Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body down. When Pilate gave him permission, he came and took the body away. Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night, also came, bringing about seventy-five pounds of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes. — John 19:38-39

It’s amazing how different people will react to the same situation in totally different ways.

For instance, put two people in prison for the same crime. One is deeply remorseful and serves his sentence as a model prisoner and, after his release, lives an exemplary life. The other man becomes hardened, embittered, spends his time in jail perfecting his criminal skills and, when released, embarks on even more vicious criminal acts.

As soon as it became clear that their leader was being crucified, Peter and other high-profile disciples of Jesus went into hiding. Fear and despair gripped them; self-preservation and survival dominated their thinking. They had publicly associated with Jesus for over three years, but now out of fear they disowned Him.

Meanwhile, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee moved in the opposite direction. Previously in hiding as far as their commitment to Jesus was concerned, they came forward at last after Jesus was so egregiously mistreated.

Nicodemus is carefully identified as “the man who had come to Jesus at night” (John 19:39). When he went to Jesus (John 3), he had apparently been intrigued by Jesus and desirous of knowing more. But he had difficulty understanding or accepting what Jesus told him—namely, that “unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God” (3:3).

We don’t know if Nicodemus gave a definite response to Jesus’ message at that time, but we do know that he subsequently took a bold stand in challenging the attempts to arrest Jesus being carried out by the ruling council, of which Nicodemus was a member (7:50). We have every reason to believe that, by the time Jesus was put to death, Nicodemus was one of His disciples.

Joseph of Arimathea, also a member of the ruling council, had been “waiting for the Kingdom of God to come” (Luke 23:51). In fact, he “had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders)” (John 19:38). Yet by the time of Jesus’ death, he too was willing to take a stand; he refused to go along with “the decisions and actions of the other religious leaders” (Luke 23:51).

We know that the ruling council’s hostility against Jesus was fierce and unrelenting and that their power was far-reaching. Anyone who publicly identified with Jesus was in danger of being excommunicated from the synagogue and thus from Jewish social life—a punishment that few people were prepared to face. Councilmen Nicodemus and Joseph had even more to lose by an open stand for Jesus, not to mention the possibility of being put to death along with Jesus! This accounts for Joseph being a “secret disciple.”

At what point these two men of conviction and character came to the point of commitment to Jesus we are not told. It is quite possible that Nicodemus and Joseph had discussed Jesus’ startling teaching about the necessity of the new birth as the only entrance to the Kingdom. There is evidence that Nicodemus and Joseph gradually came to recognize that their covert belief needed to be expressed in overt action. The dreadful events of Jesus’ execution gave them that chance. They took it!

There comes a time when fear must be vanquished by love and trepidation overcome by conviction. Nicodemus and Joseph showed how, while sadly Peter and his friends failed to show up.

For further study: John 19:28-42

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.