by Samantha Shrauner
It’s a well-known moment in a romantic comedy. Something has torn a potential couple apart, and one of them is about to leave forever. In the midst of the impeding departure, the other realises how much they mean, sprints to the airport, declares their love, and the world is set right. The crisis provided a moment of clarity, and this clarity was a catalyst for action.
Like the couple pre-airport sprint, in our Christian lives there are times when we lack action because we have lost sight of who Jesus is. It isn’t that we deny Jesus, we just don’t bring him up at all. It isn’t that we don’t want to give what we have to Jesus, but some things are precious to us. The pressures can be many, both overt and subtle. You really don’t want things to be awkward with your childhood friends. You can feel a tug toward giving in Jesus’ name, but the cost feels like more than you can give. When we’re tempted to stay silent or hold onto what belongs to us, how can we step forward instead and serve Jesus instead?
In John 19:38-42, we see two men who have come to a moment of clarity about Jesus, and with this clarity comes a desire to act. Jesus has died on the cross and it remains to be seen what will be done with his body. At the darkest hour, Joseph and Nicodemus - previously desiring a secret association with Jesus - step forward and sacrifice to bury Jesus’ body. In this short text we see what it looks like to step forward and serve the king through public association and personal sacrifice, and we will consider what it means to follow these examples in our lives here and now.
Serve Your King Publicly
Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy and powerful man. Such status has many privileges, but it can also carry hidden snares and pressures. Joseph followed Jesus, but he was afraid of Jewish leaders. His association with Jesus was a secret.
When Jesus dies, Joseph goes to Pilate and asks him for permission to take Jesus’ body. At this moment, Joseph is willing to do what he previously had avoided. This is a rather remarkable request. Samuel M. Ngewa describes Joseph’s actions as “equivalent to members of parliament or judges of the high court taking upon themselves the mundane duty of seeing that a body is properly disposed of.” Joseph is stepping forward and declaring association with Jesus in public.
Are there ways that your status or position make you hesitant to be seen with Jesus? For Joseph of Arimathea this was an upper-class place of power, but for us it might be an unbelieving circle of friends or our colleagues at work.
In the places where we shrink back from declaring Jesus, what can we do to step forward and serve our king?
First, we can remember that God has placed us where we are for a specific purpose. When we understand that our positions are not an accident or unrelated to our Christian lives, we are less inclined to serve Jesus in secret. Second, we can pray that God would use our positions to provide unique opportunities. Joseph’s prominence made him reluctant to associate with Jesus, but at the right moment he had the status to make a request of Pilate himself. God used Joseph’s place in society to enable him to care for Jesus’ body. Our positions may feel like a hindrance, but God may use these opportunities to open doors that would otherwise remain closed.
Serve Your King with Your Possessions
We first meet Nicodemus in John 3, where he meets with Jesus at night. Like Joseph, Nicodemus is a high-ranking official who worries about people knowing his association with Jesus. But when Jospeh comes to bury Jesus, Nicodemus “also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight” (John 19:39). The bodies of crucified criminals were often thrown into rubbish dumps. In burying Jesus at all Joseph and Nicodemus show a level of honour and respect. But Nicodemus, bringing a huge amount of burial spices “comes to bury Jesus, not as a mere man, but as king.” This display of honour was more than symbolic, it was costly. Nicodemus gave of his personal wealth to step forward and serve Jesus. In his moment of clarity, Nicodemus was motivated to act by serving the king with his material possessions. What does it look like to lay what you have before your king? What does it mean to make a costly sacrifice? As in the case of Nicodemus, this might mean giving something of material value, but costly generosity does not need to touch your bank account.
My sister and I discovered a few years ago that the secret of Christmas gift-giving is competition. The winner of Christmas is the gift-giver whose gift is the most heartfelt, personal, and creative. Sometimes cost is part of the value of the gift, but the key to victory isn’t in spending money. I find the gifts that mean the most to my sister are the ones that are the hardest for me to give away. If I’ve worked for a long time to make something for her, there’s usually a moment when I’m tempted to keep the finished project for myself. When you give away something valuable there’s a cost, but in the giving there’s a demonstration of how much you value the person that you’re giving to. Nicodemus showed how valuable Jesus was to him by giving one hundred pounds of spices for his burial. When he could have stepped back and kept what belonged to him, he stepped forward and served the king.
When you are tempted to close your fist and say, ‘mine!,’ take the opportunity to demonstrate how much you value your king.
In the account of Jesus’ burial John does not record any words that Nicodemus spoke, but Nicodemus used costly generosity to show his esteem for Jesus. In the same way, we can use generosity to show honour to Jesus. Our opportunities may be small, but our king looks at our hearts and values even the smallest offerings we bring. As you go through your day, make a habit of generosity in Jesus’ name. When moments come where you could step back and hold onto things you find precious, step forward and serve your king.
Our Firm Foundation for Stepping Forward
Nicodemus and Joseph knew Jesus. They saw him in person and were witness to his actions and his words. When the moment of clarity came, they were able to step forward and serve the king. Our faith must be more removed because we do not have the experience of knowing Jesus personally. We have not seen him. But John goes to great lengths in his description of Jesus’ death to make it clear that our trust in Jesus is well-placed. After describing how Roman soldiers treat Jesus’ body, John steps out of the narrative to say, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe” (John 19:35). John repeats himself because he know how important this is. He desperately wants readers to know that these events really happened and really fulfilled Scripture. The point of his writing is so that people may believe in Jesus. We are far removed from Jesus’ life and death on earth, but we have reliable eyewitness testimony about what happened. Our trust in God is not built on feeling but on the the facts of history. From this solid foundation we can stand firm and step forward to serve our king.
This week, I pray that you would move from a moment of clarity to a moment of action. When you are tempted to remain silent in a moment you could speak about Jesus, remember John’s trustworthy testimony and step forward to serve your king. When you could hold onto what you love, remember your king and step forward instead. As Joseph and Nicodemus demonstrated, Jesus is the rightful king.
Step forward and serve.
1) Samuel M. Ngewa, “John,” Africa Bible Commentary, ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1319.
2) Nqewa, 1319
3) Nqewa, 1319
4) R. Albert Mohler Jr., The Apostles’ Creed, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019), 87.