“All people have sinned and are not good enough for God’s glory. People are made right with God by His grace, which is a free gift.”
Romans 3:23, 24
The Everyday Bible
“How God treats “high and mighty” sinners.”
“Now there was a certain man among the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler, a leader, an authority among the Jews.”
John 3: 1
The Amplified Bible
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” C.S. Lewis
If I had lived when Jesus was on earth, would I have had the faith to “believe” He was who He said He was – “the Son of God?”
“Believe” – To accept as true and real. To have confidence in the truth, value, and existence of someone.
“If to believe in Jesus was (woman’s) first duty, not to believe in Him was (woman’s) chief sin.”
He was an honored ruler. A respected man. Looked upon with admiration by the ruling body of the Jews – the Sanhedrin. As a Pharisee, it is likely Nicodemus was highly educated and had wealth to spare.
When we first meet him, he had requested a meeting with Jesus – an appointment. But there was one catch. This wasn’t to be a visit during working hours. Nor was Jesus to show-up at Nicodemus’ place of business. This powerful and wealthy man requested a meeting by night in a secret location. In the book of John we are told this Pharisee came to Jesus at night with this well-thought-out opening statement: “Rabbi, we know and are certain that You have come from God as a Teacher; for no one can do these signs (these wonderworks, these miracles – and produce the proofs) that You do unless God is with Him” (John 3: 1-2, Amplified).
Let’s take a break here to look at a couple of interesting details in this story. First, Nicodemus obviously didn’t want his buddies on the Sanhedrin aware that he knew Jesus and had an interest in Him, let alone that he had asked for an audience with Jesus. It would have been easy for Jesus to say to Nicodemus, this “high and mighty ruler,” “Come to one of My teaching sessions. Jesus could easily have said, “Nicodemus, you know where to find Me in the day. If you don’t want to be seen with Me, perhaps you need to rethink visiting Me.” But this isn’t how Jesus treats sinners. He’ll go anywhere – anytime – anyplace to bring back one of His lost kids. And in the case of Nicodemus, if it meant going out to some secret location late at night, fine with Jesus. The Son of God wasn’t too proud to meet a haughty human under the cover of darkness in an out-of-the-way location. But there’s even more.
When Nicodemus began his introductory speech to Jesus, if he thought his words would flatter Jesus, he really didn’t know who he was dealing with. First of all Nicodemus called Jesus, “Rabbi,” a term of respect. Good boy! Nice way to pick up a few brownie points. Then he made a big boo-boo. Nicodemus said, “You have come from God as a teacher!” Why? Nicodemus continued, “It’s because of Your wonderworks, these miracles.” Nicodemus was treating Jesus as though He were some circus act that had just ridden into town to entertain unbelieving hearts like his. Jesus was a big, beautiful magic act that had caught the eye of this rich and powerful person. To Nicodemus, Jesus wasn’t “God with us” who came to earth to redeem unbelieving hearts because He is our Saviour, our only hope! In his own words Nicodemus told Jesus that “God must be with Him.” No admission that You are God’s Son. No belief from this unbeliever.
So what did Jesus do? Walk away? Kick the dust off His sandals? No! Jesus reached into this high and mighty, unbelievers’ world and laid out a simple message, so direct and so honest that like an arrow of steel, it pierced the shield that Nicodemus had built around his heart.
While we focus on the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, “You must be born again,” it is a few verses later when Jesus confronts this intelligent, learned man with a simple message, so often presented to unbelieving hearts. For it was to Nicodemus, the high and mighty, that Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3: 16, K.J.V.). Jesus looked at Nicodemus, and said, “Don’t flatter me by calling me, Rabbi. I am who I am –the Son of God.” It was the plain truth an unbelieving man needed to hear. It is the only truth that saves the lowly and poor as well as the rich and mighty. And it was this truth that melted the heart of a Jewish Pharisee and led him to Golgotha’s Hill on a Friday afternoon “bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes” and with hands of love, helped his friend, Joseph of Arimethea, remove the body of His beloved Teacher, now His beloved Saviour, to the grave that held the body of the Man who boldly confronted Nicodemus’ unbelief with the truth.
“Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false...If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that God exists.”
This past weekend, I was talking with someone whom I have known for many years. He has a brilliant mind. A thoughtful mind. A questioning mind. Respected in his field of expertise, he is admired and lauded. Perhaps too much for his own good, for he has never been able to accept that someone as “common and lowly as Jesus” could be who He said He was. However, this gentleman, who as we spoke, admitted that because of his age and health is feeling his own mortality, began to give me the tiniest hint that somewhere, someway, he may be pondering the thought that holding onto a belief in Jesus in the face of impending death may not be the worst thing in this world for a skeptic to do.
This is why I have chosen for our affirmation today a thought-provoking poem written by author Kathy Galloway who is a member of the Iona Community in Scotland. In the hymn, The Old Rugged Cross, George Bernard writes: “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.” I invite you to think about this favorite hymn as you read the following poem.
Clinging to the Cross
“When you’re in the sea
and it’s very dark
and very stormy
and very cold
and actually you think you’re drowning
and you’re very scared
and you see a piece of wood
drifting by in the middle distance
You don’t hang around to ask questions
or to speculate about how it got there
and who sent it.
You just swim as hard as you can towards it
and you grab it
and cling on for dear life.
In the back of your mind you know
it’s not a boat
and it will not give you
You’re still at the mercy of the flood tide
and whether you like it or not
you’re going where it takes you.
But to be honest
You don’t care.
You just want not to drown
and the wood offers hope
a bit of respite for your aching arms and back
a feeling of not being completely abandoned
something solid to hold on to in the
midst of all this insubstantial water and dark and wind
and stop you panicking.
A way to give yourself up to the sea.
I haven’t reached dry land yet
but I’m in sight of the shore.
The piece of wood is still with me
and it’s funny
but I’ve got to kind of like being
in the water.
Of course, it’s easier to say that
when you can see land!”
Talking to the Bones
Dorothy Valcarcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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