Posted on Wed, Mar 15, 2017
March 12, 2017
2nd Sunday in Lent
John 3:1-17 – “Nicodemus Lives in Your Neighborhood”
Nicodemus Visits Jesus
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 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.’ 3 Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10 Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
I would bet, you know several Nicodemus like people right now. You know the kind, if asked about faith, they get real nebulous and non-committal. Not that I need people to commit to any faith or anything, but I would respect people more if they could at least articulate their faith or not if they feel they need to let someone know. It is not that I am going around asking people to explaining their faith to me, frankly, I am not interested… but as soon as people hear that I am a pastor, people immediately seem to feel that it is necessary to tell them if they are a Christian or not, or at least something about their spirituality or religion, and then (and this is the most strange thing), they need to apologize to me and explain why they didn't attend church lately … When I wear my collar in public or on a plane, life can really get interesting! People will actively avoid me, and “pray” that they won’t be sitting next to me on a five to six hour flight!
But my point is that when people know who I am and what I am about, or they see my collar and know that I am a pastor or priest, by their response, they are at least telling me that they understand there is a person who represents “God” in their midst.
People are only limited by their vocabulary and understanding when it comes to describing their spirituality. Most people nowadays, have no understanding of scripture, the church and what it is, or how to describe their own beliefs. But that doesn't mean they don’t have the seed of faith, or a heart longing for understanding, light and truth. Deep inside, it is not doubt they have, but longing for the truth. Most people understand there is a God, but they haven’t been in a situation that allows them to see clearly who God is, and what our God is all about.
Nicodemus was one of those people. Nicodemus had tons of head knowledge about the Law and the Prophets, but it wasn't until he encountered Jesus, did the spark in his heart begin to burn. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, surely Nicodemus heard or maybe even witnessed Jesus preach, teach and heal. Maybe when he heard about Jesus, all the scripture pointing to the Messiah began to come together. Even though the people were looking for a new King David, Nicodemus knew that the prophets were talking about a new King, a Shepherd King, a Servant King. Even though there were countless false prophets at the time that came out of the woodwork claiming to be the messiah, Nicodemus saw through all that and his faith came alive when he heard Jesus. Therefore, he had to check out this Jesus of Nazareth for himself.
The Gospel writer of John says that Nicodemus came at night, out of the darkness, in secret, to see Jesus. Some people say Nicodemus came at night out of fear because if anyone would have seen a member of the Sanhedrin approach Jesus, they would have been removed and rebuked. Other people say Nicodemus still had a “dark faith,” a faith that had yet been exposed to the Light of Christ. But after Nicodemus met Jesus, the Light of the World, his faith was full of light, and in the end, Nicodemus even became a disciple of Christ.
It is clear that Nicodemus sees something special in Jesus and wants to know who exactly is this Jesus … In those days, and in many places even today, it was said, “Your origins determine your identity.”
In trying to Nicodemus what it means to live by faith, not understanding or knowledge, Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the concept of “repentance” and being “Born Again.” The prophets of the Old Testament often warned the people of Israel to repent and return to the ways of the Law, but the way that Jesus is using the concepts of repentance are new to Nicodemus. In time, especially after the resurrection, he would learn. To live by faith, is to let go of all your plans and preconceived judgments and truly follow the call of Christ in your life. In college I would never have dreamed to be called to serve as a missionary in Japan and then to serve Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church! That was the work of the Spirit, and when we ‘let go,’ we never know where Jesus will lead us, or how Jesus will use us… the only thing that is guaranteed is that when we let go and let the Spirit lead us, there will be blessing.
Soon Jesus resorts to using metaphors that Nicodemus would understand. In order to give Nicodemus a hint at who Jesus is as the Messiah, and how he will be “enthroned/glorified,” Nicodemus uses the story of Moses when he ‘lifted up’ the serpent so that everyone who looked upon the servant would be healed. The word ‘lifted up,’ was used when a person was ‘lifted up’ to become a king. A person, who was being crucified on a cross, was also ‘lifted up,’ and let to die.
I can almost guarantee it that Nicodemus was a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion. We know he assisted Joseph of Arimathea in taking down Jesus’ body to be prepared for burial. He certainly knew the goal of the religious leaders was to have Jesus ‘lifted up’ on a cross and crucified. But after his meeting with Jesus, and subsequent times learning more about Jesus prophesying about his death and resurrection, I am sure when Nicodemus witnessed Jesus being crucified, he understood that at that moment, through the suffering and death of Jesus, we would be eternally healed.
I would imagine that all through Nicodemus’s life, he was searching for the truth. The scriptures he studied and followed spoke of one who was to come who would heal the world through his ‘stripes,’ like a lamb being led to slaughter. Nicodemus would actually speak to this one, and hear those amazing words that we are blessed by to this day; “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Now Nicodemus understood who Jesus was, and his purpose. And through his meeting with Jesus, heard the real truth about our salvation, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Can you imagine the joy that Nicodemus must have felt when he heard these words? As Paul would later write, “No more condemnation through he Law, but the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life through the death and resurrection of Christ.”
There are people all over our island and around the world that are just longing to hear these very same words. In their heart of hearts they are exactly like Nicodemus, sure there is a God and somewhere there is Truth, but they are just waiting for someone to tell them, invite them, love them into the community of faith.
We never know whom the Spirit of God may lead us to; we have no idea what or where the Spirit of God will lead us to do. It is all about faith, and trusting what Jesus says when the message is a simple, “through he Cross of Christ, you are forgiven and made new.” To share these words with a person whose faith is still in the dark would make you blessed to be a blessing. Amen
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