All during Jesus’ Ministry I followed Him—that is I followed what was happening BUT I never was his Follower as Peter or John; I watched from the shadows. The Shadows are from where cowardly souls watch lest they step into the light of Recognition and Ridicule. Even Nicodemus had to visit Jesus by night to avoid the crowds around Jesus and the critics nearby Jesus. We both serve on the Council and identifying with the Galilean could earn us the same critical disfavor they heaped on Jesus.
At first our fellow Pharisees and Council members viewed Jesus with jealous annoyance. They were hoping He would fade as a passing public figure or charlatan; this was not happening, in fact his fame and authority skyrocketed. There was no denying that the miracles he did could only be from God—until our Council decided to say they actually came from Beelzebub. I watched with growing admiration and conviction that indeed He was the Messiah. At that same time, my colleagues were certain that he must be stopped! I guarded my admiration and my conversations with Nicodemus.
Caiaphas spoke in frustration at one of our Council meetings that Jesus must die for the sake of the nation. What Caiaphas really meant was that Jesus must die so he and the rest can keep their privileged position with our Occupiers: the Romans. Their own self-interest and self-seeking ways were constantly being challenged and exposed by this One who only spoke the True Words of God.
One night we were called to an emergency meeting. I was stunned to see Jesus there in chains. I was much lest surprised to see Judas lurking nearby. Imagine selling out your own Master for the price of the slave! But then again, how could I cast a stone who could not find his voice to denounce this injustice? They tried to find an accusation to stick but kept coming up empty. The tension in the room escalated. “Fools!” I wanted to cry; “you cannot convict an innocent man because He IS innocent!” My silence convicted me as guilty. Finally Caiaphas asked Him if indeed He was the Messiah. Ask Jesus the very question about which He cannot and will not lie. Did their unbelief make it then a lie? Is one guilty of blasphemy if he speaks the Truth?
The vote was called. Nicodemus and I abstained. I should have yelled “NO” but the most I could do was refuse to vote. Even with that, Nicodemus and I earned accusatory stares of the most ugly kind.
They beat Him. They blindfolded Him. They mocked Him. I died of shame. He took it in dignified silence; I withered in guilty silence.
They took Him to Pilate to get the verdict they wanted but only a Roman governor could legally give- the Death Penalty. I could not stop anything now. My feeble protest would have been drowned out by the cries, “Crucify him. His blood be on us and on our children!” My silence added my name to list of those who were now bearing the guilt of his death. Why had I not said something when it might have made a difference; when cooler heads might have stopped for a moment?? Too late. I watched Pilate go through the sham of washing his hands and looked down at my own with a shudder.
I couldn’t stop myself—I watched him die. They never stopped the continual tirade of ridicule and abuse. The soldiers joined in, the criminals joined in, the whole world despised and rejected Him. Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.
Noticeably absent were His disciples—His Followers. Guess following him to the Cross somehow had not made the itinerary! At least He had known they were His Followers!! He would never even know I had thought about following Him. I caught sight of John and Mary, Jesus’ Mother. Poor woman: the whole world hated her Firstborn. I admired her love and courage to show up here to witness the shame and grief as her son died. I saw her collapse sobbing into the arms of John and then it was over! “IT IS FINISHED!” – and it was. Jesus was dead.
Who’s going to bury this One? His mother was collapsed into the help of John; she had no grave anyway. None of his other Followers were there to claim their Master’s remains. The soldiers usually just threw these bodies into a common grave. The shame of their death continued into the after-death of an unmarked grave. The whole world was better off not remembering these kinds!
“Give me Jesus; I will bury Him.”
I finally found my voice! I was not going to let Him be thrown away as if nobody cared. I could not claim you in Life, Jesus, but I now claim you in Death! I am your Follower though your days of leading are over! I give you my personal Tomb though I wish I had given you my allegiance when you could have known it.
Joseph of Arimathea’s Tomb became famous not because of its Occupant but because of its Emptiness! Tradition tells us he was thrown off the council along with Nicodemus and lost all his family wealth due to persecution. BUT Jesus did know He was a Follower!
STEP OUT of the Shadows and claim your Master!! Stop hiding in your Silence.
Jesus was never known to be extravagant. We often slept in the open fields or were cramped into small groups throughout the home of Peter or one of the other local guys. When Jesus told the crowd that He had nowhere to lay His head- that was not just “poetry”. Since He had nowhere to lay His head then neither did we. We were so poor that one day Jesus had Peter pay His temple tax with a coin taken from the mouth of a fish Peter had caught; and, by the way, there was no change left over.
Over the last number of weeks Jesus had told us over and over that He was going to die. This made NO sense! He was Jesus. Demons feared Him. Storms obeyed Him. Food multiplied in His hands. He even called Lazarus out of the Tomb! We most often just tried to change the subject, but He found some way of bringing it up again and again.
A few days ago we stopped in the home of Simon the leper. He is still called that because that is what he was before he met Jesus! We were all having a fine meal when this lady barges in and makes a direct line for the Master. We expected to hear some kind of plea for Jesus to leave for another sick or dying child; we had gotten used to this over and over. But she was not here looking to get anything from Jesus. Instead she pulled a perfume flask from the folds of her dress and broke it open. Instantly the room was filled with the strong scent of the pure nard! She poured the entire contents over Jesus’ head. It ran in little rivulets down His hair, down His beard, and then droplets fell down onto His clothes and feet. She began to weep. Her tears mixed with the perfume and fell on His feet. She looked at a loss but could not contain the tears and had nothing with which to dry the “mess” they were making. So she used her own hair!
This was wrong on so many levels: what a waste; that vial was worth a whole years’ wages. This woman was known in town and was not of the right kind- if you get my drift. The Poor would have benefitted from the sale and donation of the proceeds of that jar … and Jesus would have benefitted more by not being cried over by a woman like this – especially in the home of a Pharisee!!
We waited for Jesus to command her to stop; to push her away. Instead He added to the whole confusion by saying the most unexpected thing: “Leave her alone; she is anointing me for my Burial.” Then it struck me where I had most often smelled this particular scent- it was at funerals. The mixture would vary a little here and there but there was no mistaking the strong incense that was used to cover the smell of Death.
This woman had braved the stares of our dinner party, the insults of our “wise stewardship”, and the sarcastic remarks about her character because she knew something we did not grasp: Jesus was dying—soon! Simon may have been cleansed from his leprosy but this woman knew a cleansing from Jesus none of us could ever have appreciated.
When Jesus died most of us were not even there. Only John; and he was busy with Mary and his aunt who were weeping uncontrollably. It fell to Nicodemus and Joseph to do what rightfully we should have done: bury our Master. They had little time and only the burial spices that they had on hand. But Jesus had been properly anointed with burial spices, with tears, and with gratefulness by a woman who is famous even though we are never told her name.
Pastor Stephen Willoughby
Pastor Steve grew up in Columbia,South America, where his parents served as missionaries for 25 years. After graduating from Capital Bible Seminary, he was invited to serve as Assistant Pastor at FBCP. He has served in that capacity for twenty years before taking on the position of Senior Pastor.