Today’s Gospel reading introduces a character who doesn’t seem to appear much in the bible but is an important person to understand.
John tells us that Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a leader among the Jews.
But unlike the other Pharisees and leaders he actually supports Jesus.
But because he supports Jesus he has to come to him by night because he is scared that the other Jewish leaders might find out.
His fear is similar to what we will see in the disciples after Jesus’ death when they lock themselves away for fear of the Jews.
I feel for Nicodemus.
When I first started going to church when I was 18, I lived in a family that mocked God – that had no time for God.
After reading my Gideon’s Bible that I got in High School I was convinced that God was leading me to find out more.
So I rang the 2 Lutheran Churches near me at the time – Waverley and Box Hill.
I chose Box Hill because they had an evening service.
I could cover up my attendance there better at night than if I ducked out early on a Sunday morning.
Fear can grip us and make us do things to avoid facing our fears.
We are starting to see what fear is doing in society with the Coronavirus.
Many supermarket items have run out because of panic buying.
It’s happening in other parts of the world too.
We fear so we act irrationally.
I remember when we used to have a lot more petrol strikes.
The queues lining up at petrol stations to top up a tank even though it was almost full for fear what MIGHT happen in the coming days.
There used to be a show on TV devoted to this panic called American Preppers.
It was a show about people preparing for an end of world catastrophe who would have bunkers prepared with essential items to they could wait out the apocalypse.
But fear can also prevent us from experiencing blessings that God provides as he takes us on adventures.
Imagine if Peter, when called by Jesus, said “thanks for the offer but I really need to earn a living so I can secure my future.
But he didn’t.
He took the risk, just as Abraham did in our Old Testament reading.
The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him;
Abraham, or Abram as he was known as then, took a risk.
He left all his security behind him – his family, his house and land – and he went to a place that he needed to trust God about.
Imagine if he had said no.
Imagine if his fear of the unknown stopped him from taking that bold step.
I think it is actually exciting when we don’t know what the future is and that we trust in God.
Yes it can be a little unsettling because it is something we are not in control of.
But that’s where God’s blessings flourish.
That’s what he promised to Abraham:
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Look how many times he uses the word “bless” – and all of this is contingent on Abraham trusting God and not knowing what the future holds.
Likewise for us in situations we are facing like this current issue of the Coronavirus.
We can panic and protect ourselves and live in fear or we can trust God.
Fear makes us think about ourselves.
If we focus on ourselves – store up food – panic buy and all those other things that everyone else is doing – where is the room for God’s blessings.
How are we different to those who don’t have faith in God?
This is the perfect time to witness to our faith in God.
And remember that it wasn’t all easy going for Abraham going forward.
He feared for his life when he thought tribes would kill him because of his wife.
He witnessed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
He had to deal with the prospect of not having an heir and again trusting God’s promise even though he was turning 90 years old.
And sadly his fear got the better of him and he took matters into his own hands and has a child with Hagar – Ishmael.
But God remained true to his promise and Abraham has a child with Sarah – Isaac.
But because of his fear Abraham caused tension between Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac – a tension that continues in the world today.
So again we learn that God will always act but not always in our timing – and we are not to panic.
And that’s what Paul means when he says: the promise that Abraham would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law (through Ishmael) (taking matters into our own hands) but through the righteousness of faith (Isaac) – trusting God.
Ishmael through Hagar represents the law – a breakdown in trust – and Isaac through Sarah represents faith in God.
Blessings don’t come when we take action by our own means.
Blessings come when we trust God.
Again we see that example when Peter walks on the water but then lets his fear cause him to panic and he begins to sink.
His fear caused him to deny knowing Jesus 3 times.
Fear should not define a Christian.
Fear is the opposite of faith as it causes us to move away from faith in God and trust in ourselves.
Nicodemus and Peter will overcome their fear and what different people they will become.
Nicodemus will accompany Joseph of Arimathea to seek Jesus’ body to give him a proper burial.
But this time it won’t be at night.
Peter will become a power preacher filled with the Holy Spirit and when asked to cease he boldly claims – I must obey God rather than human beings.
There is no more fear of the Jews.
No more denying Jesus.
Fear can bring out the worst in us as it relies on ourselves.
We’re seeing that in the selfishness of panic buying – I don’t care if others don’t get any as long as I have enough for myself.
Faith brings out the best in us – the blessings of God – as we trust God and become powerful witness for him.
Jesus says – You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
The world belongs to God and we believe that he not only created us but provides for us.
And he continues to provide for us.
The one who loved us so much that he sent his one and only Son will not forsake us so let us keep our trust in him.