Posted on Thu, Mar 20, 2014
March 16, 2014
Second Sunday in Lent
Gospel Text: John 3:1-17
Every seeker has a deep feeling that there must be something more to life, a great truth to be discovered. Have you ever gone on a journey, and when you returned you have felt more blessed, or that your learned something much better than you ever expected? This was the life of Nicodemus… All because he heard “about” the things that Jesus did and taught, and he had to find out for himself, “Who is this Galilean, and could he be much more than we realize?”
For Nicodemus, what began as a personal journey seeking the Truth, he concluded with the discovery of his Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
He was a powerful Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. He wasn’t supposed to mix with the motley lot that followed Jesus.
He stood up for Jesus when the Pharisees were conspiring against him: Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, "Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?" (John 7:50-51, NIV)
But Nicodemus had to know: Was the charismatic Galilean for real?
Jesus’ answers in the Gospel of John are among his most famous teachings: Nobody can see the kingdom of God unless they are “born again,” he told Nicodemus. And God so loved the world that he gave his only son to save it.
Those words remain widely cited — witness the legion of John 3:16 signs at sporting events — but the man they are spoken to, Nicodemus, remains somewhat of a mystery.
To blacks after the Civil War, he was a model of rebirth as they sought to cast off their old identity as slaves. In the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, Nicodemus is a saint. Some modern Christians continue to call him a hero for defending Jesus before the Sanhedrin and helping give him a proper burial. But others Christians call him a coward who kept his faith concealed.
The Bible tells us little about Nicodemus — good or bad.
He’s only mentioned three times in the Gospel of John. There’s the nocturnal meeting with Jesus. Later, Nicodemus reminds the Pharisees that under Jewish law, Jesus should be granted a hearing before he’s condemned. Finally, Nicodemus brings ointments to assist in Jesus’ burial.
Before Nicodemus, most of Jesus’ followers had been “simple folk,” writes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week.” Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were “two highly regarded representatives of the educated class of Israel who had not yet dared to profess their discipleship,” the former pope writes.
Writer Joy Buchanan said she found spiritual and intellectual joy in imagining Nicodemus’ journey from the Jewish ruling council, to skeptic, to the foot of the cross.
“He’s a character that modern Christians can relate to because of his education, and the way he thinks, and the way he wants a clear-cut answer from Jesus,” Buchanan said. Jesus’ enigmatic response — that individuals must be “born again” — puzzled Nicodemus, and continues to challenge Christians.
“Jesus used a phrase that is very meaningful, but also very hard to understand,” Buchanan said.
But the story of Nicodemus ends not in darkness but in light, according to Benedict and other Christians.
After the apostles have fled, it’s Nicodemus who walks up Golgotha with Joseph of Arimathea on Good Friday, bringing balm to bury Jesus, in full view of the Jewish and Roman authorities.
“The quantity of the balm is extraordinary, about 70-80 lbs. and exceeds all normal proportions,” writes ex-Pope Benedict. “This is a royal burial.”
Nicodemus would not rest until he found the truth. He wanted badly to understand, and he sensed that Jesus had the answer. After he became a follower, his life was changed forever. He never hid his faith in Jesus again. Jesus is the source of all truth, the meaning of life. When we are born again, as Nicodemus was, we should never forget that we have forgiveness of our sins and eternal life because of Christ's sacrifice for us.
I’ve met people who know Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church as a church that feeds, clothes and provides legal aid to the poor and homeless, and one person who only knew of the ‘popular’ image of mega-churches, told me to my face, “then you must be a real church, one that really does what God told us to do, right?”
But we are still on a journey. We know what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but we also must keep looking to the words and actions of Jesus to help us form and grow our faith. I can think of no one more compelling than Christ, and I can totally relate to him seeking out Jesus, even in the night, to find out who this Galilean truly was. Amen.
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