Breaking Free… to Jesus!

People praying for Muslims may be familiar with the “Persecution Watch List” published annually by Open Doors ministry. In any given year, Muslim nations are approximately 40 of the top 50 countries which persecute Christians. Part of the reality in these contexts is a spirit of fear which keeps people from seeking Jesus.

Perhaps you have gone through a experience at a school where secular humanism prevails. Our maybe it’s a “toxic environment” at work which may include ridicule of those who exhibit faith in God. If so, you may be able to better relate to Muslims who may want to discover more about the biblical message of salvation, but they may feel hindered from doing so by family pressure, or even government persecution. They need to break free… to Jesus!

We can take courage from the biblical example of “breaking free” demonstrated by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. These leaders were members of the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish ruling council. In its day, the Sanhedrin was composed of 71 members, all religious scholars, who served as a type of “Supreme Court” and ultimate decision-making body. In Jesus’ time, the Roman colonial power retained certain powers, such as executing criminals.

Early in Jesus’ public ministry, news reached the Sanhedrin of a miracle-working, disciple-gathering, preaching carpenter in Galilee! Jesus did not come up through the rabbinical system, and the Sanhedrin decided to oppose Jesus. They saw Him as a threat to their leadership. They were jealous of Him (Mt. 27:18). They announced that anyone who testified Jesus to be the Messiah would be excluded from the synagogue (Jn. 9:22). Eventually, they decided to kill Jesus (Mt. 26:3-4; Mk. 14:1; Lk. 20:19), negotiating with Judas to betray Him (Mt. 27:14-16; Mk. 14:10-11).

Some may wonder if this an anti-Semitic post in a time of tragic anti-Semitic events around the world. That is not my intention. The main hero of the story—Jesus—walked the earth as a Jewish man. His mother Mary was Jewish, as were His disciples. The men we will study in a moment—Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea—were likewise Jewish. The lessons we can learn about “breaking free…to Jesus” are instructive for Jewish and Gentile readers alike.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea

Two of the members of the Sanhedrin—Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea—did not share the group consensus to oppose Jesus. Through their bravery, they broke out of the mindset of their brethren on the Sanhedrin and played a unique role in the Gospel story.

Nicodemus is often thought of as a coward and mental midget—he asked Jesus about the possibility of a grown man climbing back into his mother’s womb (Jn. 3:4)! The reality is that Nicodemus was a very brave man that came to visit Jesus. He was afraid to the extent that he made the visit by night. But given the feelings of his Sanhedrin brethren regarding Jesus, who can blame him?

Later, as the Jewish religious leadership tensely debated about Jesus, the question arose: “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?” (Jn. 7:48). While Nicodemus did not directly testify that he believed Jesus to be the Messiah, he courageously spoke in Jesus’ defense: “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” (Jn. 7:50-51). For this he was rebuked as being a Galilean!

Joseph of Arimathea was “a prominent member of the Council, who was waiting for the Kingdom of God” (Mk. 15:43). Though he observed the deliberations of the Sanhedrin, “he had not consented to their plan and action” (Lk. 23:51). After Jesus died on the Cross, Joseph “gathered up his courage” (Mk. 15:43) to ask permission of Pontius Pilate to give Jesus a proper burial—in Joseph’s own brand-new tomb (Mt. 27:60)! Nicodemus helped Joseph bury Jesus.

Jesus didn’t stay buried for long! He rose from Joseph’s tomb, which would later be known to history as “the Holy Sepulcher.” Thus, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea broke out of the fear stronghold of the Sanhedrin. They chose Jesus and played their part in salvation history.

Muslims Today

Many Muslims today want to learn more about Jesus, possibly even to worship Him as Lord and Savior. Pray they will “gather up their courage,” as did Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and break free of the fear barrier to embrace Christ. Today is the day of salvation for Muslims!


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