Nicodemus: Disciple by Night
Lent 2, 12 March, 2017
Today we are in John. The Lectionary makes a deliberate and radical shift from Matthew’s Gospel and for the next four weeks John leads us through the growth of discipleship. We encounter Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus. These four people will challenge us as we have an opportunity gauge ourselves, our discipleship, to recognize ourselves in each one, and to ask, “Which of these am I most like?”
These four people represent a progression in acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God and the significant change he makes in their lives. Over the next four weeks we will build in our fellowship with, follow-ship of with Christ. We could call it a Lenten sermon miniseries entitled: Transforming Disciples or How to Look more like Jesus.
Our first stop is chapter 3 in John’s Gospel. You know it is John because it’s the story of Nicodemus and this story only appears in John. Nicodemus does appear at the end of the John’s Gospel—this time to help Joseph of Arimathea to bear, prepare and bury the body of Christ. Joseph of Arimathea does show up in all four Gospels but Nicodemus, only here. John gives him to us like a gift because he looks much like us: spiritually curious, testing the waters, asking numerous questions about the way Jesus is teaching. Nicodemus is trying to understand the signs Jesus is doing and trying to square it up with what he already knows.
Maybe because Nicodemus is a successful and a community leader, he wants to make sure that this Jesus teacher, this new rabbi, will be socially acceptable and fit into his lifestyle.
Imagine Nicodemus calls up Jesus to make an appointment. Jesus is like, “Yeah, how about tomorrow morning?”
Nicodemus says, “Um, no.”
“Ok,” says Jesus, “how about the afternoon?”
Nicodemus is like, “Um, you got any late office hours Jesus? How about night time, after the sun goes down?”
Now Nicodemus wasn’t trying to keep his own daylight appointments. He was a Pharisee, a rabbi, like Jesus, so he could’ve had lunch or a daytime coffee with Jesus at Starbucks. But Nicodemus wasn’t sure he wanted to be seen in person with Jesus. He wanted to keep his reputation in case consulting this teacher might scare off some of his own students. He was spiritually curious but he wasn’t sure he wanted his spiritual hobby/recreational to have an impact on other areas of his life.
Jesus looks at him, even as he looks at some of us today and says, “Well, that’s playing it safe.”
Nicodemus’s faith is like a child tucked safely in the womb. Jesus says that it’s time to come out. Time to be born again, or born from above. Born from heaven. Born with the needs of heaven in mind. Jesus continues that it will be as wild as the wind of the Spirit; not able to perceive where it’s coming from or going to but it is all encompassing. A life of faith in Jesus Christ sheds daylight on all our compartmentalized selves, integrating our spiritual life and our physical life; our praying life and our work life; our seeking, our finding and our calling.
We have the same doubts as Nicodemus.
This is risky. Jesus even says so. He tells Nicodemus– through analogy– that just as the serpent on the pole was lifted by Moses and those who looked on it lived, so will Jesus be lifted up. Jesus warns that this way of being born anew is risky, people may find out and you may lose your coveted status, even your life. Nicodemus heard Jesus; Nicodemus understood. He wasn’t playing it safe when he went with Joseph to get Jesus’ body off the cross. Nicodemus had transformed and was willing to risk his life and reputation to be associated with a crucified criminal.
But at this point in John’s Gospel not so much, not yet. We are left with a night time dialogue with Nicodemus going away wondering what he will be willing to risk. He wonders if he can grow fresh ways of doing things, allow the winds of Heaven to blow him along and be fully born anew.
As disciples, Nicodemus is a good place for us to start.
How have we played it safe as followers of Rabbi Jesus?
How have we grown comfortable in our womb-like state as
What are we willing to risk to let God do something new with us?
Are we willing to look foolish; risk our reputation?
What would it take for you to be born again?
What would we look like–to have a full re-birth?
Jesus is calling us out of our comfort zones. As he speaks to Nicodemus, he could be saying to us, “What? You call yourself a Christian and you don’t know these things? You don’t know that you are called to change, transform and grow?”
Jesus doesn’t say this to us to condemn us. He says it to offer us new life, eternal life, life from above, life of heaven.
Let God, the wind of the Spirit lead and lift us out of our comfort zone: let God work in all areas of our life. Begin, again the transformation of discipleship.