One simple pharisee could have no idea he was unleashing the most quoted Bible verse in history. He just had questions. More accurately, he had statements–for which he never expected the reply he got.
In our ongoing exploration of who Jesus was through the eyes of those he encountered, we come to one of the most famous – Nicodemus. The things about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is that, while it looks strange to us, it should look oh so familiar. In fact, I suspect many of us come to Jesus the way Nick came. I know I see myself in his mirror all to well.
And the thing is, we don’t really know how he left. John 3 never tells us. I suspect that’s a deliberate lack of information. Maybe we are left to finish the story ourselves. Perhaps we are expected to end it as if we were in it. If we met Jesus the way Nicodemus does, how would we leave Him? What would we choose?
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 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.” (John 3)
Two things leap out in the first two sentences of this encounter. One, the man comes to Jesus at night. Two, he does not ask questions, as others do. He makes a statement. Who does things like this? People who are afraid. And people who want to justify themselves. Which is often the same thing.
Nicodemus was worried his comrades would see him talking to this rebel. He was more afraid of Jesus. On the surface, the guy looks so assured. So certain. So positive that his standing in the community, his education, his record as a good guy who knows all the answers will be enough to certify him with God. But what if they aren’t? These are the fears that keep him hiding in the dark.
The dark works, though, because if Jesus is not really a prophet, he doesn’t lose anything because no one has seen him come. If He is, Nicodemus can make sure he impresses him with his knowledge.
But he forgets something important – fear-filled people have telltale signs. One of them is that they sneak around in the dark. Another is that they pose as self-assured know-it-alls.
Boy, don’t I know the drill on that last one.
He just wants assurance. But he’s wracked with doubts, or he would not be slinking around in the dark looking for a man with a reputation for turning assurances inside out and upside down. Do doubts sound familiar to you? Me too.
After some theological/metaphysical wrangling, we come to this.
“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear…. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.”
And very quickly this encounter becomes about two things.
Come out of the dark.
Don’t be afraid.
Nicodemus, no, you don’t have all your theological ducks in a row. Yes, you really are lost on your trek toward the kingdom. All those assurances of yours that you’re living right, thinking right, voting right, meeting the guidelines right? Garbage. But here’s the thing—God so loves you anyway. He’s not waiting to condemn you. He’s waiting to nudge you into the light. Stop hiding. Come out of the dark. Don’t be afraid.
See why this story should sound oh so familiar now?
I’m a Nicodemus, begging Jesus to approve my manufactured goodness. Hiding for fear that it’s not good enough, and even greater fear that I know what it is he wants, and it requires stepping into blinding light that throws all my garbage into high definition.
Come out of the dark.
Don’t be afraid.
It’s like Jesus is coaxing a wounded animal out of the shadows so he can inspect the torn flesh and place his hands on it to heal.
We don’t know how Nick responded. We get inklings later on. But right here, right now, in this dark encounter? We don’t get a resolution. I think that’s because we have to make our own.
Will we walk out of the dark? Whatever our dark is? Will we believe that he comes to heal and not condemn? Will we subject our little kingdoms to the clarifying light that shows them for what they are? This encounter with Jesus is deeper than the previous ones. It’s personal.
- Can’t we love a Jesus who calls the wounded and fearful into light?
- Can’t we love a Jesus whose go-to is “I didn’t come to condemn you”?
- Can’t we love a Jesus who sees past our self-assurance to our fears and doubts and knows those are the real question, no matter what comes out of our lips?
I’m loving getting to know Jesus better. Do you have questions and fears? Do you have encounters in Scripture you’d like to know more about? Let me know—I’d love to talk about it.