Whenever you’ve read about Nicodemus and his famous question, what has been your reaction to it? It sounds like a pretty dumb question doesn’t it—can one enter a second time into a mother’s womb and be born?
As for me, I put on my stern English-teacher face and start telling Nicodemus about figures of speech and metaphor. In my contempt, I imagine “Nobody ever named a church after him! St. Nicodemus? No way.” But just for fun I googled St. Nicodemus church—and to my astonishment, I found some. Well, they weren’t Episcopal, but they made me think I should give Nicodemus another look.
He was a Pharisee, a leader among the Jews, and you all know that they weren’t generally open to Jesus’ ideas, to say the least. So that explains why Nicodemus, who was getting interested in this preacher Jesus, came to him at night. He wanted to make sure none of his Pharisee friends would see him! And Jesus gave him the most remarkable sermon ever, right there in the dark of night. He challenged him, and ultimately offered him eternal life.
It was impossible that this would not change Nicodemus’s life. He may have left in the night to return to his life, but something happened. Later in John’s Gospel, we find that in a discussion when the Pharisees were criticizing Jesus, saying things like “no prophet is to arise from Galilee,” Nicodemus gave Jesus a defense. He said, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” It may not sound like the most passionate defense, but in that context, it was brave, and it showed that Jesus had awakened something in him.
Still later, after Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus came to the burial site Joseph of Arimathea was preparing, and he donated a hundred pounds of spices for embalming the body. So we can see that Nicodemus was changed. Nicodemus had seen a light and was willing to show his transformation to others.
It’s important that Nicodemus first came to ask his question during the night, in the dark. We can see that although he didn’t show it during that conversation, Nicodemus was about to change. Understanding something new, waking up to the truth, is like stepping from darkness into light, and we are all invited to do so.
Jesus uses the expression “born again,” and that has been quoted and popularized—often misused—in our society. But what happens when you are born? For the first time you emerge into the light. Being born into faith and trust in Jesus is like flooding your world with light and understanding.
And what do we understand when we are born again into the world Jesus offers? It is the most transforming experience available to us people! We learn that Jesus has brought more than healings and challenging preaching, but a relief from the fears we all have about where our lives will end, and what form the judgment we deserve will take, and what our creator God has in store for us.
So what about us today? We’re a little like Nicodemus, always questing for a little more of that light. We got up and headed for church, in spite of the time change, because we have a chance of another glimmer of the truth of our Christian faith in our traditional service of worship and in the readings of our beloved Scripture. And today we were truly rewarded because we read verse 16. It’s a sermon in itself, the essence of our faith. Luther called it “the Gospel in a nutshell.” Let us never become indifferent to the world-changing truth:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”