Week of March 9
Two Friends Bury Jesus
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, he besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then they took the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
- John 19:38-40
When it was time for Jesus' body to be brought down from the Cross, Pilate received a surprise visit from a high-ranking member of the Sanhedrin who was a secret follower of Jesus. His name was Joseph, from the city of Arimathea; thus, we know this man as Joseph of Arimathea. He was accompanied by another high-ranking member of the Sanhedrin who was also a secret disciple of Jesus. This second man's relationship with Jesus began with a secret visit in the middle of the night, recorded in John 3:1-21 That second admirer was Nicodemus.
Let's begin with Joseph of Arimathea and see what we know of him. To obtain an accurate picture of this man, we must turn to Mark 15:42-43, which says, "And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counseller, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus."
This verse tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was an "honorable counselor." The Greek word for "honorable" is euschemon, a compound of the words eu, meaning well or good, and the word schema, meaning form, often referring to an outward appearance. When compounded together, it means a good outward appearance. It refers to people who have a good reputation, who have a good standing in society, or who are prominent, influential, and wealthy. The word "counselor" is the Greek word bouleutes, the word for a member of the Sanhedrin. This is the same word used to describe Roman senators. By using this word bouleutes, Mark tells us that Joseph of Arimathea's position in the land of Israel was one of great honor and respect.
The above verse also tells us that he "waited for the kingdom of God." The Greek word for "waited" is prosdechomai. Other examples of this word are found in Acts 24:15, where it describes a hope or expectation. In Romans 16:2, Paul uses this word to tell the Roman church to receive Phebe, suggesting that they fully receive and embrace her. In Hebrews 10:34, it is translated to take, and it means to fully and completely take something without reservation of hesitation. So when Mark 15:43 tells us Joseph of Arimathea "…waited for the kingdom of God…," this doesn't refer to a do-nothing, "hang-around-and-see-what-happens" kind of waiting. Joseph was earnestly looking for and anticipating the Kingdom. He was inwardly ready to take it, to fully receive it, and to embrace it without any reservation or hesitation.
This explains why Joseph was attracted to the ministry of Jesus. Because of his deep hunger and longing to see the Kingdom of God, he ventured out to see this Jesus of Nazareth. Spiritual hunger is always a prerequisite to receiving the Kingdom of God, and Joseph of Arimathea possessed that hunger. His willingness to think "outside the circle" of how others in the Sanhedrin thought no doubt made him unique in the supreme council. However, it appears that the other members of the council shut their eyes and tolerated him due to his prominent position and extreme wealth.
Next Mark tells us that Joseph of Arimathea went "boldly unto Pilate." Although he was undoubtedly known for his spiritual hunger, John 19:38 informs us that this Joseph had never publicly announced that he was a follower of Jesus "for fear of the Jews."
As a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph was well aware of the exultation the supreme council members felt over Jesus' death. If it became known that Joseph was the one who took the body and buried it, it could place him in considerable jeopardy. Therefore, going to Pilate to request that he might remove the body of Jesus before the Sabbath began was an act of bravery on Joseph's part.
Joseph's desire to take the body of Jesus and prepare it for burial was so powerful that Mark 15:43 says he "craved the body of Jesus." The word "craved" is the Greek word aiteo, a word that means to be adamant in requesting and demanding something. In the New Testament, the word aiteo is used to portray a person addressing a superior, as in this case when Joseph of Arimathea appealed to Pilate. The person may insist or demand that a need be met, but he approaches and speaks to his superior with respect. Therefore, although Joseph showed respect toward Pilate's position, he also presented a strong demand to the governor, adamantly insisting that Jesus' body be released to him.
The word "body" is the Greek word ptoma, which always referred to a dead body and is often translated as the word "corpse." The Roman custom was to leave the body hanging on the cross until it rotted or until the vultures had picked away at it. Afterward, they discarded of the corpse in the wilderness, where it was eaten by wild dogs. The Jews, however, held the human body in great honor because it was made in the image of God. Even those who were executed by the Jews were respected in the way they were handled after death. Thus, it was not permitted for a Jew's body to hang on a cross after sunset or to be left to rot or for the birds to devour.
