PASTOR’S POST: Next Stop on the Lenten Journey: Nicodemus – 2nd Sunday in Lent – March 12, 2017

Dear friends in Christ:

Our Lenten journey continues this Sunday, as we make our way with Jesus toward the decisive events of Holy Week. This Sunday John the Evangelist permits us to eavesdrop on a midnight conversation between a Pharisee named Nicodemus and Jesus.

The conversation is only revealed to us in the third chapter of John’s Gospel. Oddly, even though it is the year of Matthew, for the next five Sundays the Gospel is read from John.

The conversation happens at night. We aren’t told why. Maybe Nicodemus wanted some private time with Jesus. Maybe he was afraid that his fellow Pharisees and Sadducees would think him a traitor to their cause, which in a way he is.  Maybe it was the only time Jesus was available.

As always the context is important. Just before, in chapter 2, John tells of Jesus “cleansing the temple.” That’s a misnomer really. It’s not that the temple was dirty. What Jesus was doing was casting out the people and the practice of trying to put a barrier between God and all His people that required the exchange of money, excluding the poor. John 3:16 tells us why: “For God so loved the world!”

Nicodemus was doubtless a decent man; highly respected, well versed in God’s Law. He was a spiritual elite. He doesn’t get that God so loved “the world.” He knows that Jesus is a teacher come from God. Well and good. But when Jesus tells him he must be born again of water and the Spirit, he becomes hopelessly confused.

The Lutheran Confessions say that by our reason and free will we are able to live an outwardly decent life to a certain extent, but only the Holy Spirit causes a person to be born anew and have inwardly a whole new heart and mind.

The very last words we hear from Nicodemus in the whole Bible are a question: “How can these things be?” Indeed, how can these things be? The response Jesus gave Nicodemus that night He gave to us all.  We too must be born again, and that is possible because, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is Jesus telling Nicodemus and all who hear or read these words that these things can be only because He must be “lifted up,” a technical term for “be crucified.”

Jesus tells Nicodemus (and us) that His mission and purpose is to offer Himself in death on the cross that we might have life in His name. Eternal life comes only by way of His suffering and death. And the question is: is that what you believe, really?

We live in a world that wants easy answers. Just this week someone asked me, “Why can’t the Bible and our faith be simple?” In one sense it is as simple as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.”

But on the other hand what is so simple about the depth of God’s love for us?  That God’s own Son should suffer and die so that those who believe might have life is not really a simple thing. It is rather an extraordinary mystery.  As we gather for worship in Lent we focus on the solemn mystery of what God has given.

God’s blessings!

Pastor Joe Hughes
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