We’re in the middle of the little mini-series called The Rebirth Series. The Rebirth series was designed to take us into the Easter moment. It is also built around a man we were introduced to in the third chapter of John. Some of us may recall that last weekend, we started this discussion of a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a man who was much older than Jesus. He was a Pharisee. He was also a member of the most powerful governing board of that day in Israel. It was predominantly made up of those from Judea, the region where Jerusalem was in the south. They were a very intellectual group of people who were highly religiously trained and knew the law and scriptures intimately. Nicodemus was one of an elite group of men who formed the highest council of the country called the Sanhedrin.
Only Rome retained a certain level of jurisdiction as their overseers/oppressors, depending on one’s perspective. Clearly, even some of Jesus’ disciples resented Rome, but Jesus didn’t get drawn into those battles. One of the things we know is that the Sanhedrin had so much power and they really did not care for what Jesus was doing. Last week we saw how Nicodemus had to come to Jesus in the night, under the cloak of darkness because he didn’t want his peers to know he was meeting with the Lord. He and a small group of others felt Jesus was saying something that they needed to hear. Some of them were considering the possibility, much to what would’ve been a shock to their peers, that Jesus was and could have been the Messiah, the promised one of God. They believed Jesus was sent from God, but they didn’t know to what extent. Nicodemus wanted to know more. He had a sincere yearning to have a conversation with Jesus, and to ask Him certain questions about, who are you? Why have you come? Are you from God? If so, what is it that God’s trying to say?
In the course of that conversation, Jesus has this interesting exchange. That’s where the phrase, you must be born again occurs. Jesus says you must have something of a renewal in your life, a transformation at a spiritual level. Like a new birth. As that conversation went on, Nicodemus was intrigued and puzzled. Nicodemus was so learned, yet he couldn’t grasp what Jesus was saying. Jesus ended up saying, “The question you asked me at the beginning, ‘Who am I? Why have I come?’ Well, let me give you the answer to that more explicitly.” What Jesus said was what we’ve come to know as John 3:16, probably the most famous verse ever quoted, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, “That’s me. That whoever would believe in Him would not perish, death would not be the final word, but life, the undying life of God, now and forever, would reign over your life because of what I am doing, if you will make room for me if you will receive me.” That was the conversation. It was intense. We often forget that’s where John 3:16 comes from. Out of a conversation Jesus has with a man who was secretly but sincerely seeking to consider who Jesus was. We don’t exactly know how that conversation ended. What we do know is something in Nicodemus was definitely inflamed. There was a spark that grew. It grew into something. Something was going on in his heart. You know what that’s like. Some of us know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like something starts to happen and we can’t explain it to people sometimes, but our heart and our love for God starts to grow, our sense of who Jesus is begins to expand. It becomes something that we can’t let go of. It’s almost apprehended us. I think that’s what happened to Nicodemus. Yet, at the same token, we know that something else occurs about four chapters later.
Although we don’t know what happened on that night, we do know something else occurs that involves Nicodemus. It comes on the heels of one of the most remarkable exchanges or declarations that Jesus makes in His entire ministry. An incident so controversial that people were immediately divided up into groups of thought. Something Jesus said and did that was so incredible for His day demanded someone to have an opinion of Him. We’re going to look at that. It’s found in John 7. It says, “On the last day, the climax of the festival,” I need to say the festival that we’re talking about is on the great day, the final day, the high point of the festival called the Feast of Tabernacles. One of the great feasts of Israel was celebrated for an entire week. We know that on this day Jesus had already gone to the temple to teach. Many times, we’ll read about the temple in the scriptures. It was a temple that was built by Herod the Great. It was a magnificent edifice. It doesn’t exist today in terms of what we can see visibly, except for one piece of it. It’s the part that some of you know and have heard of called the Wailing Wall or the Western Wall. You still can see this today.
People don’t realize that The Western Wall is the retaining wall for what used to be the temple. You see where the mosque is and the Dome of the Rock? That’s built on what is known as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is where the original temple was in AD 70. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “This temple, with its awe and impressiveness, will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” He started talking about how the temple was going to ultimately come apart and be destroyed. He talked about Himself, how He would not be destroyed. The Pharisees said, “Who are you to say that this temple will be destroyed?” Well, we know that 40 years later, Rome, in a rage, tore that temple apart.
