Well, Easter is a powerful Sunday… a deep reminder of what the Christian faith is all about
And really, if you’re a Christian, this should be a very important Sunday in your life
Christians celebrate Easter because everything that we believe really hinges on what happened on this day 2,000+ years ago.
There are a lot of religions.
There are a lot of belief systems
Those religions and belief systems embrace a book.
They embrace a prophet.
They embrace a teacher.
They embrace teachings.
They embrace values.
They embrace all kinds of things.
But for Christianity, the whole thing really hinges not on a teacher, not on a philosophy, not on teachings.
The entire Christian faith hinges on one single event: the resurrection.
It’s not the Bible
It’s not even Jesus, just in terms of Jesus, the person Jesus.
It really is this event: the resurrection.
And because Jesus rose from the dead, it verified and validated everything that he said and everything he claimed to be.
And so that’s why Easter is such a big deal for Christians, because the whole thing hinges, not on a teaching, not on a philosophy, but on an actual event in history.
And because of that, this is a big Sunday for us.
Now, today’s message is called Nick and Joe Save Easter.
Nick and Joe Save Easter.
And I know it’s kind of funny, but I’m going to tell you the back-story to Easter.
You know what a back-story is?
A back-story is like a background narrative that supports the primary narrative.
Every story has a back-story, the background narrative that supports the primary narrative.
Now, the primary narrative of Easter, you know.
The primary narrative of Easter is that he sun came up on Sunday morning 2,000 years ago and some of Jesus followers showed up to mourn his death and to take care of his body.
And they showed up and the tomb was empty.
The stone had been rolled away
And later Jesus appeared to them and over 500 people.
Luke tells us in the book of Acts over 500 people saw a living, walking, talking, resurrected Jesus.
That’s the primary story.
But the back-story as it relates to Nick and Joe is very, very important, because thanks to Nick and Joe – generations and generations and generations of Christians have had confirmation, as you’ll see, that Jesus actually died, and that he actually rose from the dead.
Without Nick and Joe, here’s what would have happened.
You need to know this.
Without Nick and Joe, Jesus would have risen from the dead in a mass grave, in a garbage dump, in a valley outside of Jerusalem all by himself.
In fact, it’s called the Valley of Gehenna.
It’s also—that little word Gehenna is often translated in the New Testament as hell.
It’s where the whole idea of hell comes from.
That it was this awful place where garage is burning.
There were rats everywhere.
And what happened when a man was crucified, the Romans forbade any of their family members to take the body and give the body a proper burial.
And so when a person was crucified, he was left on the cross for days just to rot as a signal to all those that would go against Rome:
You don’t mess with Rome.
This is what would happen.
They would crucify a man.
He would die.
They would let his body rot on the cross for days
Eventually they would pry him off a cross,
Put him in a wagon with other dead bodies
Cart him down to the Valley of Gehenna
Dump him in a mass grave
And no one was allowed to mourn his death.
It was as if he never lived.
And that’s what would have happened to the body of Jesus if it hadn’t been for Nick and Joe.
But because of what they did—I’m going tell you the story in a minute—because of what they did
The first generation of Christians, especially the first generations of Christians, the Christians that were in Jerusalem that were around these events
They had the confirmation – absolute proof that they needed that Jesus actually died, and that he actually came back to life – bodily resurrected from the dead
But the other interesting thing about this story is that even though—as you’re going to see—though they’re kind of the heroes of the story, they weren’t the typical kind of hero.
They weren’t the heroes, who at the end, everybody praised them, because they didn’t really have very much faith in Jesus at all.
In fact, they didn’t have any more faith than anybody else did.
And again, you need to know this.
This is a big deal.
Nobody anticipated the resurrection. Nobody.
Nobody was standing outside the tomb on Sunday as the sun came up, going 10 -9 – 8 – 7 – 6 …
They weren’t doing that. In fact, all the heroes of the faith, the people we think are so great, Peter and Andrew and James and John, they all fled.
They thought it was over, Rover.
He’s dead, and we’re never going to see him again.
