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Revealing your allegiance
A number of characters have passed before us, some bad, some well-intentioned but weak, some strong and faithful. Now two more: Joseph and Nicodemus. One is devoted but full of fear, and the other had been hesitant but is now eager to follow.
Until this point their discipleship has been secret, but now the death of Jesus draws them out of hiding. Did Nicodemus recall his night-time visit and the strange claim Jesus made about being lifted up (John 3:14,15)? And for Joseph, a prominent religious leader, it was an act of courage to ask the volatile Pilate for the body.
Both men were rich and 75 lb of spices was an amount only usually used in a royal burial (but then that is what it was!). There is a sense of tenderness as the men carefully wrap the body and lay it gently to rest in Joseph’s tomb.
The path of discipleship is never easy and sometimes, like Nicodemus and Joseph, we follow at a distance. We may wish we could act enthusiastically like Peter, or be intense like John, but Jesus loves us as we are. He will accept our offering of love given, it may seem, at the last moment and will renew our lives.
Will you resolve today to keep faithful to Jesus and be bolder, as opportunity offers, to declare your love?
Deeper Bible study
‘He was assigned a grave with … the rich.’ (Isaiah 53:9)
We would love to know more. All that we know about Joseph of Arimathea is what we are told here and in the parallel passages in the other Gospels (Matthew 27:57–60; Mark 15:43–46; Luke 23:50–53). Piecing it together, we know that he was a good and righteous man, wealthy and a respected member of the Sanhedrin, which was a judicial council made up of leading citizens, including the chief priests, elders and scribes, and presided over by the high priest. They were responsible for keeping public order and answerable to the Romans. Actually, many in the Sanhedrin believed in Jesus but were afraid to come out in the open, because the Pharisees had threatened that any disciple of Jesus would be put out of the synagogue (John 12:42,43). Joseph was one such secret believer and had not gone along with the decision of the council to condemn Jesus.
When all the disciples had fled, Joseph plucked up his courage. We are surprised and delighted that Nicodemus (whose inconclusive encounter with Jesus we read of in chapter 3) joins him, with a phenomenal quantity of spices. Two wealthy men prepare Jesus for burial – a task which was normally performed by women.
Presumably they had watched Jesus die. Maybe, just maybe, they now understood how in his death Jesus glorified God and they chose his glory over the glory of their status in Jewish society (compare John 12:40–43). Maybe Nicodemus now understood what Jesus had meant when he talked about being ‘lifted up’ (John 3:14). What would they have made of the discovery of the empty tomb, of the proclamation made by the disciples that Jesus was alive? Were they among the 120 disciples gathered together in Acts 1:15? At Pentecost in Acts 2? We are not told, but it seems likely.
Bible background: Meet Joseph of Arimathea
● Joseph is remembered as the one who provided a tomb for Jesus. Before this he is unknown.
● He came from the town of Arimathea. We don’t know where this was although it may well be identified with the Old Testament Ramah or Ramathaim-zophim. If so it was about 22 miles (35 km) north-east of Jerusalem.
● He was a wealthy man (Matthew 27:57–60
), with his own tomb. This is described as new, probably meaning that it had only just been carved out of the rock. In addition to the tomb he also provided the linen for the burial.
● As a member of the Jewish governing council, the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:50
), he was a man of considerable standing within the community.
● He is described as a good and righteous man (Luke 23:50
), who was looking for the kingdom. Luke adds that he had no part in the decision to condemn Jesus.
● Matthew tells us that he was a disciple (Matthew 27:57
) and John reveals that he kept this secret (John 19:38
). Fear of others prevented him following openly because of the opposition to Jesus. To be open would have involved considerable risk.
● The death of Jesus moved him to action, asking for the body (John 19:38
) and arranging the initial speedy burial, there being insufficient time for all the usual preparations to the body making the further visit by the women necessary (Mark 16:1
; Luke 24:1
● Stories about Joseph, Glastonbury and the Holy Grail have no basis in history and are late legends.
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