Friday, March 25, 2005

What The Teacher Was Taught In The Dark About Light

by Keith Brenton

It was a temptation to title this "Nick at Nite," with all due credit to Real Live Preacher.

Because it is about Nicodemus, and he did come to Jesus by night.

Why at night, we don't know. Maybe, as a high-ranking teacher-rabbi himself (on the ruling council in spite of being a Pharisee), he didn't want his peers seeing him come to young Jesus or confess what he felt:

"Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."

He was referring, of course, to the turning of water into wine at Cana and all of the other things Jesus had been doing to encourage people to believe that His words were, indeed, from God. His words, as Synoptic writers Mark, Matthew and Luke make plain, were about the kingdom of God. So it must the kingdom, Jesus surmised - or read in his heart - that Nicodemus had come to talk about:

"You can believe this: No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

The look on the face of the councilman must have been incredulous. "How can a man be born when he is old?" he asked. "Surely he can't leave the same womb twice!"

Jesus held his philosophical ground. "You can believe this. No one can enter God's kingdom unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You shouldn't be surprised at what I've said. The spirit-wind blows wherever it wishes. You hear it come and go, but you can't tell where from or where to. That's the way it is with those born of the Spirit."

Nicodemus must have had a thousand questions. (I know I would have. I do now.) He settled for spluttering: "How?"

The young Rabbi reproved him mildly: "You're Israel's teacher; you should understand these things. You can believe this: We talk about what we know and can testify to what we've seen, but your people don't accept our testimony. I've spoken in earthly terms and you don't believe; how can you believe if I speak in heavenly terms? No one has ever gone into heaven, except the one who came from there - the Son of Man. The same way Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so everyone who believes on him will live forever."

It was a story well known to Nicodemus. It was known to every school child. Jude would refer to it, years later, in his short epistle. So would Paul, in I Corinthians 10. Poor Nicodemus must have felt like a school child in the presence of this incredible teaching.

Born again. Of water and the spirit. Isn't that how people are born the first time? Was He talking about that baptism ritual that his cousin John and the Essenes were so fond of; that all the people were lining up to experience by the Jordan? How did the Spirit fit into that? Who was the Son of Man that was referred to? Daniel? That's the way the angels of in Daniel's visions referred to him - and some other prophets, too. No doubt Jesus was a prophet, but ... was He talking about Himself? Lifted up so people would believe and not die. Ever. Lifted up how? Believe Him ... how? How could they believe Him when you can't even understand Him?

What did Jesus mean, "believe and live forever"?

Then He said what every Sunday school child of our day knows by memory. It hadn't happened in its fulness yet, but Jesus spoke of it as if it were a fait accompli:

"God loved the world so much that He gave the only Son He had so that anyone who believes in Him wouldn't die, but live forever. God didn't send His Son to the world destroy it, but to save it through that Son. Whoever believes in that Son escapes destruction; whoever doesn't is as good as destroyed already because of unwillingness to use good judgment and believe on the Son. So judgment comes to those people, and here's the verdict: Light came into the world, but they liked darkness better than light, because what they did is wrong and they were afraid everyone could see them do wrong if they did it in the light. But people who love truth and live by it come into the light, so that everyone can see that what they've done has been done through God."

That's all of the conversation we have. Whether it went deeper and deeper into the night and illuminated Nicodemus' misunderstanding and doubts more brightly, we can't say.

Something about the words he heard stayed with Nicodemus and affected him deeply, to his very heart. In time to come, he would defend this young Rabbi in the council and even serve as a funeral director for Him after the term "lifted up" had taken on a whole new meaning to him.

That night, Nicodemus must have lost sleep. He surely must have wondered what it meant for his God to have a Son, and to send that Son into a world of such brutality and evil. He undoubtedly marveled at why God would want to be recognized in the things that people do. He must have pondered whether it is more important to understand fully, or to believe fully.

But he certainly learned a lot in one night about a Light shining in the darkness.

And a love that surpasses human understanding.

- from the account in John 3:1-21


Blogger JP Manzi said...

Yes!! great post, I like what your doing here Keith. As it is said, its not WWJD? but WIJD (What Is Jesus Doing?)

3/26/2005 04:14:00 AM  
Blogger lee said...

God turns the grave into a womb with a single Word.

3/26/2005 05:47:00 AM  
Blogger David U said...

If I had to pick one section of scripture our fellowship has misrepresented the most, it would have to be this one. We have used Jesus's conversation with Nicodemus to teach about baptism, when we have SO MANY other scriptures that will do that for us
in much clearer language. But, the phrase "water and spirit" was too good for us to pass on. How could Jesus be talking to Nicodemus about redemptive, salvational baptism when he hadn't even died yet? What if Nicodemus had said "I'm ready, let's go do it right now." What was Jesus going to say....."well Nic, you have to wait for awhile until I die and rise again. Show up when Peter preaches at Pentecost, then you can be born again." Would that not be ludicrous? We fell into the trap we have fallen into SO many times, and that is making scripture fit our theology instead of making our theology fit scripture. Thank goodness for God's grace, for all of us!

3/27/2005 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Keith Brenton said...

Yes, and if the pool at Siloam was to be used as a prefiguration of healing/salvation by baptism, we'd have a dilemma: Jesus heals the crippled man without dipping!

Come to think of it, there was also a comment made to a thief on a nearby cross ....

If anything is proved to me from texts like this, it's that the power isn't in the water, or even in the symbolism, but in the One who made both.

3/27/2005 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger jegtogo said...

Interesting perspective from david u. For what it's worth, I agree. While Jesus simply concluded (or was concluding) what he had started, I would agree wtih dave's point of order.

However, while the scripture may be used out of that exact context for sure, it sure isn't being misused for its spirit.

Salvation, including baptism or not is a matter of the heart. Obediance on our part show this.

4/08/2005 02:05:00 PM  

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