by Maria Rudolph
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He [Joseph of Arimathea] was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds (John 19:39).
The gruesome crucifixion washes over us like a wave of horror, like a nightmare. We see Jesus falsely tried. We see him mocked, whipped and bloodied. We see him in agony on a cross where he receives a sponge of wine vinegar and then says, ‘It is finished’ and gives up his Spirit. We see him pierced in the side with a spear. The bloody, wounded, and battered Son of God has borne all of God’s wrath and judgement. It is truly finished; we will never be punished like that. Jesus has taken what should have been unleashed onto us upon himself.
Surprisingly, none of his disciples was there to care for his lifeless body. Instead, the intense events brought courage to two followers, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who up until now had been too frightened to admit their support. Joseph only followed Jesus in secret because he was afraid of what the Jews might think or even do to him (John 19:38). Nicodemus is a man we have encountered before, right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council (John 3:1). The Holy Spirit drew him to Jesus before Nicodemus could even understand what was happening. Being aware that Jesus was already in the bad books of his Pharisee colleagues, he only dared to visit Jesus at night under cover of darkness. Jesus taught Nicodemus what it meant to be born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). We use these words at each baptism performed in our churches. Jesus taught Nicodemus that ‘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). This might be the most famous Bible verse. It is the ‘gospel in a nutshell’. This verse encapsulates what happened on Good Friday and why we call it good.
And here are Nicodemus and Joseph, taking the lifeless body of Jesus off the cross. Nicodemus came prepared. He had brought 35 pounds (about 16 kilograms) of spices to embalm the body. When a handful of these spices would ordinarily be used, Nicodemus spent a significant amount of money on a number of embalming spices fit for Caesar himself. Jesus’ body was wrapped up and carefully laid in a tomb. Joseph and Nicodemus could not even fathom what was about to happen to Jesus. The famous words Jesus had spoken to Nicodemus that fateful night were not understood by him then. They provide comfort for Christians over the world on Good Friday when we long to hear the Good News of Easter Sunday but are left for a moment to contemplate the immeasurable sufferings of Christ on our behalf. Let us not be frightened like Joseph and Nicodemus and follow Jesus in secret – instead, let us be confident in Christ.
Are you secretly following Jesus, or can you speak about your faith openly?
Loving Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for us. We can never repay you for your grace and forgiveness, but we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice. Take all of us to serve you in whichever way you ordain for us each day. Strengthen us to speak openly about you this Easter so that we don’t have to hide our love for you. Amen.