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the holy spiritSermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden

Second Sunday in Lent


The Victorian preacher C H Spurgeon describes how he went out with money from his church to give to a poor woman of the parish. He knocked and knocked again but she would not answer, she thought it was the rent man. The knock signalled a gift, she thought it was a demand.

• But what is it which convinces some people that there really is a gift from God which is worth bothering with?

• In the story today, what is it which makes Nicodemus different from the other Jewish leaders?

• Why was he willing to approach and listen to Jesus?

Ultimately of course we know that Nicodemus progressed along the road of faith and it was he who cared for the body of Jesus after the crucifixion.

Let’s look at Nicodemus

Nicodemus was from the right background. he was a Jewish leader and teacher, a member of the Sanhedrin. He came from the right family and the right race. He was a prominent and respected Jew. But he came to Jesus and it is clear that this was not enough for him. He knew he was missing something which his Jewish religion didn't have but which Jesus clearly did.

The message which Jesus gave to Nicodemus was clear. It doesn't matter into whose family you are born. You get no credit from God on account of your family. For somebody who would have been proud of his family tree, this was a blow. He suddenly was told that he was no better of than the lowest of the low.

In the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, the mother of Jesus, we are told that Jesus will bring down the mighty from their seat and exhalt the humble and the meek. Today in the Gospel reading, Nicodemus is one of the mighty when he comes to Jesus. He is told that it counts for nothing, he discovers what Mary meant. With Jesus birth, social status, wealth, all count for nothing, it was like you had to be born again, and we were all equal.

We are told that it was dark when Nicodemus came to Jesus, but there was a light switched on in his life when he went away, Jesus had illuminated his spiritual vision through this encounter and Nicodemus was changed. He was changed so much so that he was able to become brave enough to care for the body of the dead Jesus.

There are many people like Nicodemus, they have questions and they are not sure about Christianity, or who Jesus really is. Jesus taught Nicodemus something which changed his life.

The same Jesus still surprises people today. Christians are those who have heard God’s knock on the door and are prepared to respond knowing that it is not the rent man. They trust that what is offered really is a gift and not a life sentence.

Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of wind. The wind blows where it will. You can hear it, feel it, but you can’t predict or control it. How do some people come to faith and others don’t ? Are we able to give explain the work of the Holy Spirit ? The answer must be no.

We all want to know answers which help people to believe, but they are not there. We want God in a box, but God won’t fit. Perhaps this is what W.H. Auden meant when he said it’s hard to be a Christian if you’re not something of a poet.

  • We do not get to know God by study
  • You won't find God on the internet.
  • God isn't passed on from generation to generation.
  • God isn't for the well educated, indeed Jesus said, that God hides from the wise and reveals to the simple.

Our part is very simple, one of faith and trust, and all are equal, there are no special places for the talented and gifted.

Jesus reminded Nicodemus that in the desert Moses told the people of Israel to look at a bronze snake and they would survive snake bites. Those people in the desert didn’t understand how the bronze snake worked. It just worked and it became the source of life for them. All they had to do was to turn and to focus on the snake.

The cross of Christ is the same. I do not even begin to understand the atonement of God, or how the cross brings salvation to the world. Nobody knows how in the cross the enduring and overpowering love of God is at work to bring salvation to the world. Fortunately, we are not saved by explanations or understandings, we are saved by God.

Medieval map makers located the spot on which the cross stood as the centre of the earth and then they arranged the rest of the world around it. That may not be great cartography but it is excellent theology. The cross of Christ is our theology, its what it is all about.

Faith begins when we turn to Jesus and see in his death a vision of who God is. The death of Jesus on that cross assures us of his God’s good intentions towards us. We might not understand it but, because of the cross we trust that such a God has our best interests at heart.

Charles Royden