This Sunday we’ll be thinking about the story of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus as reported in John’s gospel, Chapter 3. It is most well known for Jesus’ declaration, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” and John 3:16–“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.” Either one of those passages can provide enough material for a several week Bible study, so I’m going to focus on the context of Nicodemus’ night time visit with Jesus. What was a prominent leader from the religious establishment doing sneaking–and that’s not too strong a word–in the darkness of night to see an itinerant rabbi from Galilee who had just a few verses before cleansed the Temple of the money changers and sacrificial animals?
In my preparation for this week’s sermon, I came across this thought from Professor Gail R. O’Day’s commentary on John 3 in the New Interpreter’s Bible. She writes, “The seriousness of this text’s invitation was grasped by African American slaves. Nicodemus’ nighttime visit to Jesus offered an important biblical precedent for their own worship gatherings. Slaves were allowed to participate in formal Christian worship only at their masters’ discretion; they were not allowed to have their own worship and rarely were allowed access to the Bible. Therefore, they held clandestine religious gatherings at night, a practice that continued after emancipation. The slaves saw in Nicodemus’ night visit roof that it was possible to come to Jesus even when those in power forbade it. Nicodemus was a model, someone who was willing to act on his own against the will of the authorities.”