You can find an unending supply of books, pamphlets, and articles on discipleship in Christian churches and bookstores. Many of them will be predictably regimented and conventional, giving solid biblical references and calling Christians to ardently follow Christ—all great stuff. But not everyone's spiritual journey is identical. Some disciples are unexpected, and so is their story. Here are two disciples of Jesus who've been in the background and now step forward to care for the body of Christ after His death. Let's allow their story to inspire us.
"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" John 20:31.
Believe:879 is an epic journey through the book of John led by Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary of Albuquerque. As we explore each of the 879 verses of this gospel, we'll grow in grace and in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. From His pre-incarnate existence, to His public ministry, through His death and His resurrection we'll traverse familiar territory and embark on new adventures of faith.
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Some "Grave" Considerations:
Greek terms: ἀποσυνάγωγος; aposunagógos; excommunicated
Publications referenced: The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ by James Stalker; No Scar by Amy Carmichael
Figures referenced: Billy Graham; William Barclay; Martin Luther
Cross references: Matthew 27:57; Mark 12:37; Luke 23:50; John 12:1-8; John 12:42; John 12:43; 1 Corinthians 1:26-27; Colossians 1:10; 2 Peter 3:18
Keywords: Discipleship, disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus
All right. Let's turn into our Bibles to the Gospel of John, Chapter 19. While this frog prays, would you join him? Lord, there's just something wonderful about coming before You and Your people in weakness. Like Paul the Apostle said, "In weakness he is made strong," and that Your grace was sufficient even in his physical element. So Lord I just lean upon You today and I pray for grace as those who listen Lord, with all of the limitations that this preacher brings. I pray that Your spirit would be the one that speaks to us, in Jesus' name. Amen.
If you have ever paused in the cemetery to read tombstones which I do frequently and not because I bury people a lot—though I do—but also, whenever I travel I like to visit cemeteries especially old cemeteries, because they like write books on tombstones. They inscribe so many paragraphs and it's great to sort of get a listing of what that person was about and relatives and what was meaningful to them. Sometimes you'll read tombstones and they'll be very sad ones. There'll be others that are very hopeful ones. Some that are very convicting and some that are just—well they're humorous and you wonder about them.
These are actual readings of registered graveyard tombstones from London, England 1767. The woman who died her name was Ann Mann, M-A-N-N, "Here lies Ann Mann, who lived an old maid, but died an old Mann." For a service God and I don't know why. In Uniontown, Pennsylvania, acknowledging an auto accident, the tombstone reads, "Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake who stepped on the gas instead of the break." I couldn't do that. I couldn't write that. That's just kind of cruel. Here's one I actually like, this is from Thurmont, Maryland, "Here lies an Atheist, all dressed up but no place to go." Doesn't he wish? Here's one I actually read, Boothill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona, "Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a .44, no less no more." I'm letting you catch up with that one, "Lester Moore, no less no more."
Okay, from Edinburgh, Scotland, the grave of a local dentist reads, "Stranger, tread this ground with gravity. Dentist Brown is filling his last cavity." Well come on, that's kind of cool. From Ruidoso, New Mexico, "Here lies Johnny Yeast, pardon me for not rising." That's awesome. So if Jesus would've had an inscription outside of his tomb, what would it have read? Perhaps, it would've read, "Relax, I'm just borrowing it for the weekend," or, "Here lies Jesus Christ. Pardon me for rising, because within a few days of this burial setting, life will be different."
We come now to that scene, the graveyard scene, the cemetery scene where two—they're called disciples—step out of the shadows into the light and handle the body of Christ, take it off the cross and put it in a tomb.
It is post-mortem preparation for burial. The two individuals that we are considering here were prominent individuals, wealthy individuals. They were leaders among the Jews, both in the Jewish Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jews. But one of them is called here a disciple and it would seem by the action of both that both of them have placed their trust in Jesus. Both of them have acknowledged their need of Christ. Both of them are on a journey, a spiritual journey called discipleship.
