Last week as I was preparing my sermon, the gospel had a particularly fascinating line that caught my attention. While it wasn’t where the sermon ultimately went, it is worth some comment if we want to consider the realities of life, the fickleness of people’s faith, and the ways we all behave. Of course, as we are all different, the verse and verses do not apply to all of us all the time, but as you read this article, pause for a second to see if you can’t find some part of yourself or your feelings and actions revealed in what it has to say.
First, the scripture verse comes from John’s gospel, the 2nd verse. It reads: “He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’” The entire verse is powerful simply because of what it acknowledges about Jesus as having come from God and being in the presence of God. That, in and of itself, would be material enough to devote an entire sermon. But I want to go back to the beginning of the verse and focus our attention on something very easily overlooked or simply concluded to be a part of the background information. Where we’ll focus is on the first part of the verse, “He (Nicodemus) came to Jesus by night ….” Nicodemus came at night because he did not want to be seen consulting with Jesus because Nicodemus was himself a member of the Jewish Ruling Council. How embarrassing and incriminating that would have been, right?
But in John’s gospel, nighttime has a much deeper and more intense meaning than simply the sun has set. I am reminded of an old western movie starring Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda. One character says to the other, “It’ll be dark soon.” And then he adds, “Things happen at night.” How true! At night fear reigns unchecked. It seems violence is more frequent in the darkness. Things people would never do during daylight, they have no qualms about doing in the darkness. Children are often afraid of the dark, but then, so are adults. When it’s dark, you can’t always see where you’re going.
But in John’s gospel, to speak about the night often implies much more – he’s not merely talking about the time of day, he’s talking about a condition. Remember, Judas betrays Jesus “at night.” Mary Magdalene arrives at the empty tomb while “it was still dark,” before the sun has risen. Even when Mary sees Jesus in the garden, she mistakes him for the gardener, because it was still dark. In John’s gospel, the mention of ‘night’ often refers to people who want to believe, but for some reason are not yet able, they cannot believe. Nicodemus, Judas, Mary Magdalene – they are all facing the night and a challenge to their belief in Jesus as the Christ and as their Lord.
Sometimes, our lives feel as if we are living them at night, even though the sun may be shining brightly upon us. In the midst of difficult days, with competing claims on our life and endless decisions needing to be made, we can wonder what to do, what to decide, what to believe. And even though we are beginning to come out of the COVID-19 nightmare where it seemed as if it was always nighttime, many are still worried and uncertain about what today and tomorrow will bring our way. I wonder if the fears and concerns of COVID have deepened the ever-present sense people carry that causes them to feel as if it is always nighttime. Has COVID and the way we have had to live for the past year caused us to question our future and our beliefs? Are any of us struggling with what to do next? Are we hesitant to return to normal activities? Have we lost sight of the graciousness of God?
The good thing about John’s gospel is that it does not stay nighttime forever. As we read through the verses, with each one we see more and more certainly that Jesus is the Son of God and he is the answer to the predicament that humanity is constantly facing. The fear of what our future holds is answered. The concern for the penalty of our sinfulness is resolved. Our need to be reconciled to God is taken care of. John’s gospel does not leave us living in the dark or existing only at nighttime. The Son of God rises from the empty tomb, the light shines upon our lives, and we are saved. It is always darkest before the sun rises. But for those who believe in Christ, the Son has risen!
I hope you’ll take this to heart as you consider your next moves in this life. Nighttime does not last forever, and for us, the dawn is quickly approaching. I encourage you to do everything necessary to strengthen your faith and grow closer to the God who saves us through His son Jesus Christ. Remember the gift that Jesus Christ is for you and the light that he shines before you in your life. While it is true that “things happen at night,” it is also, and more importantly, true that better things happen in the day. I hope you are planning to step out from the darkness of this past year and step into the light and joy of these days ahead. Christ is calling us to come and follow. What will be our answer? It’s not just a time of day, it’s an action we take. And perhaps a first step we can take, is to help each other fill the church with those who need to hear and experience this wonderful news.
Pastor Butler +