Ron continues his “I Was There” series with a look at Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea as they bury the body of Jesus in a cold, dark tomb. This series of posts recount the thoughts and actions of various individuals before and after the momentous happenings at Calvary. Read “Mary of Bethany” the first post in the series here.
Ron Hughes is the president of FBH International and has decades of experience in Christian mass communications. Recently Ron has overseen the launching of HopeStreamRadio, a Christian internet radio ministry. One of Ron’s passions is writing and he shares this passion with others on his program, “Author Interview.“
Nicodemus, Joseph and a Dead Man
Questions filled the man’s mind as he raced against the gathering gloom of a Judean evening. What had brought him to this place? Careful and methodical, this expert in the law never rushed. Nicodemus prized intellect and reason as among the greatest gifts of God to man, yet he could not work out how he and Joseph had come to be struggling to detach a dead man from a Roman cross.
Nicodemus stared at the face of the man he had first met just two years earlier. On that occasion, His face had been obscured by darkness. On this, the features were hard to discern because of abuse. Rome had done its worst to him—rendering him barely recognizable as a man, let alone any particular man. But the men did not doubt His identity. This was Jesus, the man who had hung on the middle cross.
Joseph Of Arimathea
From the town of Arimathea, Joseph had wealth that allowed him to purchase property elsewhere. In particular, he owned a tomb in a garden outside of Jerusalem, near the very spot the Romans had chosen as a place of execution.
Joseph smiled his thanks to Nicodemus. He would never have been able to do this task alone. Both men secretly followed Jesus, though holding seats in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. Observant of every detail of the law they knew that contact with the Master’s body would render them ceremonially unclean. They also knew that this evening’s activity would publicly mark them as His followers. Tension had built in them since they had come to believe but, somehow, they had balanced their belief in Jesus as Messiah with their role in the Sanhedrin. But since Joseph, himself, had appealed to Pilate for Jesus’ body, the word would spread. Everything would change.
Nicodemus Prepares Jesus’ Body
Nicodemus’ life of study had ill-prepared him for the work at hand. He had struggled to carry the 75-pound bundle of spices he had purchased in the city. Joseph had taken responsibility for the linen winding cloth. While they would not have time for a proper funeral with mourners and traditional rites, at least, they could protect the Master’s body from the birds that took advantage of bodies hanging on crosses.
Both men kept an eye on the sun as it dropped in the western sky. Not only did their goal involve getting Jesus’ body into the tomb, it included getting it done before sunset, which would mark the beginning of Sabbath. At that moment, they would have to stop whatever they were doing. As Pharisees and leaders in the community, they could not bring themselves to defile the holy day with human toil.
After removing Jesus’ body from the cross, they laid it on a large flat rock nearby. Though they were unfamiliar with such work, they hurried to get the body as clean as they could, then began wrapping it with Joseph’s bolt of linen and Nicodemus’ spices. They soon developed a rhythm to their work which enabled them to finish before the sun dropped out of sight.
The Tomb Of Jesus
The two struggled as they carried their burden to the open door of the tomb—a small cave which stone cutters had enlarged and shaped inside. They had the combined weight of the Master’s body, the spices, and the cloth. To carry it, even a short distance while preserving the dignity of the occasion challenged them.
Once inside the tomb, they carefully laid their Master on a low stone bench, in the rapidly growing darkness. Together they looked at His face one last time, then Joseph reverently covered it with a piece of cloth, resembling a napkin, reserved from the bolt of linen.
One more task remained. Joseph used a sturdy piece of olive wood to pry back the large round stone in its channel while Nicodemus removed the fist sized rock which served as a wedge to keep it from rolling. Together, the friends rolled the stone down the channel until it stopped, blocking the entrance. At that moment, the last crescent of the setting sun dropped out of sight. Sabbath had begun.
As they turned to leave, they noticed Mary of Magdala, one of the Master’s most faithful followers, sitting nearby. They greeted her softly as they walked toward the city. She could not speak for weeping.
“Thank you, Nicodemus,” said Joseph. “You are a true friend.”
“Thank you for requesting my help. I am honoured to perform this service for the Master.”
I Still Believe
The men walked silently for a few moments. Then, Nicodemus said, “You know, Joseph, the very first time I spoke to Jesus, He told me something that I’ll never forget. Even though He is dead, I still think it’s true.”
“What did He tell you, friend?”
“He said that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that whoever would believe in Him would never perish, but enjoy everlasting life. And though I don’t understand it all, I think that He spoke of Himself. I think we just buried the Son of God and, as I did when He walked among us yesterday, I still believe, even though now He’s lying in your tomb.”
Joseph nodded slowly. “So do I, Nicodemus. So do I.
Follow the “I Was There” Series
- Love Poured Out – Mary of Bethany
- Loved To Death – John the Apostle
- The Man In The Moonlight – Judas Iscariot
- When Fear Cast Out Love – Pontius Pilate
- How To Treat Your Enemies – Caiaphas the High Priest
- When Love Cast Out Fear – The Repentant Thief
- He Had Seen It All – The Roman Centurion
- One Last Time – Nicodemus
- Cold And Empty – Mary Madgalene
- You Know That I Love You – Simon Peter
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Images Courtesy of:
Taking Jesus From The Cross – Cima da Conegliano
Sculpture of Nicodemus & Jesus’ Body – Michelangelo
Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea & The Body of Christ – Pietro Perugino