The Prayer of Nicodemus

….whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6

This morning, I was re-reading Brain McClaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything. In chapter 5, as McClaren underscores the hiddenness inherent in Jesus’ ministry, he writes about Nicodemus.

As I was reading this, another connection came to mind. The way that Nicodemus approaches Jesus is almost a picture of the kind of prayer written about in Matthew 6:6. Nicodemus approaches Jesus under the cover of darkness, a prayer in secret (John 3:2). He then praises Jesus and acknowledges his intimate connection with God, something I find highly unusual given the portrait of Pharisees in the Gospels.

Nicodemus then proceeds to wrestle with Jesus in the conversation. Acknowledgment and struggle provides a great picture of prayer. We go to Jesus because, like Peter, we have nowhere else to turn. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).” Yet, in spite of this realization, prayer is often a struggle. Jesus offers Nicodemus difficult images and challenges, to which Nicodemus responds with stubborn literalism.

Nicodemus provides a rich image for me. I can picture myself sitting on a rock wall having the same conversation with Jesus – awed by his presence, yet struggling to wrap myself around his words. Perhaps it should encourage us that it is only after the struggle that Jesus leads him into the deep mystery of faith.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” John 3:16-21

Nicodemus really doesn’t do a lot of talking in this prayerful conversation. Instead he receives a strong challenge to move from seeking Jesus in the darkness to move into the light, love, and forgiveness of God given and revealed in the Son. Perhaps this is our challenge as well: to prayerfully approach the Triune God in secret and then to move out of that dark place of challenge and praise to share the light that we’ve received, namely the challenge of God’s strong Christocentric love.

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