Secret Meeting   1 comment

This is Part 8 of a series – What If Truth Went Viral. Check it out.

When Jesus began His public ministry, the people who heard Him recognized a difference between His teaching and that of the Jewish religious teachers. Jesus taught as one having authority and not as their experts in the law. Our Lord’s authority was bolstered by His healing of the sick and casting out of demons. More than that, His authority was evident in the impact His words had on His listeners. The experts in the law taught with great dogmatism (Romans 2:17-20; 1 Timothy 1:6-7; 2 Peter 2:18), but their message lacked the power of Jesus’ message. His teaching rang “true” to His audience.

Luke 5:17 records the Pharisees quickly take note of Jesus. In fact, Pharisees from the entire nation of Israel gather to observe His ministry and teaching. We know from Luke’s words that Jesus was performing miracles at this time. John’s gospel is not as chronological as the synoptic gospels, so we don’t know if this occurred before or after Jesus’ with Nicodemus, but it seems logical that Nicodemus would have sought Him out around this time. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Why at night? It may simply have been the only time that Jesus had for a private chat. Scholars have argued for centuries about whether Nicodemus’ original mission was on behalf of the Pharisees or if it was a private meeting for Nicodemus’ own sake. The Pharisees were hard pressed to speak critically of Jesus or His ministry. How could His teaching be criticized? How could anyone speak against Him when He performed miracles openly, and so many people were watching? Jesus made the Pharisees look bad, and there seems to be little they could say against Him. Later, they would throw caution to the wind because Jesus refused to comply with their rules and He didn’t have much good to say about them:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do this, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus performed His first sign at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, but very few even realized what had happened. The cleansing of the temple captured the attention of the religious leaders (John 2:18-22), while the signs our Lord accomplished in Jerusalem caught the attention of many others (John 2:23-25). Contrary to popular interpretation, the Pharisees were not the ones who caught the brunt of Jesus’ purge of the Temple. They were not the ones behind the merchandising which took place in the temple courts. The priests and Sadduccees were the hosts of the market. It’s entirely possible the Pharisees stood by as Jesus cleansed the temple, looking on with great satisfaction as the priests and Sadducees were publicly humiliated.

These events seem to have riveted the Pharisees’ attention on Jesus. One highly-impressed Pharisee who was named Nicodemus. As I said, scholars argue over why Nicodemus sought out Jesus. Some think he was there on behalf of the Pharisees, perhaps hoping to co-opt Jesus into their order. They suggest Nicodemus came with a memorized script, and when Jesus interrupted him, he was totally disarmed and disoriented and allowed Jesus to talk.

Other scholars hold the view that I do. Jesus was a virtuoso of sorts and Nicodemus had heard Him preach. He recognized His genius and wanted to understand this young man whom he admired. Nicodemus was an elite Jew – a Pharsee, a renowed Scripture teacher, and a member of the Sanhedrin — yet, when he heard Jesus teach, he heard the answers to questions that had bothered him for years. He watched the crowds as they listened to Jesus, and he knew he had never held the attention of an audience like Jesus did. Jesus spoke in simple terms, but His message had (and still does) great power. Nicodemus observed the miracles Jesus performed, knowing he had never performed so much as one miracle. By nearly any standard, Nicodemus couldn’t hold a candle to Jesus.

1 Now there came a man of the Pharisees whose name was Nicodemus, a member of the council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could do the miraculous signs that you do unless God were with him.”

Nicodemus could not overlook the weight of the evidence. His fellow Pharisees quickly found alternative explanations for Jesus’ success, but Nicodemus could not set aside his personal conviction that Jesus had some kind of divine mission, and that He possessed divine authority by which He spoke and healed.

I am now inclined to believe that Nicodemus volunteered to go speak with Jesus, but if he had a predetermined agenda for this interview, he never got to it. He simply told Jesus that, from what he had personally observed, he had concluded that Jesus had come from God on some divinely inspired mission. Nicodemus’ words evidence a great respect for Jesus. Nicodemus called Jesus “Rabbi,” which was the same title used to address Nicodemus, for he was a teacher of the law as well. He further referred to Jesus as “a teacher come from God.”

When Nicodemus spoke to Jesus, he does not say, “Rabbi, I know that You are a teacher who has come from God,” but rather “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” To whom is Nicodemus referring when he says “we”? It must be his colleagues the Pharisees (who, by the way, represented 1 in 5 Jewish men at that time). Was Nicodemus speaking for his fellow Pharisees here, expressing their point of view? Some scholars believe Nicodemus came as the official spokesman for the Pharisees and that it is certainly possible. However, it wasn’t the Pharisees’ style to act in such a secretive manner. In the cases above (John 1:19-25; Luke 5:17), the Pharisees made their moves very publicly, as if they intended to be seen. They wanted to be viewed as the accrediting agency for all those who taught the law.

So I think that Nicodemus was acting independently, without the sanction of the Pharisees. Why “we” then? I think there were other Pharisees, maybe not as brave as Nicodemus who stood behind him. We know from Acts that many Pharisees later became Christians. It’s also likely that Nicodemus thought in terms of his membership in the Pharisees. This explains Jesus’ answer that sought to show  Nicodemus that his system of religion does not, because it cannot, save anyone.

When you read the Gospels, you see Jesus returning the disrespect of the priests, scribes and Pharisees with a disrespect of His own. He refused to accept their authority over Him and He criticized them in harsh terms. Nicodemus sees another side of Jesus — the gentle teacher Who explains salvation to a willing pupil. Nicodemus came wanting to learn more from an inspired rabbi, but he was about to meet God Incarnate and learn a truth he was not expecting to learn.

Part 9

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  1. Pingback: Knowing the Truth | aurorawatcherak

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