Nick at Night: The Most Important Conversation in History

The Pharisee Who Took a Chance

“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.” (John 3:1-2, NIV) This original “Nick at Night” provides far more drama than your average TV show…

It has often been speculated that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night because of the risks involved. If the ruling council saw his actions as supporting or endorsing Jesus, it could have had serious consequences for him. Nicodemus could have been thrown off the council, or at the very least endured criticism and persecution.

On the other hand, perhaps he went at the council’s request, and was there as an intermediary to try to get a fix on Jesus and report back. But the fact that he went at night suggests that he was avoiding public scrutiny, and was not there on behalf of the council. If that was the case, then he was risking ostracism, persecution, and the loss of his social (and vocational) position in Jerusalem. Since he took such a huge chance, perhaps he was just an honest man seeking the truth about Jesus.

Nicodemus at night

Most Important Conversation: Really?

Whatever his motives, this talk between Nick at Night and Jesus became arguably the most quoted and pivotal conversation in all of human history. It certainly contains perhaps the best-known and most quoted Bible verse. From this brief encounter we get “born again” (v 3); “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (v 6); and the fact that the Son of Man must be lifted up (v 15). And from this brief conversation, we get this:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (v 16).

If you’ve never read that verse before, read again and think about what it means. It’s the verse everyone knows, and the most quoted verse in the Bible. It rocked Nicodemus’ world, and it changed his life. From the snapshots we get of Nicodemus later in John’s Gospel, a story of transformation emerges. In John 7 he subtly advocated on Jesus’ behalf in the Sanhedrin. He was still on the council, but flies in the face of the overriding hatred of Jesus.

The Rest of the Story

And then this: We see Nicodemus again in the terrible aftermath of the cross, helping to take down Jesus’ body to prepare it for burial (John 20:39). He has stepped out of the shadows of night to identify with him even when it no longer seems to matter. By performing this service, Nicodemus indeed places himself in the crosshairs of the Sanhedrin as a dangerous nonconformist. He risks his life and his reputation to identify with Jesus the crucified “criminal”.

This conversation from John Chapter three obviously meant something to him. The real question is, however: what does it mean to YOU?

Nicodemus

Late at night, he smelled the alleyways;
Secretly, he stalked the truth in silence.
Darkness fouled his progress with its murky haze;
The echoes whispered softly, and with violence…
The Inner Council would not see his coming here
As anything but blatant heresy;
His heart beat faster as he walked along in fear,
A lonely and conflicted Pharisee…

He paused before the doorway, now unsure,
Should this conversation even start?
He wavered now, so righteous, so impure,
Listening to the beating of his heart…
The quiet night created space for him to doubt;
What would happen to him if they knew?
What penalty awaited him if they found out?
Should he be here? Or run? What should he do?
He froze in fear of who he’d meet behind that door;
Confused anxiety almost made him run,
But Nicodemus knocked because he wanted more,
And Jesus smiled and said, “Come in, my son”.

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For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

To Condemn or Not: the Trial with a Shocking Conclusion

“And Jesus lifted up himself, and said unto her, Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee? And she said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from henceforth sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 ASV) The woman caught in adultery is one of the more dramatic scenes in the Bible, and has a number of interesting elements to it.

A Chance for Jesus to Condemn

First of all, there’s a note in most Bibles that says 7:53-8:11 were not included in the earliest manuscripts of John’s Gospel. Scholars feel that it was probably inserted after the original version was written, because Jesus was not at the meeting of the Pharisees, and the transition “Then each man went to his own home. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” seems a little abrupt. They also place it logically after Luke 21:37-38, which states that Jesus stayed on the Mount of Olives and came early each day to teach in the temple. In any case, the story was included because it was undoubtedly true to circumstances and to Jesus’ teaching and character.

The Trap of Condemnation

The Pharisees were trying to put Jesus onto the horns of a dilemma, asking him to render judgment that would be wrong no matter what he chose. In the first place, it wasn’t a fair trial, and it didn’t follow the law. Deuteronomy 22:22 said, “If a man is caught sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” The Pharisees didn’t bring the man involved, only the woman. If Jesus permitted them to stone the woman, he would have broken the law. He would also have offended the Romans because under Roman law the Jews did not have the right to exercise capital punishment.

condemn not

The Doodle that was More Than a Doodle

It’s interesting to note that in verse six, Jesus “bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” I have heard entire sermons speculating about what he might have written there. Maybe he wrote several of the commandments, and perhaps they were pointedly the ones broken most often by the men carrying the stones. Perhaps he wrote the Shema, Israel’s foundational verse to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. He could have simply written a list of sins that related personally to each of the would-be judges, which they would recognize as their own…

Some speculate that perhaps he wrote the names of some of the men themselves, surprising them and convicting them as they looked on, wondering how Jesus knew so much. Whatever he wrote there in the dust, it must have provided dramatic counterpoint to the motives and intents of the self-righteous hypocrites. The accusers stood there, stones in hand, ready to execute judgment and condemnation. Somehow, with a few words written in the dust, Jesus stopped them in their tracks. We don’t know exactly what he wrote, but it was effective.

The Real Question

This story provides another instance of Jesus declining the chance to condemn, although the language is interesting, because he asks, “Did no man condemn you?” And she answers, “No man, Lord.” The subtlety of his inference is both loving and direct, because he does not exclude the real possibility that God would not approve of her activity…and his actions challenged her to reconsider everything she thought about God, accountability and judgment.

Your Chance to Condemn

He encouraged the woman to change her ways and leave her life of sin, but he did not exercise judgment. Christians (followers of Jesus), take note! Imitate. I have always wondered what became of this woman, and how she lived from then on. The power and magnitude of Grace calls us to leave our sinful lives and remember what Jesus did. He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:17, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Jesus doesn’t lower the bar, or make excuses, or spin that it’s ok to sin. He gently but powerfully reminds us that we are called, not to make anyone ELSE holy, but to BE holy. That’s probably such a full-time job that we’ve very little time left over to accuse anyone else.

The Judge Who Didn’t Condemn

The woman on the street was cast in shame
Because a man had tried to own her.
No one even asked her name,
But they were all prepared to stone her,
Till someone knelt beside her in the dust
And let her know that she was not alone.
He said, “Go ahead and judge her if you must,
But let the perfect man among you cast the stone.”

One by one, the accusers walked away,
But Jesus looked at her; He didn’t budge.
The woman thought she knew what he would say:
Instead, he asked her, “Where are those who judge?”
She looked around and saw no hateful men,
Still trembling from their angry cries of “Whore!”
But he said, “Woman, neither do I condemn,
So you are free to go, and sin no more…”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread