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Nicodemus Part 3 — John 19:38-42

John 19:38-42
Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Dear God, this is the story that made me love and appreciate Nicodemus. John seems to have a soft spot in his heart for Nicodemus (and Pilate for that matter, but that is a subject for another prayer journal). John 3 never references anyone being with Jesus and Nicodemus but Jesus, although it’s feasible that John and some other disciples could have been there. But the story in chapter 7 about Nicodemus trying to passively defend Jesus must have been relayed to John by someone else. Perhaps Nicodemus himself after Jesus’s death and resurrection. I assume John and Nicodemus had a personal relationship. Otherwise, why would John be the only Gospel writer to mention him? And why did he go to great pains in chapters 7 and 19 to not only call Nicodemus by name, but intentionally reference his conversation with Jesus in chapter 3?

So now for this story. Why do I like it so much? Mainly because It is Nicodemus at his lowest point, and yet he shows so much love for Jesus. His anger and anguish drives him into action. He loves this man he believed to be your Messiah, and he is going to show it to the world regardless of the consequences. And although we never read his name again after this story, I’m sure this act cost him his place in the temple and in the community. I would bet that this was his last Passover as a Pharisee.

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away.

First, however, let’s talk about Joseph of Arimathea. Luke and Mark tell us that Joseph was a prominent member of the council, but he did not consent to the death sentence Jesus had received. He was a secret disciple of Jesus. Did he and Nicodemus know this about each other all along, or was this something they figured out over the previous 12 hours?

With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.

John is careful to tell us that Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of perfumed ointment with him. I don’t know how this worked, but I would imagine they did the work right there at the foot of the cross. I would think that they would want to put the ointment on the body and wrap it up before they transported it to the tomb. I have this image in my mind of Nicodemus, grief stricken, disillusioned, and angry carrying this ointment in silence. Then he and Joseph take the body and start to handle the bloody mess. Where would you start? Blood would have to be everywhere. Did they clean the body with the ointment? But they did it.

Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth.

This is where I want to spend some time with the other Pharisees. This scene is amazing to me. I picture it completely silent except for hushed murmurs between the Pharisees, wondering what Joseph and Nicodemus were doing. And why were they doing it. Then I imagine no words between Joseph and Nicodemus themselves. Just looks. Glances. Tears. Confusion. I would imagine that the Pharisees were furious and there was hell to pay on Sunday–especially after the resurrection. Joseph was highly respected. Did his exhibited love for Jesus make any of them doubt? How about Nicodemus? Did his demonstration of discipleship and belief make them second guess their own beliefs, if only for a moment? Joseph and Nicodemus said more through their actions than they could ever have said through words.

The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

I wonder what it was like that night and the rest of the Sabbath and Passover for both Nicodemus and Joseph. Were they afraid? If not for their lives, for their careers and standing in the community? Did they talk to their wives? Their children? Were their families mad at them, or had they already told them how they felt about Jesus? And what about after the resurrection? Did the two men who had lost their standing in the community as well as, likely, their livelihoods join “The Way?” Did Nicodemus and John become friends. Did Joseph get to know all of the apostles? So many unanswerable questions. But I am certain that they both had to pay a price. The questions is, how big?

Father, I have followed you in the past and been disappointed. Even now, part of my soul is comforted by you through these prayer journals. I find camaraderie with characters like Nicodemus. We are all sojourners on this road. We are community, even though 2,000 years separates our earthly lives. Thank you for that. Thank you for loving me even when I question you and half-heartedly acknowledge my love for you. Thank you for forgiving me.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

Nicodemus Part 1
Nicodemus Part 2

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Posted by on May 4, 2019 in John, Nicodemus

 

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Nicodemus Part 2 — John 7:32, 45-52

John 7:32, 45-52
32 When the Pharisees heard that the crowds were whispering such things, they and the leading priests sent Temple guards to arrest Jesus.

45 When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.
47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”
50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”

Dear God, I kind of missed something in yesterday’s journal that I want to touch on before I get into this passage today. What was the context within which Nicodemus talked to Jesus at night back in chapter 3? Well, according to John, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover, and he had just cleared the temple of the money changers and such and had told the “Jews” who asked for a miracle that if they destroyed “this temple” he would raise it again in three days. Nicodemus was just trying to make sense of what he was seeing and hearing.

32 When the Pharisees heard that the crowds were whispering such things, they and the leading priests sent Temple guards to arrest Jesus.

Now, for this part of the story, we find Nicodemus again. Jesus goes back to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and he upsets the Pharisees. So much so that by the time we get to verse 32 they decide to send temple guards to arrest him.

45 When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.
47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

It wasn’t that the guards couldn’t arrest Jesus. They intentionally chose not to. And they admitted as much to the Pharisees. And the Pharisees’ response? They basically tell the guards that God’s curse is on them and John tells us they ask an interesting question: “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him?” In showing their intellectual and spiritual superiority while shaming the guards, they push Nicodemus to a moral dilemma that pushes him just a little out of hiding.

50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.

