The Secret Disciples


“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews…” John 19:38-40 

I was struck the other day by the poignance of this passage in the Scriptures.  The most significant act in history is underway: the crucifixion of Jesus, His payment in full for the sin of mankind, and His resurrection from the grave.  For His disciples, this is a dangerous time; their leader has been captured and killed, and as Scripture foretold, they were all scattered.  What strikes me as significant about this passage has to do with who showed up.

Jesus’ friends and followers are nowhere to be found.  Instead, two men, too fearful to be His disciples in the daylight, show up and “clean up the mess.”  Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, in the thick of the day’s danger, muster the courage to speak with Pilate himself and request the body of Jesus so they could bury Him.

For the true coward, why would you even bother showing up?  The leader of your movement is dead, and you may be next.  Isn’t this the ideal time to hide?  It is not even like they were earning favor with their leader-He was dead.  It seems a strange time to fight for something.  It seems a bit late in the game to engage and stand up for what is good and noble.  What was it about these two men that suddenly compelled them to be bold, when their fear prohibited them before?

I don’t know the answer to this question.  I don’t know why Jesus was left destitute by those He trusted most, and “rescued” by the “cowards” of His adherents.  All I can say is that my heart is warmed to see the boldness of these two men.  Maybe, just maybe, it is because of how Jesus treated them.  You see, we Fundamentalists tend to have the perspective that you must be “all in” as a Christ-follower; you must “be ready in season and out of season to give account for your faith.”  As such, our own arrogance and Pharisaical standards often hold people to a standard that Jesus didn’t employ.  Jesus always met people where they were at.

In the case of Nicodemus, we read from John 3, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God {as} a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old?  He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God…”  Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, confesses to Jesus that he knew Jesus was from God, but he did so in secret so he wouldn’t be discovered.  After all, the Pharisees were looking for ways to dispose of Jesus.  Jesus enters into a great discussion with Nicodemus over what it means to live in the Spirit, and it is in this conversation that Jesus speaks the words of the famous scripture, John 3:16.  Jesus is inviting Nicodemus into communion with him, and as we see later, Nicodemus apparently accepts the invitation.

What an amazing model Jesus gives us here!  Jesus didn’t belittle these men for their fear.  He didn’t set a prerequisite of public devotion before these men could follow Him.  As if He knew their journey, He met them where they were at, and in due time, with bizarre timing, they rose to the occasion.

Men, which of His disciples are you most like?  Are you like the impetuous Peter?  Are you a skeptic like Thomas?  Are you affectionate toward Him, like John?  Or, do you feel inadequate to these comparisons?  Do you relate with these two “hidden” disciples, just waiting for your moment to emerge onto the scene?

Let me encourage you, friends, that the waiting, the expectancy that your moment is coming, is essential.  Be on the lookout, and remain ready.  The waiting may be wearisome, but that’s ok.  Each one of us has a calling, a destiny that awaits us in the Kingdom of God.  Until then, Jesus gives us opportunities, situations, moments; invitations like the one Joseph and Nicodemus responded to, to take action, to be bold for Him.  We don’t know the rest of Joseph’s story.  We don’t know the rest of Nicodemus’ story.  We don’t know where your story will climax, but it’s ok.  Just look and listen for invitations from God to join Him where He is at.

Just yesterday, a friend sensed a prompting from God, an invitation to a small act of ministry, but perhaps a big act of heroism to the people involved.  He had the opportunity to buy a homeless family a great breakfast, and as he participated in this small invitation from God, it expanded.  The Father nudged him to put them up for the night in a motel.  What differece could one night’s stay make in this family’s life?  I don’t know, and neither does he, but the Father knows, and this friend was faithful, like Joseph and Nicodemus, to put himself, his time and resources on the line for the will of the Father.

Are you being stirred inside?  Is the first of many moments around the corner for you?


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