When It is Okay to Eavesdrop

A few weeks ago – well – before the pandemic – Sherry and I went out to eat. It was date night – just the two of us. We settled into our table and started talking. Apparently, the couple next to us were regulars and so when the waiter arrived they started chatting at some length about something that was going on in our community.

To be fair – to me mostly – it would have been impossible for anyone to ignore. It isn’t that they were being loud they were just close – by today’s standards – they were not social distancing. But it was also impossible to ignore because – unbeknownst to the couple or the waiter – they were talking about something that I not only knew something about – it was something that I was personally involved with and at the very center of. For a while, Sherry and I just listened but then Sherry smiled at me and I quietly asked her, “Do I say something?”

What would you have done at that moment? Would you have said something – especially when they got the details wrong?

Well – I did. I’d probably do it again. Actually, we had a very good conversation and I learned a lot about them and I was able to give them accurate details.

Look, I know it is rude to intentionally eavesdrop, but the thing is – sometimes it is next to impossible not to hear other people’s conversations. And sometimes it is okay to eaves-drop because we can learn a lot when we do.

Last week, I asked a question in one of our devotionals. I asked, how well do you know Jesus – and – I asked you not to answer that question too quickly. And, I asked you to really think through how you know what you know about Jesus. Today, I want to reemphasize that question and at the same time offer you some practical insights on getting to know Jesus – perhaps for the first time – perhaps again. I want to encourage you to eavesdrop.

Yes – that’s right. I want to encourage you to eavesdrop of Jesus’ conversations. Doing so will no doubt help you to know Jesus better as you listen in to what Jesus said to all sorts of people.

For instance, throughout the Gospel of John Jesus has a number of conversations with all sorts of people – and they are remarkable. I’d like to invite you to engage your imagination for a minute and place yourself in the first century – and you are just right there – right alongside of Jesus – and you are allowed to be within ear-shot of the conversations He’s having with people. Doing so will allow you to learn a lot about Jesus and yourself, too. For instance, in John’s Gospel, Jesus had conversations with a man named Nicodemus. That conversation takes place in John 3:1-21.

Here’s what we know about Nicodemus. He is a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, and considered The teacher of Israel. And this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is the first real discourse that John records – which means – at least from John’s perspective the conversation is important – which makes it all the more important to listen to.

This conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus happens under the cover of darkness – which is unusual. Maybe they met that way for privacy – so they wouldn’t be interrupted – or maybe Nicodemus really didn’t want to be seen with Jesus – it was risky to be seen with Jesus. After all, how would it look for him – for Nicodemus – to be seen talking and asking questions of an untrained rabbi when he – Nicodemus – was of such high regard.

At any rate, when they begin talking Nicodemus starts off by calling Jesus “rabbi.” At first “Rabbi” seems like a nice greeting, calling him teacher despite not having the credentials. But then Nicodemus says something about how they have judged Jesus’ ministry to date. In other words, Nicodemus is taking a superior high-road and his remark about rabbi is more of a put-down, a condescension rather than praise.

Jesus overlooks that offense and gets right to the point. It is as if Jesus knows exactly what is on Nicodemus’ mind. Jesus tells him that unless a person is “born again” they cannot see the kingdom of God. Now it is important to recognize that few people had the sort of credentials that Nicodemus had. He’s not only a devout, orthodox Jew, but he’s also a ruler – a Pharisee – a leading teacher in all of Israel. If anyone’s place should have been secure – by virtue of their position, credentials, etc., – it should have been Nicodemus. But here is Jesus speaking directly to the matter and telling him he needed a spiritual rebirth – and one that he couldn’t make happen on his own.

Jesus rocks Nicodemus by telling him he needed to be “born from above” or “again.” He needed a spiritual re-birth – a renewal – something that came not from himself but from God alone. It seems to have shaken Nicodemus to the core – and truth be told – it may shake up a few of us, too.

