What Was Nicodemus Looking For?

This sermon was presented at Resurrection on February 17, 2009, the Second Sunday in Lent, by Pastor Jim Kniseley.  The gospel reading is John 3:1-17.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Many of us here today are participating in our Lenten Book Study and are reading The Centered Life by Jack Fortin.  Chapter 2 is titled, “Awakened to God’s Presence.”  The question Jack  starts off with is this:  Where do we find God?”

I’d like to think that many of us, if not all, are here today wanting and expecting to find God.  Jack  calls what we are doing today “finding God in likely places.”  Here are some of the likely places he mentions.  We find God in…

·          The word of God (what we hear read and proclaimed in church, what we read in the Bible and other Christian books, what we hear come out of the mouths of fellow Christians)

·         The sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (as we encounter God’s promises and know that Jesus asked us to meet him in these sacraments)

·         When we are confirmed (remembering the faithfulness of our parents and other teachers in the church community and affirming our own trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior)

·         In the Community.  A church teacher was once asked: “How can I find God?”  This was his answer: “Find some people who know God and be with them.”

Here is a real insight that Jack Fortin gives.  God is too great to be confined within the walls of a church building.  God finds us, and we find God, in unlikely places.

What are some of those unlikely places?  I hope that you will come to the Wednesday services during Lent to hear some Resurrection Stories from our folks.  Most of these stories took place outside of the church walls, out in everyday life, with all its ups and downs.  You’ll hear about finding God in the midst of cancer and a brain tumor.  You’ll hear about finding God in the aftermath of breaking the law and being sent to jail.  You’ll hear about finding God in the heartbreak of family crisis.  You’ll hear about finding God in the midst of a degenerative disease.  You’ll  hear about finding God in the face of children.  You’ll hear about finding God in overseas mission work after retirement.

 

Today’s gospel reading permits us to encounter a man named Nicodemus.  I hope we can glean some understanding and helps for our own Resurrection Stories from what he experienced.

In this third chapter of John’s Gospel, we meet Nicodemus as he comes to speak with Jesus.  It may be helpful to note what has just gone on in the gospel account before Chapter 3.  Jesus has just cleared the temple of the moneychangers.  All Jerusalem was abuzz over what he did and the Jewish leaders were very concerned.  Some of the Jews had heard of his miracles and now were demanding to see some of these signs in order that they might decide whether he was from God or not.    And now Nicodemus makes his appearance.  He is a Pharisee, one of the Jewish leaders, a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court), and he comes to Jesus by night.

“By night” is important.  In John’s Gospel, darkness and night symbolize the realm of evil, untruth and ignorance.  Jesus was arrested at night, his trial was at night.  When he died, darkness came over the earth.  Nicodemus blurts out a rather pompous introduction, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Don’t you love it when a person arrives and speaks the great “we” instead of humbly saying “this is my opinion or my question?”

One Bible commentator says that here Nicodemus sounds like a spokesperson for the religious power elite of his day.  Then he goes on to smooze over the very thing that Jesus does not want to do.  He says, “We’re impressed because of your reported signs (miracles).”  And Jesus simply ignores that statement and throws out something to Nicodemus that is unexpected.

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (3:)  What does that mean and why did Jesus choose to go there with his response rather than talk about miracles?

In John’s Gospel, we encounter a motif or pattern several times that goes like this:  Someone seizes on the earthly meaning of a statement by Jesus and Jesus then reveals the heavenly meaning of his statement.

Here Nicodemus puzzles over the meaning of “born again.”  Can a person go back into the mother’s womb and come out again?  Jesus says, “We must be born of water and the Spirit.”

Folks, let me ask you a question:  Are you and I “born again” Christians?  Is that a part of our practice and teaching here at Resurrection as Lutheran Christians?   I hope that your answer is a resounding “yes!”

Some of us have been too quick to let other denominations stake a claim to that beautiful idea and we’ve  thought “that’s not Lutheran.”   

Let’s also ask of ourselves today: “Are we saved?”  Again, I hope the answer is decidedly “yes!”  When did that happen?  It happened in the year 33 A.D. on a cross outside of Jerusalem.  If you want to remember when you came to realize this good news, that is certainly okay.  When were you born again?  At your baptism, whatever your age, whether as a young child or as an adult, when the water was poured and the Holy Spirit entered your life.

Today when you go home, read again verses 1-17 in John 3.  You’ll encounter the beautiful promises of John 3:16 and 17, the promise that God loves us and his purpose is to save the whole world.  You’ll also notice that Nicodemus seems to have disappeared.  He isn’t mentioned again here.  We can only surmise that he went away to think about his encounter with Jesus.

I can tell you that he is mentioned 2 more times in John’s Gospel.  The next time we meet Nicodemus is in chapter 7 where he is part of the agitated conversation among the Pharisees about Jesus.  Many are bad-mouthing Jesus and it is Nicodemus who says, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

The last time we meet Nicodemus is in chapter 19.  He accompanies Joseph of Arimathea in burying the body of Jesus after the crucifixion.  John tells us that “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.”  It was the two of them that wrapped the body of Jesus with linen and spices.”

I know that we have to allow our imaginations and hopes lead us here.  I think that we have a Resurrection Story here in the life of Nicodemus.  I believe he found God in Jesus.  Why else would a man who came by night end up risking his life and reputation and position by burying the body of Jesus?

This day, you and I are left with this question:  In what likely and unlikely places might we find God?

Amen.