“Seeking Jesus at Night”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John 3:1-17 John Henson
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Not long ago, ABC News reported on something that could get you in a lot of trouble: losing your wedding ring. The story was about Colleen Dyckman, who said she accidentally threw out her wedding ring after cooking dinner Sunday night:
She only realized it was missing the next morning. But, by that time, the garbage truck had already come by and taken the trash. She ran out of the house and chased down the garbage truck and its driver. The driver then called Edward Wiggins, sanitation site crew leader at the Town of Babylon’s Department of Environmental Control. Wiggins said he had the driver immediately stopped his route and started digging for about three hours through six tons of garbage. Dyckman said, “In that moment I thought…I’m not going to find it. I didn’t see it. It’s not in there.” But finally after four hours they spotted the lost ring. Dyckman said she was brought to tears. To show her appreciation, she later baked brownies and bought pizza pies and cookies that she took to Wiggins and his team during lunch. “We’re really glad we were able to help her and get her ring back,” Wiggins said today. “To be honest, in the 41 years I’ve been here, we’ve only been able to successfully recover lost items three times.”
Now that’s persistence. She—or, actually, the sanitation worker–was willing to go to any length to find what she was missing.
When I hear about Nicodemus, I think of persistence. He was willing to diligently seek after what he was missing. Nicodemus was a religious leader and a respected person in his society, and it would have been harmful to his reputation if people knew that he was interested in Jesus. There was just something about Jesus that made perfect sense to him. And so he waits until dark when no one would see him and slips out of his house to go find Jesus. I’m not sure how he found Jesus but there must’ve been some amount of effort on his part to find out where Jesus was. Maybe he already had heard Jesus teach and possibly he even watched how Jesus interacted with people in ways unlike any other teacher he had known. He might have at first thought as the other Pharisees did–that Jesus was popular, even a powerful teacher, but a troublemaker nonetheless. Nicodemus has seen and heard enough of Jesus to know that he must see and hear more.
Chances are you know what it is like to be Nicodemus. Perhaps you are here this morning because there’s just something about Jesus that causes you to want more of him. What Jesus has to say sticks with you, challenges you’re thinking and stirs your soul like no one else ever has or could. You would do pretty much anything, even risking your own reputation if necessary, to be with Jesus. That seems to be the effect Jesus has on a lot of people. One of the great things about our storytelling events is hearing when someone first met Jesus; what it was like and how it happened. What about you? What was it like the first time you heard Jesus speak? What did you do or what have you done lately to pursue him to hear more?
Nicodemus had a question burning inside of him, and he must get an answer. After he finds Jesus, he asks him about the kingdom of God. He wants to know something deeper than just a superficial kind of question or to ask something to try and trap Jesus like the other Pharisees would do. Nicodemus is further along in his faith to ask basic questions. He wants to know about the kingdom the Jesus keeps mentioning to everybody. And he comes with the desire to enter the kingdom. Jesus answered him by saying that it is a kingdom he must be born into. Nicodemus is confused by this answer. So Jesus gives him more specifics by telling him that the only way to enter the kingdom is by water and the Spirit. What Nicodemus had previously missed even as a religious expert was that God’s kingdom was not a physical kingdom but a spiritual one. Such a spiritual kingdom was to directly affect the political kingdom of the world. Nicodemus, like the other Pharisees, was pursuing God’s kingdom in the wrong way. The kingdom Jesus told him about that day and the one that he talked about for all of his life was one characterized by a God who loves the world so much that he sent his one and only son into it. It is the kind of the kingdom that brings real life not only into this world but into the one hereafter. It is a kingdom with the focus not on condemning people, but on loving them.
That’s the kind of kingdom we are to hear about today as well. We, like Nicodemus, are searching for real significance and meaning in our lives. As we look at our world and all of the issues of today, we come to the point of understanding that things are not working right. The ways of the kingdoms of this world promise much but deliver little. Violence begets more violence. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Loveless religion results in devout hatred. The worship of a God who condemns people is one disconnected from the kingdom of heaven and is just another failing worldly kingdom. What Jesus said to Nicodemus is what we need to hear today as we seek for a real way ahead: the reality of what God is doing in this world and beyond is one you must enter through new birth. A birth of the spirit delivered by the Holy Spirit. Have you been born in this way?
To really understand what God is doing in this world and what God wants for this world, we must go to where Jesus is and spend time with him. Such seeking and pursuit mean getting past all of our religious and legalistic hang ups. We must get to that place with Jesus where we allow God to speak deeply into our souls through Jesus. The season of Lent can be just such a place and time to get away from your distractions and get alone with Jesus. What you’ll find is a Jesus who welcomes you in, offers you a place to sit, engages you in conversation, and helps you find just what you are looking for.
Nicodemus is mentioned two other times in John’s gospel. The next time we see him he is speaking up for Jesus to be treated fairly as he goes to court. The third time is when he is helping with the burial of Jesus after the crucifixion. We don’t know much more about Nicodemus, but it’s evident that he kept moving from a seeker to a follower of Jesus. The words in the late of the night with Jesus changed his life. He was born into a brand new reality. His story is that he found what he was looking for. What’s your story?
[Audio version is here]