He came by night. He didn’t want anyone to see him, especially not his colleagues in the religious leadership. So he came when no one was around, when the streets were dark, when no one would see where he was going.
He had heard Jesus’ teaching, and it made some sort of sense to him. He had heard about the miracles, the healings and other extraordinary happenings. He had observed Jesus’ way of life, and he could see he was a good man. There was something that drew him, something that lifted his heart. He wanted to know for himself. But he didn’t want the others to know that he wanted to know Jesus.
And so he came by night, making his way through the dark streets, to call on the one who later would say “I am the light of the world”.
Nicodemus reminds us of all the times and all the ways in which we are in the dark, when we long for something more, a little more understanding, a little more love, a little more faith, a little more hope. And sometimes we can step out of the shadows to come closer to Jesus and find his light, just as Nicodemus did.
There are no niceties in this conversation. There’s no “come on in, Nicodemus. Sit down. Have a cup of tea. Would you like a biscuit with that? How are you doing? And your wife and five children?” None of that. Nicodemus gets straight to the point, telling Jesus what he knows already: you are a teacher, you come from God, you do signs because God is with you. He has sussed that out, probably through prayer, because when you hold things before God in prayer, that’s when you come to a greater understanding about them.
And Jesus replies, saying: you can’t see the kingdom of God unless you have been born again, from above, in the realm of the Spirit. He recognises that Nicodemus is beginning to see God’s kingdom at work in Jesus, which means that he has been born spiritually as well as physically.
Then they fall into one of those conversations where Jesus is talking about the spiritual realm, and Nicodemus is still thinking in the physical world, and he’s getting totally confused. In other words, he is showing that though he has begun to see what Jesus is about, he has still a way to go.
Its like that sometimes with people I see whose lives are topsy turvy and they are so stressed out, and nothing makes sense, and they wonder out loud “why is God going this to me? I just can’t understand it!” And if they pray about it and work through some of the problems, they start to see things in a new way, in God’s way. They have to change the language of their worries, and that takes patience and prayer. And they become stronger people as they work through it.
Nicodemus is on a journey, a spiritual journey. He is drawn to Jesus and wants to find out more, but he is scared to go public with his interest. His faith needs to grow quietly and privately till he has the confidence to be seen as a disciple. Nicodemus comes back into Jesus’ story at the end of John’s Gospel, when he helps Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus after the crucifixion. So we see that his faith has grown.
Our spiritual journies can be like that. We have our private faith, but we don’t like to talk about it much. We don’t have much confidence in ourselves as faithful Christians. But sometimes, we have the opportunity to get to know Jesus a little better and ourselves a little more. And then, inch by inch, we grow in faith and confidence. The point of growing in faith and confidence is not to make ourselves feel better, though it can do that, but so that we can share this precious treasure with the people who long for a part of it. That’s our purpose as a church. That’s what we are here for. To worship God, and to share his love with others and to help God build his kingdom in this place.
In that funny conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus is also talking about the importance of baptism in the spiritual journey. He says that in order to enter the kingdom of God, you need to be born of water and spirit. In other words, baptism is the way into God’s kingdom. It is not the end of the story, but it is the beginning.
In a few weeks time, at the service of Easter fire and light, we are going to be baptising Lily. This is Lily’s choice, and it has been a real privilege to watch her grow in interest and faith as she has been coming to the Fun @ 4 service and to this service. Lily has a real instinct for faith and we pray that she will continue on that journey all her life. Because there is always more to learn. You can always go a little deeper. You never get to the end. Which is wonderful, because we go on discovering just how much God loves us, and we go on learning how to trust more and more.
And when that happens, we find eternal life, which is not just about living for ever in heaven when we die, but is about the quality of life here on earth, life with God in the everyday nitty gritty ins and outs of human life. In eternal life, you are constantly refreshed. In eternal life, you are constantly forgiven. In eternal life, you are always beloved by God. It affects your whole life.
It’s not much of a story, the visit of Nicodemus to Jesus by night. There’s not much plot. It’s more a conversation, and it reflects the kinds of conversations we have with Jesus over the years of our lives.
And when we hear the story again, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves – that ongoing conversation between me and Jesus, where is it at now? What is he saying to me? Where am I just not getting it?