Today we start a short series looking at some of the people that Jesus met.
St John 3.1-15
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.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 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?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 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.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
‘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. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Nicodemus – a case of so near and yet so far.
Thomas the Doubter wanted signs to convince him; Nicodemus saw signs but didn’t know how to be convinced. Sometimes we carry so much baggage in our lives that we can’t pick up anything new. Sometimes we’re so sure of ourselves, that we can’t see what’s in front of us, and we stumble in the dark.: A Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night”. John’s Gospel plunges us into the heart of the matter at the very beginning: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Nicodemus came at night, in the darkness.
There’s the clue; and in the ensuing conversation Jesus gives Nicodemus the full works, and out it all comes. The tables are turned, and the old teacher becomes the new pupil. So it is for us. Cherish those keywords as John sets out the story: light and dark, signs and belief, water and spirit, lifting up, born again. It is all too much for Nicodemus to digest in one evening, and no easier for us now, burdened as we are by our old baggage, saddened by this loss, that grief, uplifted by this unexpected joy, that act of friendship. We may be decent, good people, but none of that gets us out of the darkness into the light of what Jesus was about. We still feel that there is something lacking and we can’t free ourselves to go and find it. That is how Nicodemus felt. There must be more than this darkness; Jesus knows that the darkness is very dark indeed
Nicodemus comes by night, in the dark. Towards the end of John’s story of Jesus there is another who comes to Jesus for light, but he slips back into the darkness and goes to betray him, and it seems as though the darkness covers the whole earth. Nicodemus has to come again at night with his friend Joseph of Arimathea, to Pontius Pilate, to collect the body of this puzzling young teacher. Nicodemus had not given up on the man who wanted to turn his world upside down. Nicodemus would have his chance to be born again.
So shall we. Our Christian life is governed by a rhythm which takes us continually upwards to God and back down to the earth, as it was for Jesus. It was the pattern of his life, descending to be with his people, rising to save us, and returning to the Father to bring back down to us the spirit.
“How can these things happen to you and me ?” That is for the Spirit to decide.
We struggle to see you in the darkness;
We strain to hear you through the tumult of the world..
We stagger through our days weighed down by the baggage of our lives.
Reach into the darkness and draw us into your light.
With the living water wash us clean;
with the fiery Spirit burn away our fears and doubts,
so that we may rise like the phoenix out of the flames of your love into the peace of your eternal presence, through Christ our Lord. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Moth is a retired minister in the Northern Synod.