(Welcome to the third (and final) part of Nicodemus’ story…this portion is based on John 3:1-21. This time spent imagining the perspective of Nicodemus has reminded me of how amazing it is that God came to us when we could not reach Him. Before we realized how desperate we were for His Presence – while we were yet sinners – He came to be our Way back to Him.)
“We will monitor His actions and make sure He is controlled,” Caiaphas is saying as I step into the circle of Sanhedrin members gathered around him. “The last thing we need is the threat of an uprising against Rome – we must not let this Galilean incite the people into rebellion. We cannot chance losing control over our own affairs.”
This conversation is a far different one than I had with my Rachel last night – we talked well into the night about the wonders I had witnessed, hope leaping in our hearts. It was not rebellion on our minds, but restoration.
But these men nod their agreement with the High Priest.
“What if,” I hear myself saying, “it is a good thing? What if He is the one who can free us from Rome’s authority?” It is a vision of glory – Israel crowned among the nations, all men walking together in peace. And – at last – our God as King, His glory surrounding us.
“Many have tried and failed to make Jerusalem our own again. What makes you think this man could succeed?” Annas eyes are narrowed, like he tries to peer into my mind.
“I know you are hearing the reports – and I have seen it for myself. He is no ordinary man. He touches people and they are healed of their ailments – “I cannot hold in my excitement. “Men! Don’t you see? Perhaps we have been waiting for this man, for this moment of time!”
“Look into it! He is the son of a carpenter – from Galilee of all places!” Benjamin looks at me with pity in his eyes. “Nicodemus, how can one so wise be tricked by one such as Jesus? Haven’t we seen these ‘healings’ before? He pays the poor to bring him their fake injuries and illnesses – it is not too hard to give sight to someone who can already see, now is it?”
I shake my head. “No, friend. This was no deceitful ploy. These crippled men were the same beggars I passed –“
“Enough!” Caiaphas’ face is strangely red, his hands gripped together. “He insulted the temple of God. He showed blatant disrespect to all of us. Not one more word shall be spoken in this place to imply that this Nazarene could be the Anointed One!”
“We are waiting for the King of Israel,” Annas says, “and not for a carpenter. I say this is the Baptizer’s doing. John has already caused us enough trouble with Herod and it is clear he has sent this man in his stead to provoke the people. We will not give him more attention than he deserves. No one on this council is to speak in favor of him or the people will surely take note.”
Everything within me wants to protest, to ask how they can be so quick to pass the final word of judgment – do they not want things to change? could they not see that He did not insult the temple but defended it? – but every other man here nods agreement, their expressions grim and their wills resolute.
And I am filled with fear for all of us – if we are sent a new Word from God, will we be able to hear it? If we are sent One who baptizes with Spirit and fire, will we welcome him?
The ax is already at the root of the trees, John said, and the warning pounds in my head, twists in my gut.
Our fathers saw the Glory of God and begged to go back to their chains in Egypt…they died in the desert from lack of courage to enter into the Promises of God.
Oh, keep it far from me, my God – these dry bones crumbling in this desert of our own making. But if it is as John said – if the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, how will I find my way there? How can my unclean lips and this heavy heart come into Your Presence?
“They do not want us to be involved with him,” I say to my wife as she places two cups of tea on the table. I pick up one cup and stare into it. “If the people continue to be stirred up over him, they will try to stop him.”
She stares at me from across the table, her always-lovely dark eyes open wide. “They will stop him from helping our people? Why?”
“Caiaphas and the others – they do not believe that he could be the Messiah. They dismiss the healings as deceptions. They say that a carpenter from Nazareth is no king of Israel.” I put down the tea without tasting it and push away the bread. I have no appetite.
Rachel takes the bread and breaks off a piece of it. She looks back up at me and shrugs. “That is what they say. But what do you say?”
I think, again, of the way He drove out the merchants and stood up against the moneychangers. I think of His mysterious, fearless words. I think of His laughter as the lame danced and the mute began to sing out praise to God. I think of the fire in His eyes.
“I don’t know if He is King of Israel,” I say, “but He is not just a carpenter. And they may say He is from Nazareth – but how can such miracles be done unless He is from God?”
The moonlight streaming into the room only makes it more difficult to sleep. I turn, again, and Rachel sits up.
With a swift movement, a candle is lit in her hands. In the flickering light, I see tears in her eyes. “If what you say – if what you feel is true – then it will be far worse to not believe in Him than to deal with the anger of the council.”
My heart feels like it is taking up all the room in my chest, leaving no room for a deep breath. My palms are slick with sweat. “He may be gone already. Now that the Festival is over, many are leaving. And if anyone sees me – if anyone knows that I have sought Him out – ”
“Then what? What will they do?”
I sit up, wholly awake. “I don’t know. And maybe it doesn’t matter.” I think of Moses catching sight of that bush ablaze with a fire that did not consume and drawing near to it. I think of his prayer and it becomes my own – Show me Your glory. “There is much that I desire – and I desire it more than the approval of those men.”
Rachel leans her forehead against mine. “You will go – but make the journey carefully, early in the morning. If the council does have men watching him, they may try to stop you from reaching Him.”
The moon catches my attention again and I do not lie back against the pillows. I get up and reach for my robes. “I am going now.” She is right – I must reach Him. I will not risk missing this chance.
The streets are empty and still but for the braying of a donkey in the distance. The scent of smoke floats with the wind.
I approach the road where I last saw Him – the rumors flying through the market assured Rachel that He and His disciples were staying in a house along this way.
But it seems I will not have to search for Him, for He has found me.
Face to face, under the moonlight, I can breathe again. He smiles and I feel no trepidation, no worry that He will turn me away. I am welcome here. This man that I have never before me – He knows me. So it without hesitation that I say – “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
He looks into my eyes and replies, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
It is like He sees straight into the desires of my heart. The Kingdom – this is what I long to see. This is where I want to be, in His Presence. But born again? Yes, these bones – they need new life – I need new life – but how is it possible? Is it, in fact, too late for me to enter into His Kingdom? “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
He answers, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” I ache to understand His words. I ache to know of this birth and His Spirit.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” says Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
My ears feel like they are hearing for the first time, my eyes open to a light like no other – everything, everything within me is wholly listening to these words – yes, even the very Word of God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
Oh, I cannot stay here on this border of fear and unbelief – for over it is the Promise of God.
Long enough, we have lived through these days of dry bones – long enough, we have wandered in our own power without His Presence to lead us. Long enough, we have neglected the cause of mercy. Long enough, we have been content with our own wisdom instead of hearing the Word from our God.
And no sacrifice has taken the weight of guilt from my heart for my sin, for the way I can never measure up to the law – but His words offer a way to freedom. His words offer salvation from condemnation. Here, in the presence of Jesus – this man from Nazareth and yet from God – I feel the fire of God’s glory and the song of His mercy. No, my hope will not be disappointed. For at last our God has come to us again, at last our Deliverer’s mighty arm is extended to His people. He loves us – we are a people beloved of God, a world given the gift of His life.
Who can stand on such holy ground?
Spirit, blow over us. Blow over me, make me new like one born again, like one made new. Write Your Word on my heart, teach me to know You – to walk with You, to honor You in all my ways.
On the outside, I remain the same –
But inside, abundant life flows.
PS – Watch the video below to find out who will receive The Day I Met Jesus, by Frank Viola and Mary Demuth! I do love sharing encouraging books, so this will not be our last giveaway! I used the tried-and-true names-in-a-basket method and an awesome assistant to pick out the winner…:)