In John 3 we quickly find out that a man named Nicodemus had questions for Jesus – he desperately wanted/needed to know more about this man named Jesus. Who here have/has ever had questions for the Lord? Well Nicodemus courageously did something about his curiosity – he sought Jesus out and asked his questions and found that indeed Jesus not only has the answer but Jesus is the answer:
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
It is Nicodemus who was normally the person people went to for answers because of educational/professional training in the Law and philosophy but no different than any of us – Nicodemus had come to a place where his life experiences, where whatever/whomever he had studied, where the faith traditions that was passed down to him – no longer were enough or made sense to him in the light of Jesus.
- Because of Jesus- Nicodemus had questions about who he was and why he was here.
- Because of Jesus – Nicodemus had questions about his salvation – both here on earth and in the life after death.
- Because of Jesus – Nicodemus found himself with questions that neither his life experiences, religious and philosophical training didn’t sufficiently answer.
There was something that intrigued Nicodemus about Jesus. Perhaps it was Jesus reputation as a powerful healer and transformational teacher. Or it could have been because of what he had observed about Jesus, or it could have been simply because he found his soul stirred whenever he said the name of Jesus. Whatever it was that drew Nicodemus to Jesus it is also clear from the text that Nicodemus had a divided heart when he came to Jesus. In essence Nicodemus wanted to be seen by Jesus but he was afraid to be seen by others seeing Jesus. At this time in antiquity it was a polarizing time whereby “being certain which side you were on” was more preferable than having questions or wondering in the face of uncertainty… And thankfully Jesus understood Nicodemus’s conflicting heart and does not turn Nicodemus away.
Friends, Nicodemus in John’s gospel would be the first but he will not be the last person to find out that It’s OK to go to Jesus with questions- even when or perhaps it is especially when our life/our faith journey is unsettled and uncertain. Because we cannot forget that it is because of Nicodemus’s questions that we now have two of the most famous statements Jesus ever made. It is Nicodemus who asked the question Jesus in John 3:
“4How can someone be born when they are old?”
Jesus says: ‘You must be born again.8”
It is Nicodemus who asked the question of Jesus:
9 “How can this be (born again)?” …..
and Jesus responded:
“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.”
It is Nicodemus questions of uncertainty that leads to Jesus Jesus responding with grace and clarity. Nicodemus was obviously fearful even skeptical – yet he was sincere in this encounter with Jesus so he asked questions and got answers. I never forget my elementary teacher telling us – there is never a bad question accept the one not asked… yet the fact is admittingly the church isn’t always the easiest place to have questions – this is Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the cover of darkness because he knew this about his faith community in his day as well .
However what we should also surmise from Nicodemus in our passage this morning is that to move our faith from uncertainty to trust – we have to be able to ask of God and of other people of faith questions. Will the motive of everyone who ask question be pure – surely not – but as my elementary teacher taught me, there is never a bad question – even a question motivated by the wrong motives can be used by God to move people from:
- uncertainty to trust,
- from fear to faith,
- from doubt to dependency on God.
And Jesus created the space for questions time and again in his ministry:
- It was was a question to Jesus that we know the Greatest Commandments because
“an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(2) it is because of another question to Jesus that we know the cost of eternal life when
“7…, a (rich) man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’]”20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.Then come, follow me.”
And In John 3 Nicodemus is welcomed by Jesus to ask his questions. Nicodemus is not turned away by Jesus and neither will we be turned away. In…Luke 11:9. Jesus tell us the same when we pray:
“So I tell you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Jesus speaking to a church community (Laodicea) then and today invites us saying:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (invitation to talk/question)” Rev 3:20
What we find in this passage this morning is our Lord Jesus ready and willing to share and respond to our seeking him out – clarity(truth) and grace.
And I must admit if I was a smart preacher I would stop here with my message tell a story and then end my sermon saying the words of comfort:
Jesus is willing to meet us anywhere, anytime, in the dark – even…
- when we have questions,
- Even when our faith is failing us,
- Even when we are unsure and want to meet in the dark – Jesus is available. Amen?
But I’m not that smart as a preacher and more to the point this isn’t the whole story/journey of Nicodemus and Jesus. Because what becomes obvious in the John 3 is that Nicodemus like the rich man and the lawyer – his questions and Jesus answers didn’t lead him immediately to clarity. Nicodemus apparently struggled with the answers given to him by Jesus when he tells him that he needs to be born a second time. But my sense is that despite his struggle Nicodemus got enough understanding of what Jesus was getting at that to know that when Jesus was calling him to be “born again” that it would involve him starting over in a real tangible way. And Nicodemus like the Rich Man – counted the cost and recognized that he had to much to lose to be “born again”. Nicodemus like many of us he had accumulated a lot of stuff ‐ possessions, capital, investments, career, reputation, beliefs, behaviors, networks, friends, family etc to jeopardize losing them now. He recognized that a re-birth, a re-boot in Christ at this stage of his life would not only put his livelihood all at risk – status, power, privilege but potentially his life! And as Nicodemus is listening to Jesus and “counting the costs/losts” of being born again Nicodemus resists Jesus invitation and remains unmoved by the the end of their interaction in John 3. Ultimately we can surmise from John 3 that Nicodemus walks away into the dark as he came – unchanged and still uncertain, unable or unwilling to put his trust in Jesus. Friends – Nicodemus left a “one on one” session with Jesus – questions answered yet still uncertain people. Nicodemus in essence said:
- NO to trusting fully in God and unlike Zacchaeus said not to joining the Jesus moment
- NO to trusting fully God and unlike Peter, James and John who dropped everything on the spot becoming disciples/fishermen of men and women……
- NO to trusting fully in God and the love and good news of Jesus
How about you/us? Have you ever left church/scripture/praying before God (like the Centurion in Acts) with more questions/uncertainty after going to church or before God, studying scripture, – Well I have good news for you this morning because Nicodemus Lenten journey of inquiry doesn’t end here and neither does yours. Because Nicodemus story continues in the Gospels towards trust….
The next time we here of Nicodemus is in John 7:45-52. Some of the Jewish religious leaders want to kill Jesus, but Nicodemus defends Him by citing a legal loophole. And what is as important as what he says is where and when he says it!
“50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” 52 They replied (mocking him), “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
Even though Nicodemus is not a disciple/follower, nor is Nicodemus following Jesus, or trusting Jesus – in John 7 he has moved from being no longer against Jesus, or questioning Jesus in the dark of night to publicly defending him in the light of day. Friends Nicodemus has moved closer relationally to coming to know Jesus for himself. Closer to following Jesus, towards ultimately trusting him later in John 19. Like some of us this lenten season, Nicodemus wasn’t ready yet to fully trust Jesus – yet praise God he had moved from questioning Jesus to defending him. This is where Nicodemus is in John 7 – it was/is a necessary place for him to reside but God wasn’t finished with Nicodemus and I want you to know that God not only desire for you to know about him (head) but this same God ultimately desires us to trust Him with all of heart/all of our soul…
Finally in John 19:38-42 we find Nicodemus at the cross with Jesus. We find him at the cross with Jesus because that’s where all our Lenten journey leads us as followers of Jesus Christ… to the cross. At the cross is where we find Nicodemus, no longer questioning who Jesus is, no longer needing to defend Jesus. Rather boldly and publicly trusting in him:
“38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 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. This was 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. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
Friends if your faith is leading you away from the cross (suffering/hardship, salvation), you are on the wrong path. We know that Peter and the rest of the twelve ran and hid from the cross, but not Nicodemus! He is at the cross preparing Jesus for burial – surely anticipating that he would be born again. By identifying with the cross, Nicodemus risked much – not only his reputation, his job but his own life were on the line. The cross of Jesus is our point of no return – it is a place of trusting God and God alone. Menno Simmons when writing about trust wrote:
“This alone I desire, that thou/God strengthen me in my warfare … deliver me, and let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in Thee.”
Today like Nicodemus you have questions, and have gotten the answers in scripture/spirit in your faith journey and today you desire to come to the cross (trust in God). Friends this is what the Lenten season is preparing all of us for – to willingly come to the cross with Jesus.
- Some Christians get excited about Jesus birth/as a baby
- Others of us get excited his life of jubilee love, shalom, justice, as healer
- Others of us love the resurrection of Jesus – his overcoming death and the sending to us his Spirit.
- And others of us get really excited about Jesus promise to return – the Lion of Judah.
- However very few of us rally around/walk together in humble submission with Jesus to the cross (the women did -,his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene and John). But this the place of our ultimate trust in our relationship with God – is at the cross. For Jesus and Nicodemus it was at the cross that his and our trust in Jesus this lenten journey will be made complete…
Nicodemus began as we all do with uncertainty by:
“4How can someone be born when they are old?” Jesus says: ‘You must be born again.8”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked….. Jesus says: “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.”
But Nicodemus didn’t stay there. What questions do you have – ask God! But recognize you may not like the answer the Spirit or God’s word gives….Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about this saying:
“One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to inquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us.”
This Lenten season ask/take an inventory of the soul ask for the “ancient path” which way to go in this season of our life? For Nicodemus and prayerfully for you it will lead you to ultimately submit and trust Jesus – btw this is often NOT a linear journey .. the goal is to move by God’s grace towards the cross. Nicodemus came to believe wherever Jesus is I want to be there:
- That place of trusting more in God in Christ –
- trusting in Jesus atoning work on the cross for our sins –
- trusting that we can be/that we need to be born again/anew enabling us to abandon: our fear, let go of our shame/past, reject the temptations of the enemy for us to be God, thereby trusting in the truth articulated in the old hymn… sing it with me:
What can wash away my sin… nothing but the blood of
What can make me whole again ….. Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Oh! precious is the flow That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.