The Story of Nicodemus
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at St. Jacob’s and Trinity on March 12, 2017, the Second Sunday in Lent. The gospel reading is John 3:1-17.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today at Trinity we are having a baptism of infant Mya Lee Tharp. I can’t help but note my own baptism at Trinity Lutheran Church – except it was Trinity in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I don’t remember my baptism. My parents and godparents had to tell me all about it through the years as I was raised in the faith. The only way that Mya will know about her baptism is through her parents Zach and Brittany and the grandparents and the godparents, Corey and Maryanna.
I hope that at some point in her life Mya asks this good question: What does “Trinity” mean? What kind of a name is that?
Thankfully we have a Bible story today that is a big help in understanding this word Trinity, which is not even in the Bible. Trinity. Our story is that of Nicodemus and his conversation by stealth with Jesus.
The gospel writer John tells us that Nicodemus comes to talk with Jesus at night, supposedly so that no one else will know about his visit. I think Nicodemus is like many people we know. “ I want to know more about Jesus, but I don’t want to be the object of attention or have to be embarrassed by my non-believing family and friends.”
Nicodemus has good reasons to come at night. He is well-entrenched with the folks who want to discount Jesus and get rid of him. Nicodemus is a well-respected teacher of the Jews, he is a Pharisee, he is a member of the Jewish High Court (the Sanhedrin) and he is wealthy. He isn’t just your average Joe coming in off the street to see Jesus. There could be consequences from this late-night encounter.
Basically, Nicodemus says to Jesus: “You do lots of miracles and heal people, and I know that you somehow come from God, for only God can make these things happen.” Jesus says to this teacher of Israel, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Now you and I know that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit, but Nicodemus doesn’t know this. He asks the question, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? How can anyone be born a second time after growing old? Can anyone enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
It is Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus that give us the inspiration to do baptisms. Today My is be baptized. Hers is a Christian baptism, and she is being born again, or born a second time. She is being born of the Spirit.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’”
Then Jesus explains to Nicodemus the whole reason for God sending him into the world. This is the best-known Bible verse in all the world:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish,
but have eternal life.
And the next verse, John 3:17, is just as important:
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn that world,
but in order that the world might be saved through him.
We meet Nicodemus only in the gospel of John. He isn’t mentioned in the other 3 gospels or anywhere else in the Bible. Nicodemus is only mentioned 3 times in John. We’ve just heard about the first time, this conversation at night. The second time is in the 7th chapter of John. The members of the Sanhedrin wanted to arrest Jesus and stop him from preaching and teaching and doing miracles. It is Nicodemus who reminds his colleagues that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged.
The final time we meet Jesus, he is no longer acting in stealth. In John 19 he joins Joseph of Arimathea in placing the body of Jesus in the tomb. It is Nicodemus who provided 100 pounds of spices for embalming the body.
Just think: this great teacher of Israel learned a lesson from Jesus about the plan of God for the salvation of the world. God the Father sent Jesus out of love to be the sacrifice for sin and insure that the world is not condemned. Out of God the Father and Jesus the Son flows the Holy Spirit, who opens the hearts and minds of us mortals to these eternal truths and promises.
It is my prayer this day that everyone one of us has or will experience this being born from above. This day we are thrilled that young Mya is being born again in her baptism.
Thanks be to God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!