28 January 2013

Encountering Jesus - When He doesn't seem to be Who you thought He was...

Do you care about what other people think of you? 

Is your reputation important to you? I know I'm overly concerned about this very thing, even though I wish I wasn't... In fact, if I'm bluntly, brutally honest with myself, I know that deep inside I want others to think as highly of me and see me as I want/imagine myself to be.

That doesn't sound very Christlike... does it?

So, in many ways, it has been a relief to spend much of this past week beginning to study and revisit a man who, just like me appeared to be concerned about and greatly influenced by the opinions of others...
    Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 
     Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 
     Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 
     “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.(John 3.1-21)
This is probably one of the best known and most loved passages in the Bible. After all, it contains John 3.16... which just might be the most memorized, most quoted verse of all time, in several languages. 

Jesus introduces the idea of new birth... or, as some translations say, a birth from above. It isn't the first time God described making things new. Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah, as well as Moses, describe hearts renewed... hearts undivided and set apart in addition to a new spirit given by God; David prayed for a clean heart and a renewed spirit.

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, possibly because as a Pharisee, he was concerned about what others would think and how those thoughts might impact his reputation and standing in his community. The Jews and the Pharisees had already clearly come out as against Jesus and did not appreciate what he was teaching and doing. 

If this was the case (because I can see that there might be other possible scenarios), there was still something compelling in a previous and unmentioned encounter between the Lord and Nicodemus: Had Nicodemus seen Him clearing the temple or had he witnessed one of the Lord's miraculous healings? Maybe he was present when John had baptized the Lord? Could he have been one of the Pharisees who had accepted John's teachings? Or perhaps Nicodemus had heard so many accounts and rumors from others describing what they'd seen Jesus do, and he had to meet Him himself? Fascinating thought, the thought that when Nicodemus first speaks, he clearly says "we," indicating something about Jesus had the ruling Jews and Pharisees all stirred up, worried and very curious. Jesus was, in their eyes, doing that which only a man sent from God could do - teaching with clear inspiration and working miracles. This totally messed with their traditions and rocked their boat. Jesus demonstrated the power they had expected in a coming Savior, but he wasn't acting how they thought (and already decided) God or one of his prophets should act... in their minds, those preconceived ideas became more important than the reality before their eyes and they therefore disqualified Him from being the long-awaited Messiah.

That seems to be what was weighing heavily on the heart of Nicodemus as he stepped into the Presence of Jesus. He wanted to know just Who Jesus was.

I understand how uncomfortable Nicodemus must have felt. I know I don't like it when God acts in ways or does things that offend my preconceived sensibilities and that make me uncomfortable. I don't like tragedy or poverty. I don't like war and illness. I don't like people hurt as a consequence of the wrongful actions of others. I don't understand some of the things God allows/causes/uses... go ahead pick your word of choice because at different points in time, I know I've used all of them. I don't like how we glibly and logically explain away hard things, things that in any other circumstances outside of the Bible would horrify absolutely, in an attempt to make God look neat and tidy and comprehensible and in no way unkempt. I get frustrated when we hide behind "God's just too big and too grand for me to grasp it all so I'm just going to go on and accept it..." for isn't the purpose of His Word, His creation, His Son and His Holy spirit to reveal more and more of God to me? But I also think I am wrong to assume, even though I might never voice the idea, that God is going to do and be and act as I expect Him to.

Nicodemus was in a scary place to be... standing before the Lord and saying, "Jesus, if You  are the promised Messiah, You aren't acting like the God I've been studying, the Almighty I've come to know. Why are comporting Yourself in this way?  I'm having a hard time understanding how You can be Who I think You say You are?" What You are doing, how You are revealing Yourself, makes me wonder if I ever really knew You at all?

Maybe Nicodemus is wondering, "I was always so sure I was right. What happens now if I find out I've been wrong?"

I know it is a scary place because it seems like I've been spending a lot of time in that exact same place, asking the Lord those exact same questions the last many months.

What do you do when what God has done/is doing 
just doesn't seem to fit with the God you love and serve and thought you knew?

Do you ever ask the Lord questions 
where you really aren't sure you want to hear His answer?

this week's gratitude list:

(#'s 3542 - 3556)

hard questions, even those ones I hesitate to ask

great 14th birthday party 

chocolate peanut butter pudding

homemade candy corns

school schedule finalized

touching base with some folks I've needed to connect with

my grandparents are doing much better than last weekend

2nd graders excited about writing, staging and performing their very own drama

finally feeling like I've been heard

knowing that sometimes its right to choose to wrestle... after all, God blessed Jacob

reading Wolf Willow

teenage photo shoots and the 100+ pictures that resulted

meeting up with a friend last week that I've missed seeing over the holiday break

music lessons - piano, sax and violin

someone has agreed to take Brendan's senior pics... not such an easy thing to arrange on this side of the water

Posts in this series:

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