The only piece that we can see right now is this Western Wall that’s a part of the retaining wall. There’s so much controversy in that area right now because that was the place where the temple had been. It was the city of David. That was Zion the most high. It’s where people came to worship God. They would sing their songs, cry out to the Lord, and make their way to the Lord’s house. We know that Jesus was in the temple that day, teaching on the highest day of one of the highest feasts they had. So, it was the seventh day. A lot of the things happened on the feast of Tabernacles. It was designed to celebrate God’s provision in the wilderness after they had left Egypt and were wandering. One of the things they did was they have an extravagant, extensive water ceremony.
It’s hard for us to appreciate it. We can still walk there and see the limestone with its golden hue, yellow, and whites. it’s still pretty impressive for just a retaining wall. I’ve been here a few times. It’s one of the most amazing things to walk the ground that we know Jesus walked when He was making His way up. It is essentially the same place. Imagine that there’s this massive temple. Jesus’s in the temple and he’s been teaching. But it’s the seventh day. It’s the great day. It’s the final day of the great feast. On each of the first six days, there was a modest water ceremony designed to celebrate the provision of the Lord when water came out of the rock, during that time when they were in the wilderness and God provided and save this people. In the ceremony, the priest would walk down from the temple. You can still see these places today. The ceremony would go to either the Brook of Kidron or the Pool of Siloam. They would gather water and carry the water back up to the temple. In a ceremony, they would walk around the altar of God and pour out the water, and the water would flow down the steps.
The Brook of Kidron, if you come down before it goes up to the Mount of Olives where Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, you can oversee the city of Jerusalem. You understand when He says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” because He could see it. Jesus knew what was coming. But here’s the thing, they would get the water and go back up. All the people would be singing together. There was a celebration, but nothing like the celebration on the seventh day, the great day, the climax day. On that day, they would take huge vats of water. They would carry them. They would make their way up and not just pour out the water one time on the altar. They would walk around the altar seven times. They would keep pouring the water. The water would flow down the steps of the temple. Everybody’s singing and praising God. Quoting and singing from the Psalm, singing from Isaiah about the well of salvation. They would cry out Hosanna, meaning, God save us. It was part of the tradition, Hoshana Rabbah. It was part of the way in which they would mark that moment, “The God who saves. God our salvation, save us.” It was also known to be messianic. When they would pour water out, the water would flow. Imagine in our mind, from an altar place, a massive amount of water being poured out by the priests, and the water just flowing down the stairwell.
It would flow down into the Court of the Women. Then it would flow down into the Court of the Gentiles, and it would fill. Everybody could see the water on that day. We’re told that in the middle of this amazing moment that spoke of God’s provision and how He has promised to save, Jesus did something that was so polarizing and unexpected. I don’t even think His disciples anticipated what He was going to do. The Bible says that in the middle of what was happening, we can assume it was while the water was flowing down, all the people are praising, and all the trumpets are blaring. As it starts to calm, unexpectedly, we’re told Jesus stands up and says, “All of you who are thirsty,” now the water’s been flowing, “All of you are thirsty, come to me. All of you who believe, come and drink. For out of your very being, will flow rivers of water. It will flow just like this water flowing down. Streams of living water will flow out of the center of your life if you will believe, and have me.” It was powerful. “What is He saying? What claims He’s making, ‘if you are thirsty, come to me?” That was powerful. There were many different reactions. I remind myself that I can read it, attempt to convey it, but I don’t think we can appreciate how startling and jarring it must have been.
First, just from the physicality of Jesus standing up and yelling. That alone was jarring. The very fact that He did it was something I don’t think His disciples were expecting. Nobody was. Not only what He did physically, in terms of the vocal aspect and the presence of it. But it was what He was saying, the implications of it. Here they are celebrating the God who saves, Hosanna, and He was essentially saying, “The God who saves is here.” Can you see what He is doing among you? Will you drink the water that He is now giving? Powerful. When the crowds heard him say this, some of them declared, “Surely, this man must be a prophet that we’ve been expecting.” “Yes.” Others said, “I think I know what He’s saying. I believe He is. He is Messiah.” Others say, “No, that’s impossible. He cannot be because we know the Messiah will not come from Galilee. There’s no way. Jesus comes from Galilee, from the north. The scriptures clearly state that Messiah will be born of the royal line of David in Bethlehem.” They didn’t know that’s where Jesus was born. The same village where King David was born.
