It's my honor to introduce two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who played a very significant role in the fulfillment of the Hebrew Messianic prophecy (Isaiah 52:13-53:12.) Jesus, Messiah, Immanuel, was born by a virgin, lived a completely righteous life, was crucified, died, and was buried (by these men!)
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their (the Sanhedrin's) decision and action (to put Jesus to death). He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid (his own in fact). It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.” ~Luke 23:50-54
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He 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
In these passages, we can see into Joseph and Nicodemus’ involvement in this story, as well as their hesitations, to fully commit to following Jesus (or at least outwardly) before the Jewish people. It is their decision to bury Jesus and the act of doing so declares their absolute faith in Him and love for him. The change is seen in their willingness to put their reputations on the line, to be associated with the known “blasphemer”, Jesus of Nazareth.
Now Nicodemus was a Pharisee and like Joseph of Arimathea, he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Greek council. This was the highest legal, legislative and judicial body of the Jews. Both were highly respected teachers of the Old Testament Scriptures. In the book of Numbers, God instructs Moses to select elders in this way. What's important to take note of in this is that these men were selected for this high honor (they were seen as good and upright, known and respected) but they could just as easily be dismissed. Their seat in society was dependent on whether or not they met the status quo.
I've been wondering, how am I able to relate to these men that lived over 2,000 years ago? Then, I imagine what it would be like to be well respected and loved, praised and recognized - by my family, my friends, my neighbors, my coworkers- to be an individual of high esteem in my community, who is looked to for answers and is honored.
Truthfully, I long to be known. This is pride, isn't it? Maybe even vanity? To be clear, this desire to be seen, known and accepted has existed inside of me as long as I can remember. Way before I dedicated my life to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I was plagued by this desire for acceptance and approval through my appearance and achievements, and I reveled in receiving it.
A little background would be helpful...
I'm the result or product of two split marriages. Both my mother and father were previously married, had children, and then divorced before they met and I, surprisingly, came into this world. No one has ever said the word "mistake" or even insinuated the idea, but there is no doubt that my arrival was unexpected. Most of my brothers and sisters are significantly older than I am. In fact, my oldest brother and sister are 18 years older! In all, I have a total of eight half siblings, but I’m the only one from the union of my mother and father. My siblings have never outwardly been unkind or hostile because of this, but I never could shake the feeling that I was an outsider in my own family.
My parents' marriage, for reasons that I won't go into, did not last and when I was 4 years old, they separated and later divorced. Their split was an impactful and confusing journey for me as I moved away from my father's home to live with my mother and two youngest siblings. As my mother worked, my brother and I were watched by our older sister. It was difficult to afford childcare in those days, too! It wasn't uncommon for us to fall into financial hardship and move at least once a year. Each time we'd move I'd lose friends and a sense of community. As we'd arrive to our next neighborhood and school, I’d set my mind on one thing: All I wanted was to be accepted and to make friends. I would do this at any cost, often to the detriment of my teacher’s patience and sanity. You could say I was the “class clown.” I would adapt my identity to whatever was socially acceptable in order to fit in. I did these things at the expense of being true and kind to myself. Even though I desired friendship and acceptance above all else, it seemed impossible to maintain.
So how does this at all relate to the men who buried Jesus? How does my story blend with the great men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus?
I think just as I have desired acceptance in my life at the expense of my true identity, these two men hid their longing to encounter a freedom in Christ because they, too, didn’t want to be judged. They became accustomed to the love and praise of men and valued it over the love and praise of God. They were on the fence, living a life of secret discipleship to Jesus and as a result, I believe they suffered inside, just as I have. These were fears that they had to overcome to become true disciples. I also have to lay aside my need for the worlds' acceptance and lean into the Truth, that God remains above all things in my life. I must love Him first! I must remember daily that Jesus loves me so much; that He laid down his life for mine, and in doing so washed away all of my sins. I must not forget that He did not leave me to experience this difficult world alone but that He sent His Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to live inside of me so that I am never outside of His presence.
This Easter, I want to remember how Jesus instructed His disciples:
Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” ~Luke 9:23
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus both made the decision that it was no longer enough to be part time/secret disciples of Jesus. Man's judgment no longer mattered. They fully committed their lives to following Christ, even in His death. I too want to keep my focus on my Lord and Savior. I want to be a true disciple. I want to be a new creation.
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! ~2 Corinthians 5:15-17