Summary: Jesus challenged Nicodemus and us because He challenges our pride and status, or because we think that all we have done is now useless. The human Jesus shows us how to live without being uptight.
Two men standing in a garden to talk; so much alike and yet so different. Two men, with much on their minds, with eternal issues at stake, and yet with very human concerns too. Two men, very different and yet brothers, much the same.
Two men standing in a garden to take one another’s measure. The one a ruler of the people, a Pharisee, well placed, privileged, to the manor born, now maybe a little uptight because something could challenge that privilege. The other a man of the people, not their ruler, but a peasant, a villager, a stranger to the council chambers. Yet relaxed, confident, ready to respond to the occasion. Two men of different backgrounds, yet so much alike.
Two men groping to glimpse one another’s faces. The one having insisted on a night-time meeting, afraid that his presence might be misinterpreted, fearful that his colleagues might think he had gone over to the rabble, uptight about his reputation. The other speaking of himself as a child of the light, not of darkness, speaking gravely of those who loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Two men with differing angles on the human heart, yet both with the knowledge that that heart can be deceitful above all things.
Two men with roots in authority and with a history of power. The one elected by his peers to a seat on the Sanhedrin, considered able to judge and to decide what was best for the masses, but now growing apprehensive, uptight that something was afoot that could change the balance of power. The other of whom it was said that all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. Two men looking at the trappings of authority in quite contrasting ways, yet both with a knowledge of its meaning.
Two men named as teachers, rabbis, interpreters of God’s word. The one now anxious, uptight that what he has learned in books is being called into question by one who has apparently read few if any of the prescribed books. The other described by his biographer as that very Word made flesh, dwelling among us, pitching his tent on our front yards. Two teachers, differing in the ways they derived their truths, but alike in their reverence for the truth that comes from God.
Two men born as all men are, gestating in a mother’ s womb, nestling beneath her heart, coming into the world as squalling, tiny, fragile things. The one, however, now puzzled, curious, and maybe a little uptight that he should be told that he must go through it all again and be born anew. "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" Curious, cryptic, threatening words. But the other, born of woman but not of man, born of the spirit but not of human will, born into history but coming from beyond history. Two men of different parentage and different origin, but nevertheless alike, flesh and blood, human.
Two men thinking out loud about the things of God, pitting against one another their discernment of the ways of the Eternal one. The one counting on the dependability of God, the predictability of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; believing that what the fathers had seen was all there was to see, and frightened, offended, certainly uptight at the suggestion that there might be a breakthrough beyond that.
Ah, but the other … the other … the other man speaking of the breadth and length and height and depth of the Spirit of God, how that Spirit may blow wherever it will and may blow some fresh breeze into the stony cold heart of a man.
Two believers with sharply divided perspectives on the ways of God, yet sharing a common reverence for the God who acts in human history and who made known His ways unto Moses, His deeds unto the children of Israel.
Two men. How different, and yet how much the same. The one uptight because the other threatened the neat workability of his world. The other launching out into a journey that would climax in rejection and suffering, agony and death, yet wonderfully and strangely collected. Two men. How different, and yet how much the same.
How much Nicodemus needed Jesus he did not know at the time, though we are led to believe that the day came when he became a more open follower of his late night companion. But Nicodemus needed Jesus because Jesus showed him what it is to be authentically human, what it is to get past the uptightness and the insecurity of ordinary life. Nicodemus needed Jesus the Son of Man.
The New Testament uses the title "Son of Man" in several different ways when it applies it to Jesus. But one of the key things this title says to us is that this Jesus is authentically human, that He is as much like us as He is unlike us. As this morning we celebrated His strength as Son of God, providing power and lifting up crystal clear standards and directions, now this evening we celebrate His apparent weakness as Son of Man.