If ever there was a Christian buzzword, it's the word discipleship. In the 1970s, that word became very popularized and you couldn't read a book or article without hearing or reading of discipleship, discipleship, discipleship. It's a great emphasis to have. But often, some of those articles and writings have very narrow parameters as to what discipleship is.
I want to give you four principles for discipleship that are usually not talked about or noticed. Stuff that you are not going to find anywhere else but I think emerges from our text. So we'll get a fresh rendering of discipleship from a different view.
We begin in Verse 38 this morning of Chapter 19. It reads this, "After this, 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, about a hundred pounds and they took the body of Jesus and bound it in strips of linen with the spices as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Knowing the place where He was crucified there was a garden and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews' preparation day for the tomb was nearby."
First thing, I'd like you to notice about discipleship in this text is discipleship is unpredictable. You don't always know who's going to join the ranks of the followers of Christ. These two men were unexpected disciples. Now do you remember in reading the gospels? It says, "The common people heard Jesus gladly." That's a general statement the author gives, that if you were to look out over the crowd of followers, you would see just normal common everyday blue-collar workers, making inns, mid-type of people, that's who follow Jesus by enlarge.
Not a lot of scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees and kings and rulers. It's just common people. Then, it was Paul who will later on write these words, "You see you're calling brethren. There are not many mighty, not many noble, not many wise after the flesh who are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise."
I remember when I first read that verse and I said, "I found my life verse." The foolish things, not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble and I went, "Whew! It's a good thing." Common people, but every now and then you'll find somebody wise and mighty and noble. There are exceptions to that rule. Paul the Apostle was one, very astute, very erudite, very influential, very powerful, very mighty. Here too, with these disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both of them wise and influential, notable, leaders, prominent and yet, they have some affinity for Jesus as disciples, it's called.
Here's my point, never ever write off people just because you think, "You know they're so well-off and so well-known and so prominent. They don't need Jesus", or, "They don't see their need for Jesus." You'd be surprised. Some of the loneliest quotes I've ever read have been by the most prominent people. I learned something years ago from Billy Graham, I wrote it down. He said that, these are things that are true of any audience he ever speaks to and he reminds himself of that before he speaks. Number one, "There are people in that audience whose need is not totally met by social improvement or affluence." Number two, "There is an essential emptiness in every life without Christ." Number three, "In every audience, there are lonely people." Number four, "In every audience, there are people who have a sense of guilt," and number five, "Everyone shares a universal fear of death."
Anybody can come. Everybody can come. Though common people hear him gladly and most people like us are the ones that follow him every now and then. You'll find an exception. There are exceptions to that rule even among people in this body—wise, noble, prominent, influential, affluent—and these are disciples. Who are they? What's their story? What's their journey like?
First of all, Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned. Let's call him Joe, because Joseph of Arimathea is a long thing to say. Joe is mentioned in all four gospels and only in regards to the burial of Jesus Christ. He was a member of that 71 ruling elder Supreme Court among the Jews.
In the Gospel of Matthew, so that you don't have to turn to it, I'll tell you. Matthew says Joe was a rich man and that he had become a disciple of Jesus Christ. In Luke's Gospel, it tells us that Joe was a good and a just man. Now the Bible doesn't just throw those words out unnecessarily. Those two words, good and just—one describes an inward condition. One describes an outward condition.
He had the inward constitution that would lend itself to doing good things outwardly and it's because he had a good heart, a changed heart. He was a disciple. Luke also tells us that Joe—Joseph of Arimathea—that Joe was waiting for the Kingdom of God. That is, he was a scholar who perused the Old Testament's scriptures and lived in anticipation of the deliverer who would come to the Jewish nation. He had that hope. John tells us and you just read it. He was a secret disciple. You see, Joe was like a lot of young Christians, afraid of the opinions of others. A lot of us are like that. We can relate to that.
