John chapter 3, verses 14-31
Nicodemus was a leading Pharisee, a man of rank and power within the Jewish community. He walked swiftly through the city gate and took the road that led toward the Mount of Olives. It was a dark night, cloudy with a new moon. Nicodemus hoped that he would continue to pass unrecognized. He had a three-mile walk in front of him. He was going to the village of Bethany and, more specifically, to the home of Lazarus, a wealthy citizen of that community.
He preferred to move in secrecy because it was common knowledge that Jesus of Nazareth was staying with Lazarus and his two sisters and there would be much troublesome gossip were it to become known that he, the learned and respected Nicodemus, was seeking an interview with the Galilean wonder worker; for this was precisely why he had forsaken the comfort of his own hearth and home for the unknown dangers of the night. He desperately wanted to speak with Jesus.
Picture the scene that was about to follow. Lazarus, Martha and Mary after a polite interlude, leaving the Master to sit quietly with the learned Pharisee. The interview is briefly summarized in John’s Gospel but it probably went on for several hours. It was a discussion of profound mysteries that left a lasting impression on Nicodemus. Little did he know that in two years time, almost to the day, he and his old friend Joseph from Arimathea would together gently lower this man’s body from a blood soaked cross just a couple of miles from where they now sat.
As the dim light of an oil lamp played on their faces, Nicodemus listened intently as Jesus foretold His ultimate giving of self and how His death would bring life to the world.
“The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”
The imagery of Moses and the serpent was clear to Nicodemus who knew well the event described in the Book of Numbers: “Moses, in obedience to God’s Word, made a bronze serpent and mounted it upon a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he or she recovered.”
Jesus too would be lifted upon a standard and anyone meeting His gaze with openness and generosity would be saved from confusion and error, from arrogance, pride and selfishness and would discover the meaning and the significance of their own existence.
John, looking back on the scene, as probably described to him by Nicodemus himself, added his own reflections; reflections that were the precious fruit of years of meditation. The thought of Nicodemus coming out of the night to find the true light recalls his favourite image. That of the coming of Jesus the Christ as a light into a darkened world that God so loved that He sent His only Son to teach in the strongest possible terms that we must all live for others.
Nicodemus first came to see Him under the cover of darkness but came at last to serve Him fearlessly and proudly in the light and as he grew in love, faith and understanding he himself became less the focal point of life and Jesus and mankind grew larger and more dominant.
In the spirit of John and Nicodemus, let us love, not just in word but in deed and in truth…in Jesus Christ, the man for others.