Sunday, March 09, 2003

Jesus One on One

In this series, I will examine Jesus' encounters with individuals and what they reveal. To begin, I ask you to please think of the person you know best. How would you tell someone else what your friend was like? Would a simple history be enough? Is his or her public persona reflective of the private person? Would you want people to know your friend better? Through one on one encounters, the gospels round out our knowledge of Jesus and let us know his transparency. By them we come to understand that we can and should know Him better.

Now answer these questions. What are the chances of your meeting your U.S. congressman, senator, or president? What are the chances of them remembering you if you ever met them again? What are the chances of your meeting the King of the Universe and His remembering you? Within human relationships, the higher up the scale you get, the more distant the relationship becomes. But at the top, it is somehow intimate. This reflects the greatness of our God. As it says in the Psalms:

He heals the brokenhearted, and bandages their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; he names all of them. Our sovereign Master is great and has awesome power; there is no limit to his wisdom. (Psalm 147:3-5, Net Bible)

Notice how the scope of this psalm moves from up close and personal -- "He Heals the brokenhearted" -- to far away -- "He counts the number of the stars." Since "there is no limit to his wisdom" our God's greatness makes Him close by all the time. So it is no wonder that Jesus spent time with individuals. 

In this series I want to look at:

  1. The Jewish leader who came to Jesus in the dark and left in the light.
  2. The woman who came to draw water and returned refreshed and full.
  3. The rich young man who balked at a futures investment strategy of great return.
  4. The fisherman who got caught in his own net and became a shepherd.
  5. The woman who found the reward of love's guided choices.

My strategy for each of these segments is to briefly cover each situation, examine their common themes and note important differences, and relate them to life today.

The Jewish leader who came to Jesus in the dark and left in the light.

John records the story of Nicodemus in his gospel:

Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus replied, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things? I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I have told you people about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? (John 3:1-12)

This passage is so common that many of us miss its extraordinary beginning. Nicodemus makes a comment, "Rabbi, we know..." and Jesus answers an unasked question, "Unless a person is born from above..." What is clear from this is that Jesus is interested in moving Nicodemus into a relationship with the Lord that comes from being "born from above" or the more commonly known "born again." Nicodemus comes from the Jewish sect of the Pharisees. Jesus would later say of them:

“But I have a testimony greater than that from John. For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete—the deeds I am now doing—testify about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me. You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent. You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. (John 5:36-40) 

But Nicodemus was different. He saw the "deeds that the Father assigned" to Jesus and he came to Jesus so that he could "have life." Being born from above is an activity of the Holy Spirit, enabled by faith in the Son of God (John 3:16). There is a mystery here. The paths and ways of the Holy Spirit are only indirectly perceived, like the wind blowing through trees. Nevertheless, the process is one of energy and regeneration. I am here reminded of Genesis 1:2 and the Spirit of God brooding over the surface of the waters. People are born from above and we see them change. By this change we see or perceive the activity of the Holy Spirit.

The good news for us is that John makes it clear that Nicodemus believed Jesus' words and found life.

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of the rulers, said, “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” They replied, “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” (John 7:50-52)

After this Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish authorities), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away. Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, accompanied Joseph, carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs. Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried. So because it was the Jewish day of preparation and the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus’ body there. Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance. (John 19:38-20:1)

It was hard for Nicodemus to be public with his faith right away. His associates vigorously opposed Jesus and His followers. He and Joseph were secret believers. None of the gospels or letters say, but I imagine that, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the new power that He brought to believers, Nicodemus was not always a closet believer. Perhaps he was among the 120 in the upper room that day when the age of the New Covenant dawned.

Sometimes it can be hard for us, as new believers, to tell our friends about this new thing in our lives. To this I advise you to ask the Father to fill you with the Holy Spirit. That is what made the real difference in the disciples. Jesus told them that they would "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses." It can be the same with you. Not only will you have new boldness, but there is a good chance that you will find your words effective as well.

Tomorrow: The woman who came to draw water and returned refreshed and full.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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