“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” Matthew 23:5-7.
There is a little bit of a Pharisee inside all of us. A little spiritual pride or showmanship where we think we got it all together or at least we want it to appear like we do. At times we find life in doing religious activities, not because we are serving the Lord, rather because we want people to see all the great things we are doing. I am often guilty of this in my own life. I find the more I read about the Pharisees the more I see some of their sins in my own life. I do not want to miss life and knowing God like the Pharisees did. I want to overcome this and in the process of praying to the Lord for help He brought me to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. A man who likely struggled in the same ways I do, but at the same time found Jesus. There is much we can learn from Nicodemus on how we can overcome the mindset of a Pharisee.
The first appearance of Nicodemus we see in the scriptures is in John 3. Nicodemus went to go see Jesus at night. He was afraid to be seen with Him in the day. When Nicodemus met Jesus, he said he believed Jesus came from God as a teacher. Nicodemus believed this because no one could do the miracles Jesus was doing unless God is with him. What is so fascinating with this is that many of the other Pharisees witnessed the same miracles that Nicodemus did and many other Israelites did as well and the miracles was one of the reasons many believed, yet many of the Pharisees did not. Jesus said the reason they did not believe is because they did not know the Father, and no one can know the Son unless they know the Father or vice versa. (John 8). Yet, when Nicodemus saw the miracles he believed Jesus had come from God.
I believe that Nicodemus had a soft heart and he wanted to authentically serve the Lord. He may have struggled with similar self-righteous and proud sins the other Pharisees did and many of us do, but overall, deep in his heart, he wanted to follow the Lord. He knew the Father and because he knew the Father he too knew the Son. I believe many of us are like Nicodemus. We struggle being like the Pharisees, but deep in our hearts we want to follow the Lord. And like Nicodemus we too can break away from our Pharisee like qualities and whole heartedly follow the Lord.
Jesus knew when He met Nicodemus that he was different. In John 3 we see a phenomenal conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus that would change Nicodemus’s life forever. This conversation makes up some of the most quoted Scriptures that many of us have memorized today. Jesus knew it was understanding these things that would free Nicodemus from living the life of a Pharisee. As we established earlier, Nicodemus loved God, but still struggled like the other Pharisees to understand the Kingdom of God. Jesus told Nicodemus he could never understand these things unless he was born again. (John 3:3). And this did not only apply to Nicodemus it applies to all who seek to know the Kingdom of God. Like all of us, Nicodemus needed to be born again.
This is a hard concept to grasp. How can a man enter his mother’s womb again. Jesus answers that someone must first be born of water as well as of Spirit. (John 3:5). In here lies not only Nicodemus’s freedom, but yours and mine as well. We all have been born of flesh, but not all have been born of Spirit and for those who have you must live this daily.
To truly be born again, you must first be born of water. In the Bible we see two baptisms, the first is John’s, which is the baptism of repentance also known as the baptism of water. In Matthew 3:8, when Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees, he tells them they must produce a fruit of repentance. The first step to being born again is to repent, and recognize that you are in fact a sinner than needs to be saved. The Pharisee inside of us does not want to recognize that we are not good people, but without this recognition you will never understand why Christ came and why you need Him.
Next Jesus says be baptized by the Spirit. John the Baptist says that Jesus baptizes in the Spirit. Jesus laid out His salvation plan clearly to Nicodemus in the most quoted verse John 3:16. Jesus shared with Nicodemus that He came into the world, not to judge it as many of the Pharisees have done and many of us do as well, but rather to save the world and give eternal life. This life and salvation came at a great cost, which Nicodemus would later witness what Jesus would have to pay to give these gifts that are available to all who believe in Jesus.
This teaching Nicodemus learned coming in the secrecy of the night would greatly transform his life. In John 19 we see a very different Nicodemus, who was once afraid to come to Jesus in the day. Here he brought a mixture of aloes and myrrh to Jesus’s grave. Nicodemus was no longer afraid of what others thought of him or his reputation as a Pharisee. Jesus’ grave was under heavy guard following His death. The Pharisees wanted to make sure the disciples did not try to steal Jesus’s body and claim that He resurrected. It would have been well known that Nicodemus went to His grave. That day Nicodemus was bold in his faith of Christ. He denied his own rights to a reputation and submitted everything to Christ.
If we are to leave our Pharisee-like lifestyle and be transformed as Nicodemus was we must learn from him. First, we must have a heart to know the Lord. Then we must accept how we too fall short by repenting of our own sins and recognize our need for a Savior. Lastly, we must remove our faith and trust in ourselves and put them in Jesus and declare Him Lord of our life. We must surrender and do so daily. If we keep our focus here we will keep our minds more on Christ and what He did for us, rather than on our own reputation and religious activities in comparison to other. We will serve and lay down our lives out of love, much like Nicodemus did at Jesus’s grave, rather than out of recognition and obligation. John 3 is for us as much as it was for Nicodemus and in those lessons lies our freedom.