A sermon delivered on March 14, 2021 by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
In just two chapters, John’s densely packed gospel has already revealed Jesus’ true origins as the Eternal Word from the beginning. It has shown us how Jesus calls together a community of disciples of ordinary people to follow him. It highlights who Jesus is as Messiah as he turned water into wine. It revealed last week his destiny as he cleared the Temple and gave us a glimpse of what he came to do with a reference to his resurrection. Now as we move into chapter three, John reveals to us “why” of Jesus.
Turn in your Bible to John 3:14-21. Our Story today is a part of an extended conversation between Jesus and a Jewish religious scholar named Nicodemus. We note at the beginning of chapter 3, Nicodemus has come over one evening and is engaging Jesus in some thoughtful conversation about what it means to be born spiritually and in the midst of their visit, Jesus outlines the “why”, the purpose of his coming. Listen to the Word of the Lord:
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “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.
17 “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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 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.” 
Ever since I was a teenager, I have longed and loved for the ability to get away with someone and sit around a campfire. After football season was over, my buddy Dave and I would load up his used car and go camping in the north Georgia mountains. We would often sit under the cold dark night sky listening to a fire crackle; sometimes we talked but oftentimes we would sit in the silence and listen to the dreams God was instilling in our adolescent hearts. Sitting alone in the dark in the mountains can be a scary thing but the fire and its light create a circle of light that feels secure. The glow of the light creates a place of refuge and safety where the world falls away and you are suspended in time that very moment feeling the fire’s warmth as you hear the wood crackle breaking the night’s silence. The troubles of our teenaged-angst ridden world like the pressures of high school, working, wondering if my old high school flame, Marian Chan, was going to dump me, or us trying to figure out what we were supposed to be when we grew up – all of it seemed to melt away during those moments. It’s been over fifty years and I still travel back to those campfires in my mind.
Throughout my life and spiritual walk, I have sought to recreate those moments with those I love. A portion of my days has always included time of just sitting with those I care about and be with one another. I don’t sit around campfires anymore; after all, we do live in Florida! I’ve discovered a lit candle flickering on the table while on the patio works just fine.
Patio time. Through the years my days have developed a rhythm of devotion and prayer in the morning and patio time in the evening. Patio times are those moments when Kelly and I sit outside and simply be together and share what is most deeply impressed upon our hearts. Sitting in the patio’s candlelight over the years, we have strategized on how to raise our daughters and worked out things in our marriage. We have shared our fears of illness and death and what we want life to be. In the patio time’s silence, we have heard how God was speaking to each of us and discerned what God is calling us to do today. My daughters and I shared patio time as they grew up. The older they became, we would sit on the patio by candlelight and talk about their day, their dreams, and their boyfriends. Oftentimes, we would just sit together – a daddy and his girl – enjoying the presence of the other.
Over the years, I have also had special patio time with members of my churches. We sit and chat, sometimes enjoy a good cigar, and around the lit candle on the table, you share with me your hopes, your dreams, yours joys and your fears. The light’s glow creates a space of safety and comfort and you can just simply be your true self. Patio time.
We have in our text today a snapshot of Jesus’ version of patio time. Nicodemus, a ruler and noted rabbi of the Jews comes to Jesus and wants to visit around the fire. Some take the fact that Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night points to his fear of being found out by the other Pharisees. Maybe. I like to think that maybe Nicodemus knows, that like you and me, that at the end of a busy day, one just needs someplace, someone safe to let your hair down with. Nicodemus was wise enough to know that in order to truly understand his spiritual life and faith in God, he would need time to pull away from the day’s bustle and have a conversation with Jesus.
Nicodemus shows up three times in John’s gospel. He next shows up in chapter seven when he is sticking up for Jesus as others were trying to get Jesus arrested and then later on in chapter 19 when Nicodemus joins another Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea, in asking Pilate for Jesus’ dead body in order to bury him. Nicodemus is introduced in our patio time story this morning and we see the depth of his discipleship grow deeper in his other gospel appearances. He moves from asking about faith and belief to dynamically living that faith and belief out in defending Jesus publicly and by honoring him with a decent burial.
Now, like many of you, Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a man who already has faith in God. He already had an active spiritual life! But something was lacking. The Spirit in Nicodemus was needling him to delve deeper and move beyond the letter of the Torah and seek its deeper Truth. Something in him wants to move beyond his first level thinking and delve deeper. First level thinking is when you and I take for fact that what we just see in front of us. What’s needed is second level thinking where we push beyond what we think we see and know and actively burrow to experience Truth at a more profound level. This is why Nicodemus was looking for patio time with Jesus.
Jesus says, “A person must be born from above” and Nicodemus asks, “What do you mean? How is that possible?” Jesus replies that, “Just like Moses lifted the serpent up in the wilderness to heal the people, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that those who see and believe will have eternal life” (3:15). And it’s at this point Jesus reveals his purpose and the “why” of his life and coming:
16 “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. 17 “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.
Jesus reveals during his patio time that God so loves the entire cosmos that everyone, not just the children of Abraham, who believe in him will have eternal life; indeed, the Son of God does not condemn the world but is willing to die to save it. Jesus is pushing Nicodemus to grow beyond the first level thinking and spirituality of simply following the Law; Jesus is pushing Nicodemus to a deeper, more thoughtful, critical and active life of discipleship in living out the Law with others. Lest we forget, believing is a verb and not a noun. Believing is about living out one’s faith in ever deepening, penetrating ways. Believing is not signing onto a bunch of propositions like following the Ten Commandments; no, believing is living into the active life of the one whom we believe in and that’s Jesus. Jesus took Nicodemus where he was and in that patio time gave him the room and the tools to grow deeper, grow more mature, in his spiritual life.
Beloved, as we journey to the Cross together this Lent, I encourage you to engage in some patio time with someone you know and trust and invite the Spirit of Jesus to join you. In the intimacy of your fire or candle’s glow, I want you to plumb with one another how you can deepen your understanding of the Lord. Are you still a first-level thinking disciple or are you letting Spirit guide you to places you never dreamed you would go? In this patio time, just like Nicodemus, assess what you think you believe and know as true and let Jesus expand and challenge your thinking of what you think “you know” about God. During this patio time with Jesus and someone you trust, plumb the depth of your belief – is your belief an active verb or simply a static object, a noun. Go find your patios my beloved and Jesus will meet you there!
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 John 1.1-28.
 John 1:29-51.
 John 2:1-11.
 John 2:12-23.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.