38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
(John 19:38-42 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, Jesus gave up His spirit and died on the cross.The Jewish leaders asked Pilate to hasten the death of the three crucified men (not knowing that Jesus was already dead) so the bodies could be removed from the crosses before Passover started at sundown. Pilate granted their request.
In today’s passage, two Pharisees (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus) asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Pilate granted their wish. John makes a special point to let us know that Joseph was a secret follower of Jesus, for fear of excommunication from the Temple and Jewish life. If any of the Jewish leaders had suspicions about Joseph being a follower of Jesus, Joseph’s request to Pilate and his actions confirmed those wonderings. Joseph’s secret was now out in the open.
John calls out Nicodemus as helping Joseph. John reminds us that Nicodemus had come to Jesus at night (John 3:1-21) to ask about eternal life. John had also recorded that Nicodemus tried to stand up for Jesus by questioning whether the Jewish leaders were following due process of Jewish law when they tried to arrest Jesus (John 7:45-52). Like Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus’ secret of following Jesus was now out in the open.
Isn’t it interesting that none of Jesus’ disciples helped with the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross and the burial of His corpse? Instead, God prompts two secret followers of Jesus to come out of hiding and publicly identify with Jesus by taking action.
God used Joseph to take care of burying Jesus’ body. Joseph was likely on the Sanhedrin, and as a Jewish leader would have known Pilate and had access to make the request. If Joseph would not have taken action, the soldiers would likely have taken down Jesus’ body (along with the other two men) and dumped them in a commoner’s mass grave. Instead, Jesus is given a proper Jewish burial, where the body is prepared with spices and wrapped in linen cloth.
John notes that Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus in a new tomb nearby. Matthew tells us that this was Joseph’s personal tomb that he had purchased (Matthew 27:59-60). Again, if there was any doubt about Joseph following Jesus, this was another public proclamation.
Both Joseph and Nicodemus thought this was the end of their Savior. They performed all the ritual Jewish tasks required in the burial of a body, fully expecting to come back a year later, collect Jesus’ bones, and place them in a bone box, as was the Jewish custom. Little did they expect that three days later, the tomb would be empty, and their hope rekindled.
So what moves us to the point of publicly proclaiming our faith in Christ and following Him regardless of the consequences? Are we willing to put to death and bury our pride, our fears of rejection and ridicule, our people-pleasing ways to unashamedly follow Jesus?
May our faith and boldness increase!