Summary: #2 in series, about 2 guys who broke free from religion’s rules and traditions, to serve Jesus.
John 19:38-42 – Were You There? #2 – Religious Rebels (Joe and Nick)
As we continue through our pre-Resurrection series, or our Passion series, we come to 2 unlikely heroes in the mix. Last week, we examined the lives of the religious leaders, and how their adherence to the rules combined with their lack of love led them to be scoffers at the cross of Jesus. Today we will examine 2 people who broke free from the bondage of religion to serve Jesus. Their names were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Let’s read John 19:38-42.
Well, what do we know about these 2 guys? Frankly, very little. Joseph was a rich man, and a member of the Sanhedrin. Now, the Sanhedrin was a group of men who made up the supreme political, religious, and judicial body for the Jewish people. They were the ruling council, headed by the high priest, and made up of priests, scribes, and city representatives. Simply, they were the guys in charge. And Joseph was one of them.
Luke 23 says he was a good and just man, but who secretly feared the Jews. That’s an interesting phrase that you’ll find in the Bible occasionally. It’s odd because Joseph was a Jew. But what it means is that he feared his peers. He cared a lot about the opinions of people around him.
We’ll come back to Joseph in a minute, but what do we know about Nicodemus? Even less. He was a Pharisee, which meant he was a teacher of Jewish learning to the mass population. He had authority to expound and elaborate on the Old Testament. As a Pharisee, it was his job to stimulate spiritual life in the people. Now, a common misconception is that all Pharisees opposed Jesus. That’s not accurate. Some, like Nicodemus, wanted to learn from Jesus.
And that’s what he did. Way back in John 3, Nic came to Jesus at night to learn, and Jesus told him things like being born again and being led by the Spirit and God loving the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in the Son would not perish but have everlasting life.
That was then. This is now. Both Joseph and Nicodemus are at the cross. Both had hidden their faith in Jesus for some time, but now it was about to be revealed. And there would be consequences. As religious leaders who showed an open allegiance to a known religious criminal, they would lose their positions as members of the Sanhedrin. Rather than letting Jesus’ body be thrown in a common criminal’s grave, they stood up, received permission to take the body, and buried their Lord in Joseph’s own private burial ground. And for it, as historians will tell us, their names were erased from the official records of the time.
Their faith in Jesus cost them their jobs, their reputations, their positions in society, their social circles… everything that they had been. Now, gone. Ironically, Jesus’ burial was not accomplished by His closest followers but by 2 members of the religious body that sentenced Jesus to die.
Why? Because in the end, they realized that it was not their service to their religion that would fill the gaps in their lives, but their service to the Lord. When push came to shove, they cared more about doing the right thing than doing the accepted thing. In a choice of saving their skins or saving their souls, they chose wisely.
Jesus opposed those who loved their religion more than their Lord. Those who used religion as power over others… Jesus challenged them. Those who cared more about traditions or rules than about people… Jesus spent so much time in contest with them. In fact, Jesus rarely, if ever, spoke about hell in connection with sinners; it was mostly or even always in connection with religious people who should have known better.
Max Lucado writes: “Joseph and Nicodemus were tired of it, too. They had seen it for themselves. They had seen the list of rules and regulations. They had watched the people tremble with unbearable burdens. They had heard the hours of senseless wrangling over legalistic details. They had worn their robes and sat at the places of honour and seen the word of God made void. They had seen religion become the crutch that cripples. And they wanted out.”
Well, why would a person want out? What’s wrong with religion? People need guidelines to keep them in track and on task. After all, it was God Himself who gave rules about how people should live. That’s what the OT is for. Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers contain all kinds of rules: how to maintain a relationship with God, how to get along with each, how to take care of yourself, and so on. What more could a person need than rules?