Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus... Nicodemus also, who had at first come to him by night, came... John 19:38-39
I have been interested and sometimes surprised to notice the number and kind of patients who, on admission, openly put a Bible on the bedside locker (incidentally a valuable point of contact). There must be many disciples of Jesus, but secretly, for fear. But what fear?
Is it the niggling, perhaps long suppressed unease about our standing before God -- an uncertainty that springs not about the faithfulness of God but about the reality or otherwise of our belief in him, and whether our plea to know him as Saviour and Lord was made with an invitation sincere enough or a commitment complete enough; a fear enhanced by the paucity of the exuberance and assurance experienced by others; a fear that makes us say 'I hope I am a Christian, I try to be' rather than 'I am one!'? God bids us base our assurance on his finished work on the Cross, rather than on the adequacy or otherwise of our faith, and to lay hold with both hands, and unreserved dependence upon the gift of life already obtained for us (1 Tim 6:12. Heb 9:12).
Or is it the fear of what people might say or do that keeps us on the touchline? Nicodemus was set to lose the respect and good opinion of his colleagues, particularly the religious ones, who might well regard him as an odd fanatic. Joseph faced the loss of his honourable position, influence and respectability, maybe even his wealth and way of life.
Or is it the fear of what total involvement might cost in terms of what God himself might demand of us? Where might he ask us to go? What might he ask us to do? What might it mean in terms of future prospects for us and our families?
But Jesus never pressed them to confess him openly. He graciously welcomes Nicodemus at night and leisurely revealed the truth that he had never understood. There is no record of his meeting with Joseph. That is left to our imagination. But faith deepened and courage grew, until Nicodemus surprised himself when he demanded of the council a fair hearing for Jesus (Jn 7:48-52), while the councillor Joseph raised a lone dissident voice against the motion to crucify him (Lk 23:50-51).
But faith finally blossomed, Joseph threw all discretion to the winds and, risking the jeers of Jewry and the sneers of Rome, begged Pilate for the body of Jesus. His courage, as so often happens, brought Nicodemus out into the open, and together and with loving care they laid him in the tomb.
What were their thoughts now? Were they conscious of the hostile crowd? or only aware that they had done all they could, but too late, to demonstrate their love? One thing is certain; it was the Cross that overcame their fear and made them see things in their real light.
And how did they feel on Easter morning?
Further reading: Jn 7:45-52, 19:38-42. Mt 10:32-33.