May 20 I Thursday
1 Chronicles 10-12
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night…” —John 3:1-2
Who was Nicodemus? From Scripture, we know that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. But what was so significant about Nicodemus that he went to meet with Jesus at night?
To appreciate who Nicodemus was, we must understand the cultural and the educational system of the New Testament times. There are three levels of schooling for Jewish children. The first level is Bet Sefer, meaning “House of the Book.” Children ages 5-10 are taught the Scriptures. Because they are God’s covenant people, they need to commit to memory the first five books of Moses, so that they can be obedient to it. After they have finished memorizing Genesis to Deuteronomy, their Jewish studies would be completed and they would learn the family trade. For some children who display a certain level of acumen for the Scriptures, they are invited to the next level of schooling, which is called Bet Talmud, meaning “House of Learning.” Between the ages of 10-14, they are taught the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures all the way to Malachi.
Afterwards, if a student shows gifting in knowing Scripture, they would continue in Bet Midrash, meaning “House of Study.” The student will meet with the rabbi who will ask them many questions to see if the student has a commanding knowledge of the Old Testament. If the rabbi feels the student is good enough to be his student, he would utter two words: “Follow me.” When a rabbi says those words, he believes the student has what it takes to become a rabbi.
Nicodemus had been through all three levels of Jewish education, devoting his life to the study of God’s Word in the Old Testament, and even becoming a Pharisee. The Pharisee movement began between the Old and the New Testament, when the Greeks invaded the nation of Israel and started to conquer the land. A group of Jewish people saw the Greek culture influencing their Jewish culture, so they sought to distance themselves by devoting themselves to the study of Scripture. These Pharisees believed their purity was rooted in the Old Testament law and imposed numerous dietary restrictions and rules, following them religiously to ensure their righteousness.
Coming from this background, Nicodemus represents our best efforts to please God with a strict life of obedience. But there is one major problem. When our life is rooted in a righteousness that comes from ourselves, we try to win God’s approval with our best efforts. The night Nicodemus met with Jesus, his whole worldview and understanding of salvation was radically changed. He was confronted with the inadequacies of his own works and introduced to God’s amazing love through the Son.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, no amount of religious work or my own best efforts can earn my salvation. Thank You that the justification of my salvation comes only from Your finished work on the cross. Praise You!