Why would a popular Jewish leader like Nicodemus risk his temple rank and his position and provision in society to sneak through the shadows to speak with the One who challenged every aspect of his world?
Why would a simple, struggling monk like Martin Luther risk his life to publicly provoke his church-his very livelihood and known salvation--and expose centuries-long errors and doctrinal presuppositions?
Why would a respected theologian like Dietrich Bonhoeffer place himself in the middle of Nazi Germany and go head to head with one of the most diabolical kingdoms to ever exist on earth?
Separated by hundreds of years and born into different political and social empires, these three theologians seem widely separated at first glance. But they had this in common: they were spurred in their hearts by the revelation that their true God had been shrouded by the religious system and traditions of their day. And everything within them eventually demanded that the real God--the One who loved even the losers and rebels unconditionally, was unflinchingly faithful and forgiving, and was compassionate, merciful, truthful and slow to anger--be revealed.
Welcoming the wrath
Their declarations placed their provision, their reputations, their lives and that of their families in harms way. Yet they welcomed the wrath of the cultural, political, commercial and religious systems even unto death.
Why in the world would they do that? What made them choose to become heretics instead of remaining the heroes of their day?
Luther saw the performance-based measures of the church. He saw that the word "faith" had been long forgotten. He saw the poor as the greatest victims, bowed under the burdens of injustice saddled squarely on their backs. And his church was the worst perpetrator.
When did it begin for Luther? Was it when he wept and agonized over the uncertainty of his salvation and the fear that God would not, could not embrace him? Was it when he saw his people believe the church's lies that they were still too poor, too sinful, too unlovely to be accepted by God unless they bribed Him?
Boenhoffer recognized how the church in Germany had so deeply compromised with the political, commercial, and religious systems, becoming more and more subjugated to the Nazi power. But he was a Father-pleaser. He joined a move to teach young men and women the uncompromised truth of God and His Kingdom, about faith and love, and the ways of the King.
Did Boenhoffer's revelation begin when he quoted Luther, "The curse of a godless man can sound more pleasant in God's ears than the Hallelujah of the pious"? Or did it start when he looked over the German people and had compassion on them because they were tormented by the systems and without a Shepard?
And the popular Nicodemus, the only one who actually talked with the man Jesus, saw Him look him in the eyes, and felt His breath. Did he realize then that he would one day have to stand alone among his Pharisee friends to defend Jesus? Did he understand then that his spirit could be born into a new life by the supernatural Seed of the One whose crucified body he would one day anoint with myrrh and aloe?
Like Luther and Bonhoeffer, Nicodemus, at some point, summed up what it would cost to continue to serve the kingdoms of his world. What he saw in Jesus was worth more than all of that. Church tradition says that he became a follower of Jesus and was martyred for his faith. Later, the church declared him a saint, but not before the kingdoms of the world labeled him a heretic.
Is there a common turning point that changes heroes into heretics? For many, it happens somewhere among the long years of working their way up the systems, while the hole in their hearts that religion and knowledge were supposed to fill, grows larger and larger. Perhaps for others, it happens when they begin to see the glimmer of a Kingdom founded on Love and Justice, and that this Jesus in them has something to do with it. And they are gradually ruined forever when their spirits are stirred and awakened by the maturing Seed implanted within from above.
Jesus said flesh and blood is not our enemy. The systems of man, the kingdoms of the world, are. They are just as real and powerful as flesh and blood because they capture and enslave the flesh and blood that creates them. But God invites us, commands us to seek Him and His Kingdom first, and He will take care of us eternally.
It's significant that Jesus' first encounter after forty days in the desert seeking out His God would be a face off with Satan, the Evil One, the ruler of the world's kingdoms. But Jesus saw the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor and said, "Hell, no! You keep it. I have been given My own Kingdom and it is eternal, cosmic, of another world, and is the only one that cannot be shaken. Any can enter by the faith of a child."
The King started his public journey on earth by declaring his stated purpose: "I have come to proclaim my Father's Kingdom." Each day we have the choice--and temptation--to give our lives for man's systems rather than accepting the Kingdom that God so freely offers. What the prophets of old so desperately wanted to see, we can see now. What they wanted to be a part of, we can be a part of now.
Is this something that can happen by our giving mental assent to or must we have faith that something supernatural will take place that will utterly change us from the inside out? Well, a Seed will grow and mature in us so that when someone looks into our eyes they will find peace and joy, compassion and mercy, graciousness and forgiveness. They will sense His slowness to anger and truth from within and just know there is covenantal faithfulness.
It just takes faith and He is offering that grace to grasp the faith to be born supernaturally from above in a moment, followed by a lifetime of maturing and transformation on earth. He offers us the Seed of life, the Seed of Change, the Seed of AGAPE!
Oh, it will cost you everything. You will become a Father pleaser instead of a pleaser of man. The world will call you a loser, a misfit, and, yeah, a heretic, but it just won't matter. The only thing that will matter will be what mattered to the Son who came to do only His Father's will: to hear those two words, "Well done!"
The choice is ours individually as it was for Nicodemus, Luther, and Bonhoeffer. There is a kingdom at hand; the seed has been planted and we have been born from above. To receive it and let it grow will cost you everything. You may even turn into a heretic instead of a hero.
So, now, how should we then live?