And there it was—the sharp metallic clack echoing into the space beyond.
No one came.
He waited several seconds. Still, no answer. He blew a long exhale. That was it then. It wasn’t meant to be. Knock again? No, God had answered here. He turned to go.
And the door swung open. A big man looked down. Dark hair to his shoulders. Thick beard. He had very rough hands. Working hands. He eyed Nicodemus for a long few seconds. He crossed massive arms across his chest and leaned a shoulder against the jamb. Then the strangest thing—he smiled. “Are you lost, Pharisee?”
“I hope not. I’m looking for Yeshua. The Nazarene.”
“You’re a long way from the Upper City, my friend. These lower streets aren’t safe, you know.”
“You believe someone would harm a Pharisee?”
The man lifted a muscled shoulder. “There are all sorts of people in the world. You never know.”
The gentle demeanor of such a huge, rough character disarmed him. Nicodemus’ tide of nerves receded a few feet. “What have I to fear when an oak tree answers the door and calls me his friend? What’s your name?”
A grin. “Nathanial.”
“I know who you are, Nicodemus.” The man made no effort to move from the doorway. “You’re a strange little mouse, though. Not what I expected.”
“What do you want from Yeshua? The same as the rest? See him pull a shekel from thin air? Make a monkey disappear?” the giant said.
“No, I . . .” Nerves pressed again, closing Nicodemus’ mouth.
A hand appeared on the big man’s shoulder. He stepped back but didn’t leave. Another man, somewhat smaller than the first but still a head taller than Nicodemus, stepped into the doorway. His eyes were light, inquisitive. “So, our Pharisee’s arrived?”
“And he’s a strange one,” Nathanial said.
What’s happening here? “I should go,” Nicodemus said. “I think there’s been some mistake.”
“You’re Nicodemus, correct? Of the Sanhedrin?” Light Eyes interrupted.
“Yes. How did you—”
“Then there’s no mistake. Yeshua wants to talk with you. Come. Follow.” He started toward the interior.
Nicodemus stood his ground. “And you are . . . ?”
The man turned. “I’m Philip.”
“You two are disciples of the Nazarene?”
“Two of many,” Nathanial said.
“Yeshua is the Son of God,” Nathanial said.
Nicodemus still hadn’t passed through the doorway. “The Son of God? You call him the Son of God? Why? Because you believe he turned water into wine?”
Nathanial shrugged. “What can I tell you that you’ll believe? Come and see.”
“Yes, please. He’s waiting for you. Follow now,” Philip added.
Nicodemus felt his Pharisaical dignity slipping away, water through fingers. “I don’t think either of you understand. It’s the other way around. I wanted to talk to him. He didn’t summon me.”
“Of course. We all have a choice,” Philip said.
Nicodemus stood as tall as his frame would allow, considering. “All right then. Lead on.”
“I told you he was a strange one,” Nathanial said.
They passed through a sparse room. A woman and a man talked quietly on cushions against one wall. They took no notice of Nicodemus. Only a single lamp burned, casting its undulating light on the walls and low, thatched ceiling. Then through a rear door and into a fenced yard, much bigger than Nicodemus would have expected. A single torch burned. Coals smoldered in an outdoor oven. The familiar and comforting aroma of baking bread permeated the night. Several people stood or sat, talking, laughing softly. Some ate; others sipped from clay cups what Nicodemus assumed to be wine.
“Are you hungry? Thirsty?” Philip said.
“No, thank you. Is he—”
And then Yeshua was there. Right in front of him. Not several safe yards away like that day in the Stoa. But the same Yeshua. And Nicodemus was back on the precipice, fighting for balance. Seeing the same sun-darkened face. Same rough, cropped hair, dark but bleached lighter—almost gray in places—by the sun and wind.
An irrational temptation to run, to retreat, came over Nicodemus. Stop it! Are you a child?
Then Yeshua smiled a sunrise of joy . . .
Nicodemus felt hot tears well up. What’s the matter with you? Get a hold of yourself!
Yeshua’s smile offered no quarter. Deep lines around the mouth and eyes. Here was no king, no handsome, striking figure to pump fear into the heart of the enemy. The man was completely plain.
And completely beautiful.
Nicodemus did, taking a stool across from Yeshua. The man didn’t say anything, but those eyes… For an instant, Nicodemus had the ridiculous urge to cover himself. Or look away. Or hide… Anything to escape those smiling eyes laying him bare.
