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| Historical Background of Christ's time on earth | The Lord's Fellowship with Abraham and Jacob | Jehovah, God of the Single Mother | The Son of God and Mary's Heart | The Power of a Quiet Heart Submitted to the LORD | Our Gracious Lord as a Child | God's calls all Men to Serve Him | The Temptation of Christ | Jesus, our Compassionate High Priest | Jesus, Friend of Sinners | Jesus meets Nicodemus | Jesus Meets a Blind Man | Paul, an Imperfect Man, Used by God | Power of Gospel and Friendships | Jesus Affirms Faith | What to Expect When Jesus Touches a Life
Jesus' incarnation occurred during a very troublesome period in Jewish history. The family unit was being torn apart as the result of a lapse of the teaching of important family values. One particular example was the ability for a family man to declare corban what would normally be the finances to support and help his parents. This declaration was from the Jewish traditions that was supposed to take precedence over the scriptures. Another example was the ability for an husband to hand his wife a bill of divorcement under the most ludicrous of reasons. The wife had no rights in this matter. Reasons could range from adultery to the way she fixed his breakfast (I presume that meant that she wasn't a good cook). Jesus attacked this practice pointing out that the original plan for marriage was for it to last through the lives of both couples.
Temple worship had become corrupt. There was a whole system of commerce set up within the walls of the temple where sacrificial animals were bought or raised under contract by the temple officials and sold at a profit. This came under attack by Jesus when He visited Jerusalem where He drove out the money changers and accused them all of being a den of thieves. This was the context that we have when Nicodemus, a Pharisee came to visit Jesus by night.
|Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. John 3:1, NIV|
It is clear from reading the rest of the Gospels that Nicodemus was a cut above the average Sanhedrist. While it is evident from his interview with Jesus that he was not regenerate, even under the Old Testament criteria, he certainly fell under the category of a God-fearing Jew. This was not a condition of salvation but certainly, Nicodemus was not so completely ensnared with the apostasy of the Jewish religion that he couldn't exercise normal spiritual curiosity. And such was the case. Jesus had just driven out the corrupt temple enterprise of selling so-called "clean" temple sacrificial animals. It was during the Passover festival that Jesus was in Jerusalem teaching about Himself and the coming kingdom of God. John 2:23-25 records that many believed in Jesus as the coming Messiah after seeing the miracles that He did. But it was a superficial belief based on the apostate Jewish view of the Bath Qal where the authenticity of a Rabbi's teaching was based on the "voice from Heaven" - truly a mythical rabbinical teaching - up to now there had been no bonified miracle from these apostate religious leaders or their fathers. But all that changed. Jesus had performed some miracles - called "signs" by the Jews - and thus was the basis of the superficial belief of many Jews. The basis for legitimate faith in Christ was not to be based on the corrupt system of belief of the Apostate Jews, but in the preaching of the Gospel and in faith in Jesus Christ as savior - as we will soon see.
|He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." John 3:2, NIV.|
Nicodemus was such a man and he had come to visit Jesus by night to further investigate this man who might be the Messiah. Nicodemus had a lot going for him but he still carried the baggage of apostasy from the Jewish religion. Shepard says that "The Jews approached the spiritual and moral through the miraculous;..." The important distinction between this superficial declaration of alliance with Jesus as a Rabbi who had come from God and Jesus, the Son of God was the rejection of this apostate basis for deriving so-called spiritual truth - in the Jew's mind the proper interpretation of the Torah and proper carrying out of a system of works that would gain the approval from Jehovah - this distinction from true faith in Jesus Christ was defined by our Lord:
|Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:14-16, NIV|
No system of collaboration with the Bath Qal - no system of rationale based on the sayings of previous Rabbis. No. Jesus had rejected all this for what it was - empty, corrupt religion. Instead, seeing the kingdom of God depended on a simple operation of faith - trusting upon the Son of God, who was to go the cross and bear the sins of the world as the Pascal Lamb of God. But the tragedy was that many of Jesus' countrymen would remain stuck in this corrupt system of achieving favor with Jehovah through a system of works.
|Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."  Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"  Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." John 6:26-29 NIV|
Nicodemus was stuck in this system of works for approval from God but Jesus' declaration cut the pointless discussion off immediately by saying that for Nicodemus to see the kingdom of God, he must be born anew. This probably took Nicodemus aback because he knew of the process whereby a Gentile proselyte was considered considered to have been "as a child newly born" - that is, his status was as though he had a new beginning. Old family relations were considered terminated - new social relations were to be established based on the Jewish system of obedience to the "law" - the traditions of the fathers.
