"Nic at Night"

April 2, 2000 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon John 3:1 - 21

            [This sermon was delivered "as if" the speaker was the Biblical Nicodemus. Constructed and delivered without notes, the words below are from memory and may not be the actual ones used. They were prefaced with a reading of John 19:38-42.]

Indeed, the day was nearly over - the day Jesus of Nazareth died on that cross. Sabbath was almost upon us and it wouldnít have been right. It just would not have been right to have left his body there! Not right according to the law of Moses. Not right according to my conscience. And so my colleague Joseph and I (perhaps the only friends of Jesus - if thatís what youíd call us -on the Sanhedrin), discreetly arranged to take care of him. Joseph settled it with Pilate and provided the tomb, I bought the spices. We had the means to do for Jesus what his disciples could or would not do. It was the least I could do - add a little dignity in death not given in life.

We did what we could as the darkness descended. You could say that in this death imitated life.  I always seemed to encounter this rabbi under cover of some darkness. Of course, itís not like I could go to Jesus directly, in broad daylight. Mind you, there was something about him that just would not let me go. But I, one of the best and brightest that Israel had to offer, or so my mother always told me, I could not approach him just like anyone else.

People looked up to me. I had been top of my class in rabbinical school, under the mentoring of some of the best teachers around. I could maneuver my way through the intricacies of the law of Moses - bringing forth the collected wisdom of centuries of rabbis. My skill was recognized and my position in the Sanhedrin was evidence of my worth.

Iíve always said that you know a man by the fruit he bears. That has been my life philosophy. I can still hear the words on the lips of my father, blessed be the Lord. I tried to apply that simple truth to Jesus. I tried to encourage my brothers on the council to give Jesus a hearing - to wait and watch, and then see his fruit, the fruit by which youíd know whether he was of God or not. Wait and see, I tried to say, as often as I could. But there were always those voices which would then question my intelligence, my upbringing, my trustworthiness. When you to try to stand in the way of judgment  itís easy to get knocked over. It was not without reason that I was cautious. Go see him at night, I told myself early on. And so I did.

I can still recall that night, as if it were last night. Just the two of us in the room, lit only by a single candle. The flame illuminated our faces, not much more. Another kind of light, however, seemed to shine - though Iím not sure I could describe it. Perhaps it was just my imagination. I spoke of what I / we had seen in him (was I speaking for myself or the council - Iím not sure). I/we had seen in him a teacher grounded in God. I/we had seen the evidence, the things he had done - the signs, the miracles.

"Sight...," he replied, and the word has been burned into my imagination ever since, even after Iíve forgotten some of his other words that night. "Sight...," he said. "No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above." ...Have you ever had one of those occasions when conversation seems to fly right over your head? I wasnít used to that - I, well trained in the art of scholarly debate. I have rarely not understood things which have been said, even back in my days of training as a Pharisee. But there with Jesus of Nazareth, I didnít have a clue. "Born again?" I asked. It didnít make sense. Where was he taking me with this? A person is born but once. Was he suggesting a trip back into a motherís womb?

"No one can enter the Kingdom without being born of water and spirit," he responded to my foolishness. What did he mean? I still wonder. Water? Was he referring to Johnís baptism? Was he calling for repentance? Spirit? Spirit hovering above the water at the moment of Creation? My trained brain was doing mental gymnastics, trying to connect the wisdom of Torah with his words. What did he mean? Birth... Water... Spirit ... How?

Then he threw me a tidbit I could swallow, a story with which I was familiar (Numbers 21:4-9). Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness, struggling with things beyond their control. Poisonous snakes along the way, the result of poisonous thoughts against God. The Lord provided a serpent upon a pole to be lifted up before the people. To see it was to be healed. To look upon it was to bring salvation in the wilderness. But what did this have to do with birth... water... spirit? I didnít understand. I still donít.

"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up," he said. Whoever believes in him may have eternal life. What does this mean? Born from above to see the kingdom... Born of water and spirit to enter it... Son of man lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness. Healing... salvation... eternal life... What does it mean? My mind still spins.

It has ever since that night. Even more so after what took place at the "place of the skull." Nailed to the plank, he was. The whole thing lifted up - an ugly end he didnít deserve. Why?

I donít understand. Me, "the best and the brightest, or so my mother said. A blur of meaning. Am I the only one who doesnít understand? Some fruit I bear! What does it mean?

birth from above...

water...

spirit...

lifted up...

healing...

salvation...

It just isnít coming across....

across....

A Cross ...!

(Nicodemus looks up and falls on his knees. Spotlight upon cross turns on.)

"In this way God loved the world - he gave his only Son. Whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."   ...My Lord and God. ...Is it true? ...Is it true?

©2000Peter L. Haynes

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