These Days of Dry Bones — Part Two of Nicodemus’ Story (Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to Calvary}, Day 3)

{If you missed the beginning of Nicodemus’ story, I would love for you to catch up and read part one. Today’s narrative is based on the events of the second chapter in the book of John.}_______________________________________________________________

“Nicodemus, what are you still doing here? I thought you were going to the temple this morning.” My wife comes into the house, already back from her trip to the market. She sits her overflowing basket onto the floor.

“Rachel, dear wife – have you left anything in the market for the rest of Jerusalem?”

She laughs and shakes her head. “Who knows how many relatives are going to show up this year to stay with us? The cleaning is nearly done, but I have to start preparing for the meal now before all of Israel fills our streets.”

Pesach. She is right. Time is passing quickly by and the days of Passover are close…once again, we will remember the days of old. We will remember our escape from Egypt. We will remember the miracles of God. We will remember the days of His glory in our midst.

Rachel crosses the room and puts her hands over mine, kneels so that we are face to face. “I know you have felt unwell, but I do think you should take that trip over to the temple. I think a walk will do you a great deal of good. Perhaps the fresh air will help you to finally have a restful night’s sleep.”

“Perhaps,” I say. But I cannot bear the thought of passing the beggars in the streets. I cannot bear the unrest in my soul when I cross into the temple courts. It was not so long ago that I found my greatest satisfaction there where my name is known, where I fulfilled my duty to God – but that day by the Jordan pierced my contentment. And now – the Baptizer sits in jail, taken in by Herod so that he can no longer declare the sin of our Roman ruler’s marriage to the people.

If John no longer calls out the Word of the Lord in the wilderness, where can I hear the voice of God? And will he remain in prison – because our High Priest fears provoking Herod’s anger – while we celebrate our festival of deliverance? We will remember the presence of the Great I Am in the lives of our fathers – but will we pray for Him to be among us now?

Without warning, the cry of Habakkuk springs from my heart – Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

Yes, it is mercy that I need.

“Besides – you are missing the talk of the town while you are cooped up in this house. “ The tone in Rachel’s voice shifts, gentleness giving way to urgency. “And – I think it is something you need to talk to the others about. Because I couldn’t get many details -”

“News of the Baptizer?” I lean forward, suddenly energized.

“No – not exactly. But there is news of one he baptized before Herod captured him. A Galilean man.” She squeezes my hands. “Perhaps it is just market-gossip, but people are saying that he is a prophet of God. They are saying he is a prophet with the power to heal.”

I stand to my feet, pulling her up with me. “His name?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll go,” I say. “If there is anyone gaining attention like this, Simon and the others will know.”

******************************************

The morning sun is warm as I lift my face to the sky. With the Passover comes spring and the first blossoms on the fruit trees. The times of the rain are passed, the time of the songbird has arrived…this is the change of season. How ready I am for new life.

I stop for a few moments, putting alms into the hands of the blind and lame, but I do not linger because this does not feel like enough. How can a few coins help someone who cannot see? How can I give these people any hope?

My wife’s words ring in my ears – a prophet with the power to heal – and I enter into the temple courts in anticipation.

The courts are, indeed, full today. There is a steady sound of conversation and the lowing of cattle waiting to be sold. I overhear a complaint – “the first dove was blemished, and he charged me twice as much for the second!”. Turning, I try to figure out who had been treated so poorly in their attempt to make a sacrifice, but they are lost in the bustle.

I glance around – there is Simon, one who prides himself on knowing everything there is to know. I eagerly beckon to him.

His grin is broad as he bypasses a sheep running from its new owner and comes to my side. “I am glad to see you are better, my friend!”

“Yes, thank you, I am much better today. How did you know I was ill?”

“The same way I hear most things. My wife heard from your wife that you were suffering some ailment.”

The beating of my heart is louder than even the chatter around us, isn’t it?  “Perhaps, then, you will know about this news my Rachel spoke of today. Perhaps she heard it from your wife.”

“The so-called prophet?” Simon’s eyebrows are raised high. “My Rebekah will not stop talking about him. She has never laid eyes on him, but the cousins of our servants sent word from Cana that he can turn water to wine and give sight to the blind. From all the stories they fill her head with, she will soon think the man can raise the dead!”

