A Dawning Realization: I Was a Pharisee

by Dr. Kaia Kloster on November 22, 2022
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I can’t say how it started or when the journey began. It wasn’t sudden or abrupt. It was more like a sunrise—the light slowly spilling over the horizon, night gradually turning into day. And as my eyes adjusted to the light, I began to see that I was a modern-day Pharisee

I can’t say if this gradual, drawn-out process was a merciful act from God that he didn’t rip the blinders off or if it was reluctance or obstinance on my part—an unwillingness to see. But I am thankful for the dawning realization that, for far too long, I had been following the rules. Not Jesus.

If you find yourself to be anything like me, the biblical account of the Pharisees is one from which we could learn—particularly from one named Nicodemus, a very religious man who went in search of Jesus.

You see, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were an influential Jewish sect. They were distinguished by their strict observance of traditional and written law. And while they had gathered much prestige and power, they also tended to be self-righteous, judgmental, and hypocritical. As descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they had a rich heritage and were renowned as God’s chosen people. They took their godly heritage for granted and lorded it over others. They stressed the importance of ritual and tradition over love. And Jesus called them out on it. Whitewashed tombs, he called them. Beautiful on the outside but full of death on the inside.

Jesus was the antithesis of the politically connected, rich Pharisees—and his preaching threatened their position. Who was this carpenter’s son from the backwater of Galilee, with no rabbinical training or pedigree, who claimed to be the Messiah and challenged them? Much of the persecution of Jesus and his followers would come at the hands of the Pharisees themselves—the ones who knew the Scriptures and the prophecies. They celebrated the Passover meal every year, which was rife with symbolism pointing to the coming of the Messiah. Yet, when he came, they knew him not.

In the three short years of Jesus’ ministry here on earth, he and his disciples caused quite a stir. There were many miracles—people were healed, and demons were cast out. Many began to follow Jesus. It was a revival. Jesus was restoring what God had originally intended. It wasn’t just about rules; it was about relationship. It was about truth shared in love.

Even as the Pharisees seemed determined to stop this man who threatened their comfortable existence, some were apparently curious. The Bible tells us of Nicodemus, the Pharisee who approached Jesus under the cover of darkness. Nicodemus was one of the most prominent Pharisees of the day. He was part of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme council. He was very religious, and he was quite comfortable, but this man named Jesus had him wondering if perhaps there was more. Was he willing to give up his comfortable existence, go against his fellow Pharisees, and follow Jesus? We hear of Nicodemus two other times in Scripture. He stood up for Jesus as the Sanhedrin set out to arrest him, and he assisted Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of Jesus. While there is no written or recorded proclamation of faith, his actions and later church history indicate that he did become a follower.

And so it was with me. I had been very religious, an excellent church lady—faithfully attending, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, and serving at the coffee hour. I had checked all the boxes. Or so I had thought. Yet with my new foundation came this dawning realization—where was the part about being the hands and feet of Christ? How was I helping the widows and the orphans? What about the lost and the least? Indeed, who was I helping? Who knew Christ because of me? I was beginning to realize there had to be more. I think I had let the comfortable existence of a “good life” lull me into complacency. Worse yet, I fear that I may have fallen into the same trap as the Pharisees, with a tendency to be self-righteous, judgmental, and hypocritical. I had retreated within the church walls and was pointing my finger rather than stepping out of the church and offering my hand. I had chosen legalism over love.

So—like Nicodemus—I went in search of Jesus. Piece by piece, I surrendered my heart more fully to him, receiving far more than I was ever asked to give. In exchange for my heart, I was blessed to experience him in ways I had never imagined. I could see God at work around me—and I was invited to join in! I was led to places I wouldn’t have dreamed of going, and I was getting to see hope restored, lives redeemed, and faith ignited. It hasn’t always been comfortable or easy, but I wouldn’t go back for anything!

Where are you on your journey? Perhaps the sun is peeking over the horizon for you. Whether you are just beginning to consider a life with Christ or you are miles into your journey, perhaps—like Nicodemus—you have begun to wonder if there is more: more to this life, this faith, more to following Jesus. I hope that—like Nicodemus—you found yourself here today, reading this blog post because you are in search of more. As a recovering Pharisee myself, I can assure you that there is so much more! Don’t miss the Messiah, as the Pharisees did. Don’t miss the relationship with your Creator at the expense of religion . Come and ask questions. Come and seek answers. Come in search of more!

Through this series of blog posts, I will tell of my journey—my ongoing journey—from Pharisee to follower.

Through this series of blog posts, I will tell of my journey—my ongoing journey—from Pharisee to follower. From the murmurings in my conscience to radical steps of obedience, these stories will share the many ways that God—the living God—has transformed me by the renewing of my mind. Your story will look completely different, but surrender and obedience are common denominators. If you are willing to surrender your life to Jesus completely and receive him as your Savior and your Lord, you will discover what he will do with your yes. It may not be jail ministry or apologetics, but you will discover the joy of becoming a follower! I pray that as you read, God will open your ears to hear and your eyes to see, and may he open your very heart to receive him if you have not already, giving him every last piece. May there be a new revival, at least in your soul. There is more.

With love, my dear Nicodemus, from your fellow Pharisee,

Kaia

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 the bones of the dead and everything unclean. (Matthew 23:27 NIV)
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (Mark 2:15 NIV)
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)
Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. (John 3:3 NIV)

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