In this passage we are introduced to a new person in the Gospel of John, a man named Joseph from Arimathea and then we see Nicodemus again, a man we were introduced to in John 3.
Both Joseph and Nicodemus were Jewish leaders. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, essentially the Supreme Court of Israel. The Sanhedrin was a ruling counsel of about 70 men comprised of two groups: the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the majority group in the Sanhedrin. They were a part of the wealthy, upper class of Israel. They were a group that was concerned more about the politics of Israel than the religion of Israel.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. The Pharisees came from the middle class, they were the “common man” and they were more concerned with the religion of Israel. They probably took on the role as the teachers of Israel.
And it was Sanhedrin led by the High Priest, Caiaphus, who falsely tried Jesus and handed him over to Pilate, the Roman Governor.
Scripture doesn’t tell us but Joseph was probably a Sadducees. And the Pharisees and Sadducees were often at odds with each other but they had one thing in common: they both opposed Jesus. They both wanted to get rid of him. They both wanted him arrested and crucified.
And so if you were a Sadducee or a Pharisees, it would have been scandalous, it would have been seen as a betrayal to become a follower of Jesus.
And so back in John 3, we seen that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. He doesn’t want anyone to see Him. His position would be threatened. His reputation would be threatened. His financial future would be threatened.
But we saw by his words, he knew Jesus was of God. In John 3:2 Nicodemus says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
I don’t think Nicodemus thought Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God at that point, but he was not turning his back on Jesus as many Pharisees were, he was seeking Him. He was asking Him questions. He wanted to know more about Him.
The next time we see Nicodemus, he is defending Jesus from other Pharisees who want to quickly arrest him. John 7:51, he said, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” And the other Pharisees quickly dismissed him even rebuked him.
And then we don’t hear any more from Nicodemus until now when he appears with another Jewish leader named Joseph of Arimathea.
Mark 15 tells us, “Joseph of Arimathea, was a respected member of the council.” Matthew 27 describes him as a “rich man.” And so this a man of great influence among the Jewish Leaders.
But Luke 23 also tells us Joseph “had not consented” to the decision to condemn Jesus. In fact, John describes him as a disciple of Jesus–but up to this point a secret one. You see he had the same problem Nicodemus had, if he was to go public with his faith in Jesus, it would ruin his position and reputation. It would damage his families’ reputation. And it would probably even harm him financially. He would be thrown out of the Temple—he couldn’t make sacrifces or worship. In many ways, his life as a Jewish man would be over.
And so at the cross we see two undercover disciples of Jesus finally going public. And when they do they give us an example of what it looks like to boldly follow Jesus and they remind us there is a cost to following Jesus.
If there was ever a time as a Jewish leader that you should distance yourself from Jesus, this was it. The High Priest had demanded that Jesus be crucified. The hatred toward Jesus within the Sanhedrin was running high. It was intense. If you were to declare any type of sympathy toward Jesus, you might be arrested. At this moment, the high priest and other leaders were not rationale, calm men. They were blood thirsty men who would do anything and say anything to get rid of Jesus. You can see why someone like Peter could deny Jesus. This was not the moment to associate yourself with Jesus.
And yet it is in this environment, two undercover followers of Jesus go public and to do so they are going to risk everything.
I think it is interesting that it is after his death they go public. It would have been easier after his death to say, “well, I guess he wasn’t the Messiah. I guess we were wrong.” Whew! That was close, we could have blown our reputation on that.
But I think we see the true faith of Joseph and Nicodemus because they still risk everything for a Messiah who has died. They don’t know he is go to rise again in three days. But they are willing to align themselves with the name and reputation of Jesus. Death did not deter their belief.
I want to look at two significant ways if which they sacrificed their own life and reputation for the sake of Christ.
First, by burying Jesus in his own tomb this was a direct insult to the High Priest who had demanded Jesus be crucified. Joseph was burying Jesus in a tomb reserved for the wealthy, the upper class, the noble and honorable of Israel. The High Priest had just declared him a criminal, blasphemer, insurrectionist. And now one of his fellow Sanhedrin members, a respected member of the Sanhedrin has made a clear separation from the High Priest—the highest authority in Israel.
This was a bold move. In fact, Mark 15, says “Joseph…took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. This was not just a nice gesture. Nicodemus is making a clear statement. They were saying, “we associate our reputation with the reputation of Jesus. We stake our lives with Jesus.”
They knew this would cost them their reputation. Their political lives were probably ruined
But they also knew there was something more valuable then their own reputation, their own careers and that was their relationship with Jesus.
They may have heard Jesus say these words, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
You wonder if they had heard those words at some point and it created a wrestling in them. They might have found themselves wrestling with wanting to keep their place of power and influence but they are also recognizing that if they are truly followers of Jesus, they have to lay down their own life for the sake of Christ.
After seeing Jesus take up his own cross, you wonder if they thought, “we can’t keep hiding like this. We need to take up our own cross and sacrifice it all for Him.” We don’t know what caused them to do this bold act that required courage but we know they made a decision to no longer be secret about their faith.
The second thing they gave up for the sake of Christ was their religion, their tradition. Remember, the nation of Israel was in the middle of one of their important feast and celebrations – the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was an important celebration in the life of Israel. By taking the dead body of Jesus and burying it, they automatically made themselves ceremonial unclean for the remainder of the feast according to their Law. As a Jewish leader, to intentional so do something that would remove yourself from participation from an important feast would almost be a statement about their own spiritual lives.
Remember in John 18 when the Jewish leaders went to Pilate’s home, it said they, “did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” It was so important to be able to participate in the Passover meal that they would not enter a Gentiles home because it would defile them for the rest of the feast.
Joseph and Nicodemus are willing to be defiled. They are willing for people to question their own spiritual lives because they are going to give up something for the sake of Christ.
The question they had to ask themselves was, “Is the festival that points to Christ more important than Christ?” And their actions reveal their answer: They sacrifice the feast for the person.
We often have the same decision in our own life. Every church has traditions and when those traditions began it was helped point draw them to Christ but sometimes there can come a point in which we may start to hold on to the tradition that puts us to Christ rather than the person of Christ. The tradition can become more important the relationship.
This is what happened to the Jewish leaders where the feast that points people to God become more important than their own relationship with God.
The acts of communion is a regular observance in the church. There are many ways that we can observe it. Jesus didn’t define a method. He just said when we break bread in His name and share the cup in His name, do that in rememberance of what he did for us on the cross. Communion is to point us to the work and the person of Jesus Christ.
But any pastor will tell you, if you want to get some letters from people, change the way you normally do communion. Sometimes we can become so attached to the method we lose sight of the one we are remembering.
Joseph and Nicodemus lived in a culture of deep rooted traditions. And yet they sacrificed that for the person of Christ.
It is interesting that when we follow Christ in secret, God will provide opportunities for us to go public. And it will normally require us sacrificing something significant that we are holding on to.
There were other ways and other times they could have gone public. They certainly could have waited until the emotions of that moment had calmed down. Let’s wait a couple of weeks, a couple of months. And yet I think God gave them this moment of obedience to see if their faith was real. I think God was giving them the opportunity to see if they would truly sacrifice it all for Him.
And in an amazing act of boldness, they said yes by publicly professing their faith in Christ by risking everything.