“There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee”
(John 3:1, NLT).
The Pharisees were the cultural and religious traditionalists of Jesus’ day. Like Jesus, they took God’s Word seriously. In their zealous efforts to live by God’s Word, they had identified so many minute standards of obedience that they obliterated the spirit of God’s instructions. Joyful obedience was replaced by legalistic and crushing rule-keeping. The Pharisees were control-driven people. They defined their relationship with God (if any) to the smallest detail, and they imposed their standards on others (Malaysians, sound familiar?). In fact, one of the charges Jesus levelled against the Pharisee as a group was, “You are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things” (Luke 11:42). Jesus confronted their focus on minutiae while ignoring major points of obedience to God. Jesus’ point wasn’t to ignore the disciple of tithing but to show the Pharisees that God was more concerned for justice and love.
In Jesus’ day, the line between religious and political authority was certainly blurred. Frustrated by the rule of the Roman Empire, leaders among the Jewish people tended to come from religious groups. Alongside the Pharisees were the Sadducees, people who treated the Law of Moses primarily as a governmental document rather than a spiritual one. They operated within a civil form of religious in which God was little more than a figurehead (Malaysians, sound familiar?). The Pharisees and Sadducees competed for power in the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish governmental body under Roman control. Nicodemus was a member of that body.
The Pharisees could also be described as the group most officially in favour of the coming Messiah. The fulfilment of this promise would not only expel the Romans from the Promised Land, but it would also place the Pharisees firmly in power as the religious leaders of God’s people. Publicly, the Pharisees could not accept Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Not only did Jesus fail to fit their notions of who and what the Saviour would be, he also offended them by treating lightly the very traditions they felt made them unique – primary their highly ritualized observance of the Sabbath. Privately, individual Pharisees demonstrated a hunger for righteousness that drew them to Jesus. Some sensed hypocrisy in themselves that Jesus confronted. And so the Pharisee named Nicodemus arranged to meet Jesus one evening.
Jesus unsettles people. If you read the whole encounter of Nicodemus with Jesus in John 3:1-21, you’ll find that Jesus unsettled Nicodemus – and he continues to unsettle us. Just when we think we have Jesus figured out, he surprises us. Jesus tells us the things we need to hear, even when we don’t want to hear from them. Nicodemus didn’t know what to expect when he approached Jesus that night. Think about this: The Living Lord Jesus smashes stereotypes and glib descriptions. Jesus comes personally and speaks personally – right to your needs, your hang-ups, your heart. Ask yourself these questions: When has defending a tradition kept you from seeing the real Jesus? How has Jesus overcome stereotypes you’ve had of him? How has Jesus transcended your expectations of him?
Come, express your willingness to be surprised by Jesus – to be unsettled and changed by him.
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.
Reference: Life Application Study Bible Devotional: Daily Wisdom from the Life of Jesus (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011)