Last year, while leading a small group session at a conference, I asked the question, “What do you know about Nicodemus?” One person responded that Nicodemus was a Pharisee; another said he went to see Jesus at night. Then a lady spoke up and said, “He was short.” I stopped in my tracks for a moment. Where did she get this? Did I miss something in all those months of research? Then it dawned on me that she was thinking about Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who was short and climbed a tree in order to better see Jesus coming down the Jericho road. To my chagrin, this conversation has been repeated many times. Some of us know just enough Bible to be dangerous! Granted, there is much to know. When we get things mixed up, we just have to laugh about it and learn in the process. We will spend this month checking out the biblical passages about Nicodemus. No, I will not spoil the book (A Heart for Truth) for you. I’ll just give some extra commentary. John is the only gospel writer who gives us any information about Nicodemus. We find him mentioned first in John 3.
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said… John 1:1
So, Nicodemus was a Pharisee. That tells us a lot about him. There were about 6000 Pharisees scattered over Israel with a heavy concentration of Pharisees in Jerusalem where Nicodemus lived. They religiously kept the Mosaic laws, but added to the laws to further define them. You may be most familiar with the way they took the law about resting on the Sabbath and developed a wide variety of man-made laws to enforce that one law. Sometimes I think we give the Pharisees a pretty bad rap. They certainly were religious to the core. They did much to maintain and preserve the commandments, but their attitudes did not follow Jesus’ teachings about love. In fact, of all people (sinners included), Jesus was most critical of the religious leaders, Pharisees in particular. They allowed their man-made laws to hold as much, if not more value than the original laws. This laid heavy burdens on the common man to try to observe, much less know, all these rules. As I studied the intricacies of these many rules in the Mishna, I found myself thinking, what does it matter? In addition to being a Pharisee, Nicodemus was also part of the elite Jerusalem ruling council called the Sanhedrin. These 70 leaders, plus the High Priest, made up this powerful group. Israel was under Roman oppression at the time, but Rome did allow the Jews some leeway in governing themselves in the realm of their religious matters. Nicodemus, then, was in the upper of the upper echelon of Jewish society. As Jesus popularity grew, so grew the Pharisees’ disdain for Jesus. “He doesn’t do things the way we do. Listen to the things he says. Who does he think he is, the Messiah?” Indeed! So for Nicodemus, a prestigious Pharisee, to seek out Jesus at all was quite a dangerous feat. No wonder he chose to do it in the cloak of night. The religious leaders were always full of questions for Jesus, not in order to learn from him, but to trick him and show how ignorant he was. Quite possibly Nicodemus came with many questions, perhaps even with a desire to truly understand Jesus and his strange teachings. But Jesus ends up doing most of the talking in this very well-known discourse in John 3. Next week we will examine the actual dialogue between the two of them. For application of today’s description of the Pharisees, I am reminded of those who are very religious in their beliefs today. They may be very moral and hold to high biblical standards, but have a demeaning, critical spirit. It may be that you even agree with them about certain values, but their demeanor is such that you shudder to be seen or associated with them. A loving attitude is simply not there. Jesus might call it a self-righteous attitude. Oh that we would guard ourselves against such. Oh that we would be strong in our convictions, but stronger in the caring way we convey them. Think on such things this week. I’d love to hear your ideas. Click on “Comment” below. You won’t see your comment right away, but after I okay it (for reasons of possible spam), it will be seen.
~ Joyce ~