Thursday, September 03, 2009

Identifying with Him in His death


It is interesting to note the presence and actions of two relatively unknown yet vitally important men who took tremendous risks in associating with Christ at His death. I am speaking on Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

Both were influential Jewish leaders of their day, members of the Sanhedrin Council.

Joseph was a respected and wealthy leader who had become a disciple of Jesus. Following the death of Jesus, Joseph, in effect, accepted Him into his own family by boldly obtaining His body from Pilate, wrapped it in fine linen and buried it in his own tomb.

Understand the risk involved in such actions. Jesus was a condemned criminal who had been publicly executed for the highest crime. Some early traditions such as that contained The Gospel of Nicodemus, a text appended to the Acts of Pilate (an early, though not always unreliable work which is part of what is known as the Pseudepigrapha), held that Joseph was punished and imprisoned for his bold actions. Whether this is factual or not, I have little doubt that he incurred the displeasure of his fellow Sanhedrin members for what he did and that he did what he did knowing that he would face their rejection and wrath. But this is the cost of discipleship.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and, like Joseph, an important member of the Jewish Sanhedrin Council. He appeared three times in the gospel of John. First, we read how he went to Jesus one night early in Jesus’ ministry to get a better grasp of what Jesus was teaching. I believe that his search was genuine. He knew Jesus was from God but he just couldn’t get his head around some of what Jesus was talking about. The second time he appeared was in 7:45-52 when he questioned the illegal procedure that his fellow Pharisees were proposing for Jesus’ arrest and was promptly accused of being Jesus’ follower.

How Nicodemus responded to this accusation, we have no record, just we never read of his response to Jesus’ words in John 3. Was Nicodemus a man who, when pushed, tended to back off and fade away? We don’t know, but in both stories, Nicodemus appeared, asked questions, was challenged and we never hear his response.

But that changed in chapter 19, when we find Nicodemus beside Joseph, bringing a small fortune in myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ body and together they identify with the crucified Christ by taking responsibility for his burial. Like Joseph, this identification would have come with a cost; one he was now apparently prepared to pay.

On this weblog site you often read the testimonies of men and women in China, Iran, Cuba, and elsewhere around the world who are paying a great cost for identifying with Christ. Like Joseph and Nicodemus, they had to choose between comfort or Christ, sacrifice or self-preservation. This is our calling too.

Are we prepared to identify with a Christ who is marked by shame, humiliation, and death? This is the Christ of the Persecuted Church. The Christ who is saving the world through His suffering Body; men and women like Joseph and Nicodemus who step up when the everyone else flees; men and women who are prepared to face humiliation, rejection, and danger by being associated with a convicted criminal or labeled as criminals themselves.

There are many today who want to follow Christ at the front of the parade, waving to the cheering crowds like a conquering victor. There are few who want to walk in the back, as was common with Roman triumphal processions, where the prisoners walked in chains, facing the jeers of the hoard (1 Cor. 4:9), marked for slavery, mistreatment and even death. These are the kind of men and women that God is looking for.

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