And even Nick and Joe, the heroes of our story—once Jesus was buried, thought that was the end.
Now, let me go back and tell you the story of Nick and Joe.
The story of Nick and Joe begins early in the ministry of Jesus.
There was a group of people you’ve heard of called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were the very, very good people in the first century.
They were the religious leaders; they were the best of the best.
Their full-time job was being good.
If you were to ask a Pharisee, “What do you do?”
He would say, “I’m just being good. That’s what I do.”
“I’m so good that if God ever decides to say anything I’m going to hear it, because I’m so close to God – because I’m good.”
They were the best of the best.
And these Pharisees just could not stand Jesus.
They didn’t like him.
They didn’t like him because of what he taught.
They didn’t like him because he wouldn’t keep their rules.
They didn’t like Jesus because the people loved Jesus
And the people were sick and tired of trying to live up to all the rules the Pharisees kept giving them to live up to.
But there was a tiny little breakaway group of Pharisees that thought maybe Jesus—maybe, maybe Jesus—was in fact, from God, and in fact, the Messiah.
And this little breakaway group of Pharisees would talk amongst themselves, hoping the rest of the Pharisees would never overhear their conversations.
And two of these Pharisees were a guy named Nicodemus and a guy named Joseph.
And there were others, but those were the only two names the New Testament tells us about.
And so this little subsection, subgroup, of Pharisees got together one afternoon and they had been watching Jesus and listening to Jesus teach.
And they’re just like we are – we don’t understand half of what he says – neither did they, but he does these miracles.
And we know he’s from God, but he’s not keeping our traditions.
And we don’t want to write him off, but we’re afraid to follow him.
And so they decided … we need to ask him some questions.
In fact, there’s one question we’ve got to ask him.
And so they got together.
We don’t know if they drew straws or somebody lost a bet or what.
We don’t know what happened.
But they decided that Nicodemus was going to be the one to represent them and to go to Jesus and to get their questions answered.
And, specifically, there was one question they wanted answered, because this was the question everybody wanted answered.
In fact, this is a question you’ve wanted answered at some point in your life.
And we’ll get to that in just a minute.
So they say, Nicodemus, you’re the guy.
You go track down Jesus.
Track him down privately.
Don’t let anybody else see you.
And, if you get caught, we never knew you.
But if you can get answers to some questions for us
Come back and report.
And that’s where our story begins—John, chapter 3.
I have put all the verses on a handout for you. You can read along. If you brought a Bible and want to follow along, you can as well.
Here’s what happened.
John 3:1 (TNIV)
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus [That’s Nick] who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.”
That means he was like a Senator. It was like everybody knew Nicodemus.
He had a lot of authority, a lot of influence in the community.
And the story continues: John 3:2 (TNIV)
He came to Jesus at night [Because probably he didn’t want anybody to know that he was going to see Jesus.] and said, “Rabbi, [And here’s our keyword] we . . .
In other words, “I’m not here as a ‘me.’ I’m here representing a ‘we.’”
There’s a group of us who’ve been watching you.
And there’s a group of us that have questions.
There’s a group of us that are starting to believe.
But we’ve got so many questions.
Now, we don’t know what your relationship to God is, but we’ve been watching you.
And here’s what we know: For no one, no one, could perform the signs or the miracles on their own.
John 3:2 (TNIV) “For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
So, this is sort of his preamble. He’s kind of getting Jesus set up for the question.
Okay, we have a good attitude.
We’re not like the rest of the Pharisees.
We’ve been watching.
We’ve been paying attention.
We know for sure you have to be from God, because nobody can do these things if he weren’t from God.
And we have some questions.
And then Nicodemus took a deep breath because he was about to ask the question they’ve all been wanting to ask Jesus.
And just as he’s about to ask the question, Jesus does that weird Jesus thing that Jesus did throughout the Gospels.
Jesus answered his question before he asked it.
And this was very irritating.
You should read the Gospels, because Jesus knew the hearts of men.
And people would come to Jesus, and they’d say, I have a question.
And Jesus would give them the answer before they asked the question.