Mark 15:44, 45 says, "And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph."
At this point, Nicodemus enters the picture. The third chapter of John gives the greatest insight into Nicodemus. It says, "There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher from God: for no man can do the miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (vv. 1, 2).
John 3:1 tells us that Nicodemus was a "Pharisee." The word "Pharisee" means the separated ones. This means they viewed themselves separated by God for His purposes; thus, they were extremely committed and even fanatical in their service to God.
During the time Jesus lived, the Pharisees were the most respected and esteemed religious leaders in Israel. The Pharisees believed in the supernatural and earnestly waited for the arrival of the Messiah, contrary to the Sadducees who did not believe in the supernatural and did not wait for the Messiah's coming. The Pharisees held strictly to the Law, whereas the Sadducees took a more liberal approach to the Law that the Pharisees found unacceptable. Flavius Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, was a Pharisee, as was Gamaliel (see Acts 5:34) and the apostle Paul before he was converted to Christ on the road to Damascus (see Philippians 3:5).
Verse 1 goes on to tell us that Nicodemus was "a ruler of the Jews." The word "ruler" is the Greek word archon, which means the chief one, ruler, or prince. This word was used to denote the rulers of local synagogues and members of the Sanhedrin who were the highest authorities in the land. Due to this high-ranking position, Nicodemus, like Joseph of Arimathea, was prominent, influential, and wealthy.
Nicodemus' notoriety among the Jews in Jerusalem was the reason he visited Jesus by night. Nicodemus' fame most likely created a stir every time he passed through the city. Therefore, he wanted to avoid visiting Jesus by day, as it would draw attention to the fact that he was spending time with a teacher the Sanhedrin viewed to be a maverick and out of their control. Consequently, Nicodemus came to Jesus by night when his visit would not be observable.
What he told Jesus during this visit reveals much about the spiritual hunger that Nicodemus possessed. First, he called Jesus "Rabbi." The word itself means great, but it was used as a title of respect that was used only in reference to the great teachers of the Law. The Pharisees loved to be called "Rabbi," for they viewed themselves as the chief keepers of the Law.
For Nicodemus to call Jesus "Rabbi" was remarkable indeed. The Jewish leader would never have used that title unless he had already heard Jesus interpret the Law and thereby judged His ability to do so. The fact that Nicodemus called Jesus by this privileged title, given only to those who were viewed as the greatest theologians in Israel, tells us that he was very impressed with Jesus' knowledge of the Scriptures.
This means that Nicodemus, like Joseph of Arimathea, was open-minded enough to receive from people who were "outside the circle" of what most religious people viewed as acceptable. In fact, Nicodemus was so hungry to find a touch of God that it appears he himself visited Jesus' meetings that had just been conducted in the city of Jersusalem.
John 2:23 says, "Now when he [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did." When Nicodemus visited with Jesus, he referred to these miracles, saying in John 3:2, "…Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him."
It seems that Nicodemus had come close enough to these miracle meetings to personally view the miracles. This must have been the occasion when he heard Jesus teach and deemed Him worthy of the title "Rabbi." As a Pharisee, Nicodemus believed in the supernatural. He was so moved by the miracles and so convinced of their legitimacy that he wanted to personally meet Jesus and ask Him questions. In the conversation that followed, Jesus told Nicodemus, "…Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). The famous conversation that followed has been read, quoted, and preached all over the world for two thousand years.
After Joseph of Arimathea received permission to remove Jesus' body from the Cross, he took the body to begin preparations for burial. John 19:39 tells us what happened next: "And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight."
