17 – Nicodemus
Where: Bethany, Judea
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At the end of March, Jesus journeyed from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Jesus took his mother and some of his brothers. He also took Philip and Nathaniel, his two disciples. They left Nazareth and traveled east “a day’s journey” to Capernaum.
Capernaum was the largest Jewish town on the lake that is called the “Sea of Galilee”. Here they stayed a short time finalizing their plans for the caravan journey down the Jordan River Valley to Jericho, and then UP to Jerusalem. It would be a journey of about 100 miles and, on foot, could take 5 or 6 days. It is possible that some “potential” disciples joined them on this journey as well.
When they arrived in the Jerusalem area, they undoubtedly stayed on the east side of the city, around the Mount of Olives. This was the “traditional” gathering place for Galilean pilgrims. During the days before the festival, one could see Jesus, under an olive tree, or sitting on a boulder, or sitting on a tree root, with people gathered around, and looking over the Kidron valley [today] directly at the temple and the eastern gate [today] to the city. In the evenings, they might well have slept on the Mount of Olives, because of the extreme shortage of rooms.
Jesus told the people about the Kingdom of God, tried to describe the Spirit of God, and prayed. The rumor of this new teacher traveled fast among the Passover crowds. Jesus had healed some folk, or cast out some demons, because the word spread that he did “signs”.
A “sign” was something outside the ordinary, and done with the power of God. Signs were meant to attract attention. They were meant to arouse curiosity, not faith. ‘Come and see! Now give the messenger a fair hearing.’
Over the days, a fair number of people were convinced that Jesus was the “Rebel Messiah”, and wanted him to lead Israel in a political/military struggle against Rome. A man from Bethany called Lazarus, and his two sisters, were among them. Jesus should establish the promised kingdom, where the Jews would rule the Earth and judge the nations based on God’s law, while the Son of David would rule eternally on the throne as King.
The people of Galilee had resisted the Romans from the beginning. The majority of people, who did acts of resistance, were from Galilee. Passive resistance, inflammatory speeches, sabotage, riots, and rebellion were all used against Rome. Some Galileans were already beginning to believe that Jesus might be the Messiah. In fact, most of the folks who believed that Jesus might be the Messiah were from Galilee. However, Jesus refused to lead them in a political struggle.
Passover fell on Wednesday, the 28th of April. During the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the seven days following Passover, Jesus was staying in Bethany, Judea at the home of Lazarus, only a two-mile walk from Jerusalem. One evening one of the leading Jewish citizens came to speak to Jesus. His name was Nicodemus. He was one of only a few Pharisees that were members of the Sanhedrin council. The Sadducees, a rival group of Jews, controlled the Sanhedrin. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he resisted Roman influence. As a Pharisee, he was dedicated to keeping the Law of Moses. Nicodemus was also a leading teacher of the Pharisees.
He came to meet with Jesus because of the “signs” Jesus had done. Nicodemus came sincerely seeking to find out God’s truth. Unfortunately, he was a traditional thinker [“narrow minded” and “inflexible”]. Not negative, just traditional [“raised this way”. “Always have done it this way”]. Thus, he came in doubt, and spiritually “in the dark”.
Nicodemus saw Jesus as a rabbi [a teacher], with God’s authority, as was evidenced by the “signs” that he did. Nicodemus wanted proof of anything more. But when Jesus and Nicodemus talked, they spoke on two different levels. Nicodemus on the obvious physical level, and Jesus on the less obvious, spiritual level. When Jesus spoke of being ‘born again’, Nicodemus thought of the absurdity of physically re-entering his mother’s womb where Jesus meant ‘a spiritual birth by God’.
‘God has already revealed His will in the Law and in the Temple rituals, and that is the final word from God,’ said Nicodemus.
‘You must open your eyes’, Jesus told Nicodemus. ‘You must open your mind to God moving in a NEW WAY. You must die to the law, and be reborn in faith’.
Nicodemus’ response was predictable. ‘God cannot act outside the Law and Traditions,’ he said.
Jesus then told Nicodemus what he would need in order to be part of God’s kingdom.
First: Be sorry, and ask God to forgive you.
Second: Change your wrong thinking and wrong actions.
Third: Look upon Jesus as speaking the “word” of God.
Fourth: Trust God to guide you with His Spirit. Those who live under the Law will be judged under the Law, but those who live by the Spirit will be saved by the Spirit.
And Jesus challenged Nicodemus. ‘You are a renowned teacher yourself. Open your mind. I know the mind of God and I know about the Spirit. I have come to save the children of God and to lead them into God’s spiritual Kingdom. Those who follow the Spirit will be saved. Others will be condemned. Open your mind and have faith in God. Trust God and you will know that I am speaking the truth. You will have a new life.’
And while Nicodemus left still unconvinced, he did begin to ponder the message of the “Word of God”.
No questions have been asked yet.