Now, if somebody—it’s so fascinating—if somebody can answer your question before you ask it, you need to take his answer seriously, don’t you?
If somebody looks in your eyes, and already knows what you’re going to ask and he gives you an answer, that’s a little unsettling.
And I would imagine—I’m making this part up—I would imagine Nicodemus and his posse, they worked a long time phrasing this question just the way they wanted to ask it,
Because oftentimes when people would ask Jesus a straight up question he would tell them a silly story.
He would give them a parable.
And they would be like, You didn’t answer my question.
He did this on purpose.
He was a brilliant communicator.
And so just before Nicodemus could ask the question—this is so awesome—Jesus says:
John 3:3 (TNIV) “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”
How did he know?
That was my question.
Great, they told me this might happen.
I should have gotten it out quicker.
And he answers the question…
That the Pharisees want to know
That the Sadducees wanted to know
That the common man wants to know
That at some point you’re going to want to know
That many of us have asked because we wanted to know.
And essentially, the question is this:
How do I know I have a right standing with God?
How do I know that when I die there’s something good for me?
How do I know that God likes me?
Is it possible to know that God knows my name?
Is there any way in this life to have assurance about where I stand with God?
And Nicodemus’ way of asking that question was…
How can we know for sure?
How can we know for sure that we have entrance into the kingdom of God?
And Jesus says the only way to have assurance, the only way to go to bed at night and go, “Ahhh, things are right with me and God,” is to be born again.
And so Nicodemus, now he’s all flustered, and he asks the only thing he knows to ask.
And surely he had a smile on his face.
This wasn’t a serious question, but now he’s off his script, and Jesus is just messing with him.
And so Nicodemus says:
John 3:4 TNIV “How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely . . . [you know, smile on his face] . . . “Surely they cannot enter a second time to their mother’s womb to be born!”
Which he can’t even really think about that for very long.
That’s kind of gross.
But anyway, his whole point was, Okay, Jesus. Jesus, I have a very serious question, and I have to go back and report and answer to a group of people who are dying to know.
How is it that we can have assurance?
How do we know that we’re part of the kingdom of God?
How do we know that things are right between us and God, who created us?
And you’re answer is we have to be born again, like a second birth, and what!?
Jesus continues. He says this:
John 3:5 (TNIV) Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water [that’s the first birth] and the Spirit [second birth].”
Nicodemus is going, “Okay; explain, please.”
John 3:6 (TNIV) Flesh gives birth to flesh,
You know—dogs have dogs and cats have cats, people have people.
You know, flesh gives birth to flesh.
Nicodemus is going, “Okay, that’s the first thing you’ve said I understand. Ok, go slow with me. Go slow.”
John 3:6 (TNIV) Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit . . .
Because God is Spirit.
God is Spirit, and if there’s going to be a birth into the kingdom of God, the spirit of God has to be a part of that, and there has to be a new birth experience.
A—ready for this . . . a spiritual birth.
Now, this was so new to Nicodemus, because his whole view of God was that God is like Santa Claus.
God has a list.
You better not, you have to just be careful, because God’s going, You did that wrong. That was pretty good. No, mmm, not good enough. Oh, that was really good. Extra credit.
You know, it was like God was a school teacher.
God was a principal.
God was a coach.
And so their whole view of God was that God is looking at all the things we are doing.
God looks at all the ways we are behaving or misbehaving, and he’s determining whether or not we get to be a part of his kingdom based on our behaviour.
Even though you’re a good man, you got it wrong.
Just as you were physically born as a son of your physical parents, and nothing you can do will ever make you not be a son of your physical parents…
Did you know, Nicodemus, you can be born into the family of God?
Just as you were born to your parents, there is an internal spiritual birth that takes place that connects you to God.
There must be an internal—not external behaviour— an internal spiritual birth.
John 3:6-7 (TNIV) ‘Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised . . .”
And he says “you should not be surprised,” because he’s a leader. He’s supposed to understand this stuff.
John 3:7 (TNIV) “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
I love this next part. It’s so funny. Nicodemus says . . . this is great.
John 3:9 (TNIV) “How can this be?”
