He was a wealthy, influential man—a member of the Sanhedrin with much to lose by being associated with Jesus of Nazareth, who was considered a threat to the tenuous stability of society. Yet, “He gathered up his courage” and went to Pilate to ask for the crucified body of Christ, though, except for John, the better known disciples had fled.
I was struck by that phrase, ”He gathered his courage” and thought of times I had to take a costly risk for the sake of someone (or Someone) I loved. In these increasingly dark days, full of uncertainty, fear, and hostility, there is still Hope and the promise of God that He will turn the worst to the best. He did it magnificently on Easter morning, and He’s still resurrecting, transforming, and giving us courage to deal with whatever we face in this difficult world.
JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
by Carolyn Wing Greenlee
I cannot say it was easy to make the request after all I’d seen in the past forty-eight hours—the trial in the middle of the night, the lies, the railing accusations, the false witnesses—the unbelievable hatred poured out on one man…As the hours dragged on, it seemed increasingly to be a terrible nightmare, but rather than waking, I witnessed more depths of evil than I thought possible from mere mortal man.
None of us had slept. Nicodemus and I felt angry and helpless. What could we do? We wanted to leave—to run away—to be anywhere else, but we couldn’t move. We just kept watching paralyzed, incredulous, uncomprehending as the whole horrible thing opened up before us—the beatings, the insults, the blasphemy, the humiliation. It was as if the devil himself mocked Him from every gaping human mouth. And then they sentenced Him. He seemed to glance in my direction. I was afraid to look lest anyone sense a connection between us. As they led Him away, I hid my face.
It was not easy seeing Him like that. I was angry, frightened. I wanted to defend Him—to shout His innocence against the lies—to shield Him from the blows. But I could not, and neither could Nicodemus. His jaw was set hard, the muscle in it tight. But we could not move. We could not speak. Few knew that we were secretly His disciples. The very thing for which they were condemning Him was the truth by which we had come to live: He was indeed the Son of God—our Messiah.
Three years I watched Him, listening skeptically, then eagerly to the reports about Him. I had been afraid to believe. But then I met Him. He reasoned with me from the Scriptures and light came into my mind. I understood God’s wisdom, His goodness, His will, His way as never before. The vastness of His love overwhelmed me. The eyes of my understanding had been enlightened. I could not refuse the truth. My heart burned within me.
Why couldn’t I so much as whisper in His defense? Was I ashamed? Of what? Of the answer I’d found to the emptiness in my life? Of the joy I found in His fellowship? Why was I afraid? Of what was I afraid? Of Man? He Himself declared we were not to fear Man. Man could only kill our bodies, but God could cast both body and soul into the everlasting torment of Gehenna.
I was ashamed, tormented. It was not just because I saw them beat Him. It was because I did nothing to stop it…nothing at all.
Then they murdered Him. We stood a long way off, Nicodemus and I—each one of us battling his own heart within him. It was over now. Perhaps things would return to normal…Perhaps no one would ever know that we had met with Him in secret and He had opened our lives with His eyes…We could go back to the synagogue and be respected and accepted, and no one would ever know . . .
It was hard to see because of the blackness of the sky. It was not simply dark—it was as if the darkness had weight and mass—a heaviness beyond night. I sensed the evil. My skin crawled. In the swirling dark, I could barely make out the forms of the soldiers breaking the legs of the thieves. I did not see them break His legs. I only saw His heavy limp form slung over the shoulder of the soldier who struggled to keep his balance on his way down the ladder while the black winds howled and lashed, whipping us all.
So many feelings surged inside! I ached from remorse and shame and grief. How I wished I could go back just hours before and do something—cry out in His defense, take the blows upon myself, suffer with Him, die with Him—something…anything but sit passively by… watching…silently.
Then they laid Him on the ground. I wanted to run to Him and wrap Him in something warm. He must be cold. That was foolish. He was dead. There was nothing to do but go home…go on with life. But how could I just leave Him there?
It was as if Nicodemus and I had the same thought at the same time. We could still do something. But the cost…the synagogue…our reputations…our wives and children…the safety of our own lives…
We watched them carry Him away.
Then, somehow, there I was, a prominent man of the synagogue feeling as insecure as a child while the governor pondered my request. His fingers drummed on the polished marble table. He was impatient, but after all he had seen, he was probably rather sickened by the whole matter. Then he gave the order and waved me away.
I had a fine linen cloth—the finest I could buy… I forced myself to think of Him cleanly washed and wrapped—the goal rather than the grim reality lying before me on the cold stone slab. If I had not watched from the time of the trial, I could not have believed it was He. Great raw wounds covered His jaw where a thick bushy beard had been. A battalion’s worth of hateful fists battered His face deep blue. The cruel six-inch Jerusalem thorns they had beaten into His scalp seeped their poison till His face swelled to twice its normal size. His back…ha…there was nothing left of His back. His bones showed white and bloody where there was no skin or muscle left for the shard-laden whip to rip away. And where they had driven the spikes…
I do not know how I did it…the strength of God only. It was going to be Sabbath soon. Dusk was coming fast upon us. I hurried to warm the water, even though my mind knew He would not have felt the shock of the cold. Still, it hurt me to think of hurting Him. Every ragged edge of flesh rent me as I washed and rinsed and washed…all the dark, caked blood…every cruel raw wound—wounds for my transgressions. It made me angry as I washed and carefully dried the bruises—bruises for my iniquities. Nicodemus and I hurriedly sprinkled the myrrh and the aloes. It made me angry—that the chastisement of my peace was upon Him—that He bore my grief and my sorrow and my sin…and I esteemed Him not. I esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. I hid my face from Him. I, who had vowed to follow Him–I hid my face from Him! And the grief and the anger, the sorrow and the fury raged side by side as my tears slid down my beard and dropped on the ravaged flesh…on the fresh linen cloth. I unfolded the napkin and carefully covered His face.
I did not know He would rise again. He had said, but we had not understood. When the women told us, it was like nonsense, like tales of their own imaginations. They were overcome with grieving. I was not surprised that they would say such things. I, too, longed to see Him again as He had been—strong and brown, with joy flashing in His eyes as He laughed with us at the table. But I knew, perhaps better than most, how very dead He was. Yes, I longed to see Him, but I did not hope. I had dressed the body. It did no good to hope. It only hurt.
But then He stood among us. I could almost not believe. When last I saw His face, it was…so different. The wounds, the ragged flesh. I could still see it when I closed my eyes. It had haunted my dreams. Yet there He was…shining. His eyes were shining. His face was shining.
I did not know, when I gathered my courage, forced away my fears of Man, and went before Pilate—I did not think, when I washed those wounds and wrapped His beloved face away behind the clean white cloth and listened to the grinding of stone against stone as the heavy door was rolled into its place—I did not expect, as I lay exhausted, yet sleepless upon my bed in the darkness which pervaded more than the night sky—I did not believe that He would be standing there amongst us, His eyes shining with forgiveness and acceptance that reached into Eternity. I did not do it for that. I only knew that He was my life and I could not deny Him any longer. Nothing else mattered any more.
My life has not been easier since that day. There are times when the Sanhedren is insanely vicious towards the Believers. There has already been much persecution, much suffering, many senseless and cruel deaths. Sometimes the days seem dark and dreadful indeed and fear seeks to grip me with talons of ice. Yet I remember the darkest time of all—when Satan seemed victorious, when hope and life itself seemed to lie ravaged in a hewn rock tomb…And then I remember His eyes…shining.