Then we come to Nicodemus, right? He's next in this little scenario. Nick, we can call him Nick. Since he came at night, I guess he's Nick at night, do you like that? That was free. Nicodemus is mentioned only in the Gospel of John and every time he is mentioned it says, "Nicodemus, he was the one that came to Jesus at night." Every time you read about him, it tells you again he came at night. So if you forgot from the last chapter, "Oh! He came at night." Now a lot of people wonder, "Why did he come at night?" Here's the answer. I don't know and you don't know, because the Bible didn't tell anybody.
Well, we can guess, maybe he was afraid. He could've been scared. He was notable. He was wealthy. He was prominent. He could perhaps not have wanted to be noticed. He was scared or perhaps, he was just practical. Jesus always had crowds around him during the day. Nicodemus was busy during the day. Night time is the best time to have a one-on-one, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball conversation with Jesus.
The issue wasn't that he came at night. The issue is that he came at all. You know, a lot of people will snub people who come to Christ for what they perceive is not the purist motivation. I've heard it before, "Well they only came to Jesus because they got a divorce." So? "Well they only came to Jesus because they were in physical pain." So? "Well they only came to Jesus because --" So what?
All of those situations merely get us in touch with our need to depend. Whatever drives you to Christ is great. So he came to Jesus at night for whatever reason. But now, he steps out of the shadows. Nick at night is now Nick during the day. He comes with spices and aloes to bury the body of Jesus. I will say that it's a little bit sad that Nicodemus couldn't have showed his love to Jesus while Jesus was alive, but he waits till Jesus is dead.
Now it's a good thing he's doing. Don't get me wrong. But what Nicodemus did is what a lot of people unfortunately do. They don't give in life, but when the person dies that's when the flowers come. Can I just say if you have any loose ends in any relationships in your life that you get those figured out as well as you can and send the flowers this week instead of waiting for them to croak and mourning over it. Don't give in death what could've been given in life.
But back to our point, discipleship is unpredictable. Here's a second thing I want you to notice. Discipleship, following Christ is gradual. It's not a light switch. You don't turn it on and become instantaneously perfect. If you ever had that expectation of other people or yourself, relax a little bit. Back off a little bit.
Both of these men, it seems were secretive at first. They were secretive at first. Now I'm going to have you turn to a passage and scripture in John in just a moment and here's the deal. John writes about secret disciples, but whenever he writes about them he doesn't speak too favorably about them. I want you to see and I want you to think about who he might be speaking about. Go back to John Chapter 12, just a few chapters, John 12. Two verses and that's it.
Same author, same book, John 12:42. "Nevertheless, even among the rulers,"—that is the Jewish rulers, the religious authorities—"Nevertheless, 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:"
Who do you think he has in mind when he writes that? It can't be sure but from my reading now of John 19, I suspect he's thinking of Joseph of Arimathea who is a part of that council and Nicodemus who is also a part of it. What were they afraid of? They were afraid of getting kicked out of the synagogue, "aposunagogos" is the Greek term. It's an official term of being excommunicated which would effectively end a person's social life for good. You can just write it off. You will have no standing, no social life, no professional life in Israel—if you as this member of this group are aposunagogos, excommunicated.
The Babylonian Talmud list 24 infractions by which a person can get kicked out of the synagogue for—one, being, if you don't abide by the decision of the council. In other words, if you disagree with us, we might just kick you out. So, they're in the shadows. They're behind the scenes. They're not making it vocal. They seemed to love this Jesus and be drawn to him and have anticipated him and believed in him, but they're afraid of the Jews.
Now listen to John's comment, Verse 43, "For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." Here's the problem. These, whoever they are—let's believe that he is writing about Joseph and Nicodemus—both of these are trying to do something that is impossible to do for any length of time and that is, be a secret disciple, a secret follower. "I'm a secret agent Christian and I've never blown my cover." You can't carry that on very long.
