“Let him be crucified!” the Sanhedrin council speaker shouted.
Joseph watched in silence as the chamber filled with the sounds of agreement. He shook his head slightly. He does not deserve it.
As the council sentenced Jesus of Nazareth to death by crucifixion, Joseph silently prayed.
Lord, I have followed this man Jesus in secret because I sense your power in Him. If He is to usher in your Kingdom, help me understand the happenings of this day.
Joseph had been a member of the Sanhedrin council for some years, and had earned the respect of his peers. A devout follower of God, he had been looking for a sign of the coming kingdom all his life. When he discovered Jesus of Nazareth, he carefully-if not publicly-considered what he had to say, and was soon convinced God was working through him, though Joseph did not fully understand how or why. He was sure of one thing, however. This man was worthy of attention, and Joseph began to follow his progress.
He was forced to do so secretly however, because the council, the Pharisees, and the Scribes would not have approved. Day by day he quietly followed Jesus, and day by day his frustration at keeping his secret grew. But he stayed silent, because if the council had known, they would perhaps have condemned him to the same fate they were now placing upon Jesus. Perhaps it is time I should say something.
“Joseph of Arimathea, do you not agree?” The speaker had noticed Joseph’s silence, and now stood glaring at him.
Joseph turned to face the man and steadied himself.
“With respect, I do not see the necessity for a death sentence.”
The council chamber filled with murmurs. The speaker’s eyes narrowed. “You would defy this council?”
“Not defy, speaker,” Joseph continued. “I simply disagree with this decision, as each of us have disagreed with various decisions in times past. Surely you have as well, sir?”
Council members began to nod in understanding, and the speaker’s shoulders relaxed. “Perhaps,” he grunted. “Then you will respect the council on this?”
Joseph hesitated. He did not wish to see Jesus unjustly harmed, but he could not risk the wrath of the council just yet.
“I will respect the council.”
“Very well. It is decided then,” the speaker said, as the council members nodded in agreement. “The sentence is death.”
Joseph left the council chambers with a pit in his stomach. The burden of following Jesus secretly had been a weight on his shoulders for a while now, and that council meeting did not help. But what could I do? he thought to himself. Control the council? And what if I am wrong about Jesus? He certainly has the power of God in him, but so have others in our history. What if Jesus is no more than a Godly prophet, and not destined to usher in God’s kingdom? I would put myself at risk for nothing. And what of-
Joseph’s thoughts were interrupted by a familiar, booming voice. He turned to see a man standing tall, his arms crossed in front of his large frame. He stared at Joseph for a moment before smiling slightly. “You are going to get yourself into trouble.”
Nicodemus laughed and greeted Joseph warmly. “What am I going to do with you, my friend?” he said.
Joseph smiled wearily. “Perhaps there is nothing you can do. Staying silent is bothering me greatly. And now I am complicit in His death.”
Nicodemus shook his head. “You may be on the council, but you can no more control the whole than I can. I am not happy with this decision either. But I must be cautious as well. Remember, I have my secrets too.”
Joseph nodded knowingly. “Your late night meeting with Him.”
“Yes. Which you only know of because you are a fellow sympathizer. And a trusted colleague.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
“I know, my friend. As is yours with me. Though yours might not be safe with you.” He chuckled. “I thought you were about to spill like an old wineskin!”
Joseph smiled wearily. “Not just yet. But my conscience is indeed weighing on me.”
Nicodemus nodded. “Come. Let us follow His progress. Perhaps God will deliver Him.”
The last few hours had been difficult on Joseph to say the least. He and Nicodemus had followed Jesus as he was brought to Pontius Pilate. As he was sent to Herod, then back to Pilate. They watched as Jesus stood in front of the crowd next to the Prefect. Joseph felt hope swell when Pilate attempted to free Jesus, only to have it shattered when the crowd refused to acquiesce.
The next steps were ever more painful for Joseph. He cringed as he watched Jesus being flogged publicly. As the crown of thorns was pushed into the flesh of his head, as He was mocked, shoved, and beaten. With every slap, with every stumble, with every drop of blood the pain and guilt in Joseph’s heart grew. Several times Joseph opened his mouth to speak, to have Nicodemus place a hand on his shoulder and whisper, “Patience.”
When the nails were driven into his hands, Joseph began to lose hope Jesus would be delivered. He watched as Jesus suffered, hanging from the cross by His hands and feet. His heart cried with Him as He cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And when he said “Father, into your hand I commit my spirit”, Joseph held his breath-as Jesus breathed His last.
When he realized Jesus was dead, Joseph fell to his knees and sobbed softly. He no longer cared if anyone saw him showing care for the man on the cross. Nicodemus stood by his side, with his hand ever on his friend’s shoulder. Joseph’s mind filled with pain, doubt, and guilt. The ground began to shake, and he stumbled forward on his hands. When the tremors ceased, he sat up on his knees. And then Joseph composed himself, stood shakily, and looked Nicodemus directly in the eyes.
“I have an idea. Join me?”
Nicodemus nodded. “Always.”
“The council will not like this.” Nicodemus said as he followed Joseph, a frown on his face.
“I am aware of that, and I do not care. I have been silent for too long. I did not do enough to save Him, and now the least I can do is supply Him a proper burial.”
“You might be expelled. Or tried.”
“And again, I do not care. Enough is enough. They can no longer be threatened by a dead man.”
Nicodemus sighed. “Very well. I will assist you. Do you believe the Prefect will speak with you?”
“I do not know, but I am going to try.”
They arrived at the private chamber of Pontius Pilate. A Roman guard carrying a sword glared at them as they approached. He addressed Joseph. “What do you want, Jew?”
“If you please, sir, I would like an audience with the Prefect.”
“The prefect does not wish to be disturbed.”
