The Pas Lent 2
12 March 2017
Psalm 121 pg 882
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Holy God, whose Spirit’s breath prompts our seeking: transform the night-time of our fear into a welcoming womb for us and all the world; through Jesus Christ, in whom we are born anew. Amen.
Have you ever noticed that faith and love often tend to go hand in hand? Did you also notice that faith and love leads to trust?
In addition, have you noticed that neither faith, nor love, not even trust, have the ability to be ‘taught’, ‘commanded’, or ‘regulated’ in any way?
I was looking at the readings for today, and I noticed that love, and faith, and trust are the overarching themes of the readings for today.
But let’s look at the consequences, the ramifications of love, and faith, and trust in and for our lives looking at the way Nicodemus learns love, faith and trust in Jesus, in the Son of God, and in God.
We see Nicodemus. He’s a mover and a shaker with the Temple Ruling Class come to Jesus at night. Coming when no one can see him come, or see him leave. Coming when he thinks he can be invisible, when he thinks he can control the situation.
When he arrives, he takes control of the meeting. He moves assertively forward, and he offers Jesus a firm handshake. He’s dressed in the finest robes that mark his position in the Sanhedrin, the Ruling class of the Temple.
He flatters Jesus, offering him compliments, and pandering to his ego, using the words that would make Nicodemus swoon if someone said them about his work, his accomplishments, among the people of Israel.
He thinks he has all the answers, after all, he is at the highest strata of Jewish society. He’s in on all the meetings, and he and his compatriots want to know about Jesus. So, here he is, in the darkness, visiting an itinerant preacher who has performed miracles.
We see him flattering Jesus, offering the right compliments, relishing in the work that is, obviously, proof that God is an active participant in this itinerant prophets work. He says: 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.” (Jn 3:2b)
He says exactly the right things to encourage Jesus to let down his guard, and spill the beans on how he works, what he looks for in people looking for miracles, in the locals he’s chosen for his disciples. In other words, Nicodemus is looking for evidence, that Jesus isn’t what and who he claims to be, the Messiah.
But he’s confused by Jesus reply. He’s confused because Jesus doesn’t do what everyone else would do and spill every thing from his brand of dish soap, to what toothpaste he prefers, to what his ‘ideal internet date’ would look like.
Instead, Jesus brings it all back to God, to the revelation of the kingdom of God, amongst us.
He says: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
… [He says] “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.” (Jn 3:3b, 5b-6)
And Nicodemus is skeptical, confused, almost to the point of doubting.
Jesus is discussing the difference between our fleshly, physical, belly button lint life, and our spiritual life. He’s talking about the difference between the earthly and the heavenly emphases of our existence.
Jesus says: “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?” (Jn 3:11-12)
He’s taking about God’s perspective as opposed to ours, as opposed to Nicodemus’. He tells us that every aspect of our lives, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant to those around us, isn’t too small or too insignificant for God.
He reminds us that all God has ever wanted, from the moment of creation, is to be an active part of our lives.
As he talks, he points out the future, as well as the past, he points to the fulfillment of prophecy as well as the advent of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says: “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.’” (Jn 3:13-15)
He describes, in terms Nicodemus cannot fail to understand, the great sacrifice that God has arranged, on our behalf, that only asks us to believe, to have faith, to trust, and subsequently to love in order to be included in God’s plans of salvation.
The greatest sacrifice that is offered to us because God knows we cannot do this on our own, to rid ourselves of the burdens and barriers of sin that divide us from God’s love, so, out of love, God sends us Jesus.
“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.” (Jn 3:5-17)
Jesus reveals the fulfillment of prophesy, he describes the role he will play on the cross, and the truth of the great mystery that we are loved, not condemned by God. Jesus outlines the price of our salvation – the price that is too great for each one of us to pay, but our salvation isn’t in our hands, its in God’s.
And all of this confuses Nicodemus.
These aren’t the answers he’s expecting. He’s used to the role of law in our lives, and the ways to appease the inevitable breaking of law to strive to maintain ritual purity and sanctity in God’s eyes.
Instead what Jesus describes, admits, and tells us is that God is getting down in the mud to make mud pies with us.
Jesus treats Nicodemus like he is: a leader in the community, one who is to be a teacher of the people, but who instead is more concerned about protecting his position within the hierarchy, as he contemplates his wardrobe choices so that he stands out as a leader and teacher of the community.
Jesus lays it all on the line: it’s prophesy, it’s the Holy Spirit, it’s the love of God active in the world, revealed for Nicodemus’ heart and for each one of ours.
It’s the revelation of faith, love, and trust, gifts from God, not for just a select group, but for each one of us, for all of creation.
It’s the greatest mystery, it’s the past, present and future all in less than 17 verses.
Nicodemus goes away from this nightly encounter with Jesus in two frames of mind. First is that Jesus is a sun-mad prophet who isn’t going to accomplish what he claims, and the people will eventually return to the patterns of their lives, no real harm done.
The second frame of mind that Nicodemus has is that Jesus will bring God’s will for salvation to fruition, to completion, overturning the entire temple society’s foundation of faith, of belief, of hope for the future.
“As Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up”
So, he goes away, and from a distance, he watches Jesus, and like the Grinch, as he watches, his heart grows, his ability to believe in what Jesus has said, today, grows, and he loves God more than he ever has in his life.
Now I say this, and you can call it speculative, rather than factual, but his actions in John 19 clear away all doubts.
He watches his ministry, and his miracles. He look for the signs and portents that what Jesus describes on this rooftop, in the darkness, will come to pass.
He opens his heart to the possibility of hope, of love, and from that grows his trust in God, and in the fulfillment of God’s will.
Jesus hints at his divinity, at the same time, he straight out tells Nicodemus of the impending crucifixion that will break down the barriers between God and each one of us.
John chapter 19 tells us that after Jesus died on the cross “Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. … 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. … in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. … since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (Jn 19: 38-42)
Now this passage has a whole lot of things we can talk about, but what we are seeing, in the time between chapters 3 and 19, is that Nicodemus’ faith, love, and trust has indeed grown.
The Holy Spirit entered his doubts, and through the changes that the Holy Spirit encourages, we see the growth in his faith. At the crucifixion, he sees the kingdom of God, and we see that his ability to be ‘born of the spirit,’ is a life long journey for him, as it is for each one of us, still today.
God takes Nicodemus’ sense of self-assurance and turns it on its ear. God opens his life and showed him the kingdom of God. God puts Jesus example before Nicodemus to teach his heart, to open his life to faith, and to encourage him to trust.
And we can use such to our advantage. The working of the Holy Spirit in our lives might not be like a flash of lightening. It might be like Nicodemus’ adventures in the dark of the night. But still, the proof is in the pudding, the proof is in the way we treat each other, as we wish to be treated, as we wish to be trusted. The proof is in how we welcome God to be a part of our lives.
The proof is this lovely sticky, gooey mess of a love that God has dumped into our hearts and hands, the same as he has for Nicodemus.
We are able to take Nicodemus’ example for our own. We are able to open our hearts to hear what Jesus is telling us. At the same time, we are able to open our lives to receive the grace that God so freely offers not just to Nicodemus, but everyone, everywhere, at every time who believes that Jesus is the Messiah, that he dies for each one of us.