JOHN 19:38-42
Joseph and Nicodemus. A Short Story
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Joseph came to the capital city as small town Arimathea’s representative to the Sanhedrin, Israel’s legislature. Joseph bought a plot of ground beyond the city limits, to provide a restful retreat where he could find quiet and solitude.

The wall of the city adjoined massive cemeteries containing thousands of graves. In these peaceful environs were many small private gardens. Joseph found one he especially liked, a plot bordered on one side by a wall of solid rock.
The garden’s only drawback was its close proximity to the site appointed for public executions. Nevertheless, its advantages far outweighed this disadvantage. Joseph bought the garden.
Joseph loved this place of solitude, and decided to be buried there (MT 27:60). The beauty of the garden would soothe any who came to mourn his death.

Joseph wanted a substantial sepulcher. A tomb carved out of the garden’s rock wall would endure, and could be used repeatedly by the family. Only a very wealthy man could afford such a sepulcher, but money was no problem for Joseph. He was rich (MT 27:57). He had a chamber carved in the rock wall, and covered its entrance with a large round stone fitted in a groove at the base of the rock wall.

Clanging tools chiseling rock, and rowdy soldiers overseeing nearby executions, soon were not the only sounds disturbing Joseph in his garden. A Galilean controversy had spread south to the capital. The common people were rejoicing over a miracle-working Galilean, Jesus of Nazareth.

Most Sanhedrin members were repulsed at the Galilean, but Joseph found himself attracted to the humble, kind carpenter. Eventually, Joseph came to believe Jesus truly was God’s Messiah.

Joseph did not voice this conviction for fear of excommunication (JN 12:42). Remarks defaming Jesus went unanswered by Joseph. As a result, conscience was always on the attack, stabbing him mercilessly. Secret allegiance and squelched love can be ruthless. Joseph was living a lie, living below what God wanted him to be. His chances for happiness were therefore doomed.

One day the temple officers spoke well of Jesus to the religious leaders (John 7:46). This complimenting of Jesus infuriated the Pharisees. They ridiculed the officers, “Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?” (JN 7:47b-48).

Joseph wanted to jump to his feet and shout, “Yes! I have!” Fear stifled him, but a question was raised by his colleague Nicodemus, “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” (JN 7:51). Before Joseph could regain his composure and reinforce Nicodemus’ words the rulers rained down a storm of scowling indignation. Their contemptuous question, “Art thou also of Galilee?” (JN 7:52) cowed Nicodemus into a shared silence with Joseph.

As the meeting continued, Joseph looked often at Nicodemus. He had brought up only a legal technicality, he had said nothing directly about Jesus, but Joseph could not help but wonder, “Is Nicodemus also a secret believer?”

Joseph was afraid to discuss the matter with Nicodemus, but watched him during Sanhedrin discussions of Jesus. Joseph was possibly not the only one watching a colleague. Nicodemus may have kept noticing Joseph remained quiet in sessions that derided Jesus.

One night the nightmare finally occurred. Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin. Joseph saw his colleagues scoff and slap Jesus. Joseph did not consent to their verdict (LK 23:51), but continued to hide his beliefs.

As the rulers took Jesus to Pontius Pilate, Joseph and Nicodemus were surely drawn to one another. In agony the two remained silent throughout the trial. Terror completely stifled their voices.

Somewhere in all this chaos, the two learned of each other’s devotion to Jesus. For the first time, they could speak of their beloved Master. Lips that had been locked in silence suddenly broke free. They outwardly tried to console one another, but no words were strong enough to relieve their inner grief. As Jesus died publicly, two famous, wealthy, guilt-ridden men were weeping privately as the arrow of self-condemnation pierced their hearts.

Let’s not judge them harshly. Many of us are like them, silent Christ-followers, our pain having been lessened by the repeated squelching of conscience. Beware the hypocrisy of not voicing aloud what we truly are inside.

The piercing death-cry of their Friend misused changed Joseph and Nicodemus. They could no longer stay the same. A desperate circumstance kindled heroism. Joseph and Nicodemus suddenly became the two most courageous men in Jerusalem.

Having wept long enough over their cowardliness, it was now time to act. They had much to lose by speaking for Jesus, but inner guilt had to be appeased. Both men felt smitten about the little they had done for Jesus in His lifetime. They knew this would be their last opportunity to do something for Him. They had kept their love for Christ buried in the secret recesses of their hearts, but now boldly came forward to bury His body.

Joseph and Nicodemus knew Jesus’ followers could not properly care for His body. Galileans would have no access to things needed in Jerusalem for a proper burial. Also, unless someone prominent intervened, the body would be thrown into the valley of Hinnom, the common grave of executed criminals. This was the garbage dump of Jerusalem, where refuse was always being burned. Joseph and Nicodemus could not tolerate the idea of Jesus’ body being cast into a valley where garbage collected, worms thrived, and fire never stopped.

The two reached an agreement. They made a pact, “gathered up courage” (MK 15:43), and boldly asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.

A fountain of love was rushing from their hearts. Joseph and Nicodemus had long squelched love, but once released, it erupted as a volcano. The two men suddenly delighted in their wealth because it would provide love things to give the Beloved. Expensive spices were more wonderful than ever because they could be given to Jesus. A costly tomb was even more precious because it could be yielded to the Master.

I suspect, while carefully tending the mangled body, they painfully realized what their secret discipleship had cost them. Three years of close communion with Jesus were forever lost. To Him they never said, “I love you.” To them He never said, “Go in peace.” Like all secret disciples, then and now, they never heard the Master’s praise, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

What Jesus did for us at the cross should drive all of us from silence. We must let it be known, “He died and rose for me. He died and rose for all.”