light.” This teaches of the interior hatred for the good that cannot be removed until we refuse the evil and choose the good.
Let us with courage make the apparent sacrifice and do as truth teaches, for “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” Let this be our standard, that we will do the truth, that we may continue in the truth until there is in our hearts that life, that love which will make us desire to manifest the works of God and do them.