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Tag Archives: The Crucifixion

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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