You come to Jesus so grown up. A man of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews, you come.
Man of titles, you try to title Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
You cloak yourself in ‘we’; the collective knowing of religious people, among whom you are leader. We see signs. We know.
Jesus’ response counters you: without being born again, you cannot see the kingdom. And you, the teacher of Israel, do not understand what is right before your eyes.
His claim is the sky above the dust of your speech. “We know” you state. “We speak of what we know and what we have seen and you do not accept our testimony” He replies. You reveal the knowledge of the Pharisees and rulers. Jesus reveals the knowledge of the Godhead.
God, not a good Rabbi, is speaking to you. The only thing Jesus requires of you is belief.
Suddenly, all the ladders of knowledge that have let you climb the tree of righteousness fall. Believe. You ask in despair, “How can a man be born when he is old?”
I used to laugh at that question. Now, it weeps in my ears with the sadness of so many grown who have turned their backs on Messiah. It was a real question, Nicodemus. You are so old.
Become a child, Nicodemus. God doesn’t work within the limits of your knowledge. He’s here, speaking to you, and he’s telling you that He Himself has become the bronze serpent lifted high for your salvation. If you stop at His signs you won’t see the serpent and salvation will pass you by.
Look up, Nicodemus.
Become a child again.
What sin have you not avoided, what law have you not kept? Jesus sees your sin: you do not believe. Those who do not believe are judged because they won’t walk in the Light (your night visit reveals more of your soul than you knew) because their deeds are evil.
You look at Jesus, shocked. How could he condemn you before His listening disciples? You, a ruler of the Jews, a man of religious prominence in holy Jerusalem – evil?
You left Jesus, but I do think you tried to grow a bit younger.
With the other Pharisees, you send soldiers to arrest Jesus. They come back without Him, dazed by His words. Your friends tell them to smarten up, for “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in him, has he?”
Telling question. You still do not believe. But you try to speak, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?”
You tried. And for it, your equals mocked you. “What, are you from Galilee too?” They ask if you’ve forgotten what you know. You know He can’t be the Messiah.
Don’t you see, Nicodemus? The Law won’t rebirth you.
Years after your night visit, he comes to Jerusalem. Once more it is Passover.
You remember that first encounter as you helplessly watch the crowd go hysterical around the carpenter Rabbi mounted on a donkey. You know he is claiming to be Messiah, and you know it can not be so.
How old you are, Nicodemus. You watch the children tear off their cloaks and throw them down, screaming praises, and you wonder if you will ever be born again.
Again you’re there, in the crowd around Jesus when God speaks to him out of heaven. Over the exclaiming murmers of the crowd, Jesus cries out, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
Like a cold hand on your heart, like a burning coal in your mind, those words chase you down. Does this man read your very soul? Is He really addressing the crowd at all? Or is He just relentlessly pursuing one Pharisee hiding in a corner?
“For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.”
Pharisee, ruler, night walker – the Messiah is beckoning.
Your eyes – closed.
Your heart – hardened.
So, so old.
If only you can step out of tassels and robes and recitations and earned righteousness, Nicodemus!
You move away from the crowd, and things move so fast for the rest of that week. The arrest of Jesus, the skewed trials, the demand of crucifixion. His words hounding your soul, your words condemning his. “Crucify Him!” you cry with all the other Pharisees.
Before you fully knew it had happened, he was lifted up.
Just like he said he would be.
Day plunges into darkness. All around you the evil of your own soul bleeds to darken the whole world. In that darkness, cursing the man on the tree who had torn your safe religious world apart, do you remember Moses and the bronze serpent? The serpent was an icon of what was destroying Israel.
So who is this man lifted up on a second pole? What does He represent? What could you, a Pharisee, need salvation from?
From yourself, Nicodemus. Look. He is a man, just like you. You are the problem. Your evil heart is the problem. But look at yourself on that cross, borne by the Son of Man.
Look and see and be born again a child, Nicodemus.
You came to him a second time.
In daylight, this time. You brought myrrh and aloes, a hundred pounds heavy.
Teacher of Israel, did you see that your own hands were fulfilling prophecies? That this was the Suffering Servant Isaiah spoke of, who was a criminal in death and a rich man in burial? That this was the glorious King of Psalm 45, clothes fragrant with myrrh and aloes?
You came a second time to bury him.
What happened as you stood at the cross?
Maybe you saw. Maybe you finally believed. Maybe you accepted your darkness and reached for Light. Maybe you were born a second time, a babe with nothing to claim but grace.
He rose from the dead. He left your spices with his burial cloths in the tomb.
I hope you came to Him then for the third time, the forever time. With eyes wide open. The eyes of a child.
*If you’re interested in references, this is a response to meditating on John chapters 3, 7 , and 12 and the crucifixion and resurrection account in John.