This verse tells us Nicodemus "…brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight…." "Myrrh" was an expensive yellowish-brown, sweet-smelling gum resin that was obtained from a tree and had a bitter taste. It was chiefly used as a chemical for embalming the dead. "Aloes" was a sweet-smelling fragrance derived from the juice pressed from the leaves of a tree found in the Middle East. It was used to ceremonially cleanse, to purify, and to counteract the terrible smell of the corpse as it decomposed. Like myrrh, this substance was also very expensive and rare - yet the Bible tells us that Nicodemus "brought a mixture" of both substances - about a hundred pounds' worth!
Nicodemus' cost for this offering of love must have been out of sight! Only a rich man could have purchased such a massive combination of these costly, uncommon substances. Nicodemus obviously intended to fully cover the body of Jesus, so he spared no cost in preparing the body for burial, demonstrating his love for Jesus right up to the very end.
John goes on to tell us, "Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (v. 40). The word for "linen" is the Greek word othonion, which describes a cloth made of very fine and extremely expensive materials that was fabricated primarily in Egypt. Nobles in that day were known to pay very high prices to have robes made for their wives from this material.
When Lazarus came forth from the tomb after being resurrected by Jesus, he was "…bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin…" (John 11:44). This shows that Lazarus was bound with bandages made of strips of material. However, the word othonion tends to suggest that Jesus was carefully laid in a large linen sheet of fine weave. Specially prepared spices were then mingled between the folds of this high-priced garment in which Jesus' dead body was wrapped.
This is an amazing story of two men who dearly loved Jesus. Although Joseph and Nicodemus lived in circumstances that made it difficult for them to publicly follow Jesus, they chose to follow Him to their fullest capability. When Jesus died, they continued to demonstrate their deep love for Him, treating His dead body with tender care and using their personal wealth to bury Him with honor. As far as they understood at the time, this was their last opportunity to show Jesus how much they loved Him, and they were going to take full advantage of it!
Jesus taught, "For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also" (Matthew 6:21). When these two men used their wealth to bury Jesus, they illustrated that their heart was with Jesus. He was their highest priority, so they invested their assets in showing their love for Him. They literally sowed their money into the ground when they bathed Jesus in one hundred pounds of those rare substances, wrapped Him in an expensive cloth, and then buried Him in a rich man's tomb.
If people were to look at the way you spend your finances, would they be able to see that Jesus is the highest priority in your life? Do you treat Him with honor and respect in the way you serve Him, or is He the last priority on your list? According to the words of Jesus, what you do with your finances really does tell the truth about what you love the most. So what would He say that your finances reveal about how much you love Him?
As Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus honored Jesus in death, let's commit to honor Him with everything we possess as we serve Him every day of our lives. Right now, let's make the choice to upgrade our giving, our living, and every other way that we are privileged to serve Jesus!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I want to become a better and bigger giver! I love You with all my heart, and I want to demonstrate my love with my finances. Your Word says where my treasure is, that is where my heart is also. What I do with my treasure reveals what is precious to me and the true condition of my heart. Therefore, I want to give more to You; I want to live better for You; and I want to serve You more fully than ever before. I am making the decision today to make You and Your Kingdom the highest priority when it comes to how I spend my personal finances!
I pray this in Jesus' name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I boldly declare that Jesus Christ and His Kingdom are the highest priorities in my life. I faithfully tithe and give special offerings to help advance the message of Jesus Christ around the world. There is no higher priority in my life than getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth, so I use my finances wisely and carefully, making certain that I am able to give my maximum gift to Jesus. Because I give so faithfully, I am blessed!
I declare this by faith in Jesus' name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- If Jesus were to look at your finances to determine what is the greatest priority in your life, would He be able to say that He and His Kingdom were most important to you, or would He see that He is somewhere lower on your list of priorities?
- Are you faithful in the giving of your tithe, or are you sporadic in the way you honor God with your money?
- In order to become faithful with your tithe and offering, what changes do you need to make in your spending habits? Why don't you think it over and then make the needed adjustments so you can start treating Jesus like He is the most important priority in your life?