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. — John 19:38-39
It’s amazing how different people will react to the same situation in totally different ways. For instance, take two men to jail for the same crime. One may be deeply remorseful and serve his sentence as a perfect prisoner and after his release lives a model life.
The other man may become hardened and bitter spending his time in jail making connections and working on his criminal skills. When he is released, he then becomes a criminal who continues to break the law with more severe crimes.
In the story from the passage above, we remember as soon as it became clear their leader was being crucified, Peter and some of the other high profile apostles went into hiding. As we mentioned yesterday, Peter even denied knowing Jesus. Fear and despair gripped them to the point self preservation and survival were all that mattered. They had been a part of Jesus’ ministry for over three years but now were afraid to even be associated with him.
Meanwhile, there were a couple of men who moved in different directions. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee had previously been hiding their commitment to Jesus. Nicodemus is carefully identified as the man who had come to Jesus at night. Apparently when he came to Jesus he was intrigued and desired to know more about His teaching. It would appear from all indications at some point he accepted the things Jesus taught and became one of His disciples.
Jospeh of Arimathea, also a member of the ruling Council, had been wanting the Kingdom of God to come…in fact, he had been an undercover disciple of Jesus for some time. Yet he too, as we read from our passage, was wiling to take a stand along with Nicodemus in retrieving the body of Jesus to give Him a proper burial.
We know throughout the Gospels, the ruling Council’s hostility against Jesus was fierce and unrelenting. Anyone who publicly identified with Jesus was in danger of being excommunicated from the Synagogue and thus the jewish social life. Nicodemus and Joseph stood even more to lose as they both were men who held influence as they served on the Council. They also faced the very real possibility of being put to death.
Exactly when the character and conviction of these two men came to the point of committing themselves to Jesus is not clear. There is evidence Nicodemus and Joseph gradually came to recognize their own covert belief needed to be openly expressed in some form or fashion. So after the dreadful events of Jesus’ execution took place and they realized there was an opportunity to do the right thing…they took it!
There comes a time in each of our lives as true followers of Jesus, when fear must be overcome by love and anxiousness along with anxiety overcome by conviction. Nicodemus and Joseph demonstrated how to step out of the shadows and relinquish their role as “undercover disciples” and become men willing to take the risk for doing the right thing.
Are you at the forefront of the battle identifying with Jesus or would you be considered an undercover disciple?