John 7:40-53 (NRSVCE)
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”
Then each of them went home
An encounter with Jesus elicits a response, and that response reveals condition of our hearts. Notice that the crowd is divided. Some are quick to accept that Jesus is who He says He is—the Messiah come to save Israel. Others want him arrested, because they trusted instead on their own understanding. Jesus was not what they expected in a Messiah, and therefore He must be a charlatan. Just as we discussed yesterday, their pride blinded them to the truth. But the real meat of this story comes in the next section, when we see how God softens the hearts of some of those who encountered Jesus.
The “temple police” had been dispatched by the priests and the Pharisees to arrest Jesus. Jesus was a threat to their power, to their self-righteousness. He was an offense that demanded retaliation. But these guards disobeyed their orders. They were moved by the words of Christ, their hearts were softened so that they could begin to see who Jesus truly was, instead of the lies which had been fed to them by the priests and the Pharisees. Notice that it is those in positions of power who call Jesus a deceiver, and call the crowd ignorant and accursed. Those who stand to lose the most if Jesus is who He says He is are the ones who most stubbornly cling to their pride. Not only is this offense dealt by Jesus, but now their own guards have begun to slip out of their control! Surely they are about to dispatch those guards again to ensure the job is done this time.
But then we see an unexpected turn. Nicodemus, one of their own, comes to Christ’s defense. You may remember Nicodemus from earlier in the Gospel of John. It was Nicodemus that Jesus was talking to when He uttered the famous words of John 3:16. A great leader amongst the Pharisees, Nicodemus is one of the last the Pharisees would have expected to side with Jesus. And yet, God worked to soften the heart of Nicodemus—to make him capable of understanding Christ’s call and purpose. And in a much more extraordinary way than those guards, as Nicodemus was so moved that he sought Christ out! His encounter with Christ changed him, so much so that now when all seem determined to put Christ to the sword, Nicodemus stands in their way. “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing.”
You can almost hear the frustration in the voices of the Pharisees in their reply. They know Nicodemus is right, that it would be unlawful to take Jesus out without a proper trial. They scoff at his defense, and accuse him of being a Galilean himself (for who else would defend a Galilean?). But Nicodemus spoke the truth, and was a well-respected leader in their circles, so they reluctantly go home.
It is impossible to have an encounter with Christ and not be moved. The “ignorant” crowds open themselves to Him, the guards defy their masters because of Him, even Nicodemus comes to His defense. But still, the prideful recoil. The priests and the Pharisees spread lies about Him. They refuse to accept Him, because to do so would be to admit their own wrongdoings and that their faith is not in God, but in themselves. Are we the same? Are we willing to open our hearts to Christ, or are we so prideful that we will cling to our own understanding?