Faithlife Sermons

Week 47: John 19:38-42. "A Redemption Story"

This morning's sermon is going to have a different feel. The actual passage we are reading is only five verses. But these five verses build on a few other passages in the Gospel of John. And what these verses will help us do, is get a sense of the book as a whole. I'm hoping, after this morning, that you will have a better sense of how AJ wanted to teach, and challenge, and encourage his readers-- including you.
As we've worked through the Gospel of John, one of the themes we've seen pop up repeatedly has to do with secret disciples. Some people believe that Jesus is who he says he is. And they sort of mentally commit themselves to Jesus. BUT... they don't do any of this publicly, openly. They try to serve Jesus, secretly, and apart from the church.
Now, we maybe know people who are sort of like this today. Lots of people consider Jesus to be their Savior, Lord, and King. They consider themselves to be faithful disciples of Jesus. But you'd never know it, unless you asked them. They don't belong to a church. They don't talk about Jesus. They just go through life, secretly disciples.
Now, if you asked them why they live this way, you'd maybe get lots of different answers. Maybe they view their faith as a private, personal thing. Maybe it's convenience. Unhappiness with the local church. Not wanting to rock the boat, or lose friends.
In the Gospel of John, the main reason you'd be a secret disciple of Jesus is fear of persecution. If you, a Judean, openly confess Jesus as Savior, you will be kicked out of the synagogue. We saw this fear with the crowds in John 7:13, with the blind man's parents in John 9:22, and with the Pharisees who secretly believed in John 12:42-43 (also John 16:1-2).
And we also saw all of this with Nicodemus. Normally in the gospels, minor characters aren't named. We don't know the name of the Samaritan woman, or the man born blind, or the man who was lame for 38 years. Those people's names don't really matter-- it's what Jesus did for them that matters.
But Nicodemus, is a name we know. And the reason we know Nicodemus's name, is because he appears three times in the Gospel of John. AJ wants you to read his three little stories together, and wrestle with him. Up to this point in the gospel, Nicodemus has been a challenge to you. When you read his story, you have to think about whether you are more like Nicodemus than you'd care to admit. Today, though, at the conclusion to Nicodemus's story, that's going to change.
But before we jump in to that, we need to remind ourselves of what he said and did earlier. So... previously, in the gospel of John... John 2:23-3:16:
(23) Now, while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover at the feast, many gave allegiance to his name,
seeing his signs that he was doing.
(24) Now, Jesus himself wasn't giving allegiance to them
because he knew all people,
and because need, he didn't have
that anyone should testify about man.
For himself knew what was in man.
AJ tells us that there is a type of faith, and allegiance, that is untrustworthy. Some people, when you look at them giving allegiance to Jesus, look like they have a reliable, sturdy faith. But there is some type of flaw. Jesus, though, can see inside of man, and he knows who can and can't be trusted.
AJ then goes on to give us an example of this type of man, with this type of faith: Nicodemus. Verse 1:
(3:1) Now, there was a man from the Pharisees-- Nicodemus by name, a ruler of the Judeans.
(2) This one came to him at night,
and he said to him,
"Rabbi, we know that from God, (as) a teacher you have come.
For no one is able these signs to do that you are doing,
except only if God was with him."
(3) Jesus answered,
and he said to him,
"Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born [from above/again], he isn't able to see the kingdom of God."
(4) Nicodemus says to him,
"How is a man able to be born,
an old man being?
(5) Jesus answered,
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and Spirit, he isn't able to enter into the kingdom of God.
(6) What has been born from flesh, fleshit is,
and what has been born from the Spirit, Spiritit is.
(7) Don't marvel that I said to you,
"You must be born [from above/again]."
The Spirit/wind, wherever it wants, it blows,
and its sound you hear,
but you don't know from where it comes,
and where it is going.
In this way each one having been born from the Spirit/wind is.
Nicodemus answered,
and he said to him,
"How can these things be?"
(10) Jesus answered,
and he said to him,
"You are the teacher of Israel,
and these things you don't know?
(11) Truly, truly, I say to you, that what we know,
and what we have seen, we testify,
and our testimony y'all don't receive.
If the earthly things I told y'all, and y'all don't believe, how, if I tell y'all heavenly things, will y'all believe?,
(13) and no one has ascended into heaven,
except only the one from heaven having descended-- the son of man,
(14) and just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, in this way the son of man must be lifted up,
in order that each one giving allegiance to him will have eternal life.
(16) For in this way God loved the world,
so that He gave his unique son,
in order that each one giving allegiance to him shall not perish
but shall have eternal life.
(17) For God didn't send his son into the world,
in order that he would condemn the world,
but in order that the world would be saved through him.
