“He (Nicodemus) came to Jesus by night …”
It is curious that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and not out in the open during the daytime. Nicodemus was a member of the pharisees who often publicly disagreed with or tried to trap Jesus into saying something heretical – something that would make the crowds turn away from him.
Maybe by coming at night it shows that Nicodemus really wanted to understand Jesus. I’d like to think that when Nicodemus says “we know that you are a teacher from God…” – he truly meant it.
Perhaps, however, he was not ready to jump in. Nicodemus may have “wanted to want to” understand Jesus, but something kept him from believing and following. This may have bothered Nicodemus, but Jesus didn’t seem all that concerned about it. Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” In other words, Nicodemus might not have understood or “seen” because not everyone does. The power to believe doesn’t always have a logical rhyme or reason. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “the wind blow where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
This is a frustrating part of the Bible. Why isn’t there some formula, secret password or prayer that unlocks the mystery of God – that gives a person the power to believe and understand? Jesus says you must be born from above and yet gives no clear instruction on how to do it – it sounds like faith is just something that just happens to you.
Belief (not enough of it) is presented as a barrier to “seeing” and being part of Jesus. Yet Jesus, after pushing Nicodemus to think more broadly and deeply, clearly states that God sent Jesus on a mission of love. The fact that Jesus kept challenging Nicodemus is a sign of hope. Jesus isn’t cruel. He is not toying with him, Jesus isn’t like that. There must be hope for him even in his unbelief.
It might be that Jesus was meeting Nicodemus right where he was and opening him up to see, understand, and begin to believe. Jesus takes Nicodemus at “want to – want to” and moves him closer to fully believing and following Jesus. And, spoiler alert, it must have worked because it is this same Nicodemus who along with Joseph of Arimathea lovingly prepared Jesus’ body for a proper burial.
This is good news for you and me! Jesus is able and willing to take our “want to – want to” and move us to something better. Jesus meets you and this Church where we are and is willing to challenge us – help us to grow in understanding – so that we might better see, believe and participate in the goodness of God today and into eternity. There may not be a logical rhyme and reason, a perfect prayer or formula, or cookie-cutter program to unlock the mystery and power of God – instead God joins us on this wild ride of a life in a mission of love for the whole world. Who knows where or how God might move you?
A few questions to consider…
Where are you in your life of faith?
How (where) might Jesus be moving you?
How might the Holy Spirit be working to deepen, move, and shape the ministry and life-together of your congregation?
Thank you for reading! This week Bishop Mike is with all the ELCA Bishops and the Church Council as they guide the work of the Church. Please join in praying for them as they met and in their work.