Since I was a young boy, I loved to read the Torah. My dad would sit me down and tell me all the teachings he had been taught about God’s written Law. He told me that it was not only important to study the Law and the Prophets, but to listen and understand the stories that many teachers of the Torah had spoken over the past centuries. He taught me to think about God’s Word very carefully. To use my reason when trying to understand Scripture.
When my dad was a boy, the Romans finally came to Jerusalem and conquered it. My grandpapa says he fought against the Romans and some of his friends were killed. I’ve never known Jerusalem without Roman soldiers everywhere. When I was older, I went into the synagogue schools and was later accepted as a Pharisee. Did you know that it was the Pharisses who invented the synagogue.? We wanted common people to be able to worship God and study his Law even if they couldn’t get to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Sadducees feel it is only for priests and nobles to have regular access to the Scriptures. We disagree. In Jerusalem, during my life, there were three types of people who were in charge of our country. First, the priests in the Temple guided the sacrifices and the worship ceremonies. Everyone respected them and Jewish life revolved around the festivals, feasts and rituals they followed. But in the middle of Jerusalem there was a powerful King who made sure life followed certain laws. In my grandfather’s day, the King was always Jewish. But after Julius Caesar invaded, Romans put whatever king they wanted in power. It was a way of keeping us under their control. So there were priests and a King. These were two of the three important groups. The third group was made up of what you would call politicians. These were the Sadducees and us, the Pharisees.
The Sadducees were very strict and only followed the written letter of Moses’ Law and many of our prophets. If it wasn’t written in our Scripture, they didn’t want anything to do with it. Us Pharisees however, were very respectful of the written Law, but we also put a lot of importance on the oral traditions of many Jewish theologians. So the priests, the king and the politicians ruled Jerusalem. But with Rome having conquered Jerusalem, we also had what is now called a procurator in our city to oversee the tax collection and to make sure we didn’t rebel against Caesar. They even built a palace – it’s actually called a praetorium – where important Roman leaders control our country. The man in charge right now – the Roman procurator — is called Pontius Pilate. He is a fair and just man and leaves us Jews to practice our religion freely.
I am in my forties now and have been a Pharisee for many, many years. Yet when I was in my twenties I went through a hard time. I had studied the words of God’s Law and the teaching of the scholars since I was 5 years old. I won many awards and I had solved some important problems for my country. I was a little famous you could say. But when I started a family of my own and also began leading Jerusalem and making important decisions as a politician, I quickly realized how little I really knew about life. I also realized how hard it was to obey God’s Law. To be honest, I spent over ten years being secretly afraid I would not be accepted by God if I died. I always had a strong sense of justice and this is why I became a Pharisee. I wanted the regular people to know and love God whereas the Sadducees tended to only hang out with kings, priests and rich, powerful people. My mother had a dream when she was pregnant with me and in the dream she saw me leading many Jews into a green pasture. They were all shouting in victory behind me. So when I was born she called me Nicodemus, which is Greek for “People’s Victory.”
So, as I was saying, for over ten years I served God but I was afraid of Him too. I thought I was too sinful for Him to accept me. No matter how hard I tried, I could never perfectly keep the Laws of God in my heart. Oh, I didn’t really sin on the outside, but my heart did desire the sinful things God spoke against. It was as though I couldn’t change who I really was on the inside.
Well, when I was in my late thirties, something happened. A man from the north of our country started walking around Israel teaching in synagogues. He wasn’t trained either as a Pharisee or a Sadducee. Rumour was that he was a stone mason and carpenter. He did not have any powerful friends or connections. In fact, he was followed only by common folk. Some fishermen, some tax collectors and some other normal people. There were even some nasty rumours about his mom going around. Something about her being unfaithful to her fiancé and sleeping around. They said Jesus was an illegitimate son. This rumour followed him everywhere he went. Every once in awhile, a rebel teacher like him would come around and try and start a revolution. Usually they would be imprisoned or killed by either the Roman or Jewish authorities. So at first I ignored him.
As the months went by, however, I heard more and more about him. Then I started meeting people in Jerusalem who had heard him speak. There was a spark in their eyes when they talked about him. I started getting curious. Then, one day, something happened that really got my attention. A friend of mine had fallen off his roof about two years ago. He had badly broken his leg and had been limping for years. Then, one day I saw him walking in town. He had no limp. And his leg wasn’t crooked anymore. I thought for sure I had mistaken him for someone else, but no! It was him! He told me a kind stranger had healed him. And he said the man’s name was Jesus and that he was coming to Jerusalem. I thought to myself, I have to meet this man. I was really becoming curious as to whom this Jesus was.
A few weeks later Jesus was outside Jerusalem preaching in a synagogue. I went and listened. I was blown away. No one had ever taught the Scriptures like him. Not even the best Pharisee scholars in the Jerusalem synagogues. He answered many questions that no one, not even our famous theologians, had been able to answer for me. He made me feel like I could be accepted by God. Even as an imperfect man. The way he looked right at you, you had the feeling he knew what you were thinking.