Listen to William Barclay. He writes these words, "Christianity is something which is meant to be seen." There can be no such thing as secret discipleship, for either the secrecy destroys the discipleship or the discipleship destroys the secrecy. A man's Christianity should be perfectly visible to all men. But they're afraid and they're afraid because they love the praise of men more than the praise of God. Now, think about that. What does that mean—to love the praise of men more than the praise of God? We all know exactly what that means. Here's the deal, all of us want to be liked, is that right? We want to be loved by people. Nobody likes to be the odd man out. "Sure, please, go ahead and hate me and persecute me. I'll be the person." Nobody likes that.
Everybody likes to be loved and accepted in a peer group. That's where discipleship is dangerous, because not everybody in the peer group will agree with you about your stance for Christianity. So the temptation is for you to compromise that a bit and eventually, perhaps, possibly, like these two guys lived two different lives. The life you live at church and the life you live at home and in the world. It can't be done for very long. Love the praise of God or the praise of men more than the praise of God.
At the same time, I don't want to press too hard with this because I'll admit to you there have been times I get scared of situations and people that I'm confronting or are confronting me in the world. There's an intimidation factor. So let me just make it easy, do yourself a favor and starting today ask the Lord for boldness. Ask the Lord to fill you with His spirit and give you a measure of boldness that you haven't had before.
In fact, even think of it this way. We live in a day and age where everybody seems to be getting bold about their cause. We live in a politically correct environment. You're told to tolerate anyone and everything, every aberrant sexual behavior. They're even told to come out of the closet, be proud of who they are, make it vocal. So I'm saying, "Okay, fair enough. Let's even the playing field." There's a lot of Christians who are still in the closet. Come out of the closet Christians. Don't be afraid of saying, "I'm a believer. This is what I love." Ask the Lord for that measure of boldness.
Now, let's get back to our story. I see progress with these two guys. Yeah sure, they're in the shadows. Sure they're afraid. Okay, they love the praise of men more than the praise of God who doesn't at some point in their life. Yet, now at least here they're stepping out into the light and making themselves known, making a request to Pilate. Do you know what this would do for Nicodemus and Joseph to come to Pilate and make this request and bring the spices? It would automatically mark them with their peers. Oh, that's why in Chapter 7 of John they would think Nicodemus stood up for Jesus. Oh, they're really disciples of Jesus all along, so they're placing themselves in danger. Also, it's dangerous to go to Pontius Pilate as a Jewish leader.
I think Pontius Pilate has had enough of Jewish leaders at this point. They're asking for the body of what Pilate would consider a rival king, so they're exposing themselves to danger. But here's my point, yeah, these guys aren't perfect, but they're making progress. Discipleship is gradual. That's all God asked for, just to make progress. He's not asking for perfection because guess what? You'll never make it, but make progress. 2 Peter 3:18, "Grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Colossians 1, "Being fruitful in every good work, increasing in the knowledge of God." That's all God is asking for, not perfection, just progress, just grow, just increase, baby steps. Discipleship is unpredictable. Discipleship is gradual. Let's move to the third. Discipleship is practical.
Back in our text, you will notice that Joe and Nick do three practical things. First of all, they come in Verse 38. Second, they spend their resources in Verse 40 and third, they served also in Verse 40. Consider those with me for a minute. First of all, they just came. They showed up. In fact, it seems like they're the only guys that showed up. Do I read about Peter in this text being there? Do I read about John? Do I read about any of the other apostles? No, I only read about these guys who have the guts to step out of the shadow and make this request and get it done.
Remember that definition of a friend I suggested a few weeks ago? Well maybe months ago. A friend is somebody who comes in when the rest of the world has gone out. Nobody's there. They're there. They showed up. A scholar named James Stalker who wrote a book called, "The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ" said, "Had not Joseph and Nick showed up, Jesus' body would've been thrown in some ditch in Jerusalem," because that's how they bury criminals who are crucified. But they came and in coming, they were able to fulfill a scripture, right? Isaiah 53:9 that says, "When Jesus died, He would die with criminals but be buried among the rich." So they came.