It says the crowd was divided because of Him. In fact, some people wanted Him arrested. But they didn’t do it. No one stepped forward to do it. We know something happened earlier before this moment. Before Jesus did what He did which seems so audacious. The fact of the matter was, His claims, by any estimation, were so incredible that they forced people to decide at that moment what He was going to be to you, in the same way, they do today. The fact is, nobody could say what He just said. If you knew it wasn’t the truth to make such a claim, would it make you an outright liar? If you believed it was true, but it wasn’t true, then everything else that Jesus did would show He was self-deceived and crazy. Or He was who He claimed He was.
The one thing that’s been said many, many times, the one option He doesn’t give us, is the option of, “He’s just a good man and a good teacher.” Nobody can make the claims that Jesus made after He tells us not to lie. After He talks about the value of ethics and life well lived. Having sober assessments of ourselves and then to go and lie about who He was, to make the claims that He made, unambiguous claims, “I am the begotten son of God. I am the offering. I am the ultimate saving of God. I am that.” It put people on the spot because they had to decide. How do you get past that? It’s a winnowing fork. It’s a cutting edge. It’s either an occasion for acceptance with all that’s implied, or it’s an occasion for rejection with all that’s denied. He is either, as he said, and it would later be said by the apostle Paul, Jesus is either a stumbling stone that we fall upon, or He is a stepping stone. But He is not something indifferent. In one of those two, He would later say, “I am the stone that the builders rejected, the chief cornerstone on which everything else is built.” Powerful things that Jesus said. But the option as you look at it, He was basically telling us, “When it comes to me, at this moment, there is no middle ground. There is no middle ground.”
We know that there were a lot of people who wanted that middle ground. One of them was the man we’ve been talking about named Nicodemus. He could neither embrace Jesus, nor he didn’t feel like he could reject Him either. He was trying to find his way in the safe middle. It put him in some very awkward positions. In verse 45 it says, “Then the officers came to the chief priest and the Pharisees said to them, ‘why haven’t you brought Jesus? Where is He?” We know from earlier in verse 32, they had sent a temple guard to arrest Jesus, or at least to bring Him in, so that they could have a conversation with Him.
The Pharisees wanted to interrogate Him because of some of the things He was teaching before this. They already sent a group of officers from the temple guard to arrest Jesus. That was before He did what he did. By the time they got there, Jesus was saying what He was saying, and no doubt elaborating on it. So, the contingent of soldiers came back. You can see the Sanhedrin has gathered. The Pharisees are gathered. Nicodemus is there as well, as are a few others. The leaders say, “What happened? Where’s Jesus? Did you guys lose Him? How’d you lose Him? Did He run away? Did He escape? How did He get past you? We sent you with explicit orders. Bring Him back. Why isn’t he here?” Their answer is, “We went there but, no man ever spoke like this man. We never heard anybody talk like Him.” They went to arrest Jesus and His words ended up arresting them.
The soldiers said, “We didn’t feel it was right to arrest Him. At that point, It was like hearing from God.” Now watch the reaction that occurs. You can feel it coming right out of pages. “Are you serious? Are you also deceived under His spell? What are you talking about?” They say, “Have any of the rulers of the pharisee believed? Take a look around you. We are the leaders. We know the word. We know the law. We know the scriptures. Is there anyone here who really believes in this man? Anybody here who doesn’t question the fact that He cannot be Messiah? Ah, the ignorant rabble. They’re always deceived by people like Him. No question. They don’t know anything. They have no grounding point. But we who know, know He cannot be.” Look at the phrase that they use, “We know exactly,” it says here, “But this crowd, they don’t know the law. They’re just a curse, they’re nothing.”
