Summary: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus demonstrated their saving faith in Jesus by their taking Jesus off the cross and burying Him.
Did Nicodemus Just Get Saved?
We first met Nicodemus several months ago in chapter three in my sermon “Whoa! Man of the Night”. In this sermon that not only did Nicodemus come by night, he also left in the night. To the Apostle John, darkness is often associated with a lost condition that rejects the truth of God, especially in relation to the person of Jesus Christ. There is no indication at this time of any change in Nicodemus. But the seed was planted, and the Gospel of John traces the development of this seed. In John 7:40-53 which we examined in the sermon “Would You Be Jesus’ Lawyer?”, we see a slight improvement in Nicodemus’ condition. He makes an attempt to stand up for Jesus’ right of a fair hearing in front of the Sanhedrin. Was this simply the mind of a fair minded Pharisee, such as we see of Gamaliel in Acts 5:34-40, or were the words of Jesus starting to grip his heart? We just don’t have enough information to make any kind of decision, but even if the most positive view of this event be taken, Nicodemus still fell far short of a confession of faith in Jesus. If Nicodemus was present at Jesus’ trial, then there is no record of his standing up for Jesus. So to this point, the prospects for Nicodemus’ salvation looked bleak.
It was the Passover day according to the chronology of John. It was the day the Passover was to be eaten. John 18:28 shows that the Jews were concerned about remaining ritually pure so that they might be able to eat the Passover. To go into a Gentile place such as Pilate’s judgment hall would render them unable to eat the Passover. There might have been other defilements besides this outward one, if they were truly concerned, such as a night trial, betraying a fellow Jew to the Romans, and the passing of a death sentence itself. Nicodemus as a Pharisee would have been aware of these matters and as a Pharisee would have been more scrupulous about the matters of internal purity more than the skeptical Sadducees and priests.
There is one more Scripture that I want to reference this morning before looking into the text itself. This is Numbers 19:11 which states that whosoever touches a corpse shall be unclean for seven days. Surely a Pharisee who was not just any kind of Rabbi, but was referred to as “THE teacher of the Jews (John 3:10), would be aware of this.
Exposition of the Text
In verse 38, we are introduced to Joseph of Arimathea who was a wealthy Jewish businessman. This man is introduced to us here as a “secret disciple” of Jesus. He was afraid to come out and make a public profession of faith in Jesus because he feared the Jews. But this secret profession of faith was about to become very public.
Just a few hours earlier, Jesus was the rage of the town. From the leaders of the Jewish nation down to the common crowd had demanded the death by crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. The leaders had insulted Him on the cross. The eleven, apart from John who was with the women at the cross, had fled in terror and locked themselves in for fear of these same Jews.
It was not a particularly opportune time for Joseph to make a public profession of faith. But something must have happened to Joseph since the trial before the Sanhedrin the night before. At that point, he was still a very secret disciple. He was a wealthy and respected Jewish businessman. Besides having a reputation to protect, a confession of faith in Jesus at the trial might have subjected Joseph to the same penalty as Jesus Himself. He, as a follower of the condemned Jesus might have been condemned himself to carry his cross after Jesus to Golgotha. Conspirators were often subjected to the same fate as the leader as an example to the people not to buck the system.
Something happened at the cross. Although we would love to know exactly what had happened, but after Jesus had died and the spear thrust into Jesus’ dead body, Joseph came to faith in Christ. We can go back to John 3:20 and be reminded that the person who does evil hates to come to the light lest his deeds be exposed. This is the condition that all people are born in. We have all been guilty of repressing the truth and trying to keep or deeds hidden. Joseph was no exception to this rule. But if we look at the second half of this verse we can see that the one who acts truthfully comes to the light. In the gospel, Jesus calls Himself the light of the world (John 8:12). So coming to the light is synonymous to coming to Jesus. Coming to the light means that one’s deeds become known because they have been wrought in God. Perhaps it is better said, “wrought BY God”, taking the prepositional phrase in Greek instrumentally which fits well with the rest of Scripture which asserts that it is God “who works in us to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).