“After these things 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, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.” (John 19:38–39, ESV)
Two men step in to ensure that Jesus is buried before the start of the Passover. They must work very quickly because Jesus dies at 3 p.m. and the Passover will start at sunset which will come around 6 p.m. Their work is dangerous. The Jews have just had an innocent man murdered, what will stop them from demanding that his followers also be murdered? Joseph and Nicodemus demonstrate great courage here and devotion to Jesus, which is in contrast to their characters up to this point. They are followers of Jesus, but not vocal followers, not one of the twelve.
Joseph of Arimathea is described by Luke as: “member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 23.50) Joseph requests from Pilate, and is granted, Jesus’ body for burial.
Nicodemus we have met before in John’s gospel. He is a member of the Sanhedrin and has come to Jesus by night to inquire about what Jesus is teaching (John 3). We see him again in John 7: 50-51, as he defends Jesus against the attacks of the chief priests and the Pharisees. Nicodemus does not profess his belief in Jesus at that point, but, though timid, he is beginning to change, or perhaps has already become a follower of Christ.
The pair work swiftly to prepare Christ for burial. They wrap him in linen cloths with 65 pounds! of spices. This is an amount that is very expensive and fit for a king; both Joseph and Nicodemus believe that he is. They put him into a brand new tomb that is close at hand because they are working against the coming of the setting sun.
The work is accomplished, but with little time to spare. The chapter ends sadly: “They laid Jesus there” and that, in their own thinking, is the end. The amount of spices that they use indicates that the two men (and virtually everyone else) do not expect any resurrection of Jesus, more less a quick one.
Henry Alford quotes Luthhardt: ”
Luthardt beautifully remarks on the contrast between these men’s secret and timid discipleship before, and their courage now, “Their love to Jesus was called out by the might of His love. His Death is the Power which constrains men. And thus this act of love on the part of both these men is a testimony for Jesus, and for the future effect of His death. Hence also it appears why the Evangelist mentions the weight of the spices, as a proof of the greatness of their love, as Lampe observes.”
“Their love to Jesus was called out by the might of his love.” I like that.