So a week later I found out where he was staying, so I went to meet him in secret. I had no choice, the Sadducees and the Pharisees thought he was a heretic or a man possessed by a demon. Also, I sensed that the leaders were jealous that he was so popular. The Pharisees had always wanted to be the people’s champions and yet the people had never loved, accepted and followed them like they followed Jesus. In my heart, burning for years, was the worry that I couldn’t be holy enough for God. So as I walked in to speak with Jesus I didn’t really know how to say what I wanted to say. How do you say, as a famous teacher to a carpenter who had no training, that you don’t know the most basic answer to the most basic question about your own faith: “how do I get to Heaven.” When I walked into the residence he was staying at, I started mumbling something about Jesus being wise and how nice it was to meet him. But he looked right at me with that piercing look. His face was kind but strong. His eyes saw right through me. He said:
“I am telling you the absolute truth, if you are not born again, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
He knew what I was thinking! Without me saying it.
He went right to the centre of my life. No one had ever gone directly to my biggest concern. My worst fear. He began teaching me about how it was not up to me to be holy. It was up to me to trust God and follow Him. From then on, my life changed. Every time Jesus was in town I went — in disguise of course — and listen to Him. I became His student. He was younger then me and had never trained as a theologian, yet He seemed to alwasy know everything. Now, when I was listening even to the High Priest back in the Temple, I was bored. No one could teach like Jesus. No one looked at me the way He did. No one captured my heart and mind like He did. And several times I saw him cast out demons. None of the Pharisees or Sadducees could do that. I saw Jesus heal diseases. No one could do that in all of Jerusalem. Funny thing too, Jesus had no fancy clothes but He walked around with the air of a king. Not arrogantly, but as though royalty was as much a part of who He was as being human was part of who I was. He exuded effortless kingship even though He seemed to be trying to hide it. I often saw Pontius Pilate walking around town with a Roman guard. Pontius had his impossibly expensive clothes on as well as a Roman breastplate and a royal cape. He stuck out his chest and his chin but it seemed like he was pretending to be more important than he was. Wanting to be important. Yet Jesus walked around pretending not to be important but the universe and the very air seemed to be screaming that He was the centre. Of everything. It is difficult to describe.
Years later, Jesus had only gotten more popular. And the politicians and the priests and the King in Jerusalem wanted to stop Him. It became obvious they couldn’t make Him look stupid. Many times they had sent their smartest lawyers to try and argue with Him in public. Hoping to show the regular citizens that Jesus, who had no authority, was not a priest or a politician and had never trained as a theologian, was really just a silly man. But every time they tried to make Him look silly, He made them look stupid. And in front of every body. This became more and more embarrassing. And the rulers of Jerusalem even heard what I had heard. They had heard Jesus say that He was God himself. You would have to be a Jew to understand that this was forbidden. The sin Satan had committed was to try and be God. So for a man to say he is God is the sin of Satan. Unless of course, he is God.
When I first heard Jesus say this, I will admit, I was very, very nervous. I thought, “Oh no, I thought this was a good man, but now he is saying things only a mad man would say. Or a man who is crazy.” But nothing about Jesus was evil or crazy. So I couldn’t understand why He would say that. Well, one day, the Pharisees had Jesus arrested. They brought him before the High Priest. I knew they wanted to kill Him and I tried to defend Jesus. But it didn’t work. The Jews told Pontius Pilate that Jesus had claimed to be the true King of Israel. This made Pontious nervous because his job was to keep Jewish people from rebelling against Caesar as their true king. If Pontius didn’t stop the rebellion, Caesar would have him killed. He had no choice and he ordered Jesus to be crucified. My heart sank. I watched Jesus being nailed to the cross. I had seen this many times before. And every time, the people being crucified were angry and they spit at people and they cursed everyone watching them. When you’re in a lot of pain, you tend to get angry. But not Jesus. He said kind things the whole time. He even asked God to forgive the people killing Him. Once again, I had never seen this before.
After He died, me and a rich friend called Joseph of Arimathea got permission to get Jesus down from the cross and give Him a respectful burial. People who are crucified are usually dumped in a mass grave in a big pile of other rotting, dead bodies. We didn’t want Jesus buried like that. The Romans let us bury Him in nice robes and in a nice tomb. But the Jews guarded that Tomb very closely. They didn’t want the apostles to steal the body. I was devastated. The Man who had touched me more deeply than anyone else, even more than my own father, was dead. And I thought nothing could stop Him. One spring, a couple years earlier, a typical vicious wind storm had rocked the sea of Galilee. A friend of mine had been staying in the southern tip of the sea and had said the storm suddenly stopped. Something that never happens. Later, Peter had told me about Jesus calming the storm just with His voice. This must have been the same storm. How could a Man who could stop a storm not stop Roman soldiers from crucifying Him? It didn’t make sense…
Well, you’ve probably heard the end of the story by now. After all, here you are, two thousand years after the life of Jesus. When I saw Jesus teaching a group in the wilderness after I had seen Him killed and after I had wrapped His stiffening, dead body into burial robes and after I had help roll a one ton rock to seal His tomb I finally figured it all out. It finally made sense.
The Man who knew what I was thinking before I said it.
The Man who had healed my friend’s crooked broken leg.
The Man who had calmed the Galilaen sea.
The Man who spoke peace into my heart.
The untrained Man who knew God’s Word better than the High Priest and all his scribes and scholars.
The man who had dared to call Himself God…
He was God.
I had been taught directly by God.
In all of my life I never would have believed that I would have this privilege. And now, my story is told wherever Jesus’ story is told. I represent the people who wonder if they are good enough for Heaven. I represent the people who want God to comfort them and tell them to trust and follow Him. My life has helped regular people have victory over their deepest fears about going to heaven. My mother named me Nicodemus and God has made sure that name became a reality.