Nicodemus Returns

We all know Nicodemus from his famous interaction with Jesus in John chapter 3 where he is unable to understand Jesus as he talks about being born again, or being born from above. But that is not the end of the story. Now having finished John in week three, have you noticed his return visits?

In John 3 he comes to Jesus at night asking questions and hears the good news of Jesus.

In John 7 Nicodemus is with the other Jewish leaders and he seeks to slow down the haste in which they are seeking to judge and condemn Jesus.

Finally in John 19 Nicodemus comes into the story after the death of Jesus. He is with Joseph of Arimathea and they prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes totaling about 75 pounds in weight. They take Jesus’ body, bound it in linen with the spices, and laid the body in the tomb.

Had you noticed his appearances? What do you make of the journey Nicodemus has made from one seeing Jesus in the secrecy of night to one who would sacrifice much to prepare his body for burial?

Little insights like this are part of the joy of reading an entire book, as you follow the characters and see their growth over the entire story arc. I wonder what what Nicodemus went on to do next?

Sent by Jesus

Our focus passage this week asks the question, “What does it mean to be sent by Jesus?” and “In what way had the Father sent him?” These questions refer to John 20:21, in which Jesus says:

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

We could spend a great deal of time pondering that one verse. In John, Jesus is constantly drawing attention to the fact that he is sent from God. He says that the Father has sent him, the Father has given him words to say, and he is doing his Father’s work. His being sent is a crucial element to his being here among us. And now we’ve been sent “as the Father has sent [Jesus].”

So as you finish John, and then as we’ll next read through Luke, look for what characterizes the way in which Jesus is sent. See how Jesus puts the Father’s will first and the way his goal is to speak what the Father has spoken to him. Look elsewhere in the New Testament like Philippians 2 and see that in being sent, Jesus humbled himself–even to the point of the cross. Jesus took on flesh, faced temptation, was mocked, was hungry, and of course, in his being sent, he was to go to the cross. His sending was for a mission of love in which he put the needs of others and the will of the Father first. Jesus died on this mission, and after he was raised, knowing full well all that being sent entails, speaks a word of peace to the disciples, and charges them to go into the world. If we head his words, how much do we need his peace to face the fears we will encounter, and how thankful are we that he has breathed upon us his Holy Spirit to strengthen us and comfort us along the way?

Words of Warning and Promise

We take a step back in John this week returning to chapters that are before the crucifixion and before the resurrection. But I think this will be of great value to us. If you are like me, Lent has flown by and Holy Week was even faster. We don’t always have enough time, or make enough time, to meditate on what Jesus went through on his way to the cross.

But even though he knows the cross is before him, Jesus shows great concern for his disciples in these last days. Jesus keeps telling them about what will happen, warning them of hardship and persecution, but assuring them that they will not be left alone. He promises tribulation for those who follow Jesus (16:33). And Jesus also promises the Holy Spirit. He says, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.

These are expectations that we must remember in full. The life of the Christian is not to be without struggle. The disciples who remained faithful had, by the worlds standards, harder lives after they were called by Jesus, not easier ones. But we have more reason than any others for joy. The world will bring trouble, but we know that Christ–our Risen Lord–has overcome the world.

We read these words or warning and promise for the same reason Jesus told them to his followers.

But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

John 16:4

We read, meditate on, memorize, and love God’s Word for we need his guidance. We need God’s wisdom and support. They contain all the words we need to support our faith and when hard times fall on us, as they will, we can rely on his words to sustain us. For these words point us to the one God, who in Jesus Christ, has provided all we could ever need. In our weakness, we rest in his strength.

Obstacles to Belief

It seems that after every amazing wonder performed by Christ before the people, the crowds fall into two groups. Jesus reveals that he is true food, the bread of life, and many believe, but many disciples turned back after hearing such a difficult statement. Jesus heals a blind man and the people cannot understand how Jesus could do such a thing. They wonder how could a man who is not from God restore sight, but would a man from God heal on the Sabbath? Divisions arise whenever Jesus speaks boldly and reveals himself to the people.

You might think that believing today is difficult. To put faith in something we cannot see is hard, and maybe if only we could see Jesus and see what he is able to do, then our doubt would be definitively cast aside. But that wasn’t the case in Jesus’ time, so why would it be so today? It is more than seeing. It is more than our experience. We must trust in Christ, and follow him even when we do not see the way.

