Tuesday, July 02, 2002

About Nothing

Today I give Calvinism a rest. I will return in the near future since I still have three letters left from TULIP: Total Depravity, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace. Instead, today I will blog à la Seinfield, i.e., about “nothing” (sort of).

Are you Cold, Hot, or Lukewarm

In the Book of Revelation, in the letter to the church at Laoedecia, it is written:

"And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, "These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. (Rev. 3: 14-16, NKJV)

Here I use the NKJV instead of my beloved NASB because I like the use of the word “vomit” instead of “spit”. No sense being lukewarm about it.

Now, what I am about to write about may be well known to everyone – but I just heard this explanation recently-- so you will have to indulge me. What I am about to write about is just speculation, but it seems plausible.

I always thought what was being written about the Laodiceans was that they were marginal Christians—and Christ would rather they were hot (fervent believers) or cold (unrepentant non believers) but this middle-of the-road stuff was really annoying. And I always thought that odd—surely someone making a feeble attempt is still better (in some sense) than a heathen.

Recently I heard an alternate explanation related to the supply of water. Laodicea was near Heirapolis and Colosse (of the letter to the Colossians fame). The three cities were “sister” cities, of sorts. (Again I am obliged to apologize if I am the last person to hear this, but hey—I paid for this blog.) Without getting into geological detail, Heirapolis was known for the medicinal benefits of its hot water, which emanated from hot springs. Colosse was famous for its refreshing cold water from mountain runoff. Laodicea was noted for its good-for-nothing lukewarm water, which had no redeeming qualities. So the alternative explanation is that the Laodiceans should be hot (healing) or cold (refreshing) in terms of their ministry and works, but not lukewarm which provides neither benefit. To make it really kind of interesting, the first letters of the cities Laodicea, Heirapolis , and Colosse match the first letters of their temperatures. It’s nearly as miraculous as the fact that hymns translated from their original language into English still rhyme.

[Aside: the Laodiceans must have taken notice to the warnings in John’s vision. Laodicea thrived as a Christian center. Long after the church at Colosse faded, Laodicea was important enough (in spite of its tepid water) to host a major church council, The synod of Laodicea, in 364 A.D.]

The Enigma Named Nicodemus

Nicodemus appears only in John’s gospel. We first meet him at the beginning of John chapter 3 where he is the “straight man” for the most famous of Christ’s sayings:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus,asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:1-16, NASB)
Nicodemus next appears in John chapter 7:

Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, "This certainly is the Prophet." Others were saying, "This is the Christ." Still others were saying, "Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? "Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?" So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, "Why did you not bring Him?" The officers answered, "Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks." The Pharisees then answered them, "You have not also been led astray, have you? "No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? "But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed." Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, " Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?" They answered him, "You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee." Everyone went to his home. (John 7:40-53, NASB)

[Aside: At the end of this passage a Pharisee said “Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” Actually several prophets did come from the vicinity of Galilee, which the Pharisee presumably knew. What he was actually referring to (and what was alluded to earlier in the passage) was the Messianic prophesy of Micah 5:2 that says the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. This guy (along with many others) was apparently under the mistaken impression that Jesus was born in Galilee and so could not be the Messiah.]

And his swan song is in John 19, where he helps Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus.

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:38-40, NASB)

Here is my question (for which I cannot possibly know the answer): do you think Nicodemus was saved? If it weren’t for his helping Joseph of Arimathea I would be highly doubtful. Even so, he could have helped because he liked Jesus as a man while not believing he was the Son of God.

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night—and the Bible makes a point of telling us that (twice). It is as if Nicodemus did not want to be seen with Jesus. In John 3, you wonder if Nicodemus had an inquisitive, skeptical, sarcastic (especially the question about re-entering the womb) or antagonistic tone. Jesus does not seem to treat him “gently”, but says, in effect, you are a teacher and you don’t know this? What are you people (the Pharisees) thinking? In John 7, Nicodemus starts to defend Jesus-- whether it was because he believed him or just had sympathy for him is unclear. He appears to back off after the rebuke about Galilee.

Curious man that Nicodemus. I hope to see him in glory. I’ll be a little surprised if I do. Of course lots of people will be very surprised to see me there.

Tomorrow I'll write about... something.

No comments:

Post a Comment