2009-07-09 - To Confound the Wise
John 3:10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? (NASB)
Nicodemus here could be a symbol of the wisdom of this world, but he chose not to be.
Now please don't think I'm bashing Nicodemus. He had enough humility and desire for the truth to risk his position and his reputation to seek out Jesus. Then he ushered up the courage to ask honest questions. He was not trying to trap Jesus like some of his peers. Nicodemus had heard Jesus speak and his heart and mind had been touched. This "teacher of Israel" was honest enough with himself that he had to know. Something burned inside him to drive him to this desperate journey after dark. He was very well-educated. He was wealthy. He was a highly respected member of society. He was surrounded by his peers who sought to discredit or destroy the itinerant Rabbi Jesus, or both. He had all the excuses the world can offer to cling to what he knew against the teachings Jesus offered.
The world hears the truth and what happens?
First, the world can be dismissive. They can regurgitate the same thoughtless arguments that have been repeated time and time again. A lie, or anything for that matter, repeated often enough can sound like it's true. The insistence that all that exists can be seen, touched or smelled. I will also not dismiss the amazing abilities of the human machine that we all dwell inside. The human body is an awesome creation with five complimentary senses, strength and resilience. Thought it is not as perfect as it once was, or as it will be again someday. The mind with its capacity for memory and creative thought dwell inside this body, along with a soul that is capable of a range of passions and compassion that can be heartbreaking to soul-mending. I find it more difficult to believe that this combination is all the end result of some happy and very long chain of accidents than it is to believe that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14).
The world can be dismissive of the Bible as a dusty old book. Archeology supports the text. The Dead Sea Scrolls continue to slowly, carefully yield research that indicates the accuracy of translations. Even those who do not believe the spiritual significance of the Bible find it historically relevant. Archeologists have reported that they work with a trowel in one and and the Bible in the other. It surprises me that one side might be considered accurate, and the other more important side would not be.
Nicodemus did not give in to the dismissive railings of his peers, or the ability to fall back on his own resources for comfort.
The world can be indifferent. An interesting fact is that everyone who has ever lived, is living now, or will live - with very few exceptions - will die. We have what is a potentially huge decision to make and the world has the capacity to put it off as if that day will never come. Either way, this life will end. If you live until some piece or pieces of this amazing machine cease to function or the Lord returns, this life will end.
Jesus words burned in Nicodemus' ears and in his mind. He did not give into indifference or to blindly repeating the half-truths of the world.
If Nicodemus had been caught with Jesus it would not have gone well for him. Yet he risked everything he had worked for his whole life to understand the truth Jesus was presenting. Not truth like two and two is four. That is a truth - a mathematical truth. It is not the truth - the source of wisdom. Nicodemus, with all his education and his years upon years of study, could not reconcile what Jesus was saying with everything he had learned. Some of the pieces fit, and others did not but rung strongly that they were true. He had to know. He could not remain on the sidelines of the discussion.
The world can react with hostility. The angry child that says he doesn't like your rule and is taking his ball and going home is an example. It doesn't matter whether or not the rule is correct or if it makes sense in creating order and fairness in the game. The rule offends them and interferes with the way they want things to be, so it's wrong. This is another way of being dismissive. This is a news report that picks out all of the negative points in a story leaving out the good to make it seem as bad as possible. This would be like panning in a river loaded with ore - dipping the pan into the water and carefully swirling out the water to keep all the lead you could find while washing the gold ore back into the water.
Nicodemus was looking for the gold nuggets of truth not as the world defined wealth. He was an honest man who took Jesus' stinging question (probably said with a wry smile), and kept asking questions earnestly seeking the truth.
There is a time and a place for anger. Deciding to be angry because the rule says three strikes and the batter is out and you happen to be that batter is not the right time. Disappointed yes. Angry, no. This kind of anger is not only dismissive, but it is dishonest with and unfair to everyone including self in the process in any forum - spiritual, political, etc. Wisdom is to accept the rule and hand the bat to the next player. The alternative is destructive to the very fabric of society. If truth is not upheld and respected, then there is no reliable standard and disorder will erode the foundations until they crumble and the world loses in the process of trying to have its way.
1 Cor 1:25-29 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. (NASB)
The world can also hear the truth, seek it out and accept it like Nicodemus. Seek the truth so that you have it to give to the world around you. One may plant seeds, another may water them, and yet another may reap the harvest. Plant and water anyway even if you do not seem to see the reaping. The fields are ready for the harvest and the harvest is happening. God is also looking for reapers. God is not idle and time is ticking away. There may be another Nicodemus headed your way. (John 4:34-36)
Grace & Peace,