Second thing you should notice is that they spent. They spent resources and Joe gave Jesus a plot of land, a grave, a rich man's tomb. Nick, he brought the spices. He had to spend the money to get the very extravagant, expensive spices for Jesus' burial.
Now here's something I found out. I never knew this before this week. The amount listed of myrrh and aloes was the typical amount given only to kings who died. It's a zip. Nicodemus says, "I'm going to give him a royal burial, because he truly is my royal king and I haven't been living for him and I've been living in the shadows, but I'm not going to live on the fence any longer. I'm going to treat Him like a king."
It's extravagant. Jesus didn't need that to rise. It was very costly, but he spent his money, his resources in practical discipleship for the Lord. It's beautiful, really. It reminds me of Mary of Bethany. Remember she was the gal who brought that very expensive of oil of spikenard and broke it and poured it on Jesus' feet. Judas got all upset so he, "I can't believe this church would do this you know. This could've been spent for the poor." Jesus rebuked that hypocrite and said, "She is doing it for my burial leave her alone."
So for Jesus burial, Nicodemus brings these spices. What was myrrh? It was a gummy, sweet smelling resin made into a powder that when mixed with sandalwood get this—no, mix with aloes smells like sandalwood—that's what I want to say. When you mixed it with aloes—if you've ever smelled sandalwood, I love that smell—and it was placed between the folds of the buried body when it was wrapped simply to counteract the putrefaction of the human body upon death, just to offset the smell. It's like a guy put on a way too much cologne, you know the type. But it would give that smell off and it would just sort of hold back the stench because of human decay later on.
When you hear the word myrrh, your minds should go back to after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Magi brought three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know myrrh was an embalming fluid, we see it right here. It was use for the dead, typically. How odd to give a new born mother embalming fluid. "Hey, I brought something for your son." "Gold, wow! That's awesome. Frankincense, oh that's beautiful and embalming fluid." Talk about the gift that balms and embalms, this is it. But that was prophetic of what's going on now, this is Jesus death. He is being buried with myrrh.
The point to be made is simple. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are giving generously in their practical discipleship of Christ. They don't care what it cost. Give him the best treatment that was their attitude as part of discipleship. Martin Luther made an interesting statement. He said, "There are three convergence necessary of every disciple—the conversion of the heart, the conversation of the mind and the conversation of the wallet." He said the third one is always the hardest to convert.
There was a man who had made it really with his wealth. He came to a pastor and he said, "Pastor, when I have $50,000 and that's all, I was happy. Now I have $500,000 and I'm miserable." The pastor said, "The solution is easy, give away $450,000." The man said, "Pastor, you don't understand, having money is like electricity. So like holding an electrical wire, the more the juice the tighter the grip." But here's the deal, what disciples learn the more they—our disciples and they follow Jesus, they learn to grip this world and the things they own or think they own—they're really not owning them, they're stewards of it—they learn to grip loosely not tightly. They learn to let go of it. They learn to give extravagantly for the Lord and his purposes.
Third, what did they do? They served. They were the ones that took the body. They were the ones that wrapped it up. They were the ones that brought and mixed the spices and placed it in between the folds of cloth, that's what we're told. Yeah, they were wealthy. They were prominent. They could've used their servants, but they didn't say they did so as they did it. Now you know what that means? For Jewish males on the eve of Passover, the eve of Sabbath to be touching a dead body, you know what that means? They're ceremonially defiled for the whole feast. They can't celebrate the Passover if they do that.
So somehow, I think they didn't care. They just discovered the Lamb of God who takes a way the sin of the world, that's much greater than any festival or ritual. They served. They gave their time, their talent, their treasure. When you come that's part of your worship and discipleship, when you give that's part of your discipleship. When you serve and engage that's part of your discipleship. Finally let's finish it off, here's the fourth mark of a disciple in discipleship. Discipleship is eventful, so what does that mean?
