Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21 - Nicodemus, Pharisee, Member of the Sanhedrin, Convert

There was a man named Nicodemus. He was a pharisee and a leader among the Jews in Jerusalem. Under the cover of night--and with his face concealed--he approached Jesus to have a conversation but he did it at night so that he might not be accused of associating with the man that had become such a controversy. He started by speaking well of Jesus and saying, "Teacher, we know that you have come from God and you seem to get it. After all, nobody could do the wonders you do apart from God."

Jesus responded quickly in a way that perplexed Nicodemus. He said, "You're right. Further, let me assure you that nobody can see the Kingdom of God without spiritual birth."

Nicodemus balked at this saying and decided to test Jesus a little further and so he said, "How can an old man be born? Do you expect people to return to their mother and be born again?" By asking this, Nicodemus was attempting to clarify the process that Jesus was talking about.

Jesus answered, "Let me assure you that nobody enters the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Like comes from like. The flesh gives birth to flesh. The spirit gives birth to spirit. Don't pretend that you're surprised that I said, 'You must be spiritually born.' After all, the wind blows wherever it wants without your input, right? You hear it blowing but you don't know where it's coming from or where it's going. It's the same way with everybody who has experienced spiritual birth."

Perhaps Nicodemus was confused because he asked, "How can this be?"

Jesus chided Nicodemus and asked, "Are you a great teacher and yet you don't get it?" He continued to teach Nicodemus by saying, "So, people talk about what they know and tell stories about what they've seen, right? Yet, you don't accept what we know and have seen. So, if you're not, at least, going to do that then how do you expect me to teach you about spiritual things? After all, nobody has rested fully in the presence of God except the one who came from there--that is to say, except me. And remember how Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that those who looked upon it might be healed? Well, I must be lifted up so that whoever believes in me may me healed even more fundamentally--may be healed from death and have eternal life."

While this sank in, Jesus continued, "God loved the world--the same world that has rejected him--so much that God gave God's son so that everybody who trusts in him might not destroy themselves but might have eternal life. Surely, God didn't send the Son into God's beloved creation to punish but so that the whole thing might be fixed. Those who put their trust in the Son won't be punished but--now, pay attention here--those who don't trust are already condemned because they have no room for trust or faith."

While Nicodemus was still reeling from Jesus' insistent statements and wondering where he himself might be in Jesus' dichotomy, Jesus continued, "This is what judgment looks like: light has come into the world but people preferred darkness because it was easier--even if it wasn't good for them. After all, accepting the healing and light means confession of sin and admission of guilt. So, instead of accepting life that begins with pain, they've chosen to continue walking in death. Those who do right and have faith step into the light and they and their actions are clearly seen by God." As Jesus finished saying this, Nicodemus couldn't help but notice how he had come under cover of night and in secret to talk. He had much to think about.

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Shortly before Jesus' crucifixion, the temple police were sent to arrest Jesus. The temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you arrest him?"

The police answered, "This is a first! Nobody talks like this guy."

Then the Pharisees replied, "Don't tell me that you have been deceived, too! Has any one with any power believed in him? Any one that matters? But this rabble--these common people who do not know the law--doesn't matter. Now what kind of people are you?"

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, "Does our law judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing? Surely not!"

So there was a trial at Nicodemus' insistence but Jesus was found guilty in a clever and tricky way. Eventually, he was crucified--lifted up so that everybody might look upon him and have a chance at spiritual rebirth--and died.

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Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, came with Joseph of Arimathea. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes that weighed about a hundred pounds. Nicodemus and Joseph took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths. They wrapped him according to the burial custom of the Jewish people. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. So, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby they laid Jesus there.

Some time later, after Jesus was resurrected, Nicodemus was willing to come out into the light a little more and accept the truth that was spoken silently in his heart for some time: this Jesus was God and represented the hope of all creation. He placed his faith and trust in the Risen One and in doing so he became a Christian. He would die as a martyr--unable to stop preaching the good news first given to him under the cover of night--a little while later.

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