This is one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible. Let me tell you why. Remember, these words, although penned by John, were actually penned by the Holy Spirit through him. Certainly John wrote them, but so did the Lord. And the wording tells us something very wonderful about how He thinks and sees things. Notice that it doesn’t merely read, “There was a Pharisee…” Or even, “There was a Pharisee called Nicodemus…” No! It reads, “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus…”
Do you see the point? Do you get what’s happening here? Can you see the sheer individual personableness of it? Jesus doesn’t look on this guy as just someone else who wants to talk with Him. Nicodemus isn’t just another Pharisee with some questions. No! To Jesus Nicodemus is a unique individual human being. Not just another person, and certainly not just another Pharisee. He is Nicodemus! An individual! A specific, particular and completely unique, unrepeatable walking-talking, living-breathing man…called Nicodemus!
It’s so easy to just see folk as just a collective societal grouping, rather than the actual individual each of them are. There are no blurred faces in bustling crowds as far as the Lord is concerned. No anonymous faceless men, women and children – mere social security numbers in the modern day corporate culture of western impersonality. No! There are only individuals to Him, each created quite knowingly, particularly and specifically by Him, each face and name having been called individually to mind as He suffered on the cross for each and every one.
There are, of course, those Christians of a Reformed bent who don’t believe He died for everyone, and although I don’t share that view from scripture, I do at least understand why someone might. But the alternate view, that He died for all, can, if we are not very careful, equally mislead us. I most fully believe that Jesus died for each and every human being throughout history, but I don’t for one moment also think that this suggests that He died for everyone-in-general-and-nobody-in-particular! Do you see the point? It has then become completely impersonal; as if the Lord suffered and died for the corporate collective human conglomerate, as opposed to suffering and dying for you, for I, and for the little girl who lives next door, and the construction worker down the road, and that chap who fixed that leaking pipe in the kitchen last year…..
Let us make sure that we have this as clear in our minds as anything could possibly be: the Lord Jesus Christ did not die for everyone-in-general-and-nobody-in-particular! He suffered and died with your name on His lips, and – oh happy day – with my name on His lips, and Belinda’s name, and Bethany’s name, and that little girl’s name next door whom I just mentioned……and that construction worker…..and…..and……..!!!
We should never think of people as just being people. You can’t love a crowd, or have compassion on some corporate conglomeration of humanity, and just leave it at that. It must boil down to showing compassion in real terms, to giving actual and practical help to those individuals who comprise that crowd. Individuals who need to be loved one by one, each in turn, according to their particular and specific needs.
It is sad beyond words that Christians have, historically, embraced the completely unbiblical practise of having numerically large churches, as opposed to the numerically small house-based churches we see in the New Testament, thereby adding to this very impersonality which the Lord so dislikes in human experience. The impersonality of a crowd can, sadly, feel safer to people! You can hide in a crowd! You can keep your head down in a crowd when things are tough and when difficult stands need to be taken. Moreover, you can keep the sin in your life, but which the Lord wants to deal with, nicely hidden away, and keep living a hypocritical double standard without anyone really knowing that you are not at all, in day-to-day life, the person you present yourself as being to that impersonal crowd (they came them congregations) in church on Sundays.
But of course the price you then pay is the loss of being able to truly love, or to be truly loved by, those around you. In such a scenario of the church crowd (congregation) no-one really knows anyone else well enough to even make a significant start at loving them, let alone see that love through to the end with them. Little groups here and there will make attachments with each other, of course, but then what of those who get left out? What about the ones whose loneliness and pain cuts all the more deeply precisely because they are alone whilst surrounded by so many others?
Whenever you meet someone, whether for the first or thousandth time, whether a fellow Christian or convinced atheist, whether a Muslim or Buddhist, whether a Capitalist or Marxist…..whether gay, straight, bi-……perhaps even a Democrat or Republican, make sure you look them square and fully in the eye knowing that the one looking back at you is a unique, one-and-only, unrepeatable, one-off human being, created specifically and intentionally by the Lord to not be anybody else, the mould having been completely discarded the moment He was done creating them. Indeed, someone precisely whose name was on His lips as He suffered and died for them.
There is, ultimately, and meaningfully, no such thing as corporate humanity; just innumerable unique particular and specific individual human beings, created in the image of God, all of whom being in almost indescribable need of love, compassion, friendship, repentance and salvation! And that need for love, the love of God lived out through the lives of His people, is why Christians should be the kindest, friendliest, most helpful, personable and easy-to-get-on-with people anyone could ever meet.