Why does Nicodemus come to Jesus at night?
Fear of what people might say? An expert in Jewish law,going to this uneducated teacher.
Did he secretly long to be a follower of Jesus? Hedging his bets, maybe he just wanted to check out this fellow who was causing such a stir.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. And not just any Pharisee, but “a ruler”, a member of the Sanhedrin who served within the Jewish community to settle issues of religious law and interpretation. These were the leading figures of the faith of Israel, at the center of the religious and social life of the community. As has been the case in the history of religious institutions, the Sanhedrin gained a reputation for being conservative, sticklers for tradition. The gospel writer of John is particularly harsh in his criticism of the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, claiming that they failed to live up to the standards they set for others.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, comes to Jesus at night.
“Teacher,” he says, “we know you come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”
Truly, truly,” Jesus answers.” I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The first thing that struck me about this story is that Jesus answers a question that hasn’t even been asked. Nicodemus doesn’t understand. “What do you mean born again? This isn’t possible. Is it?”
“Truly, truly,” Jesus answers again, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew. ‘The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” asks Nicodemus.
“Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet do not understand this?”
I think Nicodemus wants to understand. Why else would he come to Jesus in the middle of the night?
And Jesus says, “You must be born anew.”
What does this mean? Nicodemus doesn’t know, and he’s an expert.
How are we to understand this notion of being “born anew?” As Christians, we are part of a community that has proclaimed that new life is not only possible, but that it is a gift of God’s spirit through Jesus Christ. This new life does not only affect our inward, private, spiritual selves. God’s gift of new life affects our work and worship, our attitude and our behavior. From prayer to politics, from the pews to the parking lot, and out into our schools, our homes, our work places. God’s Spirit moves within and among us to create new life. Rebirth. Born anew.
There is likely no greater believer in the power of rebirth, of being born anew, than the person recovering from a drug addiction. The second step in the recovery process, after admitting to one’s powerlessness, is to “believe that a power greater than ourselves could and would restore us.”
I have a great deal of respect for persons recovering from addiction and I think we as Christians would do well to both support and learn from the stories of those who have hit “rock bottom” and found there strength and hope. But I hear the voice of Nicodemus crying out in much confusion, “How can this be?”
Yes, Nicodemus, there is new life. There is rebirth. But you’re probably not going to find it sneaking around after dark. New life comes when we step out of the shadow of sin and receive the light of Christ.
God’s spirit, like the wind, blows where it wills. We can’t control it. We can only depend on it. Open ourselves up to it. Run the risk of having our lives changed by it.
Nicodemus lost the opportunity for a new life. His question, “How can this be?” lingers as the text goes on to describe God’s love for all the world.
There is, however, an epilogue to the story of Nicodemus. It’s found in the 19th chapter of John. Jesus has died on a cross. A Roman soldier has pierced his side with a spear.
“After this Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus and Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away his body.
Nicodemus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices…”
Nicodemus, the one who came to Jesus at night. Nicodemus, the Pharisee. Nicodemus, member of the ruling class.
Nicodemus prepares the body of Jesus for burial in the light of day.