The truth is, there were some in this group who did believe or were starting to believe. One of them was Nicodemus. When they said, “Look around you, none of us believe. None of us. We all know who He is. No, we’re not deceived like these people, like you, you gullible fools.” That’s the tone. Nicodemus believes a little bit. He can’t say anything. The best way to take this is to apply it to our own selves. Most of us, I think, have some circles where we sometimes feel awkward. We don’t know how to represent Jesus or our feelings about Him. It’s such a delicate position. For Nicodemus, you have to remember, this was his life and legacy. He’s older. His career is settled. This is his reputation. This is all that he’s earned, worked for, and acquired. It’s not just that, if that were all it was, it would be quite something. On top of it, these were the people he lived, engaged, studied, worked, and made decisions with. He liked them. They were the friends of his family. Their lives were intertwined.
They were deep root intertwined. When Jesus is being thrown out as some kook who they must reject, Nicodemus tried to do something. The Bible describes it as “Nicodemus, the one who had come to Jesus by night.” It tells us that Nicodemus says, “I do have a question here,” you could feel it comes across this way, “I do have a question, I think we might be being too hasty here. Does our law condemn a man before we’ve had a chance to talk with him? I think he deserves an opportunity to share. I think we need to be careful about making rash judgments.” That is a very tentative defense. Watch the ferocity of the return. So, hearing Nicodemus, they say, “Are you also from the Galilee? Search and look, there’s no prophet that comes from the northern Galilee.” When we read that and we think, “Oh, yeah. Okay. Are you not from Galilee? Okay. Well, I guess that was something…” Galilee was where the ignorant hill people were, the unlearned, untrained, uneducated no nothings, the fools who were always being swayed by whatever, the common people. They were saying it like it was tossed out with a barb on it, like a grenade. He comes out tentative and they hit him hard in that circle, “Are you some type of dumb, uneducated fool?” That’s what that was.
“What is wrong with you Nicodemus? How could you even bring that up? That is so off the wall. Have you forgotten who you are?” It would be like you in a conversation and nothing you said was right. You would be slammed down every time you said something. You say, “Oh my goodness, man. I can’t say anything.” It was intense. Nicodemus tries but gets hit back hard and he backs off. In the next verse, it says, they all went home. There was nothing more to talk about. Okay, what’s there for you and me? There’s a lot. I want to sit, take in, and mull things. I have two questions. Number one, when it comes to our sharing with Jesus, how do we stay loyal to Jesus without alienating our unbelieving coworkers, friends, family members, or people we have in social circles we engage with?
This is something that is worth pondering. I’m not making the assumption every single person here is a follower of Jesus at this point. But we certainly wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t something in our hearts that was open to Him. For those of us who are, who’ve made that decision to welcome Him into our lives, we are followers. The fact is, there’re going to come these moments where we are going to be asked to represent Him in some way. How do we do that? How do we stay loyal to Jesus at the same time? Honestly, I know this is not true for all of us, but for some of us, and I know because I’ve talked to a lot of people in the church about this at different times. Some of us operate in environments where, if there is not an overt hostility, there is a strong suspicion or a subtle undercurrent of hostility to anyone who’s too enthusiastic about Jesus. I’m not making a uniform statement. I am going to say that there are certain circles when talking about Him is more delicate than others.
We run the risk of getting stereotyped or put into a box that we don’t want to be put into, which is exactly what was happening with Nicodemus. He knew that if he stood up and spoke out overtly, he ran a risk that he could not take at this time. There was too much to lose for him. He tried a little bit, and I ought to talk about that because it really does remind me that there are times when it’s probably wise for us to say nothing. No question about it. At the end of the day, the way we live our lives does speak more loudly than what we say. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be times when if we love God, His spirit is going to impress us to speak up.
Sometimes, it may be when something is being said that isn’t accurate, or we feel compelled, at least represent Him a little bit differently. Do people even know we love Him? That we go to church? That this is a part of our lives? Is that even part of our subtle discussions of life? I’m just saying, do we ever show that card? If so, how do we do it? Some people obviously can go overboard in one direction. This brings me to the second question. Is it possible that we can become overly cautious in our desire not to be boxed in or stereotyped? Or maybe we feel a little bit ashamed about the reputation and we won’t come across as sophisticated, intelligent, or we won’t be able to say it right?