You see, there are a lot of folks who still think that their relationship with God is up to them. I’ve met folks who have said they’ve worked things out with the man upstairs – as if coming to God was something that is on our terms, something to which they actually contribute – rather than an aspect of grace and faith in Christ alone.

In this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus is letting Nicodemus know – and us by default – that keeping rules and traditions, acts of piety, knowing the scriptures verbatim, how often you attend church – etc., etc., are of no avail on their own. One of my favorite professors in the world is a man named Jerram Barrs. Jerram helps to clarify what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus. Barrs wrote, “Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus that entrance into God’s kingdom cannot be had simply by being born as an Israelite; nor can he gain entry to the kingdom by being a teacher of God’s Word, by his obedience to the commandments of the law, or even by seeking entry. Instead, entrance to the kingdom requires a mysterious new beginning to life. Nicodemus needs a radical renewal which seems impossible for one to accomplish oneself” (Learning Evangelism from Jesus).

Of course, Nicodemus is rocked by what Jesus says because he follows it up by asking Jesus to explain because – well the idea of being born again was as foreign to him as it might be to us. It is understandable that Nicodemus wouldn’t get it because it seems to cut against our idea of pulling ourselves up – or being good enough on our own – or being able to contribute somehow some way to our own place with God. But truth is, “Only that life which has its origin in the work of God’s Spirit can enter God’s presence.”

When you read John 3:1-22, and I hope you will, you’ll discover that the story of Nicodemus sort of fades to black, as it were. At one point Jesus and Nicodemus are talking and then Jesus and his disciples are on the road. There isn’t any sort of closure with Nicodemus. We don’t have a huge ending with Nicodemus on his knees praying – or walking down an aisle giving his life to Jesus. The conversation just ends.

It seems as if Nicodemus just went his way at some point. But probably not before hearing Jesus say, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Did you realize that Jesus was probably talking to Nicodemus when he said that? I think that’s significant – don’t you?

At any rate, that night Nicodemus must have just gone home but I don’t think he just pushed his conversation with Jesus to the side. I think Nicodemus must have kept turning Jesus’ words over and over in his mind. I think the notion that a person needs a spiritual rebirth that can only happen by God’s action in their life must have hit a chord with him. He must have kept thinking about it. Maybe we should, too.

I’m confident that Nicodemus kept thinking about what Jesus said for two reasons. Later in John’s Gospel, Nicodemus defends Jesus – and not just to Joe Q. Public. Nicodemus stands before the most powerful people in his community – among his colleagues. Nicodemus stood before the Sanhedrin – before other teachers, and rulers, and Pharisees, and he defended Jesus – at a time that the Sanhedrin was trying to arrest Jesus. That’s not a small deal at all.

Have you ever stood up for someone like that? Have you ever considered it? You know the risks involved. You know what it will cost you. Nicodemus took a risk – one that he must have known could cost him dearly. How willing are you to take a stand for someone else? You certainly aren’t gone to take a stand for someone you don’t think is on the up and up. So, that conversation under the cover of darkness must have stayed with Nicodemus – don’t you think?

And then there is a second event that shows that Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus stayed with him. After Jesus’ death on the cross, his body was taken down. It is important Jesus and Nicodemusto note that His disciples had scattered and two men – after receiving permission from Pilate – took care of Jesus’ body and gave him a proper burial. One of them was Joseph of Arimathea and the other was Nicodemus. Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes for Jesus (John 7:50-52; 19:38-40). I think that’s significant – don’t you?

Look I don’t know what happened to Nicodemus – I don’t know if he became a life-long follower of Jesus after the resurrection or not – all I know for sure is that He had this one conversation with Jesus and then he defends him in front of people who want to destroy Jesus – and then he publically goes and makes sure that Jesus has a proper burial. It is amazing to consider that after one conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus takes such huge risks and Nicodemus had a lot to lose. There is something about that conversation he had with Jesus that I think just might be worth eavesdropping on – don’t you?

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