I am the one who comes by night; I am the one who comes.
Forgive me for having the cowardice to come by night, but please remember that I am one that comes to see and learn.
Some will deride me, saying, “He is a teacher of the law and should know all things. He is embarrassed, and this is why he comes by night.”
Others will ridicule me, saying “He is a coward, afraid of those in power, and this is why he comes by night.”
But I tell you that I am doing the best and wisest thing that I can. Yes, I have been too afraid to stand up for the truth when it’s likely to kill my career and have me thrown out of the synagogue. But give me credit for coming, in spite of the danger to myself, in spite of being a teacher who is looked up to as knowing all things.
I come as every good teacher must, as a student, looking for greater answers. Ever the student, I have become aware of my own ignorance in the presence of one more knowledgeable and wiser and more powerful.
And so I came, not knowing what to say, not even daring to ask the questions on my lips. I came instead stating the truth as far as I knew it: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who comes from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
That sounded about right – acknowledging that he was clearly from God and yet suggesting that I might think he might be even more.
I’m not sure what I expected him to say, except that it surely isn’t the thing that he did say: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
What did he mean by that? He didn’t tell me any more about himself, that’s for sure. Is he suggesting that I’m blind and have not yet found the kingdom of God? And what is this being born again? I don’t want to come right out and ask him about himself, and I don’t want to be defensive if he does think I’m blind. I’ll ask him about the part I least understand.
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
And then he talked about water and the Spirit. The frustrating thing is that he makes me feel like I should know these things but don’t. He makes me realize how little I know, but then he doesn’t always make it clear. Water I know, and the Spirit, but what does he mean by them?
It’s all so clear after the fact, but this is the way it should be. First must come faith and trust in Him, and then comes understanding. As a wise rabbi has said, “I believe that I may understand.” Too many of us want to begin with understanding, with logically explaining and defining and comprehending all, and then we’ll believe. But that kind of proof, to which I was accustomed, is only a form of pride. It leaves me, the one who is in the dark and comes by night, in charge. It leaves the blind leading the blind.
It’s all so ridiculous to one who demands a sign and to one who demands human logic first. Water and the Spirit. One is material, one is immaterial. But how can the material and earthly be the means of bringing us to the immaterial and heavenly? On the other hand, how can we know the Spirit when it is spiritual and immaterial and we are earthly and fleshly?
Water and the Spirit.
The answer is, of course, what I learned over the course of the next few years as I followed the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The answer is what we call the Incarnation, God made man. It is the Spirit in the water. It is the Spirit of creation hovering over the water and giving the second birth. It is the Spirit of salvation bringing life through the waters of regeneration which we call baptism.
It’s all so ridiculous, of course! How can a man be born again? How ridiculous to imagine someone my size fitting into the womb again!
Of course Jesus was talking of the second birth that comes to those who are dead but made alive by the power of God. What’s even more ridiculous is that man, born in the flesh and dead in his sins could do anything to come to God and be His child again. Yet that’s what some believe. What’s most ridiculous of all is the idea of God entering into a human mother’s womb. Yet that is the truth.
How ridiculous that God would use water to bring us into a new life with Him. How ridiculous that the things of the earth could be used to give birth to the things of heaven and that by pouring water over someone or having them dipped in it not only their bodies but their souls could actually be made clean. How unbelievable that something so simple and elemental could be the means by which one is made clean and given new life and brought into the Kingdom of God!
But how even more ridiculous is the idea that God would actually fashion a creature in His image from the dust of the earth. And most ridiculous of all is the truth that God, who is spirit, would actually take the form of man, who is flesh.
It all becomes clear once you stop living in the night. Like me, you may come in the night, but you should leave in the day. The second birth, like our first birth, is not something that we can control. In fact, that desire to control is the problem. We want baptism and the new life to be about us, when really it was all about God, what He says, and what He does to us – just as in the creation. For surely we are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. This is true not only for our creation and first birth but also for our second birth: it is the work of God.
Like me, you may come in the night, but you should leave in the day. You may remember that after I first came by night that I was one of the ones who publicly, in the light, stood up for the Truth. John graciously doesn’t make my first coming by night to Jesus his only mention of me! He tells of the second time, the time I came to bear witness to the Light, saying, when some of our leaders wanted to take Him by force, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (John 7:51).
Even then I didn’t see clearly but remained in shadows. But have you read the end of the story, the part where I, the one who had come by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds? (John 19:39)
Though I came by night at the beginning, as we all must, I now come by day because I have seen the Light. I saw the King of glory crucified, dead, and buried, but I also saw Him resurrected. I saw the God who came down to a human womb die, but I also saw Him rise again and offer the second birth to all who would be born again by water and the Spirit.
Some of you desire to come nearer, to see more and learn more. Some of you are even the teachers among you. You may come by night, but the Master bids you “Come!” Come and learn of Him, come whatever the cost. Come to the one who is both Life and Light!
Resolution: I resolve to come to Jesus Christ today, however much it feels like I’m in the dark. I resolve to come to Jesus, or one of His teachers, with a question I have had or a need that I have.
Prayer: Father, we thank You, who has taught through Your Son that no one can enter the Kingdom of God except he be regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Spirit; that You have granted to us from Your bounteous mercy that which by nature we cannot have; and that we are made members of the Body of Christ and heirs of salvation. Help us always to seek Your Light in which we see light and life. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Meditate on the wonder of the ridiculous claims of Christ and His Kingdom. Give thanks for the kingdom and power and glory of God.
- Reflect on your own journey from night into day, as you have faithfully persisted in following Jesus. If you are still in the shadows of His life, what efforts will you make to seek His light?
Jesus and Nicodemus – U.S. Public Domain