Read John 19:38–42.
As a rule, I don’t like being late. In fact, I’ve been known to bail on events altogether if I realize on the drive there’s no way to make it to my destination on time. There must be some buried childhood memory of embarrassment hidden away somewhere in my psyche that has forever impressed upon me the need to be on time or, better yet, a few minutes early. Whatever the reason, the thought of walking into a church service or a meeting after it’s begun fills me with anxiety. I avoid such entrances at all costs.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, however, are apparently quite comfortable being late, or perhaps they’re compelled by the Spirit of God to show up, even though everyone’s worst fears have already come true: Jesus is dead.
I would imagine those who were on the fence about Jesus must have concluded the hype was all for nothing when they heard He had been killed like a common criminal. The Messiah was supposed to be King forever, not humiliated with a makeshift crown of thorns and then crucified. The Son of God was supposed to command legions of angels; a few Roman nails shouldn’t have been able to secure Him to the implement of His death. The Holy One of God was supposed to be victorious over all His enemies, not the victim of their cruel schemes.
Even though all evidence seems to confirm that Jesus was not the Messiah Nicodemus had hoped he was, the Pharisee decides to go public with his affection for Jesus. He tags along with Joseph of Arimathea, a fellow member of the Sanhedrin but one who had been a secret disciple of Jesus. He had asked Pilate for his permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross and give it a proper burial before the Sabbath began. We don’t know much about Joseph, but like Nicodemus, he has decided to step out of the dark and into the light, to be counted among those who love Jesus.
Normally, the bodies of criminals were not buried. They were simply left to be devoured by vultures over the course of days that followed their execution. By coming to bury Jesus’ body at their own expense, the pair are announcing to the watching world they believe Jesus is worthy of honor, that He is not the disgraced fraud Caiaphas and Annas proclaim Him to be. This is a potentially costly statement for the pair to make. By their actions, Joseph and Nicodemus are challenging the leadership of the high priest publicly and aligning themselves with a man the council has condemned as a blasphemer and an enemy of God. By taking Jesus’ body to be buried, Joseph and Nicodemus are laying down their status, position, and security. They are giving up the comforts of this world in order to be bold for Jesus.
What makes this so remarkable is there’s no indication that either Nicodemus or Joseph suspect Jesus will conquer death in just a matter of hours. They are simply doing what God has put on their hearts to do. They don’t have answers; they only have the conviction that Jesus was the Son of David they had been waiting for.
I wonder if Nicodemus had looked up at Jesus’ bruised frame on the cross and remembered what the Nazarene told him during their late night meeting together: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14). Perhaps he wondered to himself, Is this the lifting up He promised? If so, how will eternal life come from this?
Scripture doesn’t record for us a meeting between Nicodemus and the resurrected Christ. But based on his decision to go with Joseph to bury the body of the Lord, we can be confident Nicodemus was bowled over with joy when the good news of Easter reached his ears. The first time he met Jesus, he wasn’t willing to be seen. That’s why he came under the cover of night. But now, He has stepped out of the darkness and into the light, to be counted among those who love Jesus.
Sometimes we can’t see clearly to determine the end of the story God is writing in our own lives. We don’t get to know ahead of time that things will all work out. We don’t get to spy the happy ending in the midst of our pain. We do, however, have God’s promise that the ultimate end to every story is the forever-joy of being known and loved by God in His eternal kingdom. That hope should inspire us to be like Joseph and Nicodemus. We can be foolish in the eyes of this world as long as our hearts belong to Jesus—totally and completely.