No, it’s not the strongest defense in the world, but it’s enough of an admission of sympathy to reveal some of his inner feelings to his fellow Pharisees. He’s been completely in the closet up until now. He met with Jesus in chapter 3 at night, when no one knew about it. But now he couldn’t keep silent any longer. He was trying to do it in a way that wouldn’t completely reveal his hand. He brought in “the law.” But just saying even the slightest thing in Jesus’s defense provoked their wrath.

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”

The Pharisees are so flabbergasted by Nicodemus’s defense of Jesus that they accuse him of being a “homer.” They see that he has sympathy for Jesus and their only explanation is to accuse him not of believing in Jesus, but of hoping for the best for him for other emotional reasons.

So in looking back on this story, Nicodemus is on a journey of faith. He is working it out with literal fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). He tested the waters in this story, and he got smacked down. Did he fail Jesus? Perhaps? Did he ultimately decided on this day to save his own skin rather than argue with his colleagues? Yes. But he definitely progressed on his journey. He hadn’t arrived yet. He hadn’t entered into a stage of worship that would cause him to risk it all out of his love for you and belief in Jesus. He did, however, grow and prepare himself for a day that would ask more from him.

Father, help me to be a little better today than I was yesterday. Help me to have eyes to see my own weaknesses and address them. Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

Nicodemus Part 1
Nicodemus Part 3

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2019 in John, Nicodemus

 

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Nicodemus Part 1 — John 3:1-21

John 3:1-21 [NLT]
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”

Dear God, I want to take apart this conversation a little bit because I think it is important that John is the only Gospel writer who told us about Nicodemus. There is obviously something about him that John wants us to know. Much like good story telling, I think one of the things John is doing is giving us something early in the story that he will pay off in the end at the crucifixion.

So let’s start at the beginning:

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

John sets up that Nicodemus is one of the dreaded Pharisees that are so ridiculed throughout the Gospels, but he immediately lets us know there is something different about this one. He didn’t come to publicly challenge, trap, and, hopefully, humiliate and disprove Jesus. He came to get to know him a little. He came with an open mind. He came to learn. And he doesn’t lead with a question. He comes “after dark” to speak directly with Jesus, one-on-one, and acknowledges that he recognizes that Jesus is from God.

3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

According to John’s account, Jesus immediately initiates the conversation, ignoring the flattery that Nicodemus gave him. He seems to want to challenge Nicodemus–to test him and see why he is really there.

We take the phrase “born again” and put it into the context of this passage, but Nicodemus didn’t have this passage. He was really trying to understand. Jesus is like one of those teachers who asks the vague, esoteric question that is hard to answer, or, in this case, says the provocative thing that will either send someone away or draw them in deeper. In this case, he drew Nicodemus in. Jesus had a lot more to say, but he wanted to first know if Nicodemus was ready to hear it. Would he scoff at Jesus’s statement and leave, or was he really there to learn? Apparently, Nicodemus was there to learn.

5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

Water and Spirit. That’s the answer to Nicodemus’s question. Jesus acknowledges that, no, you can’t go back into your mother’s womb, but there is a new baptism that is of water and the Spirit. The problem is, the concept of being born of the Spirit is something that can’t be explained in words. So Jesus tells him that being born again means being born of water and the Spirit, but it’s a process that Jesus can’t put into words. But Nicodemus doesn’t give up. He wants to understand: “How are these things possible?”

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

I’m going to break Jesus’s little speech to Nicodemus up into parts. I think this first part is about setting the context. Jesus is basically saying forthrightly to Nicodemus, “I am the Messiah.” Skipping verses 10-12 where he exhibits his exasperation with Nicodemus, Jesus goes on in verse 13 to say that he has come from God in heaven. Then in verse 14 he compares himself with the snake that was sent to save the Israelites from their sin and the snake bites that resulted in Numbers 21:4-9. But then he says that he, Jesus, will be the one lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

We never get Nicodemus’s reaction to this little speech, but I can only imagine what it was like to hear it in that context. Who does this guy think he is? On the other hand, Nicodemus entered this conversation earnestly trying to get an answer to that question, and now he was getting it. This guy claims to be the Messiah.

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Now Jesus gives us a glimpse into your heart. You love us. How much? Well, so much that you gave us Jesus, your one and only son, so that we would have the opportunity to commune with you for eternity. Your heart is to give us a pathway to salvation. He is saying, “Nicodemus, you need to understand that this God that you worship as all powerful is everything you can imagine and so much more. But don’t miss this one fact that might be hard to believe. He loves you and he wants you. He loves and wants you so much that he sacrificed for it. God gave out of his own being and love just so that you and your fellow humans, Jew or Gentile, will be with him.”

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”

And finally, the wrap-up. You are doing your best to not judge me, but I have to at least love the light more than the darkness. I have to let go of my sin. I have to take the hand that is reaching out to me. You care about me, but as much as Nicodemus had to come to terms with his pride, as a Pharisee and as a man, so I must come to the end of my own pride and love the light more than the darkness.

Father, help me to not only internalize the words that John shared in this passage, but to reflect them to the world as well. Help me to be your ambassador. Help me to take your hand, receive your light, and the humbly share it with the world.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

Nicodemus Part 2
Nicodemus Part 3

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2019 in John, Nicodemus

 

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