Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent: In the Dead of Night

"Now, there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night..." John 3:1-2a

The Pharisees and Jesus did not get along. The Pharisees were a group of Jews determined to follow strictly the rule of the law of Moses in their actions in hope of bringing about the Messiah, but miserably failed to live up to the law's standards and purpose in their hearts. They felt threatened by Jesus (ironically, because He is the Messiah), and constantly barraged Him with questions about the law to test His knowledge of it, and when they thought He had broken a law, or saw His disciples breaking laws, they were the first to confront Him, many times in broad daylight, and every time to no avail.

But one particular Pharisee wasn't threatened by Jesus so much as He was curious about Him. Nicodemus knew, though, that his curiosity could not be revealed to his fellow Pharisees if he wanted to keep any manner of calm in his life, and so, in order to escape their judgment and wrath, he decided to go out in the dead of night to meet with Jesus and question Him about His teachings -- not mercilessly, as his comrades were in the habit of doing, but as a student would question a teacher.

Wearing the night as his cloak, he set out to look for Jesus. When he found him, he approached him and displayed his fledgling faith: "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." (John 3:1-2)

Encircled by the veil of darkness he preferred to seek Him in, Jesus recognized an opportunity to use Nicodemus's experience as a means of teaching Him. After hearing and answering a few of his questions, He confronted him: "The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

In spite of his cowardice, Nicodemus's actions in this story are in fact very commendable. He may be hiding, but he's coming to Jesus -- coming to the light. He may be afraid, but he's looking for answers. During the day, he may be a member of a league of religious elitism famous for hating Jesus, and who would eventually have Him put to death; but when nighttime has settled in, he willingly becomes a student of the Master.

It is a great comfort to know that, even when we're living a life on display before others that causes us to experience significant inner turmoil, Jesus can be found in our inner darkness. He willingly meets with us to listen to our questions and even responds to them with the reality of God's love. In fact, it's from this story that the most famous Bible verse in the world comes:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that anyone who believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

These words which changed the world were not the subject of a great sermon; rather, they were delivered quietly and personally. Jesus wasn't shouting across a crowd when He spoke them; He was making eye contact, and probably speaking in a very hushed voice. This was a conversation lit only by starlight and street lamps, known only to the two involved. Private.

This is the Jesus we meet in darkened room of our hearts. Not a God who mercilessly and publicly scolds us, but a God who teaches us the way of mercy. Jesus confronts our fear and struggling with the message of light, and assures us that its burning against our fear is one of love and not of wrath. We don't need to be afraid of the darkness in our lives if we're willing to meet Jesus within it.

Nicodemus is often thought of as a coward, but in reality, he is an example of faith; not as flashy as the faith of Abraham, and not as fearless as the faith of Paul, but faith nonetheless. A subtle faith, dependent entirely on the help of Jesus (as all faith is), yet strong enough to break the darkness. He is a witness to all of us that Jesus is worth finding, even when our circumstances leave us terrified of seeking Him. And, who knows...if we're willing to seek Him in our darkness, He may share something with us that will change the world forever.

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