Here’s a song called The Wall Song; I wrote it for a friend who had built up very strong walls all around herself, when her husband proved unfaithful. She turned inwards and grew very bitter. She would allow no-one in to her home to come alongside and befriend her. She was trying to protect herself from future pain, but unfortunately, she had shut God out too. I believe that God was trying to tell her, “Let me in, let me love you!” Those walls did come down in time.
It could well be that the scholarly walls Nicodemus had built throughout his life were about to come down too.
I asked some people recently, “if you could ask Jesus one question, what would it be?”
The first said, “Who will win the Grand National this year?”
The next person, who was unaware of what the first person had said, answered just as flippantly, ‘I would ask him to tell me what numbers to write down to win the EuroMillions lottery!”
The third, an eight-year old child, said he would ask why God chose Jesus to do magical things and no-one else?
The fourth wanted to know, when Jesus would come again?
What would you want to ask, if you could have a face to face meeting with Jesus? I’ll be asking that question again later.
Our gospel reading (below) tells how Nicodemus, a respected teacher and member of the ruling class in Jerusalem had important questions to ask Jesus, and also how he visited him, by night. It seems that Nicodemus was breaking free from what he ‘ought’ to think and believe and from what he was ‘expected’ to think and believe; he was breaking free from the pressures and responsibilities that often come with leadership, to come to Jesus with an open mind.
It’s not wrong to ask questions! He was searching for the Truth.
When asked to pass on his best advice on for future generations, Heston Blumenthal, the famous chef, said, “Question everything. If you don’t question things, there’s no knowledge, no learning, no creativity, no freedom of choice, no imagination!”
He’s right, it’s what we tell our own children and grandchildren to do.
Nicodemus was a member of an elite ruling body known as the ‘Sanhedrin’, which was made up of 70 elders. These men were top theologians dedicated to keeping every letter of the law but they were in effect the Jewish appeal court and police system of the day.
It can’t have been easy for Nicodemus to visit Jesus, who was such a controversial preacher and teacher. He was already being looked upon with suspicion by the religious elders. After all, Jesus was fairly new to the scene, a ‘new kid on the block’ so to speak, and he was wielding such an enormous influence on the people and making quite an impact.
But the questions that Nicodemus clearly wanted answers to are clearly not meant for the daylight hours, when others could be listening in, or passing judgements, or criticizing him for approaching Jesus in the first place. And of course he may have wanted Jesus to speak freely and openly, with no other witnesses around.
Nicodemus realised that the way to discover the TRUTH about Jesus was to go right to the source and discern for himself, whatever he heard.
But after hearing what Jesus had to say, after his ‘up close and personal encounter’, I suspect there was no turning back for him.
Jesus puzzled Nicodemus by saying:-
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God, unless they are born again.”
I heard a street preacher on Keswick High Street a couple of years ago. He was almost finished speaking when I sensed, out of the corner of my eye, one of his assistants sidling up to me with a pamphlet in his hand.
He smiled and asked me “Are YOU a Christian?”
To let him know I was ‘one of the flock’, I replied with a smile, “Yes I am.”
But seemingly my answer wasn’t good enough, it didn’t satisfy him.
He leaned in closer to me and asked “Ah yes, but are you born-again?”
He was really asking me if my faith was genuine, was it alive, was the Spirit of Jesus living in me, but he said it in such a smug way I felt really irritated with him. Perhaps it was because I too had made similar judgments in the past, as to whether some people were really ‘fired up’ as Christians, or simply ‘going through the motions’. (I’m actually ashamed to confess that.) But I think if Jesus had said the same words in the same ‘smug’ fashion, then Nicodemus might well have felt irritated and annoyed too!
But when Jesus spoke these words to him, I really do feel that he would have said them out of love, not by way of judgment, wanting Nicodemus to have the best of what God had to offer.
There could be very few others people around then with credentials as impressive as his; he had been circumcised, he was an orthodox Jew, a learned teacher, a member of the ruling council, aristocracy really! If anyone had a right to enter God’s kingdom he had! And yet, here was Jesus telling him that to be born again from above, and that to encounter a ‘spiritual birth’ was by far more important than a physical birth, or elite background.
It must have felt like a carpet was being pulled out from under his feet. Nicodemus’ life was being turned inside out by this secret encounter with Jesus. Nothing would ever be the same again.
I admire Nicodemus. This expert was willing to come to grips with a teaching that was not of his established line of belief. But he desperately pushed himself on, to draw his own conclusions and make his own mind up.
Not many possess such courage.
And I suspect that because he knew the scriptures well, it may have already dawned upon him that ancient prophecies about the coming ‘Messiah’ were being fulfilled in Jesus, who taught in parables, was ministering to the poor, was healing the sick and driving out demons.
Nicodemus reasoned that all this must come from God, and NOT from the devil as some were suggesting. Nicodemus was impressed by Jesus, but he wanted to hear from his own lips who he was and what he had come to do.
As they spoke together Jesus confided to him,
‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
Jesus had referred to a strange incident from the ancient Book of Numbers chapter 21, that happened during the exodus of Hebrew slaves across the desert hundreds of years before. The people had sinned against God and had been besieged by a plague of venomous snakes. That’s when God had commanded Moses to erect a bronze statue of a snake in camp so that all those who looked upon it would be healed!
Was Jesus suggesting that by looking towards him personally, humankind would be saved- that even he, Nicodemus, could be saved?
Nicodemus needed answers once and for all. ‘Was Jesus indeed the Messiah, or was he not? Would his teaching set his life firmly on rock or lure him into sinking sand? And if Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah, what might be the consequences of rejecting him?
Then Jesus spoke the following words (words which are now famous the world over):
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
He could not have been clearer than this. Did these words convince Nicodemus of Jesus true identity and satisfy his curiosity? ‘God gave his one and only Son…’
It appears that Nicodemus did indeed become reborn, because later he defended Jesus against accusations made by the council of Jewish elders in John’s gospel chapter 7, verse 50. Not only that, but in John chapter 19, we read how Nicodemus was bold enough to join forces with another member of the same council, named Joseph of Arimathea, and they both carefully wrapped Jesus’ dead body in a cloth, and took him away for burial. Joseph provided his own tomb for him, and Nicodemus provided at least 3-4 kilograms of myrrh and aloes. They both did this openly before darkness fell.
In daylight this time. Not at night!
Each time we pray or read scripture, it is possible to encounter Jesus. We are renewed and we are able to move deeper into his love and his ways.
Be still for a moment, wherever you are, and just imagine it’s night-time, and you are approaching a table in an upper room where Jesus is sitting and waiting to talk with you.
He looks straight at you. What kind of greeting does he give you? What does he say to you?
Bring to him your question, and simply listen, just wait upon him.
P.S. Incidentally, I once had a very big question to ask as I stood gazing over the Sea of Galilee during our visit to the Holy Land.
Life was quite tough way back then for women in ministry so I asked him, “Lord did you REALLY call me to become a woman priest, or was that just my imagination?”
There was no audible response, but as I turned around to go back to the tour bus I very nearly fell over a massive heart sculpture, and there was another and then another there on the beach. (You can see one of them in the video)
The scripture that came to my mind was, “Lord you know I love you!”
“FEED MY LAMBS, FEED MY SHEEP!”)
May God’s peace and healing be yours this day, and may he supply answers to questions you’ve pondered over, perhaps for years, and may he satisfy your need in the hot barren desert of our world.
John 3. 1-18
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell
where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
In the last few days of his life, Jesus moved from garden to garden from suffering to resurrection.
Join Christine Sine for a Lent retreat that reflects on this journey and prepares for the challenging week that follows Palm Sunday.
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