38.Joseph of Arimathea besought Pilate. John now relates by whom, and in what place, and with what magnificence, Christ was buried. He mentions two persons who buried Christ; namely, Joseph and Nicodemus, the former of whom requested Pilate to give him the dead body, which otherwise would have been exposed to the lawless violence of the soldiers. Matthew (Mat_27:57) says, that he was a rich man, and Luke (Luk_23:50) says, that he was a counsellor; that is, he held the rank of a senator. As to Nicodemus, we have seen, in the Third Chapter of this Gospel, that he held an honorable rank among his own countrymen; and that he was also rich, may be easily inferred from the great expense which he laid out in procuring this mixture.
Till now, therefore, riches had prevented them from professing to be the disciples of Christ, and might afterwards have no less influence in keeping them from making a profession so much hated and abhorred. The Evangelist expressly says, that Joseph has formerly been kept back by this fear from venturing to declare openly that he was a disciple of Christ; and as to Nicodemus, he repeats what we have already seen, that he came to Jesus secretly, and by night, (Joh_3:2 and Joh_7:50.) Whence, therefore, do they derive such heroic magnanimity that, when affairs are at the lowest ebb, they fearlessly come forth to public view? I say nothing of the great and evident danger which they must have incurred; but the most important point is, that they did not scruple to place themselves in a state of perpetual warfare with their own nation. It is therefore certain that this was effected by a heavenly impulse, so that they who, through, fear, did not render the honor due to him while he was alive, now run to his dead body, as if they had become new men.
They bring their spices to embalm the body of Christ; but they would never have done so, if they had been perfumed with the sweet sayour of his death. This shows the truth of what Christ had said,
Unless a grain of corn die, it remaineth alone;
but when it is dead, it bringeth forth much fruit,
For here we have a striking proof that his death was more quickening than his life; and so great was the efficacy of that sweet sayour which the death of Christ conveyed to the minds of those two men, that it quickly extinguished all the passions belonging to the flesh. So long as ambition and the love of money reigned in thenb the grace of Christ had no charms for them; but now they begin to disrelish the whole world.
Besides, let us learn that their example points out to us what we owe to Christ. Those two men, as a testimony of their faith, not only took down Christ from the cross with great hazard, but boldly carried him to the grave. Our slothfulness will be base and shameful if, now that he reigns in the heavenly glory, we withhold from him the confession of our faith. So much the less excusable is the wickedness of those who, though they now deny Christ by base hypocrisy, plead in his behalf the example of Nicodemus. In one thing, I admit, they resemble him, that they endeavor, as far as lies in their power, to bury Christ; but the time for burying is past, since he hath ascended to the right hand of the Father, that he may reign gloriously over angels and men, and that every tongue may proclaim his dominion, (Phi_2:9.)
Secretly, through fear of the Jews. As this fear is contrasted with the holy boldness which the Spirit of the Lord wrought in the heart of Joseph, there is reason to believe that it was not free from blame. Not that all fear, by which believers guard against tyrants and enemies of the Church, is faulty, but because the weakness of faith is manifested, whenever the confession of faith is withheld through fear. We ought always to consider what the Lord commands, and how far he bids us advance. He who stops in the middle of the course shows that he does not trust in God, and he who sets a higher value on his own life than on the command of God is without excuse.
Who was a disciple of Jesus. When we perceive that the Evangelist bestows on Joseph the honorable designation of a disciple, at a time when he was excessively timid, and did not venture to profess his faith before the world, we learn from it how graciously God acts towards his people, and with what fatherly kindness he forgives their offenses. And yet the false Nicodemites have no right to flatter themselves, who not only keep their faith concealed within their own breast, but, by pretending to give their consent to wicked superstitions, do all that is in their power to deny that they are disciples of Christ.