Because he’s thinking, Wait a minute, I’m like one of the smart guys.
In fact, I’m so smart they chose me to come ask you these questions.
How could I have missed this?
How could my whole life I have just tried to please God,
And I’ve tried to do everything right
And I’ve tried to be perfect
And I’ve tried to be obedient
And you’re telling me that there’s something beyond that?
And in fact, you’re kind of telling me it’s not that complicated, that just as I was born to my parents, I can have a birth experience into the family of God?
The conversation continues, and then Jesus says this:
John 3:13 (TNIV) “No one has ever gone into heaven . . .”
To which Nicodemus is thinking,
That’s the problem, right there.
Because we’re trying to figure out how to get to heaven, and nobody’s ever gone to heaven and then come back and said okay, here’s what you’ve got to do.
So we’re guessing all the time.
We never have assurance.
We feel close to God, then we feel far from God.
We feel forgiven by God, then we feel condemned by God.
We’re back and forth and back and forth.
And if somebody could just come from heaven and explain this to us.
And we were hoping you might be that person.
Jesus smiles and says:
John 3:13 (TNIV) “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.”
And now Nicodemus is a bit uncomfortable, because Jesus has begun to claim something about himself that borders on blasphemy.
Now Jesus is bordering on claiming something for himself that puts him a very unique category because Nicodemus has said,
“We know you’re from God. We know you’re a good teacher. We know you’re a miracle worker. But with this statement, you’ve just claimed to have some sort of exclusive— from God—connected to God in a relationship. And that’s a little spooky.”
But before he can say very much more, Jesus continues his teaching, and he says this, and Nicodemus totally got this next part. He said:
John 3:14 (TNIV) “Just as Moses . . .”
Now, Nicodemus knew who Moses was.
Most of you have seen at least a movie.
You know who Moses was.
But Nicodemus knew the whole story of Moses.
He was a good Jewish boy.
He was a good Jewish leader.
If you say Moses, he can tell you the story.
John 3:14 (TNIV) “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness…”
Now, when you hear that, many things come to mind, but let me tell you what came to Nicodemus’s mind when Jesus said, “Just as”
Because ‘just as’ means, I’m trying to explain something to you.
I’m trying to create a parallel that will help you understand.
John 3:14 (TNIV) “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness…”
And this is a flash back for Nicodemus, because hundreds and hundreds of years before Jesus, the nation of Israel had left Egypt, and they were going to the Promised Land.
And one night they stopped to camp out.
You know, there are hundreds of thousands of these people.
They camp out in an area infested by snakes.
Apparently, these snakes only came out at night.
So they got their tents out, and their sleeping bags out, and their campfires.
And they’ve got their guitars out, and they’re all just kind of having a big giant camp out, you know.
And they go to bed that night, and the snakes come out.
And they are in the clothes, they’re in the food, they’re in the tents.
Snakes are everywhere, and they’re venomous.
And they’re biting babies and children, men and women.
And people began to get very, very sick.
And somebody wakes Moses up and says,
“There are snakes everywhere!”
Moses wakes up and goes out.
And these snakes have come out of the ground in this area of the desert.
And Moses says, “God what do we do? We can’t just immediately pack up and get out of here to save people from the snakes.”
And God asks Moses to do a really odd thing.
He says, “I want you to erect a giant pole, and I want you to make a bronze snake. And I want you to put the snake on the top of the pole. And anyone who looks at the snake will be healed.”
Numbers 21:8 “The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
But you know what?
When you don’t have many options you’re willing to do some odd things, aren’t you?
It’s like, “Hey, what do we have to lose?”
People are dying.
So they erect this snake on a pole, and people looked at the serpent.
And the Bible says, the Old Testament says, that they were healed, and they escaped this plague.
Well, Nicodemus knows this story. And so Jesus says,
John 3:14 (TNIV) “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man…
Now, he’s talking about himself.
John 3:14 (TNIV) “…so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
And then here’s the kicker.
John 3:15 (TNIV”) …that everyone who believes may have . . .”
Nicodemus, what you’re asking for.