(18) The one giving allegiance to him isn't condemned.
Now, the one not giving allegiance already has been condemned,
because he has not given allegiance to the name of the unique son of God.
(19)[1]Now, this is the judgment:
that light has come into the world,
and men loved the darkness, rather than the light.
For their deeds were evil.
For each one, worthless/evil things doing hates the light,
and he doesn't come to the light,
lest his deeds be exposed.
(21) Now, the one doing the truth comes to the light,
in order that his works may be revealed,
that/because in God they are being worked.
Nicodemus gets maybe half-way to Jesus. He acknowledges that Jesus is a teacher sent from God. And this truth, is something that many Judeans acknowledge. He says, "We know" this.
But even though he calls Jesus a teacher, Nicodemus finds himself unable to learn. He can't really hear anything Jesus says. He's hopeless.
And the reason for that, I think, is found in John 3:18-20.
The only way you can really understand Jesus, is by openly coming to Jesus, and openly abiding with Jesus. You have to live in the light, and not the darkness. You have to come close enough to Jesus to let your wickedness be exposed, and burned off. You have to be like the 12. Not like Nicodemus. You can't truly commit to Jesus, and give your allegiance to him, in the dark. People have to be able to see your faith, and see your commitment.
So Nicodemus fails. He's hopeless, seemingly. He's the perfect, negative example of what Judeans are like.
Nicodemus, Part 2, John 7:37ff:
We next read about Nicodemus in John 7. Our story takes place in Jerusalem. The chief priests want Jesus dead, and are trying to make that happen. Jesus, despite this, is publicly, openly, teaching the people. And the crowds find themselves wrestling with who Jesus is. Do you believe Jesus, or not?
John 7:37ff:
(37) Now, on the last day-- the great one-- of the festival, Jesus stood,
and he cried out, saying,
"If anyone is thirsty, he must come toward me,
and he must drink.
The one giving allegiance to me,
just as it says-- Scripture--
"Rivers, from his belly, will flow of living water."
(39) Now, this he said concerning the Spirit,
who they were about to receive-- the ones giving allegiance to him.
For not yet was the Spirit,
because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
(40) Then, some from the crowd, hearing these words, were saying,
"This one is truly the prophet."
(41) Others were saying,
This one is the Christ/Messiah."
Now, some were saying,
"No. For not from Galilee does the Messiah come, right?"
(42) Didn't the Scripture say that from the seed of David, and from Bethlehem the village, where David was, the Christ is coming?"[2]
(43) Then, a division/schism happened in the crowd because of him.
Now, some of them were wishing to seize him,
but no one laid upon him the hands.
(45) Then, they came-- the temple police-- toward the high priests and the Pharisees,
and they said to them-- those ones--
"Why did you not bring him?"
(46) They answered-- the temple police--
"Never has one spoken like this-- a man."
(47) Then, they answered them-- the Pharisees--
"Not also you have been deceived, right?"
None of the rulers have given allegiance to him, nor of the Pharisees, right?",
(49) but this crowd-- the ones not knowing the law-- accursed, it is.
So the Pharisees say, "None of us Pharisees have given allegiance to Jesus." We then hear the words of Nicodemus, verse 50:
(50) He says-- Nicodemus-- to them--
the one coming toward him before--
one being of them--
(51) "Our law doesn't judge the man unless only it hears first from him,
and it knows what he is doing, right?"
Nicodemus tries to defend Jesus, using a strictly procedural defense. He puts his hand up, and says, "Stop. We can't judge him until we've done two things: "heard" from him, and then "understand" what he is doing. And since we haven't done that, we need to reserve judgment."
They answer, verse 52:
(52) They answered,
and they said to him,
"You aren't also from Galilee, right?
and see,
that from Galilee, a prophet doesn't rise."
The Pharisees respond to Nicodemus, by asking him if he's one of Jesus' disciples. And they assume the answer is "no." But the question just hangs. No one knows what Nicodemus really thinks about Jesus.
When we read these verses, we are supposed to ask ourselves, does Nicodemus show progress here? He takes a little bit of a risk. He is almost open about his allegiance. We maybe find ourselves shaking our head, and wanting to give Nicodemus a nudge here. And Nicodemus needs that. He fails. But, maybe, there's progress.
This brings us to John 19:38. Jesus has been condemned, and crucified. He handed over his spirit, and he died. Now what?
Verse 38:
(38) Now, after these things, he asked Pilate-- Joseph from Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus-- now, a secret one because of the fear of the Judeans--
that he might take away Jesus' body,
and Pilate allowed it.
Then, he came,
and he took away his body.
