Monday, June 4, 2012

Wading In The Water of John

"Shallow enough for a child to wade in and deep enough to drown an elephant." So goes a description of the Gospel of John, attributed to Rev. Charles Spurgeon. John's Gospel remains a favorite of millions, yet it continues to confound scholars. Its nuances, double meanings and symbols are familiar even to new converts, but puzzle old preachers like me. For the next several posts I will take you wading with me and pray that you do not drown with this old pachyderm. Lets start with this very familiar quote:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. - Jhn 3:16 ESV
The quote is from a discourse by Jesus with Nicodemus, a member of the Great Sanhedrin, the 71 judges of the Jewish supreme court of that day, meeting in Jerusalem.
Though there is no clear source of information about this Nicodemus outside the Gospel of John, the Jewish Encyclopedia and many Biblical historians have theorized that he is identical to Nicodemus ben Gurion, mentioned in the Talmud as a wealthy and popular holy man reputed to have had miraculous powers. Christian tradition asserts that Nicodemus was martyred sometime in the first century.
When  Nicodemus came secretly by night to visit with Jesus, he called this young man Rabbi, a title of great respect that means my honorable sir, similar to the modern Reverend. Normally a Rabbi was trained in a theological school and formally ordained or certified as a teacher. Since Jesus was neither formally trained nor ordained, the title offered by such an esteemed leader was most unusual. Yet this respected judge saw Jesus as a teacher (John 3:2). As Matthew makes clear, others gave him the same title out of respect, but sometimes in mockery (Matt. 12:38).

Nicodemus goes even further as he acknowledges Jesus to be sent by God. He has concluded that Jesus' signs point to God being with him. For a further discussion of Jesus' signs see my earlier post. John emphasizes that Jesus was not a mere teacher come from God. No indeed. He was Immanuel, God with us. All the signs pointed to this fact. Nicodemus obviously was not prepared to acknowledge such an astounding claim. No mere man could ever make such a claim. It was blasphemy at the highest level, a crime so heinous that it deserved death (Matthew 26:63-66). No man dare claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God. By such a claim Jesus made himself God (John 10:33). Anyone uttering such blasphemy must surely be put to death. This was the law of the land and ultimately the judgment of the Sanhedrin as they dragged Jesus before the Roman Prefect, demanding his death (John 18:31).
Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. - Lev 24:16 ESV
Nicodemus may have acknowledged Jesus as a Rabbi, but he did not at that time recognize him as the Son of God. He was not prepared to give him a divine title or to recognize the mystery of what we Christians later called the Trinity, the fact that God is three persons and yet remains but one God! To acknowledge this is indeed to wade into water deep enough to drown any elephant or as Jesus said,
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." - Jhn 3:3 ESV

More on water and rebirth and seeing next time.

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