Thursday, July 23, 2015

Out of the Shadows (John 19:39-42)

"After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. (42) So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:38–42, ESV)

Fear is an incredible force and its fingers reach into our lives in seemingly countless ways. It is powerful such that people are inhibited are even immobilized for action, and many times they can’t even put a finger on it. When it came to the burial of Jesus we find that two men, who had previously been silent about following after Him or having contact with Him, were finally moved so that they stepped out and cared for His body. Something happened in them that they did something which no one else was prepared or able to do. 

The first one mentioned is Joseph of Arimathea. The only place in Scripture we find him mentioned is in relation to the burial of Jesus where he is mentioned in all four of the gospels (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53). From them we learn that Joseph was from Arimathea, which was possibly the same Jewish town known as Ramathaim-Zophim mentioned in 1 Samuel as the home of Elkanah. By identifying him as where he was from it was easy to distinguish him from others. We also read that he was a rich man and that he was a respected member of the council (according to Mark and Luke), which was the ruling body of Jews known as the Sanhedrin (meaning council or assembly). It was this body that judged Jesus guilty. But Joseph did not join them in this decision. Luke records for us, “He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God.” From this we know that he distanced himself from the council by not being in agreement. But we also read that in his not agreeing that he also did not reveal himself as a follower which we read here that he was. John recorded for us that he, “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews…”

Joseph was well-enough respected that he could approach Pilate and request the body of Jesus for burial, and according to Mark he, indeed, “took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” We also read that not only did he request the body of Jesus, but that he also took His “body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.” And that’s all that we know of him. Joseph took courage in the face of his fear of the Jews. He approached the ruler of the region and asked for Jesus’ body, and then he with care buried his Lord in his own tomb. Once he did this he rolled a stone over the entrance of the tomb and went away.

We could easily say that he did too little too late. When he finally stepped up it was all finished. If only he had objected stronger maybe he could have swayed some of the others. If only he had been more public and not so fearful, maybe he could have prevented what happened to Jesus. This would be a natural way of thinking and reasonable remorse. But this was not how it was to be, and God knew this long before Joseph was called to be a follower of Christ. God knew that Joseph would step up at the right time to accomplish what He intended, and Joseph is remembered in all four of the gospel records for what he did according to Scriptures. “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9, ESV) 

Joseph was not alone. John wrote, “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.” John chapter 3 is all about Nicodemus’ earlier visit to Jesus at night when he would not be seen. It was to Nicodemus that Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7), and “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95) But nowhere in John chapter 3 do we read that Nicodemus believed. But later, when the officers of the temple were sent out to apprehend Jesus only to return without Him it was Nicodemus who spoke up and questioned the procedures that the Pharisees and chief priests were following. “Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”” (John 7:50–51, ESV) And for speaking up, verse 51 records that they ridiculed him. Then this record of John telling us that Nicodemus joined Joseph in the burial of Jesus is the only other record we have of him. It was Nicodemus who the expensive burial spices, and it is in John’s record of Jesus’ burial that he reminds us that it was by night that Nicodemus had gone to Jesus, seemingly implying that he as well was secretly aligned with Joseph in following Christ. 

From this point forward neither man is mentioned again in Scripture. But at the right time they set their both set their fears aside. I can only imagine that after Jesus rose again on the third day that these two men heard about it. And I can hope that they got over their fears and became open followers who were not intimidated by the opposition, which I also imagine would have been pretty intense even costing them their position. Scripture simply does not give us this information. But what we do have are words from men like Peter who wrote to all of us, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14–16, ESV) 

And we also have the example of Paul who spent so many years in prison for the gospel where he boldly proclaimed the message that he was given and for which he asked others to pray. “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, ESV)

As I reflected on these two men I was greatly encouraged. There are so many times that I have remained silent when I should have spoken up. But this is not an excuse to continue this way into the future. God knew this from the beginning of time and He is not done with me. I have a great hope. We have a great hope, and it is this hope that we are to share with others boldly with gentleness and respect.

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