Kingdom People – Spirit Led
Jesus and the Jewish ruling council, also known as the Sanhedrin, were on a collision course. The men who made up the council were Jesus’ spiritual brothers, and it is possible some of them were among those who were fascinated by Jesus’ wisdom as He discussed His Father’s business in the temple at the age of twelve. But fascination digressed into disgust by the time Jesus’ ministry hit its stride.
What did the ruling council have against Jesus? Several possibilities have been suggested, some obvious and some a matter of speculation. We know spiritual elitists steeped in legalism, such as the Pharisees, made up a portion of the council. They hated Jesus because He put people above rules. Jesus didn’t disregard rules, as was evidenced when He reinforced His Father’s moral law in His Sermon on the Mount. Rather, He grew weary of the way the Pharisees crafted their own version of morality and used it to manipulate the lost sheep of Israel for their own purposes. In one of His famous “woes” to the Pharisees Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
Members of the council were also jealous of Jesus’ popularity. While Jewish people may not have been particularly proud of their leaders, they were reluctant to follow rebels who were demonized for their behavior. But Jesus was different. He wasn’t a legalist, but somehow managed to avoid sin. People loved Him because He loved them the way His Father loved them. Had Jesus been solidly in the camp of the council things might have been different, but He was too displeased with their pompous self-righteousness to ever be considered an associate. As well, He was too good to be easily incriminated for His independence.
This was the context within which Nicodemus, a member of the ruling council, approach Jesus by night. We don’t know for sure how his heart might have been different from other council members, but it is impossible to miss the candid and respectful nature of his conversation with Jesus. There is no detectable bitterness in his tone; only an inquisitive heart, as well as a sense of spiritual urgency that would compel him to seek Jesus in secret. It appears Nicodemus’ admiration for Jesus grew with time, since we find him helping Joseph of Arimathea care for the Lord’s body after his death (John 19:38-39).
Where Nicodemus landed in his walk with God, we don’t know for sure, but we are certain he heard what it takes to be a kingdom person. Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) When Nicodemus pressed Jesus on the meaning of His words Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:5-6)
We may not understand everything about the Holy Spirit, but we can detect the difference between a rule-based religion and one that is spirit-led. Remember, Jesus honored God’s commandments. Therefore we should not think the notion of a spirit-led life frees us from moral accountability. In reality, it is impossible to be spirit-led unless we obey God’s commands because His truth has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Spirit-led does not suggest a life without boundaries, but rather one that seeks God’s heart first, then interprets His Word in light of His nature. This was the problem with the ruling council. They were trying to live out godly principles with a worldly mind.
Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) If we seek God’s heart above all, everything else will fall into place. Our lives will please Him and He will be pleased with our lives. His kingdom will have come to earth, first in us, and then through us in everything we touch.