(Inspired by John 19: 31-42)
Once Jesus had died on the cross, His mother and young John, His best friend, couldn’t leave. It was like they were nailed to the spot. They stood there for quite some time, staring at the abused body of the Lord, unable to mentally process what had been done to the Son of God and Savior of the world.
“Orders from the procurator!” a Roman soldier, who had just marched up to the execution detail, shouted.
“What are they?” growled the guard in charge.
“The Jews’ Sabbath day is supposed to start in a couple of hours,” the soldier reported. “At the request of the chief priests, the procurator orders that the legs of the prisoners be broken to allow them to die quickly. He wants them all three dead and off the crosses before the trumpets from the temple signal the start of the Sabbath day.”
Growling their annoyance at having more to do, the guards shoved a piece of a beam behind the legs of one of the thieves, then cruelly smashed the man’s legs with a large hammer. Between the pain of the injury and the loss of the ability to raise himself to relax his stretched chest muscles so he could breath, death came quickly.
In this way both thieves were quickly dispatched. When the Roman started to place the piece of wood behind Jesus’s legs, Mary cried out, “Oh, please, no!”
“There is no need to break His legs, sir,” John called to the guard. “He’s already dead.”
On hearing this, the guard stepped back and studied the body hanging above him. “Oh, is he now?” the Roman asked sarcastically as he dropped the beam and hammer and snatched a spear from a nearby guard. Quickly he thrust the sharp weapon deeply into the side of the Messiah and on up into His chest cavity, piercing His heart, as Mary gasped.
When he withdrew the spear, clotted blood and a stream of serum poured out of the large wound. “I guess you’re right,” the guard cruelly chuckled. “The blood’s already separated.”
Mary sobbed in John’s arms for several minutes. When she could cry no more, she looked into the young man’s eyes and said, “I want to bury Him, John.”
“Yes, of course,” John answered, “but I don’t know how we will do that here in Jerusalem.”
“Please excuse me for inserting myself into your troubles, but my friend and I would be honored to help you with all that.” The words were spoken by a robed Pharisee with many marks of distinction on his clothing. “I am Nicodemus of Jerusalem. My friend Joseph of Arimathea and I have been secretly following the Teacher from Nazareth for some time. Joseph has gone to get permission from the Roman governor for us to take possession of your Son’s body. Some of my servants will be here soon with all we will need to prepare Jesus’s body for burial, if you will allow us.”
In response Mary, with a nod of her head, simply said, “Thank you.”
“You said you were secret followers of my Master?” John asked curiously.
“Joseph and I are members of the Sanhedrin,” Nicodemus answered bluntly. “We were afraid that our positions would be harmed if we let it be known that we agreed with and supported the Nazarene. To be honest, we didn’t really understand that Jesus was the true Messiah and, as John the baptizer said, ‘the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world’—until now.”
“Do you truly believe that?” John asked.
“With certainty,” the older scholar returned confidently. “The fact that the soldiers broke the legs of the thieves but not the Lord’s is a fulfilment of prophecy by David in the psalms, ‘He keeps all His bones, not one of them is broken.’ Stabbing Him with the spear is the fulfilment of another. The prophet Zechariah said, ‘they will look on Me Whom they have pierced.’ There has been prophecy after prophecy fulfilled this day,” Nicodemus concluded. “So in answer to your question, I am completely convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and His death today on this cross has paid for the sins of the world.”
“You don’t sound like a secret disciple,” John returned.
“The Lord changed everything today! If He did that for me,” Nicodemus announced, pointing up at the crucified Messiah, “then I must stand for Him! Joseph and I have decided that we will hide no longer!”
Within a few minutes Joseph came rushing up with a written order from Pilate that he gave to the leader of the Roman guard. In response to this, the nail holding the feet was drawn out, the crossbeam was lifted from its place, and the body of the Lord was lowered to the ground. As soon as the nails in His wrists were removed, Nicodemus and Joseph lifted the Savior’s body and carried it towards a nearby garden.
“Where are you taking Him?” Mary asked with concern.
“It is almost the Sabbath,” Nicodemus answered urgently, “so we must do this as quickly as possible.”
“But where…” Mary started to ask again.
“I own a new tomb in this garden,” Joseph called back. “Because it’s close by, we will bury Him there. Follow us.”
