Nervous Nicodemus

In response to a recent questionnaire, some Cof E schoolchildren made the following responses:-

Solomon had 500 wives and 500 porcupines.

The Romans were called Romans because they never stayed in one place very long.

Noah's wife was called Joan of Ark.

The fifth commandment is: Humour thy father and mother.

Mary , the mother of Jesus sang the Magna Carta.

Salome was a woman who danced naked in front of Harrods.

And finally

Christians can have only one wife. It is called monotony.

Well I have a different kind of questionnaire for you, this morning, but first let me tell you about a man called Nicodemus, who appears in our gospel reading today.

I want to tell you about him in the form of an acrostic:-

Nervous ? :-(Nicodemus waits until night-time to ask Jesus soMe question, What was it he was nervous about? His loss of reputation?His standing in the community?He was also a member of the Sanhedrin, a council of 71 members whose job it was to deal with the religious problems of the Jewish world. He had a lot to lose if he were seen to be sympathetic with the teachings of Jesus.

Inquisitive ? was there not an honest desire in the heart of Nicodemus to get to the truth, to learn more about Jesus and his message? Did he not want answers to serious questions, unlike his fellows who were dismissing Jesus ministry, even though his miracles appeared to confirm his message.

Coward ? (was he simply a coward? afraid of approaching Jesus?

afraid of losing face? losing an argument with a very wise rabbi, like Jesus- or was he just afraid of what others would say.

Ordinary man ? ( like any other person, an honest man who was impressed by what he had seen of Jesus and the miracles he had witnessed. Also it shows that Nicodemus, was a man of integrity, it was important for him to believe in what was true. There were questions he needed to ask.

Determined ? ( at least he went; he visited Jesus, even though it was night-time. He hadn't closed his heart or even looked upon Jesus as a threat like the others had)

Educated ? (being a member of the Jewish ruling council, he was obviously a man of intelligence, a man of the scriptures, a man who worshipped in the correct, accepted and traditional way; he showed respect towards Jesus and addressed him as Rabbi. Yet Jesus simple statement that a man must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God, confused him.

'You are Israel's teacher' said Jesus, 'and do you not understand these things?)

Mediator ? (It may just be that Nicodemus was playing the part of mediator, to find some common ground between Jesus and the religious leaders, to draw them together, and settle the tension between them, perhaps he was there, just doing his best to be a peacemaker?)

Uncertain? (Nicodemus cannot work out how it is that here was a man undoubtedly sent by God, because no-one could do the things Jesus did, unless he had been sent by God. How was it then that his own people were so suspicious of him, perhaps he reasoned that he could work it out himself. He so much WANTED to understand and kept on asking, 'How?'

Secretive ? (Is it possible that Nicodemus already believed in Jesus, because of what he had already seen, but wanted to know more out of the gaze of others, before he gave himself more fully.

It is possible to be all of these ourselves in our discipleship, but what about the last one, 'secretive' is it possible to be a believer and remain secretive about our faith?

Is there such a thing as being a secret disciple of Jesus? Especially in the light of Jesus words in two other gospels:-

'If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.'

At first in our walk with Christ, it is normal to be rather quiet about our faith, shy, non-committal in a time of questioning or debate.

But there should come a time when our love for Jesus is so deep and so much part of our lives that it simply spills over in our normal everyday situations. Where are we in our walk of faith, and are we growing in it?

So let's just do a simple questionnaire , adding up to see how many a's, b's and c's we score as we go along:-

Are you ready? Keep your own score, and you'll find our how many a's, b's and c's you score.

1 You are going to a 7-00 o' clock church service on Ash Wednesday, and you are meeting a friend afterwards in the pub; they ask you to come earlier in order to get a good seat.

Do you:-

a) Tell your friend you have to do the ironing first, before you're allowed to come out, and you’ll join them later.

b) You say you will try your best to get there on time, knowing you will be late.

c) You tell them you are going to a service at church first, and you would love to join them afterwards.

2 A friend asks you, what was the best experience that ever happened to you.

Do you reply,

a) The 1966 world cup final between England and Germany, (or some other cup final if you're not that old.)

b) The day you met the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?

c) Tell them the day you discovered God was real

3 You hear someone at work say to someone else. 'Surely no person in their right mind believes in God in this day and age.

Do you

a) Agree with them and nod your head

b) Smile sheepishly and shrug your shoulders

c) Say 'Well as a matter of fact I do. What is it you want to know?

4 You bump into some friends at the back of a church. They have come to see a little nephew get baptised. They didn't expect to see you there?

How do you react?

a) Say, 'Where am I? Don't say I've been sleepwalking again?'

b) Say 'Fancy that, I'm here for the baptism too, I'm a family friend , see you later at the pub.

c) Say, 'Well actually I worship here every Sunday, it's really good and I get a lot out of it.

5 A friend who plays golf every Sunday invites you yet again to come with him for a round, you can't go because you are going to church.

a) Do you say No thanks Sunday is my only chance to have a lie in.

b) Tell him that you're going somewhere else with a friend.

c) Or do you say to him, Well I go to church on Sunday mornings, why not come with me, and we'll both play golf on the afternoon?

How did you score,

If you scored mostly a's;

You're denying your faith altogether, why? Are you like Nicodemus a secret believer, or perhaps even a 'searcher' unsure of what you believe at present. Why don't you try seeking answers to your BIGGEST questions too, in the dark of your night?

Did you score mostly b's

You're at that half way stage like Nicodemus late on in John 7 vv 50, when he attempts to defend Jesus, by standing up against the ruling council and saying, 'Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?…to which they turn on him saying, 'Are you from Galilee too? There is no reply from Nicodemus, only silence !

He is still very guarded, but is beginning to peep out of his shell; but like a snail who spies danger, he retreats immediately.

But you are heading in the right direction. Think about your commitment, what does it really mean; try to deepen your relationship with God a little more, through prayer and reading scripture.

Did you score mostly c's

You're too good to be true, confident and full of hope; thankfully a few more people will end up believing through your witness, and you're not afraid to stick your neck out for your faith.

It's interesting to note that in John 19, Nicodemus has grown bolder and he joins forces with another just like him, Joseph of Arimathea. We are told that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus but a secret one because he feared the Jews, and Nicodemus accompanies him.

Joseph provides a tomb for Jesus, Nicodemus provides the very generous gift of at least 34 kilograms of myrrh and aloes.

Together the two of them, carefully wrap the grisly remains of Jesus with the spices, according to Jewish burial customs.

From being secretive, these two believers now openly perform the last act of love upon a Saviour now dead to the world. And those disciples who accompanied Jesus and been so faithful in the daylight, are now the ones in hiding. A real turn about for the books.

At long last they go into action as public sympathisers. JUST LIKE YOU.

Well done , those who scored mostly c's

So there's hope for all those of us who may find it difficult to put our love for Jesus and our belief into words; because you see Nicodemus went through all of these stages, he was a's b's and c's throughout his life.

The most important thing is that we should pray to be born anew of the Spirit, to be empowered for service and to deepen our faith. This was the advice given to Nicodemus by Jesus.

I don't know if you remember that poster of a judge at his bench, which had this caption beneath it:-

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Only as individuals can we answer a question like this.

Unless we are born of water and the Spirit, we cannot enter the kingdom of God. Today is The Second Sunday in Lent; and like Nicodemus, we come seeking Jesus, that he may be born again in us, as we worship.