Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nicodemus came by night

John 3:1-8
Nicodemus Came by Night,
an oil painting by Walter Rane - Salem, OR
In the often well worn story, I am struck anew by the beautiful interplay between a man who wants to understand truth and the Man who is Truth: Nicodemus and Jesus.

There was a man named Nicodemus who was one of the Pharisees, a religious party which strictly observed Old Testament laws and later customs, and an important Jewish leader, a ruler of the Jews; probably a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court of the time. One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God, because no one can do the miracles (signs) you do unless God is with him.”

With all the controversy already swirling around Jesus, the miracle worker but unorthodox rabbi, Nicodemus is still shows himself a true seeker. He sees the miracles, he knows what they mean, that they are meant to point to God's power.  He is not ready to risk the public ridicule that would come from meeting Jesus publicly. After all, he is a high-ranking leader. Instead, he comes in the shadow of darkness, alone. His manner reveals a man who wants to understand, not to judge.  And that is the key that will open the door of truth for him.

Jesus answered, "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

This is the first confusing part for me.  Jesus answered?  Answered what question? Nicodemus had asked no question. Jesus does not wait for the question. Jesus knew what he needs most to hear and He didn't waste any time to tell him.

But even what Jesus says is confusing. How can anyone be born a second time? Jesus goes on: Like from like. Whatever is born from flesh is flesh; whatever is born from Spirit is spirit. Don’t be shocked by My words, but I tell you the truth. Even you, an educated and respected man among your people, must be reborn by the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. 

How do you you tell a dead man he is dead?  How do you tell him he must be born in order to live? It is like explaining sight to a blind man, like explaining words to the deaf.  It is like the water pump scene in The Miracle Worker, where Anne Sullivan finally gets through to Helen Keller that all the objects have words and she can express herself in sign language.

It is a mystery, one that cannot be explained exactly using mere words. It is unpredictable, one that cannot be forced or controlled.  It is a miracle, one that needs the power of the Holy Spirit.  

The wind blows all around us as if it has a will of its own; we feel and hear it, but we do not understand where it has come from or where it will end up. Life in the Spirit is as if it were the wind of God.

The openness of Nicodemus allows him to hear this and not turn away in judgment. In the end, we see him as a believer, but it does not happen in this passage. It does not happen overnight.  But it happens. The senses awaken and the knowledge that cannot be explained explodes in Nicodemus as it does in Helen. Helen's teacher is persistent, loving, focused, relentless, forgiving, compassionate and so Helen gets it.  We can trust that the Teacher that met Nicodemus in the night is the same when we meet Him.

Jesus, You are The Miracle Worker. The One that opens our eyes and ears. Beloved, You know the ones who I still ache for because they have not come to You, not at night, and not at all.  And yet, Beloved, only You can draw them.  Only You.  Help me rest that You are persistent, loving, focused, relentless, forgiving, and compassionate and You will give them Your Spirit.  Thank You for giving it to me.  Thank You for opening my eyes and letting me see. Thank You!

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