Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jesus' Friends in High Places (No not in heaven)

In 1937 Dale Carnegie wrote a best selling self-help book titled "How to Win Friends and Influence People."  Interestingly as you look at the major themes in the book you find cultural truths now less than a century later.  It is possible that Mr Carnegie tapped into some universal truths that exist in western culture or more likely he has shaped culture over the last 72 years with his philosophy or perhaps a combination of both (perhaps in a future post).  However Jesus did not follow the teachings of Mr Carnegie when it came to dealing with the religious establishment of his day.  He broke the very first fundamental to handling people "don't criticize, condemn, or complain" when it came to the religious leaders of His day.   Needless to say Jesus did not have friends among the religious establishment, or did He?

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were two friends of Christ that were a part of the religious establishment of His day.  They cooperated to secure Jesus' body after His death on the cross and performed a hasty (due to time constraints), but honorable burial.  Jesus' burial place belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. 

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to learn from Him (John 3:1-19).  The dialogue recorded with Nicodemus has become the central tenet of all Christian faith.  Jesus shared the most important truth about his purpose here on earth with Nicodemus.  In this section we learn about being "born again (John 3:3)."  This concept confused Nicodemus and Jesus elaborates that unless a person experiences a spiritual conversion (rebirth) then they cannot enter into the "kingdom of God (John 3:5-8)."  Nicodemus continues to be confused.  Jesus continues by explaining that the "One" the "Son of Man" must be trusted in order for this spiritual rebirth to occur and that believing in Him would result in eternal life.  Jesus was of course referring to Himself (see article on "Son of Man").  He then gives the most popular verse in the Bible:

�For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 (HCSB)

It is interesting to consider that them most popular verse in all of Christendom was first given to a Pharisee the party that hated Christ and then Christ followers.   God examines the heart not the affiliation. 

The next time we see Nicodemus is in a dispute over the attempted arrest of Jesus Christ (John John 7:32; 50-52).  In this situation they had already made up their mind that Jesus was promoting himself as the messiah.  Their opinion was that he was a false messiah.  Nicodemus defends Jesus by confronting his fellow colleagues that they have not heard the whole story.  He had obviously and some say that he believed on that first night.  This was no small thing that Nicodemus did on that day.  The Jewish leaders had made it clear that anyone that was sympathetic to Christ would be put out (John 9:12).  So Nicodemus was taking a triple risk by standing up for Jesus.  First he risked losing his status as a religious leader.  Second it is likely that Nicodemus was a Pharisee by occupation as well.  In this way he risked his livelihood. Third Nicodemus was a righteous Jew and his faith was very important to him as he sought out truth.  He risked being excommunicated from the very thing that he loved (a place to worship God). 

Finally we see Nicodemus again after Jesus' death (John 19:39-40).  As I read this I wonder, "Where are Christ disciples?"  They had been scattered, but even after His death it does not seem that they returned to give their friend a decent burial.  We see that Nicodemus step up to the Job.  He brought the materials needed for a honorable burial.  There was something in the character of Nicodemus that would not allow Jesus body to be left on the Cross like a common criminal.  He had to do what was honorable no matter what the personal cost would be. 

We only see Joseph of Aramathia at his burial.  Joseph was a wealthy man (Matthew 27:57), a member of the religious ruling body (Sanhedrin Mark 15:43), and secret disciple of Jesus (John 19:38).  Joseph had right motives and a sincere heart.  He had not gone along with his colleagues in the unrighteous condemnation of Christ (Luke 23:50-51).  Trapped by a sincere love of God and they unholy action of his fellow colleagues Joseph did the honorable thing.  He boldly approached Pilate to seek Jesus' body that he might give him a proper burial.  What is more he gave up his family tomb to place Jesus in it.  Think of that for a minute.  Keep in mind that Jesus had not yet been resurrected so there was not context that we have.  If someone a good man needed a burial place how many of us would go down to coroner ask for the body and then bury them in our own burial plot.  Again I am echoing the question in my mind, "Where are the 12 disciples?"  Is it possible that these two with much more to lose in my estimation could have mustered up enough courage to go against the sentiment of their colleagues. 

What can we learn from these two about friendship?  First we have to recognize that friendship can transcend social status and affiliation.  There is something greater than the positions we hold or the things we associate with.  There is friendship "code of honor" if you will that defies this worlds concept of right and wrong.   A friend will come to you even when others have abandoned you.  You might say yes but these came after Jesus had already died.  To which I would reply, "Where are the twelve disciples?"  Their absence is very conspicuous.    You see Jesus had friends in the twelve, but at that moment he needed friends outside the twelve and those friends came from the most unlikely place.  In the end a friend is one that will count the cost and then do what is honorable.  I hope to be and to have such friends whether in public or in secret. 

God Bless You All

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