40 When the crowds heard him say this, some of them declared, “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others said, “But he can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born.” 43 So the crowd was divided about him. 44 Some even wanted him arrested, but no one laid a hand on him.
45 When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.
47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”
50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself — no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”
53 Then the meeting broke up, and everybody went home.
My first reaction reading this passage by itself: sounds like a church meeting to me. Let’s run down a handy checklist to see:
- People expressing a variety of (contradicting) opinions? Check.
- Leaders trying to win an argument by a sheer appeal to their authority? Check.
- People using the Bible as a weapon against each other? Check.
- Calls for reasonableness and honest investigation – that are totally ignored? Check.
- Insults and ad hominem attacks? Check.
- Meeting ends without resolving anything? Check.
Yep. Definitely been in some church meetings like this. And some blog comment areas. And some Facebook groups. As I mentioned as recently as yesterday, we should always look for parallels between the ‘bad guys’ in the Gospels and ourselves. Same goes here. I haven’t just been in those meetings and message boards, I have participated in them. Sure, I’d like to think I was more often in the Nicodemus role, but truth be told, this hasn’t always been the case. If you’ve been there you know, emotions can run high in these situations. We can find ourselves caught up in religious fights and miss Jesus in the process. Notice how there are no red letters in today’s Red Letter Year post? Could it be Jesus isn’t very interested in our religious arguments? Maybe we could learn to be less interested, and less emotionally invested, in these too.
Anyway, here are three things to notice in this passage and then a takeaway for each:
- Where is Jesus from? Unlike Matthew and Luke, John doesn’t give us a birth narrative. Most scholars think John was familiar with the other three Gospels and that he expected his readers were as well. This turns out to be a cool tidbit to note here because in their religious zeal, the leaders spell out that Jesus can’t be the Messiah because the Messiah can’t be from Galilee because the Bible tells us the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. Thanks to Matthew and Luke, John expects the reader to think, ‘But hey, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.’ So even the guys who are wrong still speak truth even though they don’t recognize its significance. It’s maddening how often we do this too.
- No one ever spoke like this man. Nicodemus makes the critical and biblically correct call: we should let Jesus have his say before judging him. Those who take time to listen to (in our case read) Jesus often come to the same conclusion as his would-be arresters: no one ever spoke like this man. This is what our Red Letter Year is all about: letting Jesus have his say.
- The religious leaders prove blind and deaf to Jesus. Their authority blinded them to the need to investigate before pronouncing judgment. They expected everyone to reject Jesus simply because they had rejected him. They refused Nicodemus’ call for a fair hearing for Jesus. The insulted Nicodemus and then used their knowledge of the Bible – not as a means of gaining more understanding – to bludgeon into silence those not convinced by their prior appeal to authority. “Because we’re in charge” comes first, followed by, “because we know the Bible better than you.” But their study of Scripture led them to a rigid understanding that self-servingly reinforced their authority, so their appeal to the Bible was really only a thinly veiled second appeal to their authority. “Because we say so” and “because we say the Bible says so” aren’t really any different. And the worst part is, their misunderstanding of the word of God (the Bible) leaves them deaf to the Word of God (Jesus). They didn’t hear Jesus teach the way their guards did. I’m worried that sometimes we don’t either.
- Sometimes our opponents point to Jesus. We should be open to hearing that. Sometimes the point we think we’re making actually makes the opposite point. We should learn to live with that too.
- Jesus deserves a fair hearing. Reading/reflecting on/applying his teachings regularly is essential for his followers.
- Appeals to authority and even the Bible are not enough. They can leave us blind and deaf to Jesus. The cure for this is following Jesus in a community of people who: 1. love us, and, 2. speak truth to us, and, 3. listen to truth from us. If any of these three is missing it won’t work. The leaders didn’t listen to Jesus or Nicodemus (who was one of them) or their guards. Such a closed posture renders authority and biblical scholarship worse than useless, it renders them monstrous.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.