Call me Nicodemus.
Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little ambition and nothing particular to interest me around the house, I thought I would surf about a little upon the Internet.
Through the providence of God, I found a YouTube video of Paul Washer entitled, “Shocking Youth Message.” As I was engaged as a youth Sunday school teacher from time to time, I invested an hour and watched it. I suggest you do the same now if you haven’t seen it already. http://youtu.be/cncEhCvrVgQ.
If you don’t have the time, or if you’ve seen it before, just watch the first minute of this excerpt up until the point that Brother Paul silences the crowd.
Though just into my 40s and a generation removed from Washer’s audience, the Holy Spirit of God convicted me through his words, “I don’t know why you’re clapping. I’m talking about you.” The kids in the audience were in an emotional frenzy, going with their worldly feelings and not letting Washer’s biblical message penetrate their stony hearts. At least that’s what I think was going on inside them, because that was what was going on inside me. I was no different in my life. It took the startling words of a preacher clearly calling me a phony to shock me out of my complacency.
You see, I was a great Pharisee. I went to church every Sunday, I sang in the choir, I read scripture, I taught Sunday school, I attended Bible study, I donated time and money, I maintained the church website, I edited the church newsletter, I was an elder and I was certain that Christianity was something I did very well.
Please don’t miss that last statement: Christianity – was something – I did.
Could this be true of you as well? Is your Christian faith primarily something you do?
Like Nicodemus, I had heard about the things of God and I knew a lot about God, but I didn’t know God at all. Nicodemus was a bible teacher; he sang and read scripture in the temple; his faith was something that he did very well. But he couldn’t see or comprehend the kingdom of God. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, ashamed to be seen with him in the daylight. In John 3:3, Jesus says to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus doesn’t get it in John 3:4, so Jesus spells it out for him in more detail in John 3:5-8, to which Nicodemus replies in verse 9, “How can these things be?”
It’s almost like Nicodemus is proving Jesus’ point for him. He obviously hasn’t been born again, therefore he doesn’t understand. It’s not that Nicodemus doesn’t want to understand, rather, he is incapable of understanding. His understanding is so tightly wrapped up in his religiosity that the truth cannot penetrate it.
I, too, was insulated from the truth. For me, the first crack in my stony heart (that I was aware of) was made through the words of Brother Paul Washer when I first seriously entertained the possibility that I wasn’t a ‘good Christian’ like I thought I was. Perhaps Jesus’ unexpected response to Nicodemus’ question was a shock to him too. In John 3:10, Jesus says, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Calling a high priest of the Jews a phony tends to have a shocking effect.
Could this be true of you as well? Are you a phony, masquerading as a Christian, wrapped up in religiosity?
I must confess that I still have a tendency to revert back to what comes most naturally to me. My default setting is a desire to earn my way to heaven by doing good works.
By relying on myself and what I do, I diminish Christ and what He did.
Reliance upon the person and work of Jesus through faith alone guarantees me reconciliation with God; reliance upon myself and my tainted works guarantees me a nice hot corner of hell all to myself.
And yet even this exposes yet another form of Pharisee-ism.
Because I know I shouldn’t rely on myself or my works, I sometimes think I’m smarter or more clever than others. Putting my old works into the dustbin (where they belong) are my “new good works.” But these new good works are just as filthy as my old ones, and I am still a Pharisee because I want them to count for something!
Counting nothing to my account should count for something, right?!?
Do you see how insane that is? I can’t get out from underneath it.
But King Jesus can get me out.
With Jesus, we are saved. Everything is going to be okay. Without Jesus, we are damned. Nothing will go right.
Forsake all fraudulent success. Make Jesus your goal, your arrival, your identity, your comfort, your okayness, and he’ll gladly give himself to you — and on terms of grace. But reach for anything else, and it will turn into its opposite and betray you.
John doesn’t give us a nicely wrapped-up ending to the encounter with Nicodemus. It just abruptly ends and we don’t hear of old Nic again until after Jesus is killed. In John 3:1-21 he visits Jesus at night so he cannot be seen by anyone. But in John 19:39, Nicodemus buys a load of burial spices and he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, prepares Jesus’ body for burial in the light of day. It seems that he was no longer ashamed to be counted as a servant of Christ.
In the end, I hope this means that Nicodemus was saved; because I need the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ as much as he did.
Could this be true of you as well?
Christianity isn’t about what you do. It’s about what Jesus has already done. Don’t ever lose that focus.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – Phil. 3:8-9