Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
What an intriguing story? An encounter story between Jesus and Nicodemus. It is night-time so there are shadows, mystery, hiddenness and secrecy all wrapped together. Nicodemus was a Pharisee (one of the good ones), Jesus was on a visit to Jerusalem. Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels only mention Jesus coming to Jerusalem right at the end of his ministry but John’s gospel tells of various earlier visits. It may well be its author had discovered some different stories of Jesus that the others were not aware of and this is one of them.
Nicodemus has perhaps watched Jesus from a distance, listened to some of his talk and met other people who have been changed by him, he’s getting very interested. Unlike the other Pharisees, he does not see Jesus as a threat and nor does he have a patronising sense of superiority towards him, in fact, quite the reverse. Nicodemus is a genuine searcher. He knows that Jesus is a very special sort of teacher, one who can work miracles. He wants to know more. He is aware, however, of the tense politics between the Jerusalem based Pharisees and the ‘new man from up north’, so he comes at night.
Like all serious searchers, Nicodemus is gradually being drawn closer, but he has got lots of questions and things he does not really understand. If you are searching, may I ask ‘how intent are you on your search?’ Nicodemus makes a big effort in coming to see Jesus at night. How much effort are you making? He steps out of the crowd of Pharisees and goes it alone. Have you stepped out of the crowd yet? And what are your questions? And are you really searching for Jesus or expecting him to search for you? And are you coming in the day or the night time?
The intense and deep conversation centres around three issues:
- Rebirth; the ultimate making a new start, or starting out afresh in life; being born again from above; born of water and Spirit.
- Spirit; a spiritual search should lead to a spiritual birth; the spirit is God’s spirit. He is as free as the wind and as part of the new birth God wants to breathe his Spirit into our lungs. A new type of living, living in us.
- Belief; to believe is to begin the new life; so far everything has been words, talk theory; believing is the first part of the doing. Nicodemus’ search has brought him to a doorway, in believing he puts his hand on the door handle twists and gives it a big shove.
Rebirth, Spirit, belief. Yes, I know this is a story about Nicodemus, two thousand years ago, and his great spiritual search, but it’s also a story about you and me today. A story about anyone who has two or three key questions that they would like to put to Jesus.
Nicodemus appears twice more in John’s story (7:50 and 19:39) and it looks as if his shadowy approach led to a sort of life changing rebirth. He sheds his timid searching in the night-time to become an openly supportive follower of Jesus. He steps out into the daylight of belief.
Searching for Jesus
Coming to him
These are like stepping stones on a journey.
Dear Lord Jesus,
This is my journey,
From an old life,
To a new life.
From an old way of thinking,
To a new way of thinking, learning and believing.
From an old me,
To a new me.
From an old birth,
To a new birth.
May you be my gateway, my pathway, my shepherd.