Tag Archives: Nicodemus

Different!

When Nicodemus goes to have a private chat with Jesus (John 3:1-17), he goes as a Jew who knows the importance of belief in one God.  His people had experienced the Egyptian, Greek and other stories of many gods, with rivalries, conflict, deceit and so on.  They rejected these – we might think of teenagers trying to play one parent off against the other, or choosing a favourite celebrity.  Judaism, (Christianity and Islam) hold firmly to one supreme being, who is trustworthy, good, and separate from all human failings.  It was central to Jewish daily prayer, quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” (different translations have “the Lord is one” and “the Lord alone“).

Nicodemus brings a number of questions.  He has much respect for Jesus – “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”.  But alongside Jesus healings and exorcisms, there is the popular teaching, which does not follow traditional lines.  Jesus seems to assume authority in himself!  If he hoped for discussion and answers, he may have been disappointed.  The idea of being “born again” or “born from above” confuses Nicodemus.  In time, he will understand that the Christian Way is no academic theory, but God’s gift of new attitudes in response to the love shown – yes, in Jesus.  It won’t fully make sense until after the sacrifice of the cross, the resurrection, (and perhaps ascension and Pentecost too!).  Nicodemus will be back, to bury Jesus (John 19:39), and then we guess to rejoice at his resurrection.

Christians would take time, knowing that Jesus was neither bad, nor mad, to realise that his actions (forgiving, healing, teaching) carried the authority of God.  Not the delegated authority of a prophet or “estate manager”, but the full authority of God.  In the same way, the Holy Spirit is no mere “power”, but carries this full healing and directing force of God.

Does this take us back to many gods, who can argue or be manipulated against one another?  No.  There is a distinction of three persons, but they are so close, so totally united in love, that they act always as one.  One God, three persons.

It is unique, and beyond any other experience we might compare it with.  Mind bending might be the word.  But it offers the best “fit” with the facts.  The God you thought amazing is totally awesome – and many other things, too.  Beyond our full understanding, but we need to hold on to what we do know, and never lose our enthusiasm, and our thanks.

Glory – to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit.   Amen!

 

Lifted up ?

(The fourth Sunday in Lent is often kept as Mothering Sunday, and there is a dialogue sketch on that theme here.)

“As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” These words from John’s gospel may seem a puzzle (John 3:14-21).  They come at the end of Jesus’ private conversation with the Jewish Pharisee, Nicodemus.  It helps to look back to a story from the wilderness wanderings, about poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:4-9). Moses commanded the people to make a bronze snake, put it on a pole, to offer a cure to those bitten.

It may seem a strange idea, but you can see some reasons for it:

  • it showed the need for faith, to believe in the cure.
  • it required action according to the instructions, to take given cure.

Jesus picks this up in the gospel (in conversation with Nicodemus). He, too, must be lifted up on the cross to gather people, who will either take advantage of his sacrifice, or refuse to associate with it.

In many Churches a cross marks a gathering point.  It may be on top of the building, or a processional cross carried at the beginning of a service, or one placed at the centre of the building.

It is just a symbol, but is a powerful reminder that Christians are the people of the Jesus who was crucified. But do we want to be family? Do I have to belong? There are different ways of belonging, but the test becomes admitting to, or refusing, Jesus. Banners, and badges have always been used to gather those with an allegiance.

Jesus victory is not the sort that has everybody wanting to say, “I was there,” “I was with Him”. It leaves us the choice. Who am I with? Do I want to belong? Nicodemus obviously finds it hard, though he will work through it all, and believe. (see John 19:39)

Good – but not enough!

Nicodemus deserves credit (John 3:1-17).  He comes to Jesus – yes, at night, which might look embarrassed, but also allows him to ask questions freely.  He already has a life of disciplined goodness.  We suspect Pharisees, and some were guilty of pride and religious red tape, but for others the life meant knowing and living the Old Testament Law in detail.  Perhaps most important, he wants to know more.  That is good.

So, why does Jesus ask him such difficult questions?  We might have thought this polite man an ideal disciple – or church member.  But it seems that he won’t do.  Why?  Jesus refers (v13,14) to his ministry and his coming death.  What Nicodemus knows is not enough – for him, or for other good people.  Christian faith depends on what God does and gives – Jesus and his sacrificial death.  There are real benefits in living a good life, following the commandments, but that is incomplete.

Nicodemus goes away puzzled, but doesn’t give up.  He reappears in the pages of the gospel story at John 7:50, and again at John 19:39.  Sometimes the most important changes come “between events”, as the Holy Spirit works.

Our passage hasn’t finished.  v16 is one of the best known in the gospel, but we should read on.  John 3:16-21 goes on to speak of judgement.  This picture does not see God handing out suffering and pain (a deity we would find it hard to worship!)  It seems that Nicodemus was ready to come into the light.  We have to ask if we are also ready to be examined, and perhaps embarrassed, in order to receive the gift.