(39) Now, also Nicodemus came--
the one coming toward him at night at first,
bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes of about 65 pounds.[3]
Let's pause here. In verse 39, AJ reminds us of when Nicodemus first came to Jesus: at night. Why does he tell us this?
AJ is not giving you a useless fact here. There's a symbolic meaning to this. Let's reread John 3:19-21:
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
That's who Nicodemus used to be, back in chapter 3. Nicodemus loved the darkness, and wickedness. He didn't want Jesus, the Light of the world, to expose his own wickedness. And he didn't want anyone to know that he had approached Jesus.
So what AJ is doing here, in recalling the darkness, is reminding you of the inadequate type of faith Nicodemus had. Both Nicodemus, and Joseph, had a faith with two fatal flaws-- (1) they loved wickedness, and (2) they feared the Judeans.
Now, though, everything changes. Pilate just had Jesus killed, that day, for being a revolutionary. If there was ever a time to hide your commitment to Jesus, I would think it'd be now: Jesus is dead. His movement has probably come to an end. From a lower, earthly, human perspective, the smart thing to do here, is hide one last time. What sense is there, in letting any other Pharisees know you care at all about Jesus (H/T Whitacre)?
But Joseph and Nicodemus don't do this. They are brave, and go to Pilate, and Pilate allows them to take Jesus' body.
The other thing we should notice, in verse 39, is what Nicodemus brought to bury Jesus. 65 pounds of myrrh and aloe, is a lot. That's an amount that you'd use for a king, as a way to honor him in death.
Now, some scholars, reading about the 65 pounds, criticize Nicodemus here. They say that Nicodemus obviously doesn't understand that Jesus is going to rise from the dead. They think this is wasteful.
But this is not the first time that someone in John has given extravagantly to Jesus (H/T Gail O'Day, who rescued me here). John 12:1-8:
12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
When someone you love dies, you have to make decisions about how much money you will spend on their funeral. You could tell yourself, "Dead is dead." Your loved one doesn't care, right? You could use a cheap pine casket, and it makes no difference.
But when you bury a loved one, that's not what you do, right? Your loved one's death gives you one last opportunity to (1) demonstrate your love for them, and (2) honor them. So when you buy a nice casket, and flowers, and pay for a pianist, and have a nice program, maybe you do this without really putting into words what you're trying to do. But it's important to bury them with dignity, and with honor.
Now, what's true for our loved ones, is even more true for Jesus. Jesus is "King of the Judeans," and Nicodemus, is one of the Judeans who acknowledges that. How do you bury your king? You give your first, and your best. And you give extravagantly, because it's the one last time that you can give him the honor he deserves.
So when we read what Nicodemus did, we are supposed to hear an echo of Mary's actions. And we are supposed to view Nicodemus positively here. Somehow, at some point, Nicodemus has become a true disciple.
Verse 40:
(40) Then, they took Jesus' body,
and they wrapped it in linen cloths with the fragrant/embalming spices,
just as the custom of the Judeans, it is, to prepare for burial.
(41) Now, there was at the place where he was crucified a garden,
and in the garden a new tomb,
in which no one yet was buried.
(42) Then, there, because of the day of preparation of the Judeans, because near, the tomb was, they buried Jesus.
Jesus was executed as a failed Messianic pretender. But he didn't die as a disgraced criminal. In death, he was buried with dignity and honor-- (1) carefully wrapped in linens, (2) with 65 pounds of embalming spices, (3) placed in a new tomb, by himself.
Lots of criminals in the Roman empire, after being executed, would have their bodies mangled, eaten by wild dogs (H/T John Dominic Crossan). Jesus' burial, couldn't be farther from this.
Use this, or no?
Now, maybe the best part about all of this, is how it gives you two extra reasons to have confidence that Jesus rose from the dead (H/T Raymond Brown for what follows).
First, the place where Jesus was buried, was well-known. It was a garden, close to the crucifixion site.
And second, Jesus was the only one buried there. It's not like Jesus was buried in a tomb with 10 other people, and there's some possibility of confusing bodies. Jesus' body, was the one body in this brand new tomb. And everyone knows where this tomb was.
So when Jesus' body goes missing, no one wonders if someone just misplaced it, or forgot where he was. No one got to the tomb, and had an awkward moment, where they tried to figure out which of the dead guys in the tomb, was actually Jesus. Everyone knows, Jesus' body wasn't misplaced; it was just gone.
When we look at Joseph and Nicodemus, what do we see?
(1) We see two stories of redemption.
Maybe you, for many years, have been more like Joseph and Nicodemus than you want to admit. You say you "believe in" Jesus. You say you're committed to him. But there's really nothing outwardly about your life, that shows that. You're a secret disciple.
