Summary: Reflections at Theological College. Jesus and his encounter with Nicodemus and what we can learn about sharing our faith with others.
Wycliffe Hall, Oxford November 1999
My text this morning is taken from John 3:1-12
A. John 3:1-2
It is the well known story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus.
He comes secretly by night to have a chat with Jesus.
i) Was it because he wanted to speak to Jesus in quiet?
ii)Or was it because he did not want it known / that he was speaking with a Galilean carpenter?
He is very polite: "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him". (John 3:2).
B. John 3:3
Jesus’ reply is to toss him an intellectual hand grenade. "You must be born again".
Not: " Well thank you Nicodemus for your kind words. So what can I do for you?
A bomb shell. " You must be born again"
1. Why did Jesus speak so abruptly to Nicodemus?
I think it is because Jesus knew his man.
He saw behind Nicodemus’ question.
Nicodemus, like many earnest Pharisees, / was looking for the day/ when the Kingdom of God would come.
So Jesus gets to the heart of the matter:
You want to see the kingdom of God - You must be born again. Straight to the point.
How did Jesus know his man?
I think the answer is two-fold
1. He spent a lot of time in prayer with the Father.
Let me give you a couple of examples
i. We read in Matt 14:23, after feeding the five thousand, Jesus
"....went up on a mountainside by himself to pray."
He needed time out during his heavy schedule to spend time with his Father.
Story: If Martin Luther had a heavy schedule on a particular day, he would get up a couple of hours earlier to spend more time with the Lord.
ii) My second Example is on the night before Jesus was crucified, he went out to the Mount of Olives as was his custom - to pray. (Luke 22:39-46). You recall his words:
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done" (Lk 22:42).
2. He spoke on His Father’s authority
Having spent time with God, he was intimate with what the Father was doing. He knew his calling and who had sent him.
We read of this, for example in John 14: 10 where Jesus says:
"...the words I say to you / are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father living in me who is doing his work."
I have three application points this morning.
Application # 1
The greatest challenge that we are going to have in parish ministry is to find time to be with the Lord in a heavy schedule.
We are going to have pressures / that will keep us from prayer.
And if we go away from prayer/ we will lose our spiritual sharpness.
If we want to be effective in ministry, we need to have time for the Lord. This is the only way that we will have insights into the issues that people bring to us.
It is only then that we - like Jesus - will we "know the man".
Jesus knew his man and he got Nicodemus’ attention.
2. What was Jesus trying to do?
From the passage we can see that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a theologian. We read in verse 10 that he was Israel’s teacher. He was a member of the ruling Jewish council.
In other words, he was no intellectual slouch!!
He obviously recognised the authority Jesus had - by the signs and miracles Jesus performed.
Jesus gave him something to go away and think about.
Nicodemus’ whole mind-set was being challenged.
What was the key paradigm that Jesus was challenging?
It was that the Pharisees thought / that they made themselves fit for the Kingdom of God / by keeping the Law of Moses.
We can see this attitude reflected in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Gather in Luke 18:9-14
"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.
God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get".
Jesus was challenging one of Nicodemus’ paradigms. Nicodemus, you can’t earn salvation , it is a free gift of God.
Application # 2.
My second application point is that it is easy for us to get stuck in our ways, especially the longer we are in ministry.
We need to be open fresh insights that God will show us.
Nicodemus was an old timer - he must have thought he had his theology cracked. I believe that is why Jesus challenged his mind-set.