Instead, he did what he always did—he buried his discomfort in words. “Rabbi,” —a little flattery couldn’t hurt— “we know you must be a teacher sent from God. No one could do the signs you do unless God was with him.”
Not a lie, exactly, but still, Joseph’s story about the tavern magician and the donkey tugged at the edge of his mind.
Yeshua studied him. Then, amazingly, the man leaned forward and put a hand on Nicodemus’ knee. Touched him—a Pharisee! A member of the Great Sanhedrin! When he spoke, his voice was unremarkable, yet the conversation in the yard quieted. At least that was Nicodemus’ memory of what happened when he thought about it later. “Listen to me, Nicodemus,” Yeshua said. “Unless a man is born again, he’ll never see the kingdom of God.”
“What do you mean? How can a grown man be born? He can’t crawl back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?”
That smile again . . . “Listen to what I’m saying. Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit . . . he can’t enter the Kingdom of God.”
A herd of questions galloped through Nicodemus’ mind, leaving him dizzy.
Yeshua laughed. “Look, what’s born of flesh is flesh, what’s born of Spirit is spirit. So don’t wonder that I told you you need to be born again.”
A welcome breeze rose, cooling the yard, making the torch flames dance.
“See?” Yeshua went on, not waiting for Nicodemus to reply. “The wind blows where it wants; you hear the sound of it. Where does it come from? Where is it going? That’s the way it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus leaned forward—or was pulled, he couldn’t be sure. In fact, the whole thing was beginning to feel like a dream. The Kingdom of God? Physical versus spiritual? Could the man read minds? This was no blustering would-be messiah. In fact, Yeshua was like no one Nicodemus had ever come across before. “How can these things be?”
Yeshua leaned back. “Are you really the teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things?”
How in the world did this man know him?
Yeshua’s gaze wandered the yard for a second or two. When his eyes found Nicodemus again, the joy had ebbed, chased away by what? Regret? No; more a deep, deep sadness.
“We talk about what we know. We testify about what we’ve seen with our own eyes. But you won’t receive our witness, will you?” Yeshua ran rough fingers through his hair. Shook his head. “Here I am, only telling you earthly things and you don’t believe. How will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into Heaven but the one who descended from Heaven—the Son of Man. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, remember? The same thing has to happen to me, the Son of Man, so that everyone who believes in me will have eternal life.”
Eternal life? And who, or what, was the Son of Man? Was he talking about himself? Surely he wasn’t equating himself with God? The Son of God, Nathanial had said. Whether the Nazarene was equating himself with God or not, it seemed his disciples had no problem doing just that.
Again, Yeshua seemed to thumb through Nicodemus’ thoughts with ease. The sunrise-smile. He reached for Nicodemus’ knee again. “For God so loved the world He gave them His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him can have eternal life. He didn’t send his Son to judge the world but so the world should be saved through Him!”
Yeshua lifted a cup and sipped, eyeing Nicodemus over the rim. He lowered it and stood in a fluid movement. “Everyone who does evil hates the light. And he won’t come to the light lest his deeds be exposed.”
Nicodemus looked up at the man. “I think I was wrong. I shouldn’t have come here.”
Those eyes again . . . searching, speaking . . . pulling. “Nicodemus, he who practices the truth—who seeks the truth—comes to the light. Everything he does is birthed in God.”
But you came, Nicodemus, the eyes seemed to say. You sought the Truth. . .
Then it was over. The eyes released him. Yeshua walked over to the outdoor oven. A man cut a chunk of meat from a larger piece roasting over the coals, tore a fistful of bread, and handed both to the Nazarene. Yeshua laughed and said something Nicodemus couldn’t make out.
Philip touched Nicodemus on the elbow. “Feel better, Pharisee? Time to go now.” He headed for the door leading to the interior room and then the street.
With a last look at Yeshua, Nicodemus trotted after. “No. No, I don’t feel better. He didn’t answer my question. I came to hear about the signs. How does he do the signs?”
At the front door, Nicodemus stepped out, then turned and looked back. “About which? About what I came for? Or that he didn’t answer?”
“About both,” Philip said. He smiled as he closed the door.
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Bill and Susie Perkins founded Compass International, Inc. in 1993 as a non-profit, non- denominational ministry. For information on Compass’ Steeling the Mind Bible Conferences, Good Morning Lord! Bible studies, books, DVDs and Biblelands Trips and Cruises, go to compass.org
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