By local preacher Tim Lansdown (Hanham)
Early Spring is a lovely time of year not least because the days are lengthening out and soon we can enjoy our evening meal before we draw the curtains. Many of us fear the dark and prefer to stay indoors once the sun goes down believing that it is not safe to go out. So, what do we make of the story of Nicodemus who came to meet Jesus at night. Was he up to no good, after all Judas came by night to betray Jesus in Gethsemane. Or was there another reason?
Perhaps the dark has a bad press. After all, we need sleep and it is far more difficult to sleep if we are surrounded by light. Night time, too is when our bodies and minds rest and recuperate for the day ahead, like the earth in Winter resting and recovering its energy ready for Spring. But we still need to ask why Nicodemus came to meet with Jesus by night. Nicodemus was a powerful and wealthy man. Not only was he a Pharisee, one of a group of around 600 who had pledged to uphold the purity of the faith, he was also a member of the Sanhedrin the supreme court of the Jews. We know that he was wealthy because when Joseph of Arimathea acquired Jesus’ body, Nicodemus turned up with a hundred-pound weight of expensive spices. Did he come by night as he didn’t want anyone to know about his meeting with Jesus or maybe there was another reason. The rabbis claimed that night time was the best time to study the law when a person is undisturbed as Jesus clearly wasn’t by day, when he was often surrounded by crowds. Here was a man who seemed to have everything, status and wealth yet he was troubled in his soul and comes to Jesus seeking light through the darkness.
The gospel passage then tells of Jesus talking at some length to Nicodemus about the need to be born again but the passage doesn’t give us much of a clue as to how he responded to Jesus’ words. The conversation continues for 21 verses but apart from a couple of queries early on from Nicodemus we basically have a deep theological soliloquy from Jesus. We are left wondering what his response was and the Bible gives us only a couple of clues.
In John 7 : 45 – 50 Nicodemus appears again. Here there is a dispute in the Temple in Jerusalem over claims Jesus has been making about himself. The Pharisees want him arrested but the Temple Police seem loath to do so. Nicodemus who is still named as a Pharisee makes a not very powerful defence of Jesus, which suggests that that night time encounter hadn’t fully persuaded him about Jesus but at the same had clearly influenced him.
The third and final mention of Nicodemus comes in John 19 : 38 – 42 where we read that immediately following Jesus’ death he comes with Joseph of Arimathea, another rich and powerful man, to arrange a decent burial for the body. Joseph offers a tomb and Nicodemus brings along those expensive spices to anoint the body. So, this man who, throughout Jesus’s lifetime had stayed in the shadows now boldly emerges to declare his love for Jesus. Any cowardness, any hesitation had now been laid aside. The power of the cross had already begun to operate, turning cowards into heroes, and a waverer into someone who took an irrevocable decision for Christ. How true did Jesus’ words now seem, “I, when I am lifted up will draw all men unto me.” (John 12: 32.).
The season of Lent is a time when we are drawn step by step toward the cross of Jesus. It is after all the symbol of our faith. Like Nicodemus we may have doubts, may be hesitant about our faith at times. Very few of us have the sort of experience that Paul had on the Damascus Road. So, let us find time during Lent to concentrate on the cross and all it says to the world about love and forgiveness and pray that we may come to a deeper relationship with Jesus..
Beneath the cross of Jesus, I find a place to stand and wonder at such mercy that calls me as I am.
For hands that should discard me, hold wounds that tell me “Come,”
beneath the cross of Jesus my unworthy soul is won. (Singing the Faith 44)