William J. Stewart | Faces Surrounding Calvary
We are given very little insight as to the lives and characters of these two men, but there are some things we know about them which are worthy of our attention. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, a member of the council or what was otherwise known as the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. What is so intriguing about these men is that they both found a deep interest in Jesus of Nazareth. Both were of groups opposed to Him and His teachings, yet we find that they had faith in Him.
The apostle John records for us in the third chapter of the Gospel of John a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. John writes, “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘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.'” Note from the statement he made, Nicodemus is a man of faith. Faith — in Jesus. It is interesting that he uses the plural “we”. He was not the only ruler who believed Jesus was the Christ. John writes, “…even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
As Nicodemus continued in conversation with Jesus, we find a key source of the problem with the Jewish nation. Their conversation surrounded the idea of being born again. Nicodemus, not understanding these things asked how it was that he would re-enter his mother’s womb to be born a second time. Jesus spoke a spiritual truth to a religious leader, and he did not understand. He said to Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
Many might have been discouraged and offended at the words of Jesus, but not Nicodemus. Later, as recorded in John 7, we see him defending Jesus before the other Pharisees and religious leaders. They had judged Jesus to be a false prophet among the people, and stated that those without a knowledge of the law were being misled. Many would have stayed silent (and many did!!!), but Nicodemus challenged, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” His fellow colleagues belittled him for his words, speaking of him as one who was lacking knowledge of the Scriptures.
We hear nothing else about Nicodemus from this point until the cross. We hear nothing about Joseph of Arimathea until this time as well. Jesus, being hung on a tree had died. Luke then writes, “Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member (note – Matthew states he was a prominent council member), a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed…” We see something special about Joseph right here. He is in a position of power, a member of the Sanhedrin. He disagreed with the decision to crucify an innocent man, especially since he was personally convinced that He was the Son of God. We don’t know how strongly he fought the decision of the other council members, but it would see that he did make know his displeasure with their deceitful workings.
The apostle John records, “…Joseph of Arimathea, being 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 the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes…” Such a wonderful picture. These two, leaders of the Jewish people, one a member of the judicial body which condemned Jesus, the other, a member of the sect which committed Him to custody – they are the ones who make preparation for His burial. Notice, they did not do this because it was part of their job. They did this because they were disciples of Jesus. Up to this point, they had been disciples secretly. No more.
We now see two outraged men. Outraged at themselves for allowing this deed to go ahead. Outraged with the people who had just crucified the King, the Messiah. They had been ashamed to admit their faith before, but now, they gladly confessed their faith in Jesus Christ. It didn’t matter if it meant losing their jobs. It didn’t matter if it meant losing respect of others. It didn’t matter if it meant losing their lives.
We need people who will do as these men did. Secret disciples are not much use to Jesus, but if we confess Him before men, then we are truly the children of God.