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Nicodemus John 3:1- 17

I have been very fortunate not ever to have lived in a state, where saying the wrong thing or writing the wrong thing or associating with the wrong people could lead to persecution or very much worse. This freedom we enjoy is quite special and extraordinary and very far from universal. I remember an occasion way back when some Russian visitors came to see me for a day or two of discussions in London. They came the two of them with an interpreter and a silent man who was never introduced but went wherever we went. Naively, I asked the interpreter, insufficiently discretely, who he was – she replied with a nod of her head “well he’s, you know.” She meant but could not say so that he was a member of the KGB. The two delegates were dogged by this silent sceptre twenty four hours a day whilst they were outside the mother country.

Nicodemus is a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council and as such needs to be careful what he does. So he comes to Jesus by night so that he will not be seen for to be directly associated in this way would have caused problems with his fellow council members who have begun to plot against Jesus. We see this later on in chapter seven when Nicodemus intervenes in a council discussion: The Pharisees are asking the Temple police why they did not arrest Jesus and Nicodemus says:

“Our law does snot judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”

He is living in a society with informers, Temple police, and unsubstantiated accusations that can lead to trumped up charges and exacted penalties, much more like Russia than England. So Nicodemus showed bravery in coming to Jesus, he showed bravery in asking at least I think so; perhaps you were the child who when the teacher asked “are there any questions?” would put up your hand and find interesting points for them to answer. I was not. In the first place I was too timid and secondly if I ever did ask a question it somehow got misinterpreted, the answer would not quite address the real question that I had in my mind and I was certainly too timid to ask any secondary follow ups for clarification. So I have always felt sympathy for Nicodemus who on approaching Jesus gets answers that seem to lie asymmetrically to his questions.

“Rabbi we know you are a teacher from God for no-one can do these signs apart from the presence of God” Nicodemus wants to know more, wants to understand how this person can do these miracles. But Jesus’ answers designed to challenge Nicodemus’ reasoning by earthly things and to lead him to spiritual reflection leave him more perplexed.

“How can anyone be born after having grown old?”

“Can we enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

“How can these things be?”

So we can imagine Nicodemus leaving the room shaking his head with more questions than when he arrived.

Now this is the Gospel of John which means that there are always multiple layers of meaning to be found. Nicodemus has come to Jesus out of the darkness – this darkness representing Israel’s spiritual blindness. Eventually Nicodemus will become one of Jesus’ disciples, after the crucifixion he goes with Joseph of Arimethea (again in secret for fear of the Jews) and he brings a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds, a prodigious quantity, to anoint the body and the linen wrappings. But for now, Nicodemus representing the quintessence of Judaism comes from the darkness and remains in darkness. He stays grounded in worldly wisdom. Jesus tells him “what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is of the spirit.” But Nicodemus does not see.

We recall the opening words of John’s writing read each Christmas at midnight communion:

“The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.”

Or just two verses on from our reading John says “the light has come into the world and people loved darkness more than light.”

I have a lot of sympathy with Nicodemus and let us all be encouraged by him to ask questions and explore in the freedom that we have for in the end he “got it” he found out who Jesus is and he truly came out of the night into the new daylight.


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