It means that your life sort of goes on, plots(ph) along. You get up in the morning. You go to work. You do your thing. You come home. You get up in the morning. You do your thing. You just plot(ph) along but every now and then, God throws in a surprise that boost your faith, turbo charges your faith and moves you along in discipleship in that one instance more than anything. So we read in Verse 42, "There they laid Jesus because of the Jews preparation day for the tomb was nearby."
I like the fact that John three times says it's the preparation day. Oh, and did you know it's a preparation day and oh, by the way just incase you forgot it's the preparation day. So on the preparation day, they put his body in the tomb. They were not prepared for what was going to happen. It was going to be an event that would rock their world, it's called the resurrection. Everything would change and they would be so bold and turbo charged in their faith. All of the disciples went around Jerusalem and were very vocal and confident and bold in the Gospel.
Okay, when Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped his body and paid their last respects and laid it in place and were leaving the tomb, they were sad. They were confused. They thought this was the messiah, I don't get this. What is this all about? Did they expect the resurrection? Of course they didn't. If they expect the resurrection they would make the fuss over the body so thoroughly as they did and make sure it was all okay. So they didn't expect the resurrection. So the event of the resurrection is what would bolster their faith and change these and other disciples around Jesus.
So discipleship can be eventful and I should have a fifth, because of that. Because when God ever gives you an event or he surprises you—what I mean by that? Sometimes you'll have—you pray for something, you will have like an answer to it. It's so immediate or something happens in your life as a gift from the Lord you go, "Wow! Man it's just so increased my faith." Whenever that happens you tend to be vocal about it and if you're vocal to people who don't agree with you, well then you get more persecuted. So I should add a fifth thing besides all the other false that are listed, discipleship can be painful.
As you follow the one who died on the cross and had his body scarred you're going to become scarred disciple, that's part of following him. Because you're going to be more bold and more out fronting, people are going to whisper about you and talk about you or say it to your face, or kick you out of their group, or fire you from the job or divorce or, or, or. You're going to end this life with a whole litany of scars that should be not your shame but your glory. "Oh yeah, I remember that scar. I've got that one when I opened my mouth at work and they fired me. Oh that scar, yeah, I remember that when all my friends—and they put me. I was the odd man out."
So allow me to close with the words of Amy Carmichael. Do you know that name? She was a missionary to India. She gave her life on that subcontinent and she was very compassionate and she was very bold. But she wrote this little poem, I'm going to tell it to you as if Jesus was speaking it or asking you this question. Listen up. "Hast thou no scar? No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand? I hear thee sung as mighty in the land. I hear them hail your bright ascendant star. Has found no scar? Has found no wound? Yet I was wounded by the archers spent. Lean me against a tree to die and rent by ravenous wolves that encompassed me, I swooned. Has found no wound? No wound? No scar? Yet, as the master shall the servants be and pierced be the feet that follow me. But thine are whole, he cannot have followed far who has no wound or scar?"
You and I are disciples of the scarred one, the rejected one. He was despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows acquainted with grief. Don't think you're going to get off easy. But it's our glory not our shame.
So Father we conclude by thinking of those thoughts. I pray that You'd help us to never consider someone beyond the need of Christ, never writing off someone because they're so well known, so prominent, so wealthy so, so, so. There's a deep and abiding need we all have as seen by these two men. Also Lord would You help us to be easy on young growing Christians who are gradual in their discipleship and not to be so pharisaical or judgmental, but to be patient. You have been so patient with us. We have fallen. You were there to dust us off and pick us up and get us going again.
Lord I pray that in our spirituality there would be a practicality as we come, as we give, as we serve, demonstrating overtly that we are followers of Christ. Then always anticipating that there maybe some surprise on this day or just around the corner that might bolster our faith and take it to a new level. All of this Lord as wonderful as it is the world around us will not agree and we will come under their fire, so help us to be unashamed, to come out off the closet and to help people who are blind. That's why they say those things, that's why they do those things, they're in darkness and in blindness. Help us to be ambassadors to see their eyes open so that they may also become your disciples, in Jesus' name. Amen.