Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you — unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NLT).
Nicodemus had heard a rumor that Annas and Caiphas were going to illegally call a secret night meeting of their closest allies among the priests, ruling council, and teachers of the law. It was to be held at the High Priest's palatial home and it would be a mock trial to see if they could muster up enough evidence, real or contrived, to convict Jesus. They were determined to find a reason to convict and kill Jesus (Mark 14:53).
Nic had stopped this from happening earlier in Jesus' ministry, so he hoped the rumors of the clandestine meeting were not true! However, Nic knew he would not be included in the illegal proceedings this time (John 7:50-51).
It didn't matter that he was a highly respected teacher, Pharisee, and leader in Israel, the other leaders in the Jewish ruling council suspected that Nicodemus was interested in Jesus' and his teaching. They would hold their mock trial without any Jesus sympathizers nearby (John 3:1; John 3:10; John 7:52)!
These leaders couldn't even wait for the official ruling of the whole ruling council. Their hatred spilled over into violence, humiliation, and ridicule of Jesus. In their minds, Jesus had to die, and the more demeaning his death, the better. They would make sure Jesus was a mess before he appeared before the whole ruling council for the "real" trial (Mark 14:64-65).
By early morning, when the whole ruling council was officially gathered together, there was a brutal determination to convict and execute Jesus. Nic and Joe both knew that there was too much momentum for the few, fearful followers of Jesus to derail the treacherous plans that were set in motion. It did not take long for the ruling council to send Jesus to Pilate wanting the guilty verdict (John 12:42; Mark 15:1)!
To Nic's and Joe's amazement, the High Priests and their conspirators managed to convince Pilate to let a murderous revolutionary, named Barabbas, go free. And as unthinkable and unconscionable as this was, their hatred and bloodlust didn't stop there (Mark 15:7; Mark 15:10).
To Nic's and Joe's horror, Pilate had Jesus scourged. Neither could watch Jesus or look at each other as they heard the lashes of the scourge whistle through the air and the bits of broken pottery, bones, and lead fragments land against the back and tear the flesh of Jesus as the soldiers mocked and ridiculed Jesus (John 19:1-2).
Something stirred inside Nic's heart as the Holy Spirit brought back lines he had long ago memorized from Isaiah about the suffering servant of God. Realization slowly washed over him as he was watching Isaiah's prophetic words acted out with brutal ferocity by Roman soldiers and the Savior offer himself for the failures of his followers and the silence of those too afraid to speak up, like Nic and Joe (Isaiah 53:5-8).
Maybe it was Isaiah's reference to the lamb or it being around Passover, but Nic knew something was going on here far bigger than the political maneuvering of Pilate and the jealousy of his fellow religious leaders (John 19:14).
Reality hit Nic like a hammer-blow. Nothing would satisfy this bloodthirsty crowd except Jesus' death ... on a cross. "Away with him, crucify him," they screamed (John 19:15). "Shall I crucify your King?" Nic wasn't sure Pilate was asking or taunting. Pilate already knew their answer, but let them scream it back: "Crucfiy him! We have no other King but Caesar!" As Pilate sent Jesus to die, Nic and Joe both shuddered at what lay ahead and at the blasphemous words of the leading priests: "We have no King but Caesar!" They were sure that heaven shuddered, too (John 19:15-16).
Suddenly, Nic's disorienting fog of fear and shock cleared and the words that Jesus spoke to him that dark night when they first met became clear (John 3:2).
Yes, Jesus had said he came from God. But, he also said things Nic didn't understand that long ago evening. Cryptic things that a great teacher should have known or at least have figured out with prayer and study (John 3:13).
Things about being born again, from above, and about faith that saves. And things about being lifted up ... about being ... CRUCIFIED! And suddenly, Nic realized he was witnessing prophecy — Isaiah's words, Jesus' words — all coming true. He was caught up in God's story of salvation (John 3:14-15).
And why would God allow this horror to happen? Why would Jesus withhold his awesome power and might? Why allow himself to be humiliated, abused, and murdered? And Nic remembered ... LOVE! Redeeming love. Sacrificial love. God's love. The Savior's love ... for even the ones who were attacking him (John 3:16-17).
God is taking humanity's worst and turning it into saving grace, just as the Scriptures had promised. God is revealing the worst of the human heart and showing the Savior's sacrifice to redeem it ... to turn it's darkness into light (John 3:19). To turn Jesus' torture and death into the world's salvation ... and our hope ... and heaven's glory! To demonstrate the drawing power of the cross and the redeeming power of the Savior's love. To make clear that what Nic was seeing was not an accident, but the plan of God to redeem his lost children (John 12:28; John 12:32-33)!
Nic's once fearful and hidden faith is transformed into a burning passion. "I may not have honored Jesus in his life, but I will honor him in his death! I believe, O God, that Jesus is our Son and I don't know what the future holds, but I will hide in darkness no longer!" (John 12:46).
Something similar must have stirred in Joe's heart, too! Somehow during the agonizing ordeal of the Cross and Jesus' agonizing and humiliating death, Joe found Nic. And when Jesus breathed his last and died, these two went to Pilate and boldly asked for permission to take the body of Jesus away for burial (John 19:38-39; Mark 15:43; Matthew 27:57).
Without even thinking about it, these two once again fulfilled prophecy about a rich man providing a place for God's servant to be placed in death (Isaiah 53:9). And they gave Jesus a burial fit for a King (John 19:39-41):
- 75 pounds of spices!
- A new tomb, never before used!
- The loving hands of servants to prepare his body!
Two fearful, but rich and respected and righteous followers of Jesus, named Nic and Joe, suddenly become courageous believers, risk everything, step forward, get personally involved, and save Easter!*
What? What? What does that mean? What are you talking about, saving Easter?
- At the worst possible time, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea step out and demonstrate faith — real faith does that to you when you suddenly become aware of God's plan, presence and love in Jesus' death!
- They make a commitment that can't be denied — tender loving care for the mutilated body of Jesus, making themselves unclean for the Passover. Their absence as leaders would be conspicuous. Their responsibilities couldn't be fulfilled. Their allegiance to Jesus would be undeniable. They would be vulnerable to arrest and execution.
- They experience death so God can resurrect hope — John's simple words that describe Jesus' death testify to the world that Jesus truly died and was buried by those who knew him and knew he was dead — and these were respected witnesses whose word couldn't be easily challenged. Nic and Joe and the new tomb and the strips of cloth they lovingly wrap around Jesus' body with spices placed between each strip of cloth all make undeniably clear that Jesus is DEAD! This is not a trick. It is not a mistake. Jesus is dead and buried.
And without all of Jesus' death and burial, there can be no resurrection Sunday — no saving good news and no light in our darkness. But, because Nic and Joe demonstrate Jesus' death and burial are true, validate that they really happened, lovingly risking everything in Jesus' time of death, they save Easter ... they make clear that Jesus has to be raised from the dead to be present that resurrection Sunday morning ... and they remind us that we have a choice to make!
Will we sit quietly by and let Jesus' death be an unspeakable tragedy that we hold at a distance ... that makes no lasting impression on our lives?
Or, will we recognize God's plan, presence and love in Jesus' death and trust in Jesus' resurrection and come out of the shadows of our own darkness?
Don't you think it is time for us to ...
- Step out and demonstrate our faith!
- Make a commitment that can't be denied
- Experience Jesus' death so God can resurrect our hope!
Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives (Romans 6:3-4).
* By Easter, I am of course referring to the resurrection of Jesus and our faith in the resurrection and not the cultural or pagan celebration of Easter.
The image above is from Pietro Perugino (1448–1523), Compianto sul Cristo morto.