You came asking, “How do I get eternal life?”
How do I get entrance into the kingdom of heaven?
How do I know that I’m for sure connected to the kingdom of God?
And Jesus says, Now I’m going to answer your question.
John 3:15 (TNIV) That everyone who believes . . .
And Nicodemus is saying, Don’t you mean behaves?
And Jesus says, No, everyone who believes.
And Nicodemus is thinking, This is so hard.
I was taught we behaved our way into the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus says, No, it’s an internal thing.
It’s a spiritual birth.
And so you believe your way into the kingdom of heaven.
John 3:15 (TNIV) “…everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
The conversation ends.
Nicodemus says, I don’t know how I’m going to explain all this.
So he goes back to his posse, and he gathers them around.
And they ask him, “Okay, okay, how do we know for sure that we can have entrance into the kingdom of heaven?”
How do we know if we have eternal life?
Nicodemus is like, Okay, sit down. This is going to take a while.
And to the best of his ability, he explains to them what Jesus explained.
But there are still so many questions.
So they continue to watch.
And they continue to listen.
And they continue to follow Jesus.
And they continue, we find out later, to pretend like they’re not that interested.
And they go to the Pharisees meetings and go, Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But secretly they’re going, No, no, no.
And they’re afraid to publicly identify with Jesus for what other people might think.
Well, time goes on and Jesus gets more and more and more popular.
Thousands and thousands of people are showing up everywhere he goes.
And the Pharisees and the religious leaders, they are so jealous.
And they’re so worried about what’s going to happen to their authority and their position and their influence with the people.
And finally they have a meeting, and they decide,
You know what? This is enough. We need to arrest him, bring him here, question him, trick him, you know, keep him under lock and key, and get rid of him.
And so they say to the temple guard—now, they had a little tiny itty, bitty army called the temple guard.
The Romans allowed the Jewish leaders to have a little tiny army, little bitty, little bitty army.
They weren’t like a big army.
They were the temple guards, but they had weapons and stuff.
So they say to the temple guard,
“Look, go arrest Jesus. Bring him here for questioning.”
So they send them out before lunch.
Go arrest him.
Go find him.
He’s easy to find. Just follow the crowd
You’ll find Jesus in the middle.
So they send the temple guard out to arrest Jesus.
And they sit down.
They’re waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting.
And, “Hey, you all want some lunch?”
They order lunch.
They’re waiting, waiting, waiting.
Play a few hands of cards.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
And finally, they hear some noise outside, and they look out, and here come the temple guards, but they don’t have Jesus.
And the temple guards come in and John tells us this is what happened.
John 7:45 (TNIV) “Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priest and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” Where have…?
We’ve had lunch.
We’ve played cards.
We took a nap.
We gave you all day.
Why didn’t you simply arrest him and bring him in?
To which they said:
John 7:46 (TNIV) “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
Wait, whoa, whoa, whoa . . . You sat through his sermon?
Well, you know, there’s like a big crowd.
We didn’t want to interrupt.
So we, you know, we sat down on the columns back there and we’re thinking..
What He says makes a lot a sense.
And so the Pharisees are like, “Good grief.”
And then here’s what they said. They said,
John 7:47 (TNIV) “You mean he has deceived you also?”
In other words, we can’t even trust the temple guards.
And then they ask a question that makes Nicodemus really uncomfortable, because Nicodemus and Joseph, they’re in this meeting.
Here’s what the Pharisees say.
John 7:48 (TNIV) “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?”
Now, they’re really talking in a very condescending way to the temple guards.
Look, we’re the smart guys.
We know everything.
We’re the law keepers.
We’re the good team.
We’re on the right side of this.
Do you know anybody that’s part of the Pharisees that believes anything this guy has to say?
And so why would you, you bunch of knuckleheads, you know, temple guards, you morons, why would you believe something the mob, the ignorant, the people believe, when you know those of us who know everything there is to know have decided this guy can’t possibly be from God?
How could you fall for this?
This is what they said.
John 7:49 (TNIV) “No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
It’s like they’ve been deceived.
