The Rev. Frank
The Untamed Wind—God’s Spirit
Note: This first person sermon from Nicodemus perspective relies not just on the third chapter of John, but also on the two other Nicodemus incidents in John's Gospel, which occur in John 7:37-52 and John 19:38-42.
I was named Nicodemus. Nicodemus means “conqueror of the people.” Ironic. I was the one who was conquered. Vanquished, liberated really, in the fullest sense of that word. I was conquered quite willingly by the spirit of God.
I went to Jesus at night. It had to be night. Jesus was a noted Rabbi to be sure, but I was a member of the Sanhedrin, the select inner circle of Jewish leaders. I could not afford to be seen with Jesus. Not yet anyway. So I went to him under the cover of darkness. It strikes me as funny all these years later. I went to the light of the world at night.
I went to Jesus because I was intrigued by the signs and wonders he was doing. I knew that no one could heal the sick, exorcise people of demons, and do the other miracles unless God allowed it. Some wondered if Jesus was a trickster, a charlatan. But this was no sleight of hand. Jesus was the real thing—miracles happened wherever he went. Lives were changed for the better and they stayed changed. Paralytics walked. The blind saw. The deaf heard.
I went to Jesus because I knew in a spiritual sense I was blind, deaf and lame. I wouldn’t even have admitted it to myself at the time. I was supposed to be the one with the answers. But deep inside I knew I needed healing.
Jesus immediately caught me off guard. He said, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born…” Well that next word was the problem. The Greek is anothen. It can mean “from above” or “again.” No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again or from above. I assumed born again and then before I could take it back I had already said, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born!” Like I said. I was blind.
Born again. Born from above. Either way, Jesus was talking of a spiritual rebirth. It sounded preposterous. I came for a down-to-earth chat with the Rabbi Jesus and the next thing I know he’s off in space somewhere with philosophical babble.
Then Jesus rather than grounding our conversation in reality, said “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
Wind. That was a word I knew. Wind in Hebrew is Ruach. Ruach means wind, breath or spirit. It was the word in Hebrew scripture for The Holy Spirit. The breath of God that blew on the waters in creation. That wind of God that blows through the world to this day began to blow anew through my life that night. I had been so busy trying to understand God. All I was really doing was trying to control God, to contain God, as if I could put the divine essence in some safe box and take God out when I wanted.
Jesus opened up a shaft of blazing light into my darkness that night. Jesus told me, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
God so loved the world. Those words were the new thing that came blowing into my life. I was so sure that God was for us Jews and us alone and the only way the world could come to God was as a Jew. God loved the world. I didn’t. I saw the world as broken. Fallen, with no hope for repair. I was waiting for the Messiah to come take us faithful away while bringing judgment to all the rest. And here was Jesus, doing these amazing miracles and then telling me that the spirit of God would blow wherever it wanted.
God so loves the world that the spirit of God is still out there creating. The spirit of God was making all things new. I could be born again, from above. I could be made new. This new teaching was a bit too much to take in. My eyes were opened to be sure, but I couldn’t quite yet see. Not clearly anyway.
Many months passed. I kept up with Jesus. I got word of his teaching and miracles. About six months before Jesus was put to death, he created a big stir in the Temple. It was the end of the Tabernacles feast and the Temple priests were pouring out the water libations by the altar. Jesus called out for all to hear, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
Jesus proclaimed himself as the source of living water. Jesus was as good as proclaiming himself on the same level as God. The Temple police reported the whole thing to us at the Sanhedrin. Most of our members were angry that Jesus had not already been arrested. Mob rule was in danger of taking over the Sanhedrin.
I couldn’t help but speak. I said, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing, does it?” Some accused me of being a Galilean, of being a follower of Jesus. But the move toward mob mentality stopped. If nothing else, you could always count on the Sanhedrin to follow the letter of the law. I was the one most changed by my own words that day. I was accused of being one of his followers and didn’t mind the accusation. The Spirit was blowing where it would.
I tried in my own way to be faithful to Jesus. The trial I asked for came six months later in the dead of night. I did not say enough, nor do enough to save Jesus. The Sanhedrin decided that he deserved to die. Later I could see that while I was working behind the scenes in dead of night to save him, Jesus worked in the light of day to save us all.
After he died, I went with a fellow member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, to claim Jesus’ body. I bought up every spice I could find, seventy-five pounds of burial spices and the burial clothes to go with them. We took Jesus to what was to have been Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. We prepared Jesus for burial in a way befitting someone of a high station of life. It seemed the least we could do. Jesus had come into the world that the whole world might be saved. Look at how we treated him. I was ashamed.
Finally, in Jesus’ death Joseph of Arimathea and I took a stand. We never wanted anyone to know that we were Jesus’ followers too. In placing Jesus in his tomb, we boldly proclaimed to anyone watching that we were not ashamed of Jesus. It was too little, too late. We had not saved him. I could see now how the father had given his Son, but I could not see what Jesus’ death had to do with eternal life.
I had no idea in what way the spirit of God can move through creation. I still did not understand that all things can be made new. The wind of God was blowing, but none of us could feel it yet. Even those of us who considered ourselves his disciples could not hear the breeze.
Three days later, I finally learned the lesson Jesus tried to teach me that night I came to him. On the third day after we placed him in the tomb, Jesus rose from the dead, setting aside the burial shroud I bought for him. The women and then Peter and John found the two pieces of cloth neatly folded in the empty tomb. Jesus rose from the dead to die no more. He would never need those burial clothes again.
When I saw the risen Jesus, I fully understood those words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” The light of Christ came flooding into my darkness. I saw the world anew. The experience was like being born again, this time born from above—born of God.
I never thought that I could pass that experience along to others. I wondered if any of us who had been there and experienced Jesus could somehow convey the wonder of it all. How could we share what we had experienced with the ones who never saw Jesus, heard him, touched him. Those who had seen and heard and touched did not just know about God, we knew God in person, through his Son, Jesus of Nazareth.
But Jesus was right; the wind blows where it will. After his resurrection and ascension, Jesus was no longer limited to a given place in Palestine. Through the untamed spirit of God, Jesus became available to everyone. Jesus was and is for the whole world.
So much time has passed and that wind still blows. God’s spirit goes where it will breathing life into a world turned from God. And here’s what I’ve learned along the way. We only have to throw open the windows of our souls to let the breeze blow in. Just say to yourself, “Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me” and trust that untamed spirit of God to do just that.