As the pressure increases, the true identity of a person shines through. When situations get punchy, the true motives and identities show through. The old cowboy proverb says: “If your guts have turned to fiddle strings, it ain’t good for you and it aint safe for me.” When situations get tense, your first inclination is acted upon. When a bullfighter gets in a tight spot, if his focus is on the bull he will step around it. But if his focus is on self preservation its on stepping up on the fence. When Jake Joeckle is on a bronc, if he is about saving his skin, he double grabs; but too many times I have seen that kid lift on his rein and goes to spuring one. Why? Because safety-ing up is not in him and when situations get tense, he is going to give it his all, even If it means a little pain. When situations get tense, our heart tends to come to the forefront. Sometimes it means an action different from normal and other times it means our first inclination shines forth. In the situation of John 19, the true colors, outside of the political and social concerns, is acted upon.
The last twelve hours have been a blur. For Joseph and Nicodemus it has been a long and eventful day. The disciples have been a no show for quite some time. They deserted when the crowd showed up to arrest Jesus. Peter and John followed from a distance, but ever since Jesus arrived at the doorstep of Pilate before dawn, they have made themselves scarce. At the end of the passion narrative two guys come into the spotlight. For the gospel writers, they are not completely unknown characters but they certainly haven’t been central to the story. Now they and their character are in the spotlight. Their contrast is striking.
On the one hand, there is Joseph of Arimathea. He was part of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15.33; Luke 23.50), but a dissenter in the case of Jesus (Luke 23.51). Apparently, he had not made a big plea in the case for Jesus before the Sanhedrin. It was, after all, a case in the early morning, a late night, and he was apparently in the minority. Despite his view, Jesus was destined to die with the vote of the Sanhedrin. From the wording of John it would seem that Joseph of Arimathea did not make a real strong push to get Jesus out of his sentence of death. He was a secret disciple. Usually the greek word for “secret” is translated as “hidden”. A disciple in hiding until…
Nicodemus, on the other hand, is a vexing character in the book of John. He makes three appearances, which is uncommon for a minor character in a book that is clearly well thought out and planned. He visited Jesus at night in John 3. John never uses words without a plan and the night meeting was recorded to show something about the true identity of Nicodemus. For the remainder of his acknowledgments in the book he would never slip that meeting with Jesus at night. In chapter 7 of the book, as the Pharisees are discussing Jesus rise, Nicodemus tries to vouch for Jesus without tipping his hand. But even then he is introduced as “the man who had gone to Jesus earlier”. (7.50) He tried to stick up for Jesus in a way. Now he shows up at the cross with Joseph of Arimathea. John says that he was “the man who visited Jesus at night” (John 19.39). Can you imagine your life being defined by the worst thing you have ever done?
They are two men who similarities abound. They both are members of the Sanhedrin; both with money; both invested in the honoring of the deceased criminal Jesus (Joseph giving his tomb [Matt 27.60]; Nicodemus with a significant amount of spices costing a great deal [John 19.39]); and both putting their reputations on the line burying a condemned criminal.
The burial had to done in a hurry. Jesus died around 3 pm and the sun was setting soon. His death, the quickness of it, took Pilate, the Centurion, and most other people by surprise. Joseph and Nicodemus didn’t have a lot of time to ponder a method of action. They went to Pilate and asked for the body. They wrapped it in linen, packed it with spices, and laid it in a tomb. This was all done by dusk so that they could still celebrate the Passover.
It is amazing how, when we don’t have the time to spare to think about how we will be perceived, our actions are true to our beliefs. Nicodemus has live the true politicians life; by remaining ambiguous on key issues, hiding his beliefs from the ruling class, and acting in secret. The abbreviated schedule, the approaching dusk, and the quick death of Jesus has brought him to decision time. What does he truly believe about Jesus? Is he worth honoring? Is what he said true? As a member of the Sanhedrin, he was privy to the scope of Jesus ministry, now how would he respond? Still, fear seemed to stand in his way. Despite his visiting Jesus after his death, one cant help but feel that Nicodemus missed the boat. Fear kept him from seeing all of Jesus. In the same way that Pilate traded a political career for a relationship with Jesus, so too Nicodemus seemed headed down the same path. As Mark Moore said, “the biggest thing Nicodemus ever did for Jesus, was bury him.”
Joseph, by all indications was different. He was a disciple “in secret” only by John’s account. He feared repercussions from the Jews by John’s account. But in the haste of the situation and the rest of the Gospels, his true understanding of Jesus was brought forward. Joseph, by all other gospel accounts, was a disciple of Jesus. He has no negative comments amongst the other gospel. Despite John’s description of him as a secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea was waiting for ‘the Kingdom of God’ (Luke 23.51) and ‘a good and upright man’ (Luke 23.50). He faced his fear, risked his political career and asked for the body of Jesus!
In haste our true understanding, faith, and belief shine through? When quick decisions happen, how do you respond? Are you faithful when its easier to forget? Do you trust when its easier in the spur of the moment to turn
Joseph trusted in Jesus…his approach of Pilate, offering the tomb, and taking the body shows. Nicodemus, as it reads in John, seems to have missed it. His accolades, resume, wealth, and standing aside, missed it. Joseph, by testimony of the other gospels saw the truth in Jesus where Nicodemus hid behind his fear.
In times of haste, the truth shines through.
“So as evening approached”, two men carried the body of Jesus, but only one man knew him.