It was evident to Jesus at the time and to us as readers that Nicodemus was a man who was all wrapped up in Jewish tradition but nonetheless was curious about this Man, Jesus. He left that night confused and probably with his min reeling with the implications that Jesus had placed before him - that Jesus was to become lifted up - a reference to the cross, probably not missed by Nicodemus, that Jesus was obviously not going to fit in with the popular concept by the rest of his colleagues that Jesus was not going to be the political deliverer from Rome. Yet, Nicodemus left with an insatiable desire to know the truth about this most unusual man, Jesus.
|Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked,  "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?"  They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee." John 7:50-52, NIV.|
Things were really coming to a head between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. They had come to view Jesus as a major problem - to the point that He would jeopardize not only their system of Temple life but their very existence as a country. The High Priest, inadvertently, through his high priestly office prophesied that Jesus would die for the sins of the nation - a most curious event. But, I digress. Jesus had a price on His head. He had avoided Judah because it was not time for Him to die - that time had to be during the Passover season in the spring 6 months away - this was the season of Tabernacles - a fall season event. But plans were already under way for the execution of Jesus as a dangerous man to the status quo of the political / religious Jewish system. The context here is that Jesus was in town, so-to-speak because it was the Feast of Tabernacles. During this time a lot of controversy was going on as to whether He was, indeed, the Messiah. Jesus went into the temple and began to teach in His usual style as one with authority. His teaching, Jesus asserted, came right from the Father - a term the Jews understood as God, Himself. At one point, Jesus accused the very "keepers of the Law" as being, themselves, lawless - not keeping the law but rather corrupting it and leading other men to do likewise. This whole scene is very remarkable. Men were sent to arrest Jesus but they came back empty-handed because they were quite overwhelmed by Jesus what He said:
|Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?"  "No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared.  "You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. John 7:45-47, NIV.|
Nicodemus - though not a professed believer here. Spoke in defense of Jesus: "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?" He knew what his colleagues were planning was against the very law they purported to obey. Nicodemus wanted a repeat of his secret interview with Jesus - at least they would have a first hand hearing of Jesus' teachings - but such was not to be the case. They utterly rejected Nicodemus and assailed him with what was supposed to be the greatest of insults for a Jew - that he was a Galilean. Listen to Lenski as he comments on these remarkable events: Immediately after the Pharisees asserted so confidently that not one of their own exalted number believes in Jesus, Nicodemus, one of their number, speaks in defense of Jesus, Immediately after they boasted about themselves as being the great guardians of the law, one of their own number points out that they are violating that law. These clashes are highly dramatic. As a judge Nicodemus had both the right and the duty to remind his fellow-judges of the requirements of the law when they were forgetting them. He avoided every discourtesy, every appearance of arrogating to himself a judgment of his fellow-judges, by merely raising the question, thus allow all to join in the answer, Yet it evinces courage for him to do even this much. Some have called him timid, but this is a mistake; timidity would closed his lips. By employing a question instead of an assertion Nicodemus shows wisdom. Some questions answer themselves and this is one of that kind." Here is a glimpse into the heart of Nicodemus. I think his heart was breaking at this point as he witness the irrational behavior of his colleagues circumventing the very law they professed to uphold in favor of the execution of the one he was slowly coming to believe was the Messiah.
|Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away.  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. John 19:38-39|
Actually, Joseph of the town of Arimathea - a secret believer for fear of reprisal from his colleagues - was finally driven out of his faith to step out and do the bold thing - to request the body of Jesus, who had died for his sins and those of the world. It is inconceivable that they had not planned this thing together for Joseph brought the linen for wrapping Jesus' precious body and Nicodemus brought the spices - quite a bit as we see from our text. Their new-found faith had taken its course - their belief in their Messiah / Savior had finally grown to fruition and in Nicodemus' final act of faith he stepped out and declared himself to be a believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
1. Mark 7:10-13 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'  But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God),  then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." NIV. See also Ungers Bible Dictionary, page 220.
2. Matt 19:3-9.
3. John 2:23-25.
4. The Christ of the Gospels, by J. W. Shepard, pg. 98.
5. Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."  He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation,  and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. John 11:49-52, NIV.
6. John 7:8.