If possible, try to set the meeting up to feel a little like the secret encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. Make the room as dark as possible, lit only with a candle, or a dim light in the corner. Maybe have a cryptic clue on the door that leads to a secret knock so that the young people can’t enter the room until they’ve cracked the code. You could find some mysterious music to play in the room, and even start the session speaking in whispers or hushed tones to emphasise the idea of it being secret and clandestine. It’s all about setting the scene so that the young people can really enter into the reading.
Creative Worship Ideas
Help your group to reflect on three of the key words from this first strategic priority with these activities:
Grow: You will need: some compost, seeds and small pots. Allow the young people to feel the compost and seeds. You may want to put the compost in pots and then sow the seeds. Make sure it’s a really hands-on activity resulting in grubby fingers. Ask – what does it mean to grow as a Christian?
Authentic: You will need printouts of logos from some really well known brands – Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Apple, Levi’s … things that they will easily recognise. Explain that they are authentic logos. Ask – what is so important about authenticity?
Disciples: Print out a copy of the icon ‘Christ taking leave of the disciples’. Explain that one of the meanings of the word disciple is ‘pupil’ or ‘apprentice to a master craftsman’. Ask – what would it mean to be an apprentice to Jesus?
Watch the clip from Karate Kid and reflect on what does it mean to be a disciple.
Bible Reading Video
If your group would prefer a video retelling of the reading, then this clip is a faithful retelling of the words from John’s Gospel:
[youtube id=”tbBmpaDBizA” width=”580″ height=”337″]
1. Time to welcome him.
We live in a time when the King has come and dwelt among us.
Illustration: Have you ever tried to get hold of someone and found they are distracted? You want to speak to them and they are on the ’phone, texting or using Facebook or Twitter? Perhaps they are watching television or a DVD or Blu-Ray, or maybe they are in the middle of something else and they are simply lost in a different world. They are tuned out, and perhaps not even interested in what you are saying because they think they already know what you’re going to say.
Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’ For those who were listening, and who saw what was happening when Jesus began his public ministry, recognised the promised King come to assert his authority and to call people to follow him.
Nicodemus is confused about who Jesus is and what he is doing. So when he visits him at night he calls him Rabbi – teacher, though Jesus had not formally been trained, so this was a generous title. But he also lets slip that ‘we know’, that is, he and his friends in the Jewish ruling council have been keeping tabs on what Jesus is saying and doing.
Nicodemus was expecting the King to come at the end of the age, when human history came to its fulfilment. Though the Jews were waiting for the King to come, he was early and surprised them, so they could not ‘receive’ him – is it that time already? They were tuned out and not ready for him. They were distracted by their plans for the people of God. We live in a time when the King has come – it’s time to welcome him. Remember to thank him and worship him today.
2. Time to know him
We live in a time when everyone is invited to know God for themselves, not just the wise, the spiritual, the intellectuals – all who are ready to welcome him.
Illustration: We live in a time of experts: if you want the carpets cleaned you get an expert cleaner; if we want to cook great food we turn to the latest TV chefs, or the experts of yesteryear, like Delia. Nicodemus was used to people coming to him to answer questions, and offer his expert advice. But now he is at a loss to understand what Jesus is saying.
At that time, Nicodemus was highly regarded as a teacher in Israel (or maybe even the teacher in Israel i.e. the generally accepted top theologian of his day?) He had been born into the right family, and was confident that he would enjoy being with Abraham and all other Jews at the great feast in heaven at the end of the age.
Jesus suggests that to be a member of the household of God requires everyone, of whatever human family or race, to be born again or born from above (either of these is possible, one emphasising that he needs to be born into the new kingdom that Jesus has brought into being, and the other that he needs something only God can perform, i.e. to be supernaturally reborn). And Nicodemus does not understand! The new rules for God’s family are that we need to be born of water and the spirit: we need to let go of the past through the outward act of baptism, and then to be made alive by the inward work of the Holy Spirit.
It’s time for you to know him.
Illustration: Think of the central heating system in your home. Throughout the day the pilot light continues to burn quietly, out of sight and out of mind. Then at the right time, the pilot light lights the rest of the burners, which come alight together, heating the water and being driven around the system to create a warm and welcoming home. Many of us can look back to a time when our lives were simply ticking over, before the Holy Spirit lit the main burners and our lives were changed forever, for us and for those around us.
