In the gospel of John we read of an unlikely partnership of two men from rival parties. Joseph of Arimathea was an influential rich man, a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sadducees were the Temple party who controlled the priesthood, and had political power with authority under Roman rule. The other, Nicodemus, was a Pharisee, those who focused on the law, oral tradition, and personal piety and had influence over the general population. How did these two men from opposing groups come to be working together?
Joseph of Arimathea – the secret disciple
Joseph came from Arimathea, a small town in the hill country of Ephraim, some twenty miles north-west of Jerusalem. He was a man of influence and authority, used to moving in political and legal circles. The different gospels give us insight into his character, that he was a rich man, and also a secret disciple of Jesus. He was a prominent member of the Jewish Council, and regarded as a good and upright man. He had not consented to the Sanhedrin’s decision and action to condemn Jesus to death.
Nicodemus – the night-time visitor
The Pharisees were the ‘teachers of the law’ in Israel. They added their own interpretation to the law for the changing times that they were living in. They were inflexible in their adherence to their oral traditions which added a religious burden on the people. But they had influence and the general support of the public. Nicodemus is mentioned in John’s gospel, when he sought a private interview with Jesus. He came at night, either to be discreet and unseen or because a long conversation would not have been possible in the daytime with the crowds.
Faith or fear – A time to choose
Both were ‘secret’ disciples of Jesus. They had a lot to lose in publicly acknowledging their belief in Jesus, as the Messiah, the Son of God. But God’s perfect timing had them strategically placed in the right positions, to act at the right time.
Joseph could gain an audience and speak boldly to Pilate, because of his position as a member of the Sanhedrin. He could do what the other disciples could not. And Nicodemus was well regarded by the people and could influence the crowds – if there was to be any opposition to their actions.
Can faith and fear coexist?
There are parts of the world now where there are many secret disciples. Places where it is just not possible to publicly express your faith as a Christian. And we pray for the peace of God to guard the hearts and minds of those brothers and sisters in Christ who live under those regimes.
But in different ways, we are not immune to fear. There will be times in our lives when we feel fear – whether real or irrational. The Lord knows and understands our frailty – but ultimately He came to set us free from all fear.
Worry is insidious, it creeps up on us and can slowly take a hold. If our thoughts are being dominated by our fears, we need to take those issues to God in prayer. Whatever our fears are, whether for our self or for others, financial worries or health issues, we can be set free!
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”1 Peter 5:7
Released from fear
One of the main ways to gain breakthrough and be released from the bondage of fear is by meditating on Scripture. When we read and take in the truth of God’s word, our minds are renewed. Then we are encouraged to bring our petitions and prayers to God – and leave them there. We can place our troubles in His safe hands and know the peace of the ‘everlasting arms underneath’. Then we receive God’s comfort and assurance, that He is more than able, we can trust in His love, and His plan for our lives.
Joseph came to a point were he was no longer concerned about concealment. The injustice that he saw caused him to act, and to step out of the shadows. He wished to arrange a suitable burial for Jesus and was willing to approach Pilate to receive permission. It was unusual for someone who was not a close relative to make this request. Often the remains of an executed criminal were left unburied, discarded, or at best placed in a pauper’s grave.
Nicodemus had spoken out and challenged his fellow Pharisees on a point of law, when they sent the Temple guards to arrest Jesus. He could now see their hypocrisy, how their insistence in observing the law did not prevent them from breaking it in their desire to see Jesus arrested.
Jesus had spoken very clearly to Nicodemus of God’s love and plan for our salvation. At the end of the discussion Jesus says to him:
“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”John 3:21
Joseph and Nicodemus moved out of the shadows and into the light – the light of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah. There came for them a defining moment to choose – they considered the cost and realised the worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord surpasses all else.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”Philippians 3:8
They were released into the freedom of demonstrating their love through an act of service.
Hope for tomorrow
In the darkest moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, when all hope seemed to be lost, God was working. In those times when we feel that He is so far from us, and we cannot see the way forward, He is still working.
It was there at the cross that Jesus triumphed over death. What appeared to be the greatest defeat was in fact an eternal victory, with the glory of the resurrection to come.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, when prompted to act responded together to honour Jesus. A new spirit of reconciliation and unity was already at work. Jesus’ body was placed in Joseph’s new tomb, in a nearby garden, a place of memorial and reflection. Isaiah had prophesied:
“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”Isaiah 53:9
This prophecy was more than fulfilled, it goes above and beyond what the prophet might have understood. God is in every detail. The evidence of Jesus’ death, His body, was secure in the grave – so there could be no doubt cast on the miracle to come. The miracle on which we base our hope for tomorrow, as expressed by Jesus in His words to Nicodemus:
“For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16
Words which are life and hope for each one of us. And our hope is assured, in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Death was finally defeated and one day defeated sin and death will become eradicated for eternity!