Nicodemus Speaks

Nicodemus Speaks

(There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.” from John 3:1-17)

I think the worst thing about who I had become was that I had forgotten how to laugh at myself.  In fact, I had forgotten how to laugh at all…I starting taking everything, including myself, way too seriously.  I was so focused on keeping myself out of hell that I had no joy in my life anymore.  And I had surrounded myself with other people who were just like that, too.  Everything was negative, negative, negative. It was all about smug self-importance.   It was like a mass incidence of obsessiveness had over-taken all of us in my social circle of Pharisees. My life had become this oppressive holiness competition.  I had become a total phony for fear that my friends would find out that I am no more righteous or wise or holy than the next guy.  I had become arrogant, defensive, judgmental, controlling…and…just plain mean.

All of that began to change one night.  You know how it is that when you hear the truth spoken, you know it? You know how it kind of connects a lot of dots…kind of invites you into a sense of peace? I don’t know how to explain how you know it for the truth that it is, but you know it when you hear it. Anyway, I had been listening carefully to what this Jesus was out there teaching.  At first I admit I was listening with the wrong kind of ear…I was listening for something he would say that I could discredit him with.  I mean, for heaven’s sake, all of my own disciples were jumping ship and chasing after that guy.  I was watching everything I’d worked my whole life to gain run over to the guy who was contradicting everything I’d been teaching. The crazy thing is that the more I listened, the more what he was saying made sense.  He was saying that we had it all wrong about the Law.  For us, it had become an ends unto itself.  Everything for us was about getting into heaven when we die.  Everything for Jesus was about living in God’s Kingdom right now, right here. We had all gotten so crazy about keeping the Law in all of its minutiae that we had lost relationship with the living Lord and were just relating to the Law as if it was all there was of God to relate to.   And he was doing these amazing signs and wonders that no one could refute.  They could only have come from God.  They were Elijah’s miracles…really crazy stuff.

So one night I snuck over to talk to Jesus face-to-face.  Man, if anyone from my sect had found out I’d done that, they’d have had me stoned for blasphemy…well, maybe not stoned…but certainly I would have been stripped of my position.  But I couldn’t help myself.  I went to see Jesus after I was sure that the other Pharisees had gone to sleep.  We had the most amazing conversation.  I don’t remember everything he said, and a lot of what he said didn’t make any sense until yesterday when they…we…crucified him.  But what I do remember is that he put me back in touch with my own soul.  He reminded me that I am not a brain or a body.  I am a soul…something that you can’t touch or see or smell.  And he told me that in order to understand what he was teaching about the Kingdom of God being present now that I would have to be reborn of God in my spirit.  I would need spiritual eyes that the Law could never give me.  Only God’s living Spirit could make me see the unseen.  Jesus reminded me that the most important things in the world are things that you can’t see…that are things not of this world at all, but born from above.

Jesus didn’t miss the opportunity to rub my foolishness and arrogance in a little. “What? You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t even know the basics?”, he said.  That stung.  But I needed to hear it.  I had lost my humility and I needed to be humbled in order to get it back.  He told me how to experience what so many other people were experiencing.  In doing so, he taught me how to live.  He gave me my joy back.  It didn’t sink in right away…I left not really understanding what he was saying.  But I understand it now, and I am alive in a way that I haven’t been alive in very, very long time.  In order to find my authentic life, I had to lose the phony life that I had constructed. I had to give up my life in order to find Kingdom life.

A few days after I met with Jesus, I asked one of my disciples to hear my confession.  The Pharisees would have flipped if they knew that I had done that.  Jesus taught that we should let no one call us “teacher” or “father” because we all have one teacher and one Father in heaven. And he taught us to confess our sins to one another.  So I needed to humble myself.  I got down on my knees in front of this bewildered student and poured my heart out.  I came clean about everything.  I had made a mess of things and in the process had become someone even I couldn’t stand to be around.  I had tried to control my own destiny rather than turning the reins of my life…ALL of my life…over to the King.  I cried like a baby over the mess I had made.  Like a baby…reborn anew…a baby…from above.  I prayed that God would open my eyes to see his present Kingdom at work in this world.  I felt the weight of the world literally be lifted from me.  And I was filled with a joy that I have never known.  And so many unseen things began to be clear to me.  I was reborn…of fire…and the Holy Spirit.  It was not of my own doing.  I had just gotten done telling God what an idiot I am.  It was all God’s doing.  Keeping every aspect of the Law had nothing to do with it.  It just happened…maybe because God wanted it to happen.

And now he’s dead.  But I also know that he’s not dead.  I know it because he told me that night that these events had to happen.  Remember, I told you that I didn’t understand then everything he told me?  He said, “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.”

Lifted up.  Don’t you see? The cross! Lifted up on the cross.  Oh no, my friend.  This story is by no means over.  Just wait.  God is about to do something totally awesome…God is about to change everything. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.  Jesus told his disciples that he would return to them…that the ruler of this world had no power over him.  Don’t you get it? Death rules this world.  And death has no power over him.  In the same way that I believe in what Jesus told me and I now know it to be true, I now believe in Jesus…that he is exactly who he said he is – the Messiah, the very Son of God.  Keep your eyes and ears open, my friend.  God is about to do something that’s never been done before that tops all of those miracles Jesus was doing put together.  I can’t see it yet, but I know it. Wait…..and watch.

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