Saturday, October 03, 2009


Nicodemus. The name sounds like a medicinal product to deter tobacco use, doesn't it?

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Thankfully Nicodemus was not a product. He was a Pharisee.

Pharisees were the Jewish lawyers of the day.

Moses had received all 613 laws from God. From this evolved (can I use that word?) a group of Jews that made it their life's work not just to keep these laws, but to study them and add unravel the meaning behind each of them and interpret each. They made sure others followed the law and punished those that did not. They considered themselves shining examples, following the word and meaning of each rule.

We first hear of Nicodemus when in fear for his reputation and career, he appears under the cover of darkness at a home where Jesus was staying to speak with Him.

John Chapter 3

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."

In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

"How can this be?" Nicodemus asked.

"You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I will tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

The eighth paragraph, John 3:16 is one of the best known of the Bibles teachings. To think that Jesus said this, not to a large crowd of people, but to one individual man is astounding. How could you not be touched by the words of The Lord. Nicodemus was no exception. I feel that in his mindset as a Pharisee and one whose lifework is to study words, he had two choices. He could declare Jesus' words as blasphemy or understand them and come to that eureka moment some of us experience called Salvation.

Nicodemus took the words to heart. In John chapter seven it is Nicodemus who comes to the defense of Jesus, when the chief priest of the Pharisees sends the temple guard to arrest him when Jesus in talking in the Temple court. Jesus went to Galilee in secret to celebrate the feast of tabernacle. The Jews (pharisees) suspected him to be in town and questioned people as to His whereabouts. No one would respond, because the knew the pharisees intended to kill Jesus for what they considered blasphemy. Jesus makes His Presence known by walking right into the Temple Court and speaking to the assembled. The Chief priest order the Temple guards to seize him and bring him before the court. However neither the crowds or the awe struck guards do not lay a hand on him.

John Seven

Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?"

"No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared.

"You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them."

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?"

They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee."

Nicodemus has become "one of their number" and is ridiculed by his pharisee brethren. "Are you from Galilee too?" Galilee was considered a back-water type of place populated by what the elite pharisees considered to be people of low class.

We learn that Nicodemus' standing has been diminished in community because of his choice to follow Jesus.

The last we hear of Nicodemus is in John verse 19.

Nicodemus' last act in the Bible was to assist in removing the body of Our Lord.

John 19:38

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.

With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.

Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.

This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

There are a couple of interesting things going on here.

Burial was considered a sacred duty. Corpses not buried, but left to be eaten by insects and animals were an abomination in ancient law.

Even those slain in battle by the Jews were buried by the Jews. Those instances in which bodies were left to rot and be consumed by animals such as the wicked Jezebel seemly served as further punishment, but the lack of proper burial would abhorrent to Jews. This lack of burial hints at further punishment.

The second reason that Jews considered proper burial to be necessary was to prevent defilement of the land. This requirement is grounded in the Mosaic law:

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance” (Deut 21:22–23).

It is also expressed in Ezekiel:

“They will set apart men to pass through the land continually and bury those remaining upon the face of the land,so as to cleanse it . . . Thus shall they cleanse the land” (Ezek 39:14, 16).

In the Mishnah, where in the discussion of the rules pertaining to execution, the sages teach that one hanged must not be left overnight, lest the command in Deut 21:22–23 be violated (Mishnah. Sanhedrin. 6:4).

It seems to me highly improbable that the bodies of Jesus and the other men would be left hanging on the cross overnight—in contradiction of Deut 21:22–23—during peacetime and on the eve of the Passover.

Philo explains in his writings that crucifixion victims to be taken down and be buried on the eve of a holiday: “I have known cases when on the eve of a holiday of this kind, people who have been crucified have been taken down and their bodies delivered to their kinsfolk, because it was thought well to give them burial and allow them the ordinary rites . . . "

It is far more probable that arrangements would have been made to have Jesus and the other men interred with the Roman government. The story of Joseph of Arimathea, who otherwise is not known, is probably historical. In the telling of the story, Joseph grows in sympathy and allegiance to Jesus.

Pilate is accused of accepting bribes, so it has been suggested that Joseph may have bribed the governor. It is more likely that Pilate only required confirmation that the crucified men were indeed dead. Having their bodies taken down and out of public view for the Passover holiday would have been desirable.

Jewish tradition dictates that the body be washed with warm water from head to foot and, although they may turn the body as necessary to clean it entirely, including all orifices, they never place it face down. The body is dressed in white burial shrouds (tachrichim), which are purposely kept simple to avoid distinguishing between rich or poor. Men are buried with their prayer shawls (tallits), which are rendered ineffective by cutting off one of the fringes. (Thus discouraging theft) If, however, a person suffered an injury and blood soaked into his or her clothing, ritual washing is not completed. The blood of a person is considered as holy as his life and deserves proper burial. From the moment of death, the body is not left alone until after burial. This practice, called guarding/watching (shemira), is also based on the principle of honoring the dead. A family member or an appointed person, perhaps Nicodemus stays near the deceased person passing the time by reciting psalms (Tehillim) and watching over the deceased.

Joseph acted to provide Jesus a proper burial. Nicodemus provided a proper Jewish burial. Nicodemus (and perhaps helpers came as you would want helpers if you were carrying 75 pounds of spices and a bunch of cloth) and he gave Jesus a more formal burial, but one that did not anticipate his resurrection.

It is here that we can tell Nicodemus loved Jesus very much, and in order to honor him with a proper burial he was willing to make himself unclean for the Passover by touching Jesus’ dead body, but he apparently did not believe Jesus would rise from the dead, as evidenced by his embalming his body.

Although Joseph did not anoint Jesus’ body according to custom, it was he who most honored him by believing his words that he would rise from the dead.

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