Whatever the reason why we are silent when God is trying to get us to say at least something to represent Him. Honestly, if people never hear about Jesus from people that at least they like and who love Him, then how are they going to hear about Him? Who’s the one that’s going to be telling them? Jesus did say, “Let our light so shine before people, that they may see our good works, and honor God, be drawn to Him because of what we’re doing.” That’s the truth. There are times when I think God does want us not to be ashamed of Him.
I was telling someone, “if I heard somebody saying something about my kids or my wife, and I just happen to walk into a conversation and hear them describing her or my kids in a certain way. I love them. The description is so distorted, unfair, one-sided in its representation, unobjective in the guise of being intellectually true, that there’s no one there to speak out on behalf of the people I love, I would be so wrong to say nothing.” Even if it was a friend, who I felt was being misrepresented, even if there was an element of truth, I would feel like if I walked out of that after what I heard and I say nothing, my silence is compliance. I might as well sign off on it. If that’s what I love, I will speak. I may not speak, I probably do it improperly, but I will still speak up.
I’m only using that as an example because there are times the Lord wants us to say something at least to let someone know, “Hey, would you like to some… I go to church.” That’s so subtle when we do that. I remind myself, “Lord, I think sometimes we’re too careful because we don’t want to be misunderstood. There are moments where God is saying, “I need you to speak up for me,” “But I’m going to risk something.” “I know. But I need you to speak up for me. Not pride, not proud, not bombastic, but with humility and sincerity. I need you to speak up for me. I need you to find a modest way, an angle, or a different way to disclose the fact that you care for me.”
I think when we do that in unsafe environments, the Lord’s heart is moved. I think there are times when we pull back when God wants us to step forward. We say, well, I have too much to risk or I’ll be missing… the Lord’s heart is hurt. I don’t want to hurt His heart. Even when we do, this is the third piece, I think that His mercy and patience with us is so infinite. The Lord doesn’t rub our face in it when we don’t do it right or say it right. I look at Nicodemus and say, “Man, God’s being so patient with him.” By the time this is done, he’s going to step out and declare himself for Jesus. It’s going to cost him. We’re going to see this next week. The thing about it is, there are times I realize and say, “Lord, even Peter who denied you, you loved him still.” Wow. Do you know how patient the Lord is with us? Because He knows our frame.
We all have weak zones. We talk about that all the time. At our best, we’re just wounded healers. That’s all. Touched by God’s grace. Never forget that. It also means that we don’t have to have everything together tightened to say that we love Him. In fact, sometimes I think that our raw and rough edges and our weak zones are better connectors for people to be able to come and see Jesus because it creates accessibility. This Easter, let’s invite someone and let it be known that we love Him. How we do it, the way we do it, people will come sometimes at Christmas and Easter when they’ll never come any other time because the culture’s talking about Jesus. You can’t miss it. It’s happening all over the world. It’s on the covers of magazines. It’s in discussions. We get a chance to be bridge builders and sowers of good seed. I can tell you this, there are certain people that only you can represent Jesus to right now that no one else can. We know that lives are changed and transformed. Who can say all the good that will come from one act of little courage? “The sower went out to so the seed, and some fell on good ground. The one that did come forth the harvest 30, 60, a hundred fold,” Jesus said. Who can say scatter the seed and then watch it grow?
Let’s pray, we’ll closeout. Lord, before we have our time of giving, I ask for your blessing over our church to continue to work in our church’s life. Help us to be able to represent your heart properly. Giving us a part of that, I ask for as a faithful good steward. I pray Lord that you would continue to work in each of our lives. I ask that this closing time brings this all together and there would become something of a prompting of your spirit to make you known, whether it’s through a simple invitation. Help us to pray for certain people, people we work with, and people we interact with. Lord, what I’ve been trying to do, building relational equity with people and be able to talk to them, whether it’s in a coffee shop or a place where I go to eat. Whatever I can do or whatever we can do to create an access and create an invitation moment. I pray that you would put in our hearts to be inviters, to be bringers. I’m reminded there’s never going to be a Peter unless a brother named Andrew invites him to come. So, always somebody has to do that. I pray for your blessing over all of us. Keep our hearts warm towards you. In these next two weeks, I pray that there’d be a special time for all of us to draw closer to you. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.