They’re just willing to follow anybody.
They’re following Jesus, but those of us who are smart; we are in the know.
We know this man can’t possibly be from God.
At this point in the meeting, Nicodemus looks over at Joseph, and Joseph looks over over at one of the other guys in their little party, and is thinking,
Should we say something—because maybe this is the time to say something.
And they’re all looking at each other not wanting to be the first Pharisee to say, “Well, I too listen to Him”.
And the Pharisees are going,
Nobody would believe . . . There’s no way . . .
And they all look at Nicodemus.
And Nicodemus is going, “Yeah I know. You want me to say something.”
So, it’s so cool.
John, who recorded this story, says that Nicodemus says—he raises his hand—Nicodemus asks,
“Does our—I’m not saying I like him, Okay—I’m just asking a question. Okay. I’m not siding with the ignorant mob. I’m just asking,
John 7:51 (TNIV) “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
I’m just saying.
Before we decided to write this guy off, shouldn’t we at least ask him some questions instead of just all out arresting him?
And this drives the rest of the Pharisees crazy.
John 7:52 (TNIV) They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too [which is just so condescending]? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
See this is the thing that drove them crazy.
They knew that the Messiah would be from the city of David, the town of Bethlehem.
We all know the Christmas story, right? He was born in Bethlehem … but the Pharisees didn’t know that
You see, Jesus grew up in Galilee.
He was considered a Galilean.
He was raised a Galilean.
And they are going, “Look, this false teacher, Jesus, he’s from Galilee. We know that the Messiah is not coming from Galilee. You are so ignorant.”
He was actually born in Bethlehem, but he was from Galilee. And so he’s a Galilean.
There’s no way he could be the Messiah.
Well, obviously, they hadn’t done their homework.
Then this is my favourite part of this part of the story.
So they have this big meeting.
They’re mad as they can be at Nicodemus.
It looked like Nicodemus is a traitor.
Then they all went home.
They’re just frustrated.
Well, this is where the story really begins to pick up momentum, because after this, Nicodemus—he’s sort of gone public just a little bit.
He kind of spoke up just a little bit.
I’m not a follower of Jesus,
I’m just asking a question.
And now the Pharisees are following Jesus … trying to trap Him.
Soon after this, they’re following Jesus, and a woman is caught publicly in an adulterous relationship and they’re going to stone her.
And they watch Jesus walk over to her and say to her, “I don’t condemn you. Now leave your life of sin. You’re a sinner. You’ve sinned, but I don’t condemn you. Quit sinning. You’re hurting yourself.”
That was like, Wow, its, it’s like he thinks he has the power to forgive sin.
And then he healed a man who had been blind from birth.
And the man who was blind from birth totally humiliated the Pharisees and Sadducees.
It’s an amazing story in John, chapter 11.
And they watch that.
And then, I mean the tipping point in the whole story was they hear that one of Jesus’ best friends had died.
His name was Lazarus and he was very sick
And they heard that they had called for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus.
Jesus had healed many strangers, and Jesus had been called upon to heal Lazarus.
And Jesus doesn’t come.
And Nicodemus and Joseph—and you know, his friends where Lazarus is from—they show up, and Jesus hasn’t shown up and there’s all this drama.
I thought you were a friend of Jesus.
I thought that you and Jesus hung out.
And you’re sick.
And then Lazarus dies.
You know the story.
And two or three days after Lazarus has been dead and buried, Jesus finally shows up and there’s all this drama.
I thought you were his friend – you were not here for us!
And Nicodemus and Joseph and the other Pharisees stood in the back of the crowd as Jesus went and stood in front of the tomb where Lazarus had been buried for four days.
And he prayed a very short prayer.
It’s the shortest verse in the whole Bible, where he just weeps.
And then he says the unthinkable.
He says, I’d like for you to remove the stone blocking the tomb.
And it’s so funny. In the King James version of the Bible
They say, “But Jesus, it stinketh. By now it stinketh. He’s been in there four days.
If you have something to say to Lazarus, I suggest you just say it through the stone. Okay?
We do not want to open a tomb for a man who has been dead for four days.
