Tag Archives: Nicodemus

Saving health among all nations | Holy Cross Day

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. (Numbers 21:7-9)

Keep this nation under your care

When Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16), it’s easy for us to forget that he isn’t wearing a rainbow wig and holding up a poster in a football stadium.

Jesus Saves 39014501

Jesus is not addressing American Christians and football fans. He is not suggesting we wear black “John 3:16” eye paint to Lambeau Field.

Instead, Jesus is deep in a private, nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, a “leader of the Jews” who is trying to understand what Jesus is doing and teaching in Jerusalem at the Passover.

Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is from God, though the “cleansing of the Temple” — knocking over the tables of the moneychangers and driving them and the sacrificial animals out with a whip of cords — probably upset Nicodemus’ sense of order and respect.

In their quiet, late night conversation, he struggles with Jesus’ words about seeing and entering the kingdom of God — he is confused by the idea of being “born again” and “born from above” and “born of water and the Spirit.”

Jesus asks, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things?”

Then he continues to teach Nicodemus about the kingdom of God and about salvation.

Let your way be known upon earth

Jesus builds on what he has just said about who can see and who can enter the kingdom of God.

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:13-17).

He uses a strange image for the kingdom, reminding scholarly Nicodemus of a passage from the Book of Numbers about a mysterious cure. The people of Israel in the wilderness were sick, dying from venomous snake bites, but they were cured when they looked at a bronze serpent held up on a pole.

It would have been a particularly odd image, since the bronze serpent had later been destroyed by King Hezekiah (reigned 715-687 BC) during his reforms of the nation and its worship (2 Kings 18:4).

According to the Wikipedia article on him,

Hezekiah purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood. In an effort to abolish what he considered idolatry from his kingdom, he destroyed the high places (or bamot) and “bronze serpent” (or “Nehushtan“), recorded as being made by Moses, which became an objects of idolatrous worship. In place of this, he centralized the worship of God at the Jerusalem Temple.

Several hundred years later, having just upset the business of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the kingdom of heaven is like the bronze serpent people used to look to instead of going to the Temple as their leaders said they should.

Your saving health among all nations

In John’s Gospel, Jesus does signs — like the miracle at Cana and the cleansing of the Temple — and teaches about the kingdom of God. “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen,” he says.

When he refers to the bronze serpent, he makes a point to describe it being lifted up, just as the Son of Man will be lifted up.

Jesus is describing another sign — the ultimate sign — that will testify to his identity and open the kingdom of God to those who believe.

Like the bronze serpent brought healing (salvation) to those poisoned by snakebites, the sign of the Cross will bring eternal life and saving health to all who suffer.

No longer is the healing work of God limited to the people of Israel, no longer is salvation contained in the Temple at Jerusalem, but rather saving health is available to all who look on the Son of Man lifted up.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Kings and priests and friends | Sermon for Good Friday

Kings

Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant,

Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. (Isaiah 52:15)

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master” (John 13:16). Consider some of the servants of the king – the Roman emperor and the imperial government – in this Passion Gospel:

  • The detachment of soldiers – who coordinated with the Temple police in a tactical raid to arrest Jesus
  • Pilate – the governor of Judea, who bowed to political pressure and for expediency released a convicted killer and sentenced an innocent man to death
  • The soldiers at the headquarters – who beat and taunted and humiliated an innocent man, parading him around in a purple robe and crowning him with thorns
  • The emperor himself – whose hold on power depended on brutal, efficient force and military might
  • The soldiers at the cross – who shared their sour wine with Jesus and who did not break his legs to hasten his cruel death, because he was dead already.

“Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see.”

Priests

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach …. And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1, 11)

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master.” Consider some of the servants of the Temple hierarchy in this Passion Gospel:

  • The police from the chief priests – who came with lanterns and torches and weapons (and a SWAT team of Roman soldiers) to arrest Jesus; who bound him and took him to …
  • Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas – who questioned Jesus, who had his police strike him for blasphemy, who had him bound as though he were dangerous.
  • Caiaphas, the high priest – who “advised that it was better to have one person die for the people.”
  • The chief priests – who complained “Do not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said ‘I am King of the Jews.’” and who shouted to Pilate “We have no king but the emperor!”

