When I walked out through the gates, my work stayed behind me. This was one of the great advantages of working on classified programs. The requirements of the workplace demanded that I compartmentalize my life. Work had to remain locked up inside the safe inside my office. Conversely during my time at work, my employer expected me to focus on work problems and not on family or church matters.
Nicodemus may have wanted to keep his contacts with Jesus separate from his daily pursuits as a Pharisee. Would other Pharisees understand if they had found out that he had sought Jesus’s teaching? Thus he came at night so that others might not find out.
Throughout history people have tried to separate their religious life from other pursuits thinking that one ought not to affect the other. Christ had instructed John of Patmos to write a letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus including:
Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
— Revelation 2:6 (NRSV)
The Nicolaitans likely practiced pagan rites while claiming to be “Christians,” as if they could compartmentalize their Christian belief apart from the pagan practices of their culture.
The Nazis similarly expected Christians to compartmentalize their religion from the expectations of the State. Instead, representatives of the confessing church replied:
We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords — areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.
— “The Declaration of Barmen,” paragraph 8.15. Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Part I, Book of Confessions The Office of the General Assembly, 1999.
Jesus had challenged Nicodemus: “I tell you all the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born over.” An intriguingly ambiguous phrase implying at the same time to mean: to be born again, a second time; and to be born from above, spiritually as well as physically. A phrase that implies Nicodemus’s faith was somehow not quite mature enough, not quite fully gesticulated.
How do we continue to keep Christ out of parts of our lives? Are we fully ready to be born over?
I will have more to say about John 3:1-21 at 8:15 AM or 10 AM on Sunday, March 12th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.