“You told me your name was John, right?” Nicodemus asked, addressing the young disciple.
“Yes, John son of Zebedee.”
“John, I want you to see where we are going and then come back out and watch for my servants. They will be here in a moment with some donkeys loaded with packages of aloes and myrrh as well as everything else we will need. Bring them to us quickly! We have no time to lose.”
The two men carried the body of Jesus into the garden until they came to a ledge of solid rock into which had been carved a burial cave. Placing the dead Lord into the arms of His grieving mother as she sat on the ground, Nicodemus quickly pulled off his own beautiful robe and spread it out beside them. Then he and Joseph took Jesus and laid Him reverently on the robe. They had no sooner done this than John arrived with the servants.
Skins of water were quickly fetched from the donkeys, and the body of Jesus was washed according to the Jewish custom. After this, wide rolls of linen wrappings were unloaded along with the spices. As the servants lifted the body, Nicodemus and Joseph applied the myrrh and aloes liberally onto the linen and, starting with the neck, wrapped the body of the dead Lord.
They were just finishing when they were stunned by the sudden arrival of Caiaphas and several of the leading members of the Sanhedrin. With them was a detail of Roman guards.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Nicodemus snapped angrily. “Haven’t you done enough to this Man?”
“I knew you two would eventually show your true colors,” Caiaphas sneered at Joseph and Nicodemus. “Always picking the wrong side.”
“What do you want?” Nicodemus asked again.
“While this charlatan was alive, he claimed that, if he was killed, he would rise from the dead in three days. We have a guard detail from the governor to be sure people like you don’t steal the body and fraudulently claim the faker’s prophecy came true. All of this ends here!
“Take the face covering off the dead man so we can be sure it’s the false teacher,” Caiaphas demanded.
One of the soldiers started to extend the tip of his spear towards the dead Man’s face, but he was stopped by the Arimathean, who untied the face cloth and lifted it.
Caiaphas leaned down to get a good look at the features of the corpse. As he recognized his hated enemy, the chief priest began to giggle gleefully. Standing back up, he gave the order for the soldiers to place the body in the tomb.
“We’ll do it!” Nicodemus said firmly. Then he and Joseph lifted their Lord’s body and placed it reverently into Joseph’s tomb. Mary and John followed them in to say their final goodbyes.
“Hurry up!” the high priest barked. “It’s almost the Sabbath!”
As soon as the followers of Jesus exited the tomb, the soldiers rolled the heavy stone over the opening. They then pulled out a large rod of red wax. One of the soldiers had been carrying a bundle of torches on his shoulder and a lighted one in his hand. They melted the wax in the flame. As a guard stretched a short piece of rope from the stone to the rock wall, the melted wax was smeared heavily on both ends to hold the rope in place. At this point the guard in charge pulled out a large seal with Caesar’s image engraved on it. This was stamped into both blobs of wax to let everyone know that, if they broke this seal to open the tomb, they would die a horrible death.
“According to the governor’s orders,” Caiaphas said to the guards, “you soldiers are to stand guard at this tomb for the next three days. My servants will bring you food and water, but you are not to let anyone come near that tomb, or I’ll have your lives! Do you understand me?”
In response, none of the Romans answered, but the one in charge stared into the high priest’s eyes and then spit on the ground.
“You are despicable!” Nicodemus shot back in anger when he saw what the chief priest had done.
“And you two fools have ruined your careers,” Caiaphas chuckled. “I will make sure that you are both run out of the Sanhedrin!”
Joseph just laughed at these words. “Do you even think that Nicodemus and I would want to be a part of group of cowardly men who murdered the Lord’s Messiah?”
“Excuse me, sir,” Nicodemus asked one of the Roman guards respectfully, “but may I ask if you and your men are here to protect the high priest?”
“No,” the guard shot back, glaring at Caiaphas. “We are here only to guard the tomb. We could care less what happens to him.”
With a grim smile Nicodemus turned to face the cowardly chief priest. The scholar doubled his fists and strode purposefully toward Caiaphas.
“No!” the chief priest screamed. “You wouldn’t dare!”
When he saw that Nicodemus wasn’t stopping, Caiaphas quickly grabbed the skirts of his robe and ran away as quickly as he could.
By Alan W. Harris