Read John 3:1-15
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
3 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.’
John 3:16, partially thanks to a guy in a rainbow wig at football games and other sporting events in the early 80s, has become the most known verse in the Bible. John 3:16 is a great summation of the gospel in one verse. Because of this it can be easy to forget that this famous verse comes in the context of a story… And I find the details of that story fascinating. It happens when a man named Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council… the same council who would eventually plot to kill Jesus. Nicodemus is only mentioned a few times in scripture… all in the gospel of John. But the interesting thing to me about Nicodemus is not simply the fact that he is mentioned… it is how he is mentioned that captures my attention. When we are introduced to him at the beginning of chapter 3, John offers a seemingly insignificant little detail. It is simply this: Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Now, it might be easy to assume that this little detail is intended to imply that Nicodemus was sneaking around because he didn’t want to be seen with Jesus, and given that in John’s gospel (as we read last week) Jesus has just overturned the tables in the temple courts, causing all kinds of commotion, but there is another theme at work here in the way John tells things. Throughout John’s gospel there is all kinds of imagery of the contrast between light and dark, day and night. Right from the start in chapter one John says, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Later in chapter 9 Jesus says to his disciples,
9:4 We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work.
In chapter 11 he says,
11:10 But if anyone walks around at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
As Judas is headed off to betray Jesus in chapter 13 it says,
13:30 Judas took the piece of bread and went out immediately. (Now it was night.)
So throughout John’s gospel night and darkness represent stumbling and sin and blindness to the need for salvation… and Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Interestingly, the word in the original text that we translate as night, can also be translated as, “the time of moral stupidity and darkness” So, you could say that out of the moral stupidity or darkness of his life Nicodemus came to the Light of the world. And Jesus, the light of the world, exposed Nicodemus’ own need for salvation along with the need of all those living in darkness. But he doesn’t simply expose the need, he offers the way. We’ll save that part of the story for tomorrow.
For now, where are you in this story? Is any part of you living in darkness? Come to Jesus, the light of the world, for in him there is no darkness at all. Let him show you the way.