Last time, we began The Lesson of Nicodemus and learned that there’s a little of Nicodemus in all of us. We also learned that Nicodemus didn’t quite get what Jesus was trying to teach him about the “victory of the people” not coming through the “ruler of the people.” Do you think he ever got it? Let’s explore.
Near the end of this conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus tried one last example. I don’t think it was so much to make him understand, that clearly wasn’t going to happen, but to simplify and tell him what to do. For example, I desperately want to learn more about the internet, code, programming, and web design, but for the time being I rely on tutorials that simply tell me where to input text and which buttons to click. I think what Jesus finally did was say to Nicodemus, “Okay, look, you don’t have to understand it all, just do this.”
What is the “this” Nicodemus was supposed to do? Lift up the Son of Man just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness. John 3:14. Jesus is referencing a short section of the book of Numbers wedged in between war stories. The Israelites had just achieved victory over the Canaanite king of Arad, and they started grumbling against God and Moses because of the “wretched food”. God, perturbed with the Israelites much the way Jesus was perturbed with Nicodemus, sends poisonous snakes among the people. Many were bit and many died.
The Israelites recognized their sin and asked Moses to intercede on their behalf. God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and mount it atop a pole, and to tell the Israelites that whenever anyone was bit to look at the bronze snake and they would recover. In other words, when the Israelites suffered the consequences of their sin (snake bites), they had to look at a reminder of their sins before their recovery.
By contrast, Jesus refers to the scribes and the Pharisees as the “snakes” and a “brood of vipers”. Matthew 23:33. The new remedy for the snakes and vipers: placing Jesus on a pedestal and keeping your eyes focussed on him. Jesus knew that the condemnation that came from the scribes and Pharisees (the law, the ruler of the people) was venomous, and that He was the antidote (the victory of the people).
There is no escaping Paul’s conclusion that I have now written about three posts running, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
So, did Nicodemus ever learn this lesson? When we next hear from Nicodemus he is defending Jesus before the Sanhedrin. John 7:50-51. As we discussed last week, Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the people. Essentially he was a high court judge whose interpretation of the law very likely became law. However, when the Sanhedrin is trying to persuade the temple police to arrest Jesus, Nicodemus speaks out in Jesus’ defense. He says, “Our law doesn’t judge a man before it hears from him and knows what he’s doing, does it?”
Imagine, Nicodemus, a first century Pharisee, saying, “Our law doesn’t judge a man…” Nicodemus might not have completely got it by this point, but he was definitely learning. Our last encounter with Nicodemus is when Jesus is about to be entombed. Pontius Pilate has just given Joseph of Arimathea (also a member of the Sanhedrin, but a disciple of Jesus) permission to remove and bury Jesus’ body. Who shows up? Nicodemus, bearing gifts, 75-100 pounds of myrrh and aloes.
Why is this significant? Myrrh was the key ingredient in the holy anointing oil God instructed Moses to make in Exodus 30:23. The anointing oil was reserved for the ark and sacred items only. The only people allowed to be anointed with the oil were Aaron and his sons, the priests. The creation of this oil for any other purpose or for use by any other person was punishable by being cutoff from the people of Israel.
Do we know definitively the myrrh Nicodemus brought to anoint Jesus was of this holy concoction? I cannot say for certain. However, we do know that myrrh was often worth more than its weight in gold, and Nicodemus brought 75-100 pounds of it to anoint Jesus. Whether he offered jugs of this precious oil as an homage, or whether he realized Jesus was a high priest worthy of anointing subjecting himself to the potential for excommunication, Nicodemus was there at the end preparing the body of Christ for its return.
So, either Nicodemus really got it, choosing Jesus (the victory of the people) over the law (the ruler of the people), or he just fixed his eyes on Jesus and followed. Either way, Nicodemus is a lesson for us all, even when we don’t quite get it, we fix our eyes on Jesus and follow.
But, I’m hoping he finally got it. One day we can ask him.