What greater miracle could people ask for and what more would–if anything could–convince the crowds and Jewish leaders than raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Jesus isn’t messing around here. Lazarus was dead for days. He was wrapped in linen and buried in a tomb, trapped behind a large stone. But Jesus calls him out. He calls Lazarus out of the tomb and back to life, and Lazarus listens. Jesus had already revealed his glory and power in multiple ways, but now he reveals his power over life itself.

And you’d think, of course everyone would believe, trust, and follow Christ now. But again Jesus divides. Many believe in him, and others do not. Seeing Christ overcome death was not enough. The chief priests and Pharisees do not believe and go even further the other way. They gather and decide they must put a stop to this man. If they do not “everyone will believe in him.”

Why is belief in Jesus so bad? John 11:48 says the consequence of that is Rome will come and and take away our place and our nation. They fear that as Jesus increases, they will decrease (which is exactly the goal of John the Baptist, John 3:30). Jesus will disrupt their world, he will challenge their power. It didn’t matter what signs they witness or miracles Jesus performs. They fear Jesus will change their lives and take away what they value. This is not only the fear and weakness of the leaders, but of the people at large. As it says in chapter twelve, “they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

What do we value so much that we can’t risk losing it for the sake of Christ? What positions of power or items of comfort are greater than what we receive in Christ? Do we value the approval of our peers more than that of God? These are real obstacles to faith. Surely seeing Jesus stand before us and turn water to wine would impress. But miracles are not enough. We must in faith believe in him, trust him with our lives, and love him more than we love ourselves.

Fortunately for us, even though we are petty and sinful, Christ still came to save. Back in John 11, as the leaders plot to stop Jesus after they heard about Lazarus, one priest, Caiaphas says that Jesus must be killed. His words serve as an unintentional prophecy and give us the reason Christ came. Caiaphas acknowledges a truth greater than his lips realize, “It is better for one to die for the people, than for the whole nation to perish.”

Jesus came to do more than perform miracles. He was sent to this world to overcome sin and to suffer the death that we deserve. He knew that this was the only way, that the one should die so that we may live.

May this be enough for we who have not seen, but still believe.

Our Good Shepherd

John 10 is a powerful passage and picture of the love Christ has for us. Jesus is our Shepherd, the one who cares for us, protects us, guides us. He is our Good Shepherd for he will not forsake us, no matter what. We have confidence that we will be with him always and this theme is carried on later in chapter ten as we are told that we cannot be snatched out of God’s hand.

Beyond the imagery of Christ as Good Shepherd, Jesus issues another “I AM” statement in verse nine, “I am the door.” This calls to mind the unique role that Christ has in our faith. There is one flock and one shepherd (v16). We can only enter by Christ, for those who do not enter the door are thieves and robbers (v1).

But in a way the roles of shepherd and door are closely related. This was written about fifty years ago by Eric Bishop and he relates a story he heard while while traveling in the Middle East:

In the afternoon I set out to see the sights about the village. Not far away I came to a mound of earth piled up in a large circle, like a crude rampart, and on the top of the mound all around the circle was a heap of dry thorns. As I stood wondering what this might be one of the villagers approached me. “Salaam,” I said, “please tell me what this enclosure is for.”

“Oh, that is for the sheep,” he replied. “They are brought in here for the night for safety.”

“Good,” I said, “but why have the dry thorns been piled on top of the wall?”

“That,” he replied, “is a protection against wolves. If a wolf tries to break in and attack the sheep, he will knock against the thorns, and they will make a noise, and the shepherd will wake up, and drive off the wolf.”

“That is fine,” I said, “but why does the wolf try to climb over the wall? Here is the entrance to the enclosure; it is open. There is no door to keep out the wolf; he could easily enter here.”

“Oh no,” said my guide, “you do not understand. That is where the shepherd sleeps, the shepherd is the door.

And then I understood something that had often puzzled me. It became clear to me why Jesus had in John 10 called Himself first the Door and then immediately afterwards the Shepherd. Since He is Shepherd He is also the Door.

Eric F.F. Bishop, “The Door of the Sheep – John x.7-9,” Expository Times 71 (1960): 307-309.

Truly Christ is the Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for us. Take time to contemplate that painful reality as we slowly go through passion week.