A LOOK BACK: Schooled

Read John 3:1-21

“But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 NLT)


Perhaps the most memorized verse in all of the Bible, certainly within Christian circles, is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) Yet, I would wager that out of the people who have memorized that particular verse, very few know the context those particular words arose out of. As such, I think it would particularly helpful to shed light on that.

It seems clear that Jesus is in or around the city of Jerusalem. He had just entered the Temple and, in the court of the Gentiles, cleared out any and all who were trying to buy and sell animals, as well as anyone who was trying to exhange their own currency for the Temple Shekel. This angry and violent act had, no doubt, left many of the Temple leadership, the Pharisees, and the Romans on edge about this “teacher” from Galilee.

It is no wonder then that Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had probably witnessed the whole Temple scene take place, came to “discuss things” with Jesus. The question we must ask is this, why did Nicodemus come to Jesus? Had be been sent there by the the Sanhedrin to gather some information on Jesus? Did he come on his own accord, seeking to have a more private and intimate conversation with this teacher? Perhaps Nicodemus saw Jesus as a threat, or perhaps Jesus’ actions had convicted him in a way that caused him to seek answers to satisfy his soul.

What we do know is that Nicodemus, either on his own or instructed by his peers, came in the dark of night, hidden in the shadows and no doubt cloaked in order to make his visit to Jesus a secret. Whether or not he was their on “business” or for his own self-gratification, Nicodemus was not wanting anyone else to know that he was their in the presence of this teacher who had just questioned the authority of the Jewish political and religious leadership.

First and foremost, regardless of the reasoning behind his visit, it can be said that Nicodemus was a proud man. He was one who was exalted by the very position he held as a teacher. He was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling religious body of the Jews made up of the Saducees (Priests) and Scribes (many of whom were Pharisees). As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a teacher of the Torah, of the Law of God handed down by Moses, as well as a scholar who studied the whole of the Jewish bible (Tanakh). It was the Pharisees, in opposition to the Sadducees, who taught in a resurrection of the dead, and a life after death.

So, no doubt, Nicodemus wanted to know just exactly who this Jesus thought he was. What’s more, I am sure Nicodemus was truly intrigued and concerned by Jesus actions in the Temple and he, no doubt, wanted to test Jesus’ theological understanding, as it were.  So, in the dark of night, this Pharisee came to Jesus and began to question him. He tried to match wits with Jesus and probed him in away that ultimately exposed his lack of understanding in terms of the Spirit. Sure, Nicodemus had great theological knowledge, but he was lacking in his heart-knowledge of the movement of the Spirit. Jesus schooled him.

What’s important to pull from this is that in his pride,  Nicodemus was humbled. He was shown to not be as knowledgeable as he thought he was. He discovered that his exalted position as a Pharisee meant absolutely nothing to God. What matters to God is that one is in tune with the Spirit, that one is open to what God is doing in the here and now. All of the learning CANNOT and WILL NOT replace and openness to the Holy Spirit. And, as the Jesus warned in Mathew 23:12, the proud shall be humbled. The exalted shall be brought low. Today’s challenge for you is to humble yourself before God and open yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today.

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” – Thomas Merton

Lord, humble me that I may be caught up in the working of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Leave a Reply