Updated: May 20
Some people are hard to reach. The American “dream” has engulfed many people’s time into a drunken stoop of work-a-holism and busy schedules. You try to schedule a meeting with them, but something seems to always get in the way, and plans must once again be rearranged.
We open to John chapter 3 with a man who is desperate to meet a very busy teacher. But I love how Jesus is open and willing to leave the ninety and nine, to save just one. Think of all Jesus was up to in Jerusalem—miracles, messages, towns people constantly trying to get His attention. But in the midst of it all, His focus turned to one that was longing for answers—a Pharisee of all people, named Nicodemus.
Nicodemus was a “man of the Pharisees…a ruler of the Jews” (V.1). The law was his life. Tradition was his meaning. The Pharisees were the strictest sect of Judaism and known for their piety and commitment to oral laws. They were rigidly legalistic in their interpretation of the Torah, which was a recipe for mechanical and heartless religion.
But before we point the finger at someone like Nicodemus, I think it is important to note the first three words of the chapter, “There was a man…” Through all of the attire of a “master of Israel,” through all the knowledge of the law, he was still just a man. He was a man like you and I that didn’t have the answers and desperately needed Jesus.
We often like to peg the Pharisees as villains because of their strong opposition to Jesus, but remember although Jesus rebuked them, He did so with a heart of love and compassion. If it weren’t for Jesus, the life of a Pharisee would be my destiny and yours too.
If we are honest with ourselves we all have a little bit of “Pharisee” in us, don’t we? We all have the attitude of self-exaltation and pride waiting to pear its ugly head from time to time. Here are a few ways I think we—even as God’s children—can favor the attitudes of the Pharisees:
We value rules more than relationship.
One of the most dangerous things about the Pharisees was that they externalized religion. They tried to make a work of the heart into a work of the hands. This is why many of them put so much emphasis on the rules of the law and rejected a relationship with Jesus.
Did you know we can do the same? We can try to create the “perfect formula” for Christianity by our regulations and completely miss Jesus in all of it! We can get so focused on the outside—looking the part—that we fail to let the Word of God dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16).
Evaluate your rules. Do they point to a relationship with Him?
We are a friends to friends, not a friend to sinners.
You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s us four and no more!” That is the attitude of many of God’s children. That’s why we are called God’s children, because we often act like it! We like our cliques and little groups and express no interest in allowing outsiders to be a part. We, like the Pharisees, often turn our heads at those who are not just like us. And every time we do, we are putting to death every chance for Christ to live in and though us!
We see in Matthew 9, the Pharisees were disgruntled because Jesus ate with “publicans and sinners.” And I love His response.
“…They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).
Jesus was a friend to sinners because sinners were those in need. Look at His disciples and the people that He went out of the way for—they were all outsiders.
Who is the outsider that Jesus bids you to reach today? Who needs a friend in Jesus?
We magnify other faults and minimize our own.
We certainly love the spotlight don’t we? The glamour of being the center of attention is all too exhilarating for our pride. But when it comes to our faults and failures, we’d rather someone else steal the show! The thought of the world seeing our “dirty laundry” motivates a stealthy act to hide in shadows and put someone else in the spotlight.
Often times I think we do more fussing at the darkness in others then we do dealing with the darkness in our own soul. We magnify the sins of someone around us, to make ourselves look real good. We would rather taint someone’s name then own up to our mistakes. This is the Pharisee in all of us and it is the very opposite of what Scripture teaches.
James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
I think we do too much confessing other’s faults to one another. This is not the law of Christ!
Galatians 6:2 reminds us, “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
Whose burdens does God want you to help lift today?
We trust the knowledge of men over God’s wisdom.
We live in a society with a superfluity of information! Influencers, Youtubers, pop artist, and athletes--all with an opinion of the world and a Twitter feed to tell you about it! If we are not careful we can begin to trust more in the knowledge of men versus the wisdom of God.
Of course, “…in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) But we must remember, just because someone is giving their advice doesn’t mean it is worth taking! The Pharisees majored on becoming eloquent teachers of the law. They held each other’s words very highly and in some cases placed them on the same plain as Scripture.
The Word of God is our guide. It is the lens by which we prove all things, whether they be of God, or by man. It is our confidence and anchor that holds us to the Cornerstone, so that we are not carried about by the winds of false teachers. (Ephesians 4:14).
We focus more on what man sees versus what God knows
We all want acceptance, approval and affirmation, but where we choose to get it from will determine if we are left satisfied or not.
Paul said, “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
I don’t know about you but I don’t want to live my life always looking for the approval of other people. I want Jesus to see me for who I am so that He can make me more like who He is!
We are much like our friend Nicodemus. We have our legalities and questions. But one thing is certain--we all need Jesus!