Reading about Joseph and Nicodemus should stir up something inside of you. Guilt, maybe. Regret, maybe. You can think about all the times in life, you could've spoken up about Jesus, and didn't. The people all around you walk in darkness, and slavery, and it didn't need to be that way. Maybe you told yourself for years, "This isn't a good time to reach out to that person." But then that person moved away, or died, or you drifted apart. And you blew it. When you look back at your life, and think about those times, and those people, it's a bitter pill.
But when you read about Joseph and Nicodemus, see that it's not too late to change. Today can mark a turning point in your life. Today, you can take risks, and be open about your King, and the life that he offers.
(2) We see two people who chose a better Passover lamb (H/T Whitacre).
[This one still needs work; leave in, or no?]
"The action taken by Joseph and Nicodemus signals a change in their own discipleship as they clearly break with the rest of the Jewish leadership. By handling the body they have made themselves ritually unclean and are thus disqualified from participating in the feast. According to some accounts of the dating (see comment on 18:28; 19:14), this means they would miss the Passover itself, in which case Christ has replaced the Passover for them in keeping with John’s focus on Jesus as the Lamb of God and the fulfillment of the Jewish feasts in general."[4]
(3) We see Jesus drawing all people to himself through his crucifixion
When we think about Nicodemus, we should find ourselves wondering, why would he now, suddenly, become brave. What changed?
Our answer is found in John 12:20-26,32:
John 12:20-26, 32.
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[e] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
When Jesus hung on the cross, that did something to Nicodemus. He found himself drawn to Jesus, again. Only this time, when he was drawn to Jesus, he came all the way to the Light.
There is something about Jesus' death on the cross, that pulls people in like a magnet. Lots of people may want nothing to do you, or this church, or Christianity. But despite that, Jesus keeps pulling them closer through the cross. It's a remarkable thing, to see people drawn toward Jesus this way. You can hear it in their voices, when they talk about Jesus. There's a respect there. There's a pull, there.
So when you talk about Jesus, make sure you talk about the cross. Jesus died, on the cross, for their sins. As a sacrificial lamb, in their place. Do this, and you may find all kinds of people being drawn to Jesus.
"The death of Jesus had done for Joseph and Nicodemus what not even his life could do. No sooner had Jesus died on the cross than Joseph forgot his fear and confronted the Roman governor with a request for the body. No sooner had Jesus died on the cross than Nicodemus was there to bring a tribute that everyone could see. The cowardice, the hesitation, the prudent concealment were gone.
Those who had been afraid when Jesus was alive declared for him in a way that all could see as soon as he was dead. Jesus had not been dead an hour when his own prophecy came true: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (John 12:32). It may be that the silence of Nicodemus or his absence from the Sanhedrin brought sorrow to Jesus; but it is certain that he knew of the way in which they cast their fear aside after the cross, and it is certain that already his heart was glad, for already the power of the cross had begun to operate, and already it was drawing all people to him. The power of the cross was even then turning the coward into the hero, and the waverer into the man who took an irrevocable decision for Christ.[5]
Be brave. Be bold. Openly serve Jesus, giving him your first and your best. Live in a way that brings honor to Jesus. And thank Jesus, for dying in a way, that drew you to him. [So it turns out that it's through the cross, that the Father now draws all people toward Jesus (John 6:44)].
(38) Now, after these things, he asked Pilate-- Joseph from Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus-- now, a secret one because of the fear of the Judeans--
that he might take away Jesus' body,
and Pilate allowed it.
Then, he came,
and he took away his body.
(39) Now, also Nicodemus came--
the one coming toward him at night at first,
bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes of about 100 (Roman) pounds.
(40) Then, they took Jesus' body,
and they wrapped it in linen cloths with the fragrant/embalming spices,
just as the custom of the Judeans, it is, to prepare for burial.
(41) Now, there was at the place where he was crucified a garden,
and in the garden a new tomb,
in which no one yet was buried.
(42) Then, there, because of the day of preparation of the Judeans, because near, the tomb was, they buried Jesus.
[1]Keener: "This preference for the world's values rather than God characterizes Jesus' enemies, religiously committed though they may be (5:42; 12:25, 43; 15:19); even Jesus' disciples would be tested in the priorities of their love (21:15-17)" (1:572). [2]They assume the answer is "yes" here. [3]D.A. Carson says it's roughly 65, saying that the NIV did bad math (not 75). I have no idea who is right, and couldn't be bothered to check, but I'm following Carson. [4]Whitacre, R. A. (1999). John (Vol. 4, p. 470). Westmont, IL: IVP Academic. [5]Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of John (Vol. 2, p. 307). Louisville, KY: Edinburgh.
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