“Is it true?” I ask, a vision of the Baptizer in my mind – after me comes One who is more powerful than I…could this be the One he spoke of? “Who is he?” I ask, but my words are drowned out by sudden shouts of indignation.

Simon’s eyes are no longer on me. “Who is that?” he asks. “What is He doing?”

I turn to look – there, in the middle of a pack of running cows and sheep, stands a man with a whip in His hands and – even from here I can see it – fire in His eyes. We are shocked into stillness and silence as He drives the animals out of the courts. Their owners, protests pouring out, have no choice but to run after the animals. The man strides to the money-changers, looks at them as they stare up at Him with mouths hanging open. Without a word, in a swift motion, He takes their gold coins and throws them with a clatter onto the floor – He reaches back to the tables and sends them crashing to the ground. The nearby merchants draw back with their doves – He turns to them and speaks. “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

At the sound of His voice – at those words – I don’t know how I am so certain, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is the man from Galilee.

The money-changers are on hands and knees, picking up their coins. Those men with the doves are leaving without complaint. The noise of the people has ceased. All eyes are on Him.

And there is one of our own, fury in his eyes, stepping around the overturned tables to approach this man. Simon grabs my elbow and pulls me along as others draw closer – I see Annas, indignation clear on his face, among the crowd.

“What sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do all this?” It is Annas who speaks out – our former High Priest’s voice is still strong, despite his age.

The man is bold; He looks directly at Annas. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Despite the tension of the moment, a muted chuckle rises from the crowd.

One of the priests calls out to Him, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days?”

Simon looks at me and shakes his head. “Does this man not fear the power of our council? Is he threatening our temple?”

“He is not afraid of anyone in this temple,” I say to Simon. That much is clear. “Can’t you see that there is no fear in that man? But I don’t know what He means.” I don’t know what it is He really saying – but I want to find out. He called this temple His Father’s house – and defended this place with authority in His voice. I have never seen – or heard – anything like this before.

But when I turn my head back to the center of the crowd, I no longer see Him standing there. I just see Annas and the rest of our people, with confusion in their expressions. As they begin to point at the mess and criticize the stranger’s words, the confusion becomes anger. Simon joins in the conversation and I slip away. I want to know this Galilean who so boldly cleansed the temple of our unrighteous ways.

*****************************

Rachel was right – the streets are quickly become congested with visitors and vendors preparing for the Festival. I stop the first person I see – “Do you know where the man from Galilee is?”

“You mean Jesus?” the old woman smiles. “Follow the crowd. They will find Him.”

Jesus.

Is this what hope feels like?

I press into the throng of people and, yes, they are looking for Him. I am shoulder to shoulder with the poor, with the sick, with the forgotten. I think of the words we will soon say over the Passover meal – Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come…

There, there He is. I hang back as all of these men and women, their children, approach Him. He listens to every word that they say. He bends His ear to the bent and lowly. He meets their outstretched arms.

I see a man with a useless leg drag himself closer. Was this the lame man I offered alms such a short time ago?  I had no hope for him – but Jesus touches him and I see the leg straighten and become as it should be. I see the man touch his leg in astonishment and watch as he leaps through the air, landing firmly on both feet. “Glory be to God!” he exclaims.

Glory.  I cannot help myself. I move closer.

I watch a blind child placed at His feet. I see His touch, though I can’t hear His words from here, and I see the child’s unfocused eyes brighten. The child’s jubilant laughter is matched with His own.

Oh, these glad shouts of those who before carried sorrow heavy on their shoulders – isn’t this the sound of deliverance?

This – this is the impossible happening right before my eyes and, indeed, I stand in awe…

Who can this be but One from God? Is this the beginning of a new season for our people? Is this what the Kingdom of God looks like?

I can’t trust my legs to take me any closer, but I watch and I wonder – if He can heal bodies, can He bring new life to my dry and weary heart? Can He change even me?

With my eyes filled with tears, I finish the Passover words and I begin to believe them:

This year we are slaves; next year we will be free people.

____________________________________________________________________

Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for He knew what was in each person. -John 2:23-25

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