[K:NWTS 7/2 (Sep 1992) 26-29]
I want to speak to you about a senior citizen—curious fellow, this—who came to Jesus one night. Out of the darkness, he came—came secretly—at night when no spying eyes could see. Out of the blackness of his own unbelief, he came—by night, Nicodemus came in John 3 to see Jesus.
Jesus, who had just stunned the crowds by driving the money changers, those well-heeled entrepreneurs, out of the temple. Jesus, who had just shocked the religious establishment—those good ol' boys of the Jewish religious bureaucracy—by claiming to be greater than the temple. "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." This temple—where God and man meet; this temple where God condescends to dwell with his people; this temple where God tabernacles in the midst of his pilgrim people. Jesus says, "I AM"—"I AM where God and man meet—I am theanthrôpos—the God-man. I am the dwelling place of God with his people—I am the tabernacle of God in the flesh—I am the Immanuel-presence in the midst of the pilgrim people of God." Since my resurrection, Jesus says, no more temple. I am the only temple you need!
And Nicodemus comes to see this One. Out of the darkness, curious Nicodemus comes to hear Jesus talk of a birth from above into the below—a new birth (even for senior citizens)—a birth of water and Spirit. With the darkness of night outside, Nicodemus listens to Jesus talk of the bronze serpent of Moses. "As Moses lifted up the serpent so shall the Son of Man be lifted up." And Nicodemus, with the black night outside, hears of faith in One lifted up from the earth—One greater than Moses—One greater than Moses' bronze standard—One who when he is suspended between earth and sky will put an end to the sting of sin and the biting-curse of death. With the darkness outside, Nicodemus listens—listens to Jesus talk of life, not death; faith, not unbelief; eternal life, not perdition and damnation.
Curious Nicodemus comes by night to see Jesus—and he listens. And in this Jesus, he begins to see that God so loved the world. Curious Nicodemus comes by night, and in this Jesus he begins to see the light!
I am speaking to you of a senior citizen. No longer a curious fellow—now, hesitant, a bit nervous and self-conscious—yet even now surprised at his own courage. Nicodemus stands to defend Jesus in John 7 before the council, in front of the Sanhedrin. Others are plotting the death of Jesus. He has healed a man on the Sabbath day; he is worthy of death for being merciful to the sick! He has made himself a blasphemer, calling God his own Father; he is worthy of death for he has made himself equal with God! He has fed thousands with bread and fish, laying claim to be the Bread out of Heaven; he is worthy of death for he says he is living bread and living drink! He has stood up in Jerusalem on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles and shouted, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. I will give him rivers of living water." Surely he is worthy of death for he claims to be greater than Moses—to be himself a fountain of living water for the pilgrim people of God. Arrest him! Put him to death!
And Nicodemus screws up his courage and rises to the defense. Curious fellow this Nicodemus. He who came to Jesus first under the cover of darkness, now stands before the Jewish council in broad daylight to speak for Jesus. To act the advocate on behalf of Jesus—to ask that Jesus have the right to due process. Nicodemus who first came to Jesus seeking light is now standing to defend the Light; this Light of the World—whoever follows this One will not walk in darkness. For Nicodemus, the darkness is disappearing in the face of the Light of the World. Those who believe in him no longer remain in the darkness.
I am speaking to you of a senior citizen who comes into the darkness—the approaching darkness of the evening on this Friday—the pitch darkness of a tomb—a sepulcher newly cut out of rock. Nicodemus comes into the darkness that hovers about a cross in John 19. Dark day this—this Black Friday. The One whom he sought by night now hangs lifeless on the tree; the One whom he defended by day now slumps from nails. The dusk is gathering. He and his friend, Joseph—Joseph of Arimathea—must take the body of Jesus from the cross and bury it before nightfall. The night—squeezing the light out of the sky—the night, inky night crowds in upon their work. These two—only these two; everyone else has fled, everyone has deserted him. How very dark it is!
These two come to attend their Lord! Nicodemus comes with myrrh and aloes—with spices for the burial of his Lord! As Mary had come with precious ointment to bathe his feet in the gift of her love, Nicodemus comes with lavish spices—hundreds of dollars worth of spices for his dead Lord. Nothing hesitant about his movements, no idle curiosity, no suggestion of timidity; the body of Jesus is lovingly wrapped, gently carried, tenderly laid in the tomb. And the stone is rolled over the mouth of the sepulcher—and Jesus is left in the darkness of the grave.
Yes, Nicodemus. I must go into the darkness, into the black hole of death. I must do this for you, Nicodemus. You came out of the darkness to find the light. Now I must go back into the darkness for your sake and for the sake of all whom the Father has given unto me. Let not your heart be troubled, Nicodemus. I go to the cross for you. I go to be lifted up from the earth for you. I go to be accursed in your place that you may never be condemned. I go to death for you that you may never die. I come to the grave by you that by me you may never remain in the grave.
Wait for the third day, Nicodemus. Wait for that first day of the week, Nicodemus. Wait for that blessed Easter morn, Nicodemus. The sun—the sun of righteousness will rise; the light of the world will burst forth; the bright and morning star will shine. On the third day, Nicodemus, the light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not be able to overcome it.
Nicodemus, out of your fervent devotion you have wrapped my body for the grave. You have wrapped your soul in that birth from above—that new birth which comes by the water flowing from my wounded side and the Spirit by which I have been raised up. Nicodemus, out of your profound love and gratitude, you have poured a treasure of spices upon my grave clothes. You have treasured this crucified Son of Man—this Bread out of Heaven—this Light of the World. Nicodemus, on the first day of the week, the darkness will disappear. Nicodemus, when I rise from the grave where you laid me, there will be no more darkness.
Dear, beloved, Nicodemus. I have gone to prepare a place for you in a city where there is no more night. For in that city, they have no need of the light of the sun—nor do they need a lamp anymore. For the Lamb is the light of that city. Yes, Nicodemus, the darkness has disappeared once and for all—it has been swallowed up in light. Come, dear, beloved, Nicodemus—come walk in the light. Come, dear, beloved, Nicodemus—walk even now in the light of the age to come.