I am Nicodemus | Jesus’ Creed
I just realized in my 41st year of life, my 21st year of intentionally following Jesus, and my 11th year as the senior pastor of a church that… I am Nicodemus. And I am not alone. Here’s the familiar story:
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 from God. For no one could perform the miracles that you do if God was not with him. Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again… Truly I tell you, no one can enter into the kingdom of God unless he is born again. was born of water and the Spirit. 6 The flesh gives birth to the flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the spirit. 7 Do not be surprised that I said, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wants. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it is coming from or where it is going. It is the same with all who are born of the Spirit. 9 “How can that be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are the master of Israel,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? (John 3: 1-10)
“Seeing” and “entering” into the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of John is not getting correct doctrine, going from the “outside” group to the “saved” group and going to Heaven when I die. Entering, contemplating and living in the Kingdom is Jesus’ shortcut to awakening to a new spiritual awareness of the permanent presence of God in me and around me here and now made available by Jesus, and to live my life in the realm of the effective will of God (D. Willard). This I have understood for many years, so that is not why I am Nicodemus.
I am Nicodemus because I know the Scriptures well and, like the Pharisees, I “search the Scriptures because [I] think they give [me] eternal life. But the scriptures say [Jesus](John 5:39)! I always read this as if Jesus was saying that the Old Testament scriptures indicate the truthfulness of the NT biblical accounts of Jesus. If that was what Jesus meant, I would now diligently search the New Testament scriptures in the hope of finding eternal life. The emphasis is always on the word, not on the Word-becoming-flesh. I am still pursuing knowledge, not a mystical union with Truth-in-Person.
I believe that Nicodemus was invited to a new type of dynamic relationship and intimate communion with Jesus himself (cf. “abide” in John 14-16). Nicodemus prefers a kind of religious devotion which pursues the apprehension of certain truths about God and the scriptures and the maintenance of certain religious traditions and spiritual practices. It is a kind of religious enterprise that he can control and manage. It’s a sort of ticking faith and she can easily stay focused on the external aspects such as going to church, reading my Bible, and keeping a journal, without ever leading someone into the deepest corners of the world. soul yearning for some kind of deeper divine connection. .
Jesus told Nicodemus not that he needed to “grow”, but rather to start over as a spiritual child through the New Birth from above. He has spent ample time memorizing the scriptures, training as a rabbi, seeking the right answers, keeping traditions sacred, and establishing himself as a renowned expert in his field.
These are all the concerns of the first half of the ego’s life, and now it is time to “let go” and be drawn into a new type of spiritual existence where Nicodemus is not the savvy teacher. , but simply the beloved of God. Nicodemus has been in the driver’s seat, pushing and pulling, working and studying, leading and teaching for so long that his “flesh” has become competent to give birth to all kinds of carnal projects and accomplishments that capture the attention of others. and caress his ego. on the back.
Consider Jesus’ enigmatic words: “The flesh gives birth to the flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the spirit” (3: 6).
The flesh speaks of our fallen and limited human capacities operating outside of God. There is much that we can accomplish with human will and effort, especially those with extra levels of brilliance, creativity, intellect, and stamina. Bro. Richard Rohr suggests that “ego” would be a relatively precise substitute for the New Testament concept of “flesh”. An ambitious ego can give birth to many good things: businesses, political campaigns, hospitals, counseling centers, new churches, and ministries. She can be good and even pious, but always born of the flesh and therefore self-limiting.
It is difficult to know whether one is operating “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit”. It is not about motivation or intention or the nature of the activity taking place. I can lead a Bible study in the flesh, preach a sermon in the flesh, serve the poor in the flesh, and even write about the difference between the flesh and the spirit in the flesh. And I can also do all of these same activities in the Spirit.
You can’t tell by the results either, at least at first. You have heard it said, “Unless the Lord builds it, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127: 1). Yet I tell you that many churches or ministries have been successfully built by well organized committees and fundraising campaigns while the LORD has been sidelined. But generally, such an endeavor eventually reaches a breaking point if Spirit is continually ignored for the flesh always has a limit and is inherently fallen and subject to self-destruction.
One thing the flesh is really good at giving birth to – especially in spiritual leadership – is burnout and burnout. To do the work of God without the power of God is terrible folly, but quite common. Believe me, I know from experience.
So, back to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (and me): “The wind blows where it wants. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it is coming from or where it is going. It is the same with all who are born of the Spirit. We find that the kind of Kingdom existence that he invites Nicodemus to contemplate and enter is described in passive language. It is a life of letting go, of crucifying the ego daily (cf. Gal 2:20; 1 Cor. 15:31) in order to “be born again (from above)” and “to be born of the Spirit. And to be led by the Spirit like a little one is led by the hand, and to be blown here and there by the breath of God as the trees and the leaves are blown by the impossible summer breeze. Notice all the passive language. “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are the master of Israel,” said Jesus, “and you do not understand these things? I know, Nicodemus, I feel your pain. I am slow to learn too.
We struggle to accept the gospel logic that we gain by losing, letting go, sitting down to rest, and overcoming by letting go. We have been more educated and conditioned by the American entrepreneurial spirit than by the Spirit which blows in myriad calm and unpretentious ways. We believe that the kingdom comes into the world and into our hearts taking responsibility, putting blood, sweat and tears, taking life (and faith) by the horns. It is life, faith and ministry under a heavy yoke. It is the path to exhaustion, bitterness and disillusionment with God and religion. It is subjugation to the preoccupations of the ego. It is doing the work of God without the presence and power of God. It’s Nicodemus, and many of us.
Meanwhile, Jesus patiently stands ready to trade a heavy life for a new lightness and joy under his Easy Yoke, a life swept away by the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matt 11 MSG).
I mentioned above that Jesus wants the scriptures to show us an experience and a relationship with Christ himself, not just to know Christ through the New Testament scriptures. The evangelical tradition has often led people to have a personal relationship with the Bible more than with God (sometimes called “bibliolatry”) and has taught us to build our lives on certain doctrines and truths about Christ.
It is to fail in the kind of spiritual communion that Jesus invites Nicodemus and all of us to pursue with him, in him and him in us: “That day, you will realize that I am in my Father and you in you… Whoever loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them ”(John 14:20, 23). But in the words of NT Wright:
The word was made flesh, said Saint John, and the Church transformed the flesh back into words: words of good advice, words of comfort, words of wisdom and encouragement, yes, but what changes the world, c ‘is the flesh, the words with the skin them, words that hug you and cry with you and play with you and love you and rebuke you and build houses with you and teach your children in school (The Crown and fire).
May all the Nicodemas among us pray that our eyes will open to see and experience the Kingdom among us, and be carried away in the childish laughter and intimate dance that is life in the Trinity – and that we find ourselves embraced by God. through the Spirit as God dwells in us.