Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Giving Up Religion

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:38-42 NIV)

From the time he secretly visited Jesus in the middle of the night (John 3), Nicodemus is mentioned only twice—subtly defending Jesus before his colleagues the Pharisees (John 7), and here assisting Joseph of Arimathea in burying Him after His death.  

He had been a religious man, but Jesus made it clear in their first encounter that it was not enough, that he still fell so far short that nothing less than being “born again” would suffice.  I’m sure it took Nicodemus awhile to understand what Jesus was saying, but the fact he was now risking an association with the man his colleagues desperately wanted dead shows that he eventually got it.  Nicodemus had been born again out of a life of religious activity and morality into a heart-changing relationship with Jesus.  

This Sunday many more than normal will flock to churches, thinking somehow it is the right thing to do since it is Easter Sunday.  A similar thing happens on the Sunday of Christmas week.  They could learn a lesson from Nicodemus. 

As he learned, it’s not enough.  It will never be enough.  No amount of morality or religious activity will ever be enough to bridge the chasm our sin has created between us and God. If it could, then Nicodemus would have heard nothing but praise on that one, late night.  But, instead, what he heard was, “You must be born again.”  In other words, you must give up your religion and follow me.  

The world is filled with religious people of all stripes and churches are filled with many people who have chosen the Christian one.  The life of Nicodemus is a warning to them:  You can’t get to God through religion, only through Jesus.  And to do that, you have to be born again into a new life that makes Him Lord of everything.

Today, go to God and ask Him if you are truly born again, or if you are, rather, more like the old Nicodemus who is living a good religious life.  It is evident from his life that Nicodemus got it and surrendered himself to Jesus, leaving his old life behind and embracing the new one Jesus offered.  What about you?

© Jim Musser 2015

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