Column – For God so loved the world

Published 6:50 pm Friday, March 10, 2023

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I grew up terrified of the dark. I’ve mentioned that in this column before. Thankfully, I long ago pretty much got over that. 

I hesitate to explain why I was as scared as I was, because I know some of you that it’ll give ideas to. You’ve got kids or grandkids, and you’ll do these things. My Dad used to love to pull pranks. He was a master at scaring us in the dark. 

John 3: 1-17 is our scripture this week. Out of the darkness comes a figure in our biblical story. He’s creeping around so as not to be seen. We can speculate as to why, since this Pharisee could easily have lost his position if seen cavorting with our Lord. 

But it was worth it to him and he was willing to risk. Nicodemus needed to meet with Jesus because he had some questions. We don’t get the trap vibes here, as though he was trying to paint Jesus into a corner.  

Nicodemus wasn’t just a Pharisee. That would’ve been high office enough to make this story interesting. To also call a Pharisee a leader would be redundant, unless that word “leader” implied something else. That is, even among his fellow Pharisees Nicodemus must have held some ranking. 

He was a leader of the Jews. V10 might give us a clue as to how highly he really did rank. Jesus asks him, “Are you ‘the’ teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” Nicodemus may well have been the highest ranking one who set forth instruction and understanding in the Jewish faith of his time. He was not a nobody. 

Nicodemus doesn’t understand how God’s love works. There are some who study this text that have wondered aloud whether for John- in his gospel writing he might not be using a double-meaning here. 

That is, not only has Nicodemus snuck in to see Jesus under the cover of darkness… he also comes to Jesus “in the dark” on a spiritual matter that has captured his attention. Eventually, at the end, Nicodemus will leave and we are left to see that he still departed back into darkness. 

There are 3 things I wonder after reading this story. First, I wonder what is the greatest barrier between you and your faith in God? Next, what might God need to do to move you beyond where you are now?  Finally, for any of us I wonder what might we have to do to move ourselves beyond that barrier?

Nicodemus was hung up on one little part of the story and he couldn’t move past it. To his credit, he came straight to Jesus to seek answers. What hangs you up on your faith journey? Jesus said, “We speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen.”

Meanwhile, Nicodemus is trying to understand the magic behind the mystery. For many of us, the same could be true. We hear Jesus say, “You must be born again.” But what does that mean? He also says, “Turn the other cheek…” Nearly everyone I know things that doesn’t sound right. 

If Jesus tells us to go the extra mile, we protest that quietly. “The first must be last and the last will be first” makes almost no sense at all. So, heart knowledge will have to be allowed to push ahead of head knowledge if we are to choose and live a life of faith. That’s what makes faith so tough.

To all of this, we can hear Nicodemus saying, “That isn’t what I wanted.” Jesus here pretty much says, “Well, that’s what it is.” Then maybe out of exasperation, Jesus seems to say, “OK Nicodemus, here we go. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one-and-only Son.’” Then, he doesn’t go the evangelistic route. We don’t hear, “Nicodemus, if you died tonight do you know where you’d go?”

One person has said, “I’m not a Christian because someone explained the nuts-and-bolts to me. I’m a Christian because someone was willing to be the nuts-and-bolts for me.” Jesus doesn’t give an altar-call. He leaves Nicodemus to figure it all out for himself. Someone said, “If we don’t find Christianity a bit challenging then we’re not living it right.” 

We don’t know if Nicodemus accepted this kind of faith or not. There is mention of a Nicodemus toward the end of Jesus’ life, but we don’t know if they are one and the same. 

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.