By Kris Fernandez
"A Tale of Two Pharisees"
In continuation with our series on the book "Not a Fan," we are going over a number of "DTR moments" throughout the New Testament as guides to whether we're truly following Christ, or we're merely fans of him. Remember that an "enthusiastic admirer" is our definition for a fan in this series.
So this week we're studying about two Pharisees -- one from the Gospel of John, named Nicodemus, and another from the Gospel of Luke, named Simon. Chief religious leaders of their day, they both meet Jesus but have surprisingly different interactions with him.
NICODEMUS' ENCOUNTER WITH CHRIST
- In John 3 we learn that Nicodemus is a member of the Jewish Ruling Council (called the Sanhedrin) and so he was a respected member of the Jewish community. Probably because of this, he went to meet Jesus at night when nobody could recognize that this high Jewish official was following some carpenter-from-Galilee-turned-rabbi Jesus. The risk, it seems, was just too high for him to "go public" with his relationship with Jesus; he could lose his position, after all. But Jesus tells him that unless he is "born again" -- born into a new way of life -- he cannot be part of the Kingdom of God.
- In John 7, we find Nicodemus in the company of his fellow Pharisees and religious leaders. He decides to "almost-defend" Jesus while the other Pharisees were plotting against Jesus. Nicodemus told them, "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?" While this does give a defense of Jesus it is still somewhat vague and nonspecific. Unfortunately, Nicodemus speaks no more after his peers mocked him saying, "Are you from Galilee, too?"
- Finally in John 19, Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of burial materials at the cross after Jesus had just died publicly . This was a public act of his devotion to Christ, done in front of his fellow religious leaders. He was unashamed and did not care about what his peers might think, and unconcerned about what the consequences might be to his reputation and his position in the Council.
From Nicodemus' encounter with Jesus we are encouraged to be public followers of Jesus and unashamed of being Christians. Jesus himself noted that people don't "light a lamp and put it under a basket," and continues by saying, "In the same way let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven" (Matthew 5:15-16). If one truly believes in the message of Jesus they will commit to follow Jesus every where they go to publicly display the greatness and glory of God. So now the question is:
Q1: Have you merely made a decision or have you made a commitment?
Have you merely decided to follow Jesus (at a camp, at a church service, at BattleCry) or have you really committed to follow him? The difference is huge, and of an eternal significance. While a decision may be one-time act, a commitment is a daily and constant relationship with God.
Side Lesson: We also learn in John 19 that another member of the ruling council, Joseph of Arimathea, was with Nicodemus when they publicly took Christ's body from the cross. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin and a hidden follower of Christ just like Nicodemus but unlike Nicodemus he didn't defend Jesus during their meetings.
We all find ourselves in similar situations where our peers (classmates or workmates maybe?) are talking bad about Jesus or about Christians and we wonder whether to speak up or stay silent. In these situations we may not be the only follower in the group. It is a possibility that Joseph was encouraged by Nicodemus' public (although limited) defense of Jesus -- perhaps enough to cause him to also publicly show his devotion to Christ after his death. In the same way, when we're in these tough situations if we choose to stand up for Jesus we might just encourage someone else who might be listening.
Simon's Encounter with Jesus
In Luke 7 we read about Simon the Pharisee who invites Jesus for a dinner. There was a customary etiquette for situations like these (washing of feet, kiss of greeting, and oil of anointing) but Simon didn't do any of these things for his guest. Know that the Pharisees were people who knew a lot about the Bible (they'd always win Bible trivia, if there was such a game back then). It was then an irony of epic proportions that this learned leader of the Jews, who read all about the prophecies of the Messiah, failed to recognize the Messiah himself walking into the front doors of his house.
Like the Pharisees, many fans might know a lot about Jesus but they don't really know Jesus. There is a huge difference between factual knowledge about someone (like that Obama is president) and actual personal knowledge of someone (like actually knowing Obama). Jesus himself spoke about this on the Day of Judgement: "Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" Clearly Jesus cared much more about his followers knowing him personally than merely knowing about him -- and even if they do things in his name. And this leads us to the second question:
Q2: Do you have knowledge about Jesus, or do you have intimacy (personal relationship) with him?
Fans tend to confuse their knowledge for intimacy. Where there is intimacy there should be a growing knowledge but too often there is knowledge without intimacy. We know we have a personal relationship with Jesus the same way we know if we have a personal relationship with a friend: Do you spend time with Jesus as you would any other friend? (Do you read your Bible and pray?) Said a little differently, when you get to heaven will Jesus actually know you?