3. Time to follow him.
If we have welcomed him, and got to know him, we need to follow him and live as his people at home, at school, at work and wherever we are, whatever we are doing. The people of the King need to show they belong to him.
Illustration: The problem with mobile phones is that they run out of power at the wrong moment. Just when you need to make that call, the battery is dead or dying. So every so often you need to plug it in.
Jesus goes on to challenge Nicodemus, first from his specialist subject, the Old Testament Scriptures, and then from nature. So Jesus effectively says, if you knew your Old Testament you would remember that there is more to following Yahweh than being born into the right family. Remember Ezekiel? He spoke of a time to come, when you would be baptized by water (outwardly) and the spirit (inwardly) (Ezekiel 36:25-27). The King has come and the new day of cleansing and renewal has begun.
Then, he says, we know about the wind: we can see what it does but we can’t control it. It’s the same with the new birth – its mysterious, we can’t control, it but can experience it for ourselves.
Once we have come to realise who Jesus is, and allowed him to change our hearts, we commit ourselves to walking with him and becoming like him, that is, to being a disciple. Discipleship is for people of any age, any walk of life. It is something we each need to choose to do. And once we have done so, we need to walk with others in the way of Christ, ready to do anything that the King demands of us.
That means living for him at work, at home, among our friends, in the way we handle our neighbours, in what we do with our money, in how we simply live for the King. As we do this, the world will see Christ in us, and be drawn to him for themselves so that they too can be used in the service of the King of Kings.
But the good news is that God is always there, with all the power and resources we need. The Holy Spirit is one like Jesus who walks with us, alongside us. We are always plugged into the mains with him! He will strengthen us to follow Jesus every day, come what may! He will shape us into authentic disciples.
‘The Gospel of John is deep enough for an elephant to swim and shallow enough for a child not to drown.’
To understand the Gospel of John we need to focus on the prologue: John 1:1-18. The writer’s aim is also repeated towards the end of Gospel, where we read of the intent to present Jesus as the King and to call forth a response of faith and obedience:
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31 (NRSV)
So John’s theme is ‘Here is your king’, whom he outlines as the pre-incarnate king (1:1-18), the incarnate king (1.19-19:42) and the Risen King (20:1-21:25). The prologue takes us from before the creation of the world to the arrival of the person of Christ among the people, and gives clues as to what we are looking for as we read the rest of the Gospel.
Bible Study Ideas/Questions
Lectio Divina (Spiritual Reading) is a great way of helping young people to engage with a Bible passage in a way that they may not have experienced before. The idea is that, when we hear the same passage through several times, certain words and phrases stand out and catch our attention in a way that we might have missed if we’d read the words through only once. Ask three confident readers from your group if they are happy to read the passage through.
Explain that you are going to hear the same words three times and that there will be a pause between each reading. During the pauses, invite the young people to think about what they have heard and ask themselves if any words or phrases caught their attention. At the end there will be questions to help them reflect further.
You may need to make it clear for your group that there are no set answers – you’re all listening together, to hear what God might be revealing. Depending on time and the concentration span of your group, decide whether to read the whole passage, or just a section of it. If you’re using just a couple of verses, we recommend John 3:16-17.
- What might God be saying to us through this passage?
- Where is Nicodemus on his faith journey?
- Looking at verses 16-17, what was the good news for Nicodemus from Jesus?
How will our life together this week be different because of these words?
- What am I going to think about?
- What am I going to do?
- What am I going to talk with God about?
Assuming that all the members of your group have mobile phones with cameras, invite them to spend the week looking for things that are good news to take pictures of and share with the group. You could text them during the week to remind them and, if you wanted, set up a webpage to post the pictures to, so that all your group can see the good news that each individual has found. Discuss together the kinds of things that they expect to see – newspaper headlines, flower buds, gospel posters outside churches, amazing landscapes … see what ideas they can come up with.
Decide together to read the Nicodemus passage each day and to record what catches their attention each day as they become more familiar with the text.
Be the Good News
Plan a bit of guerrilla blessing. Work out together a list of ten random acts of kindness (picking up litter that they didn’t drop, holding a door open for someone, complimenting a friend, doing a chore without being asked…). Give each group member a copy of the list and then set the challenge of who can tick off the most activities from the list.