“There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
John 3:1,2 (Common English Bible)
I never knew my maternal grandfather, George Alexander. He died from a brain tumor before I was born. In his last days, a patient in the hospital, he tossed back and forth in pain and discomfort. The end of life was near. He knew it. His family knew it. The physicians and staff who cared for him knew it. The day before he died, he asked for the doctor. His wife, my grandmother, gently took his hand and told him that there was nothing more the doctor could do. His eyes growing wide, he looked intently at his wife and offered this clarity, “Not that doctor. The doctor with the Book!” My grandfather was asking for his pastor, the Dr. Vernon S. Broyles. In his own feeble manner, what he was saying is that he wanted God.
A Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, comes to Jesus at night. This observation is nuanced intentionally to stir curiosity. First, the Pharisees were a lay party of Jewish leaders many of whom were aligned against Jesus. Second, Nicodemus’ identification as a “Jewish leader” is not a redundant observation given that he was already identified as a Pharisee. No, Nicodemus is a Pharisee of considerable standing among the Jewish people, an “E. F. Hutton” of his generation. His words, his behavior, and his actions were closely observed. Nicodemus’ identity is wrapped up in his position. Finally, that he approached Jesus “at night” demonstrates caution – Nicodemus fears that he will be seen.
Nicodemus is here seeking God, giving himself the opportunity to hear the voice of God. Many of his Pharisee colleagues were confident that they occupied the corner of all truth, all wisdom. They had God all figured out. Pharisees were driven by one impulse, to demonstrate and teach the truth about God to everyone else. They had nothing more to learn. Such a position results in the easy judgment of any position that lay outside their understanding. Personal inquiry to a deeper knowledge of God is suffocated by self-assurance. Yet, Nicodemus’ heart has been taken possession by a haunting sense that there is more to know of God, a yearning for a richer experience of God. Nicodemus came to Jesus – though “at night.”
It matters little whether we seek God as my grandfather did, by asking a loved one for the pastor or, as Nicodemus did, quietly and out of notice of watchful eyes. In the last analysis, what matters is that we pay attention to the timeless urge that tugs at the human heart – the longing to know God. We think we need many things. We work hard and strive to check off one more item on that list. But, in moments of stillness, silence, and honesty, we are aware that the heart seeks one thing – a deep and increasing desire to know God. Many have pursued costly pleasures, but few have arrived at contentment. The radiant life begins when the one thing neglected is neglected no longer – the hunger for God.