Nicodemus stepped forward, bowing his head. “My friend, thank you for your loyal service to the esteemed Prefect. If we have found favor, please tell him this is a matter of urgency. Concerning the prisoner he turned over to the people. Jesus of Nazareth.”
The soldier studied them for a moment, then nodded. “Remain here.”
“Our sincerest gratitude, sir,” Nicodemus said, as he bowed again and took a step back. He turned to Joseph and nodded.
Joseph tried to relax, and took a deep breath. Acting nervous or emotional in front of the Prefect was not a wise idea. I am hoping he will want to rid himself of the body quickly, he thought to himself. After all, he said he was washing his hands of it.
The guard returned. “The Prefect will see you. Come with me.”
He led them through the door and into Pilate’s chamber. Joseph surveyed the room, noticing another guard standing within reach of Pilate, ever ready to defend if the need arose. Pilate watched them with narrowed eyes as they approached. Their escort stopped them. “That’s far enough.”
Pilate spoke. “Gentlemen. My guard tells me you have something urgent to speak to me about.”
Joseph and Nicodemus bowed. Joseph spoke. “Yes, most excellency.”
“Sir, if you please, I request you release to me the body of Jesus of Nazareth. I am prepared to supply burial.”
“The Nazarene is already dead?” Before Joseph could answer, Pilate addressed the guard who had escorted the two men. “Get the Centurion.”
The guard rushed out of the room. Pilate turned back to Joseph. “How do you plan to bury Him?”
“Sir, I own a tomb I have cut from a rock, in a garden near here. I had prepared it for myself, but I wish to give it to Him.”
Pilate leaned back in his seat. “I see,” he said dryly.
Joseph shifted his weight nervously as he waited for the guard’s return. Nicodemus crossed his arms again. Finally, the Centurion entered the room and stood at attention. Pilate addressed him. “Is the prisoner Jesus dead?”
“Yes sir. When my soldiers went to break the legs of the prisoners, they found he was already dead. One of them pierced his side with a spear to be certain.”
“Very well.” Pilate turned to Joseph. “You may have the body,” he said. Turning back to the Centurion, he said “Make it so.”
Joseph and Nicodemus bowed again. “Thank you, excellent Prefect,” Joseph said. Pilate waved a hand dismissively as they followed the Centurion out.
Joseph and Nicodemus looked up at the cross. There hung the man they had followed in secret, his lifeless body utterly still. One of the soldiers had brought a ladder for the two men, and Joseph now stood at its foot, preparing himself for what he was about to do.
A man approached them. “Hello friends. I am John. May I help you take the Master down?”
The two men turned around. Nicodemus spoke. “One of the close twelve.”
“It would be an honor, sir,” Joseph said. “Thank you.”
Armed with a hammer, Joseph began to climb the ladder as Nicodemus steadied it. John loosened and pulled out the nail holding Jesus’s feet, then helped support the weight of His legs. Joseph reached Jesus’s body and gently removed the crown of thorns, letting it fall to the ground. He then braced his own body against his Master’s, reaching for His right hand. He loosened the nail, and it fell easily from Jesus’s hand. Joseph turned and supported Jesus’s body against his chest, with his left arm around him, gripping the ladder. He paused to catch his breath.
Determined to complete his small service for this Man of God, Joseph strained to reach Jesus’s left hand. Grunting, he tapped the nail with the hammer. The nail loosened, but did not fall. Joseph frowned, dropped the hammer, and gripped the nail with his right hand. He began to pull.
“Be careful, Joseph!” Nicodemus said.
Joseph was too busy to answer. His muscles trembling from supporting Jesus’s body weight, he pulled hard at the nail-and suddenly it gave way. Jesus’s arm fell, and his body slumped forward. Joseph wrapped his right arm around the Master, embracing Him. The smell of tears, sweat, and blood filled his senses, and Joseph found himself saying aloud, “I have you now. It is over. It is over.” As he held his Savior, his heart flooded with sadness, guilt, and longing. And yet-somehow it gave him renewed determination. He squeezed Jesus tightly, and slowly, carefully climbed down the ladder. When he reached the ground, he knelt and cradled his Master in his arms, as John gently laid down his feet. Joseph stared at Jesus’s face for a moment, tears streaming down his own. Nicodemus placed his hand on his shoulder, but didn’t say a word. Then Joseph composed himself once more, and allowed Nicodemus and John to take the body. Several women had gathered, and were now ready to begin preparations for burial.
Joseph followed Jesus’s body through the entire process, from preparing the body, to wrapping the shroud, to assisting Nicodemus as they laid him in the tomb. As he left, Joseph turned to look once more at his Savior, then backed away as Nicodemus and John rolled the stone into place to cover the opening. Knowing he had done all he could, Joseph sighed, took one last look at the tomb, and went to his home.
Joseph couldn’t concentrate. As council members chattered around him, he sat in silence, deep in thought about the happenings of the last few days. After the session ended, Nicodemus met him outside the council chamber.
“You have my support, my friend, as always.”
Joseph smiled. “Thank you.” He took a deep breath. “Do you believe-
Joseph was interrupted by a commotion outside. He glanced at Nicodemus, who shrugged, and they went out to investigate. A young man stood outside panting, out of breath from running.
“What is the trouble, lad?” Nicodemus asked him.
“Jesus of Nazareth is gone. The tomb is empty! Even the guard can’t explain what happened!”
Joseph stood stunned, as the news sunk in. Nicodemus was standing tall, with his arms crossed and a frown on his face. Slowly the frown softened, then turned to a smile. He then began to laugh with that hearty, booming voice, ignoring the angry stares of his fellow Pharisees. He placed his hand on Joseph’s shoulder, breaking him out of his trance.
“Come, my friend. Let us see for ourselves. Come!”
And Joseph smiled.
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