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Nicodemus At Night… A Gradual Awakening…

May 28, 2015


Denise and I were wandering around the French Quarter in New Orleans last year for my birthday when this alleyway caught my attention. I was intrigued by the combination of shadows and light and it spoke to me of life and how we sometimes find ourselves in dark alleyways, praying that we are heading to the light that will protect and warm us.

As I re-read the Gospel for Trinity Sunday, this picture jumped out at me when I went searching for a shot that captured what the reading was saying to me. According to many of the commentators and bloggers I follow, Trinity Sunday can be a preaching nightmare. They also say that there is so much packed into these verses from John’s Gospel that you could preach at least a dozen sermons! For some reason, Nicodemus jumped out at me and I began to explore who he was and what he was doing.

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night…”. (John 3:1-2a) That opening scene sounds like the beginning of the mystery novel that Snoopy was always writing in the comic strip Peanuts… on a dark and stormy night… On that night, Nicodemus was slinking about in the shadows when he found Jesus. Why was he skulking in the shadows? Well, there could be any number of explanations for that, but the most likely is because he wanted to talk with Jesus but didn’t want anyone to see him with Jesus. After all, this particular Pharisee could get into a lot of trouble if he was caught with the radical Rabbi from Nazareth!

Typically the Pharisees attacked Jesus during broad daylight with their philosophical and theological hijinks. For some reason, this Pharisee was different. He had questions for Jesus and he wasn’t asking questions in order to trap Jesus like the others had tried to do (and failed miserably at I might add). So, in the middle of the night, Nicodemus went out to find Jesus. Evidently he had been listening to Jesus for some time and the message Jesus had to share was beginning to sink in.

Was Nicodemus in the midst of a slow conversion process? Was this servant of “The Law” being slowly won over by the one who came to fulfill the law? I believe that he was. After all, in Chapter 7, verses 40-52, Nicodemus seemed to cautiously support Jesus when they were debating about how to arrest Jesus. “Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?'” What? A Pharisee standing up for Jesus and essentially demanding a fair trial for him? How can that be! Even the chief priests and Pharisees were astounded! “They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.'” (verse 52)

When Nicodemus first approached Jesus with his questions, the exchange was a bit rocky. After exchanging greetings, Nicodemus admitted that Jesus must have come from God because nobody else could have done the signs Jesus had done unless they were from God. (John 3:2) After this, they began the exchange about being “born from above” and being “born anew”. Poor Nicodemus seemed more confused the further Jesus went. Now I can’t fault him for that as I think if I had been in his shoes, I would have been equally as baffled. After all, aren’t we still debating today just what it means to be “born again”?

Well, the words of Jesus must have been slowly sinking in to Nicodemus’ heart. Even though the question and answer session in the middle of the night left Nicodemus looking a bit foolish, he didn’t give up. The slow, gradual, awakening was happening. The teachings of Jesus were sinking in and this man who made his living parsing the law’s finer points was suddenly wondering if he had it all wrong. He even had the courage to speak up in Jesus’ defense in Chapter 7. It is in Chapter 19 however, that we see the full awakening of Nicodemus. No longer hiding in the shadows, it is Nicodemus who joins Joseph of Arimathea in claiming Jesus’ body after it was taken down from the cross. It was Nicodemus who brought the mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds and helped Joseph prepare Jesus’ body for the hasty burial before the sun set on the Jewish day of Preparation. (John 19:38-42)

I take great comfort in the gradual awakening of Nicodemus. For one thing, it shows me the incredible patience of the Lord. God doesn’t give up on us, even when we are slow to pick up on what God is calling us to be and to do. Even though Nicodemus failed on the first attempt, God didn’t give up on him. In the same way, God doesn’t give up on you or on me, dear reader.

It was a long time in coming for Nicodemus to transform from a disciple in hiding to one who boldly spoke out in the Council and helped bury Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. This birthing process was not instantaneous, but I do believe that in the end, Nicodemus was transformed, and in a very real sense “Born Anew”. He was transformed from a Pharisee into a Christ-follower.

Looking once again at the photo, I think about how life can often times be a journey through shadows and doubts and unknowns. When things seem to be at their darkest and most frustrating or miserable, take heart, dear reader. Walk with me through that dark tunnel towards the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is the love and acceptance of Christ for each one of us. But don’t keep your eyes on me… keep them on the one I am trying my best to follow… May the Lord guide us safely through the storms of life and bring us safely home.

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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on ericspearsblog.

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