Kings and priests, priests and kings …. upholding the law, administering the law, enforcing the rule of law, executing the sentences of the law.

“[The law] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.”

Friends

Kings and priests …. and friends.

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master.”

But Jesus went on to say more, after he had shared a meal with us, after he had washed our feet as an example, and after his betrayer had gone out from among us.

“I do not call you servants any longer, for servants do not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

Br. David Vryhof writes in the Society of St. John the Evangelist’s online meditation today that:

We are invited to take our stand at the foot of the Cross, joining the small company of Jesus’ friends who are already gathered there. We stand there together, under a dark and threatening sky, to witness the suffering of our Savior, to be with him in his hour of immense pain and desperate need.

Consider the small company of Jesus’ friends:

  • Peter – whose early-morning bluster and swordplay in the garden earned him a silent rebuke from Jesus, who was undone by a servant girl’s questions, who denied his friend before the sun even came up, but whose confession would become the rock on which Christ would build his Church.
  • Mary – who with her sister and two other Marys stood at the foot of the cross, all of them pierced through the heart for the son and master they had loved, but whose faithfulness meant they would be first witnesses to his resurrection.
  • The disciple Jesus loved – who could not only bear witness, but who could bear up his friend’s mother in her grief, laying her head on his breast just as he laid his head on Jesus’ breast at the table last night.
  • Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – who had much to fear from the chief priests and the council, but who stayed firm in their resolve to do their part.

“Kings shall shut their mouths at him,” for his gentle power undoes their shows of force, and “priests by their sacrifices can never take away sins,” for their law of might betrays their true allegiance.

But let us – the small company of Jesus’ friends, the Master’s friends – “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

Daily his delight

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey – the inscription reads “My heart and my flesh cry out: O God, O living God!”

When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.
(Proverbs 8:27-30)

Powerful Seeking

John’s gospel shines with both power and intimacy.

Jesus crackles with energy, turning water into wine, driving the moneychangers from the Temple, confounding learned and pious Nicodemus, speaking with a foreign woman, and healing with a word (whether the beggar by the pool wants it or not). And that’s only in the first five chapters of the story.

Jesus’ power radiates as clearly as his love and concern for people.

The man born blind, healed by Jesus’ touch and by a compress of mud (how like God’s own touch, forming mud and clay into the first human), is driven out of the synagogue by the religious leaders. But the story doesn’t end there, and John provides the key to understanding it fully.

“Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he had found him …” (John 9:35).

Jesus the power of God, whom John has come to understand is the same Word who was with God in the beginning, seeks out those who are hurting in order to effect their healing. He seeks out those who are estranged in order to effect their reconciliation.

As Reynolds Price writes in Incarnation: Contemporary Writers on the New Testament, the Gospel of John “says in the clearest voice we have the sentence that mankind craves from stories — The Maker of all things loves and wants me.”

Intimate Sending

John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, writes from a position of intimate knowledge. It is he who reclines next to Jesus at the Last Supper.

From within that close embrace, John sees both the betrayal Jesus suffers and the love that he demonstrates in washing the disciples’ feet and sending them out to serve one another.

Because today’s Feast of St. John falls on a Friday, in Morning Prayer we have the added poignancy of the Prayer for Mission that captures this intimate sending:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

Daily His Delight

Jesus, the Word of God, was with God at creation and was “daily his delight.” At the Incarnation, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

John, the Beloved Disciple, who was close to Jesus’ heart and “daily his delight,” wrote his Gospel “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

And you? The disciple whom Jesus loves?

You who have come within the reach of Jesus’ saving embrace and are “daily his delight,” how will you reach forth your hands in love to bring those who do not know Jesus into the knowledge and love of him?