Often darkness equates to evil. For instance, when we're referring to diabolic evil, we talk of the powers of darkness. Darkness does, indeed, veil evil. In contrast, light protects those who venture into the darkness. Torches and lanterns reveal the dangers hidden in the dark. On all the measures that matter in his worldview, Nicodemus shined brightly: a man in a man's world, wise where wisdom was applauded, honored in a shamed-based culture, powerful, wealthy, respected, admired, even feared.
This elderly Israelite could have anticipated the Apostle Paul’s boast: “I was circumcised on the eighth day, one of the chosen nation Israel, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, an investigator of Christ Jesus; as to the righteousness found in the law, faultless.” Nicodemus’ light repelled the darkness of evil.
Yet tonight, Nicodemus crept into the lower city of Jerusalem under the cloak of darkness. His thoughts churning, he repeated to himself, “A secret visit allows a more relaxed and intimate conversation, a climate more conducive to helping the young rabbi find his way back onto the straight and narrow path. Further, with less witnesses, I'm allowed more flexibility in my responses to the rabbi's inevitable resistances.” This type of strategic thinking had led to the restoration of significant numbers of “sinners” back into the fold. It also led to Simon-bar-Jonah, his given name, in an ironic twist, being revised into the Greek Nicodemus or “victory with the people.”
Escorted into the shadows by his loyal security guard, a soldier armored and sword-clad, thwarted the potential threats of the riffraff of the low-class neighborhood. Slipping through the cool night darkness, this strict Pharisee and thus protector of the holy covenant, came to the door and gently knocked. Nicodemus entered the modest rooms of the rabbi and his disciples. Shown the way, the teacher of Israel drew from his repertoire of peacemaking skills an approach often quite successful with young men; he bowed to the young rabbi and refused the chair offered him. Rather, he signed for Jesus to sit in the seat of Teacher.
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Accepting the chair and sitting with confidence born of knowing His identity as God’s beloved Son, Jesus looked into Nicodemus’ eyes and smiled. With deep surprise, the old man recognized neither of the expected attitudes: not hesitancy bred from shame, nor arrogance seated in pride, but simple joy in the honor offered and received. Looking closer, he knew that Jesus liked him. He could see that Jesus enjoyed his visit. After a brief pause, the esteemed member of the great Sanhedrin, the highest tribunal of Israel, this ruler of God's chosen people, disarmed by Jesus’ pleasure and ease in his presence, declares far more than he had intended, “Rabbi, the elders know you are a true Prophet sent by God. You could not do the signs you do, unless God gave You His power.”
With those words the conversational tables turned. From ‘teacher of Israel’ correcting a ‘sinner’ to a neophyte disciple being schooled by the Prophet of God, Nicodemus, emotionally uncertain and spiritually off balance, hears the Prophet Jesus say, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born from above.”
While holding him with His look of love, Jesus undermined the entire foundation of Nicodemus’ life. The list of achievements, titles and honors he had acquired as a faithful Israelite mean nothing. They are flesh born of flesh. Entering the Kingdom of God requires a person to be born of water and Spirit, born from above. And life in the Kingdom, life in the Spirit does not follow Nicodemus’ tidy life of movement up the ladder of achievement. It is likened, rather, to the unpredictable movements of the wind.
Jesus destroys even Nicodemus’ rationale for meeting Him by night. The true Light has invaded the darkness. Jesus presses, “Clearly as you yourself admit, no one can do miraculous signs without God's power. Align yourself with the Light of God. Let your faith in the Messiah Jesus shine.” Jesus invites Nicodemus into God’s love story. Like the rich young ruler who must “sell all, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus,” Nicodemus is invited to identify with the true Light of God, openly and clearly. To do so means the loss of all else.
What is Jesus saying to you through Nicodemus? He invites me into a life of the Spirit. A life of attending to the activity of the Spirit in my life and the lives of others.