Further Reflections on Nicodemus (John 3)
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." John 3:1-3
If you read the Bible enough times, you begin to notice that when someone comes to Jesus and asks a questions, Jesus almost always redirects the question and takes the individual on a new path. Such is the case with Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus (under the cover of nighttime) to present to Jesus the findings of some on the Jewish Ruling Council: “We know you are a teacher who has come from God.”
Whether Nicodemus was actually representing a group of people, or just speaking for himself, we don’t really know. But what we do know is that Nicodemus has begun to question the structure that he has always known and understood in light of what Jesus has begun to reveal. He fears going to Jesus in the daytime, with the masses surrounding him, so he finds Jesus at night.
Nicodemus is the first New Testament deconstructionist. Deconstruction is a way of understanding how something was created. Deconstruction is breaking something down into smaller parts. Deconstruction looks at the smaller parts that were used to create an object. The smaller parts are usually ideas. (From ‘Simple Wikipedia’)
He is the first person who begins to question everything that he has come to understand in light of what Jesus has been teaching and wants to start picking it apart. Why does he believe what he believes? Why is he a part of the Ruling Council? What does Jesus have to say about this ruling council? So he stands before Jesus at night and presents him with an opportunity to respond to what he says.
And in that moment, Jesus redirects the question to the heart of the matter: How does one see the Kingdom of God? Jesus response points Nicodemus (and us) in a new direction.
The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom of ruling councils and earthly authority.
The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom of political posturing.
The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom that manifests in purely physical ways.
In fact, to see this kingdom, we need to die and be born again into it. For Nicodemus, dying was not just dying to the sin and brokeness. It was also dying to the systems that hindered him from seeing the Kingdom of God. It was beginning to pick apart what he truly believed from what he had inherited, and starting reconstruction of his view of the kingdom grounded on the Solid Rock rather than shifting sand.
That sort of deconstruction and reconstruction can feel like death. Would he turn his back on his friends in the Jewish Ruling Council? Would he leave the comfort of the only community he had known? Could he die to the old way of life in order to be born again in water and Spirt and truly live?
When we see Nicodemus again in chapter 7, the deconstruction has started to take root. He asks his fellow Pharisees who want to condemn Jesus “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”(John 7:51) In other words, “Listen to what this Jesus is saying! The words he speaks go against what we have set up for our lives of comfort. His words give life!” But he is mocked by his friends.
The last time we see Nicodemus, it appears his reconstruction has come to full measure. He is with Joseph of Arimathea, picking up the crucified body of Jesus to prepare him for burial with “seventy five pounds” of myrrh and aloe (John 19:39), an extraordinary amount! He had followed Jesus to cross, and could now see clearly the Kingdom of God.
Jesus welcomes our questions and our challenges. Because in this questioning we can begin to deconstruct the things that hinder us from seeing the kingdom of God. What are the things that have hindered you from seeing the Kingdom of God? What part of your own faith and life is Jesus calling you to deconstruct for the sake of seeing the Kingdom of God? What must you die too, in order to be born again?