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Nicodemus Part 3 — John 19:38-42

John 19:38-42
Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Dear God, this is the story that made me love and appreciate Nicodemus. John seems to have a soft spot in his heart for Nicodemus (and Pilate for that matter, but that is a subject for another prayer journal). John 3 never references anyone being with Jesus and Nicodemus but Jesus, although it’s feasible that John and some other disciples could have been there. But the story in chapter 7 about Nicodemus trying to passively defend Jesus must have been relayed to John by someone else. Perhaps Nicodemus himself after Jesus’s death and resurrection. I assume John and Nicodemus had a personal relationship. Otherwise, why would John be the only Gospel writer to mention him? And why did he go to great pains in chapters 7 and 19 to not only call Nicodemus by name, but intentionally reference his conversation with Jesus in chapter 3?

So now for this story. Why do I like it so much? Mainly because It is Nicodemus at his lowest point, and yet he shows so much love for Jesus. His anger and anguish drives him into action. He loves this man he believed to be your Messiah, and he is going to show it to the world regardless of the consequences. And although we never read his name again after this story, I’m sure this act cost him his place in the temple and in the community. I would bet that this was his last Passover as a Pharisee.

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away.

First, however, let’s talk about Joseph of Arimathea. Luke and Mark tell us that Joseph was a prominent member of the council, but he did not consent to the death sentence Jesus had received. He was a secret disciple of Jesus. Did he and Nicodemus know this about each other all along, or was this something they figured out over the previous 12 hours?

With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.

John is careful to tell us that Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of perfumed ointment with him. I don’t know how this worked, but I would imagine they did the work right there at the foot of the cross. I would think that they would want to put the ointment on the body and wrap it up before they transported it to the tomb. I have this image in my mind of Nicodemus, grief stricken, disillusioned, and angry carrying this ointment in silence. Then he and Joseph take the body and start to handle the bloody mess. Where would you start? Blood would have to be everywhere. Did they clean the body with the ointment? But they did it.

Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth.

This is where I want to spend some time with the other Pharisees. This scene is amazing to me. I picture it completely silent except for hushed murmurs between the Pharisees, wondering what Joseph and Nicodemus were doing. And why were they doing it. Then I imagine no words between Joseph and Nicodemus themselves. Just looks. Glances. Tears. Confusion. I would imagine that the Pharisees were furious and there was hell to pay on Sunday–especially after the resurrection. Joseph was highly respected. Did his exhibited love for Jesus make any of them doubt? How about Nicodemus? Did his demonstration of discipleship and belief make them second guess their own beliefs, if only for a moment? Joseph and Nicodemus said more through their actions than they could ever have said through words.

The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

I wonder what it was like that night and the rest of the Sabbath and Passover for both Nicodemus and Joseph. Were they afraid? If not for their lives, for their careers and standing in the community? Did they talk to their wives? Their children? Were their families mad at them, or had they already told them how they felt about Jesus? And what about after the resurrection? Did the two men who had lost their standing in the community as well as, likely, their livelihoods join “The Way?” Did Nicodemus and John become friends. Did Joseph get to know all of the apostles? So many unanswerable questions. But I am certain that they both had to pay a price. The questions is, how big?

Father, I have followed you in the past and been disappointed. Even now, part of my soul is comforted by you through these prayer journals. I find camaraderie with characters like Nicodemus. We are all sojourners on this road. We are community, even though 2,000 years separates our earthly lives. Thank you for that. Thank you for loving me even when I question you and half-heartedly acknowledge my love for you. Thank you for forgiving me.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

Nicodemus Part 1
Nicodemus Part 2

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2019 in John, Nicodemus

 

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Passion Week – The Descent from the Cross: John 19:38-40

The above image is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. The image was created by Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn and is called “Descent from the Cross by Torchlight.”

John 19:38-42 [ESV]
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. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Dear God, I’ve been thinking about this story all day long. It’s the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter morning. As I right this, it is a little less than three hours until midnight. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about the Passover traditions of the Jewish people, but a couple of things strike me about this story:

  • Bustard actually pairs this image in the book with Mark 15:37-47, but I chose John’s telling of the story instead because he gives us a character the other three Gospels don’t give: Nicodemus. John is the only one who ever mentions Nicodemus at all, but he brings him up three times: chapters 3, 7, and 19. In chapter 3, he asks Jesus how someone can be born again and Jesus goes on his rant that includes several things including the now-famous John 3:16. In chapter 7, the Pharisees are trying to arrest and ultimately kill Jesus, and Nicodemus is there to subtly defend him (verses 50-51). And now he appears again. He went from seeker in chapter 3, to closet disciple and defender in chapter 7, to open disciple and lover in chapter 19. And it was at the lowest moment of defeat and despair that he came out. He and Joseph both. These verses in chapter 19 are my favorite Bible story because John tells us so much in just 11 verses.
  • Each man probably worked very silently as they handled the body. Their grief and anger must have been unbearable. John basically shows us a lot of anger towards the Pharisees in this scene. Pilate is angry with them and puts “Jesus of Nazareth: The King of the Jews” (19:19) on the cross, in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, no less (19:20) just to goad them (19:22). Now he shows two men whose grief an anger drives them to change their earthly lives forever. There was no turning back now. The love they had for Jesus in that moment is something that I have to question about myself when I hold myself up to their example. Do I love you that much?
  • What was that Sabbath night like for them? After they lay Jesus in the tomb and went home, what happened next? That’s what I mostly thought about today. How much pain were they in? How much anger or support did they receive from their wives/families? What did Saturday night look like after the Sabbath was over? There were a couple of times today when I just tried to get my head into theirs just a little.
  • How hard was it to remove Jesus from that cross? Did they have to pull the nails. This image shows one of Jesus’s feet still nailed to the cross while they lowered him. It also shows presumably Joseph preparing the linen shroud on which the men will place him. Did Rembrandt think about Nicodemus being there? Is he one of the men shown?

Father, tomorrow morning is Easter. To quote a Christian singer from the 80s and 90s, Carman, “It might seem like Friday night, but Sunday’s on the way.” Tomorrow morning is where we find our victory. It’s where we find the power in your mercy. It’s where we find our relief and our peace. I’m sure that Joseph and Nicodemus couldn’t believe it when they heard Jesus was alive. Did they get to see him over those next 40 days before he ascended? Were they there when Peter gave is great sermon and the Holy Spirit descended? As for me, I just hope I can live up to their legacy and be the one to show you love, regardless of what form you take in my life, and regardless of how confident I am that everything is working out the way you want it to.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Emails to God – My Favorite Bible Story (Matthew 27:57-61)

57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

Dear God, I think it is interesting that Matthew doesn’t tell us a little detail that John tells us: that Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to Jesus and asked about being born again, was there too, helping Joseph care for Jesus’ body. Mark tells us that Joseph was “prominent member of the council.” So I have to say that this is my favorite Bible story, and Joseph and Nicodemus are two of my favorite Bible characters. Why? Because they showed their face in the midst of despair and defeat. They showed a love for Jesus that went beyond his divinity and what they owed him as their God. And they did it at their own peril and risk of their own reputation.

I wonder how this story made Matthew, John, and the rest of the apostles feel when they heard it later. I wonder if they castigated themselves for not being there to do this. I wonder if they ever went out of their way to thank Joseph and Nicodemus for what they did. I wonder how Joseph and Nicodemus were treated by the church leaders after this.

Father, these men truly offered their reputations and careers up for you. I hope that, if it came down to it, I would be willing to do the same.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Matthew

 

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