And Jesus says, “Remove the stone.”
And they pull the stone back and Jesus calls a man who’s been dead back to life, and people just go crazy.
And some fall on their knees and worship him and proclaim him as Messiah.
But the Pharisees gather together after this event.
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are in the group with their little subgroup that’s wondering what is happening and what’s about to take place.
And the religious leaders say:
“That is it. It ends now. If we continue… —in fact, this is what it says. They say, If this continues, Rome is going to see this as a rebellion against the authority of Rome. They’re going to send their army in there. They’re going to squash this rebellion, and they’re going to squash us too, because they’re going to think we’re part of it. We have got to get rid of this guy quickly.”
And Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and their friends watch as the Pharisees go into full motion—full court press to get rid of Jesus.
They hire people to tell lies about him.
They put together the temple guards one more time.
And they say, “Look, you bunch of morons, you get one more chance. We’re going to send you to a garden. Do you think you can handle this? It’s at night. It’s going to be Jesus and eleven of his followers. One of his followers has betrayed him; he’s going to lead you to Jesus. He is going to kiss him on the cheek. Are you paying attention? We want you to arrest the guy that he kisses on the cheek and bring him here.”
And Nicodemus and Joseph knew all about this plot, and they didn’t do anything.
And they didn’t speak up, because we find out later, they were so afraid of what people might think of them.
And they were there the night that the temple guard dragged Jesus illegally from the garden to the house of the high priest, Caiaphas.
And he was tried and convicted at night in an impromptu court trial that was completely illegal, with paid off witnesses.
And then they were there as they took him to Pilate.
And they wouldn’t even go in Pilate’s house.
They were so self-righteous.
We can’t go in Pilate’s house. We’ll become ceremonially unclean—even though they’re about to murder a man.
And Pilate comes out, and he brings Jesus in and he asks him questions, and he comes out and he says,
“I’ve questioned this guy. He hasn’t done anything deserving death.
And they go, “No, he must be crucified.”
And there’s this argument.
And Pilate, because he’s afraid of the Jews, decides…
“I know what I’ll do: I will beat this guy within an inch of his life and when I bring him out and he’s been beaten within an inch of his life, they’re finally going to go, Okay, he’s been punished enough. Let him go.”
And so Pilate has Jesus beaten to the point where many men die.
People don’t even recover from being scourged and being flogged.
And many of us have seen what that looks like, thanks to Mel Gibson.
And he brings Jesus out before the crowd
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and their little group of people who are so torn, thinking
Maybe we should have said something.
Maybe we should have done something.
Maybe we should have spoken up.
They watch as Jesus staggers to the edge of those steps, and Pilate says,
“Is this not enough? Has he not been punished enough? There’s no reason to put this man to death. He has been thoroughly punished.”
And someone in the crowd yells, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
And suddenly the chant’s picked up by the crowd, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
And Pilate says,
“Do you want me to crucify your king?”
And Nicodemus and Joseph and their group and Mary and Martha and the friends of Jesus are there saying to each other…
“This can’t be happening. How can they be on the verge of crucifying, not just putting to death, crucifying a man who’s so obviously, so apparently, sent from God?”
And someone in the crowd shouts out:
John 19:15 (TNIV) “We have no king but Caesar,”
And that was a blasphemous thing for a Jewish man to say.
But suddenly the chant is picked up again.
John 19:15 (TNIV) “We have no king but Caesar,”
And now Pilate is stuck, because now they’ve pitched Jesus as an enemy of Caesar.
And what is he to do with an enemy of Caesar?
He has no choice. And he says,
You take him and crucify him.
So, he says, “Take him, I wash my hand of this man’s blood.”
And Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, on the edge of that crowd, watch Jesus take a portion of his cross and drag it to Golgotha.
And they’re in the back of the crowd, looking over the heads of people as they hear the nails being pounded and piercing flesh and bone and the cries of agony of the people around Jesus who were being crucified on his left and his right.
Can you imagine the confusion?
Because Jesus, we know you’re a man who is sent from God
Because no one else could do the things that you do.
And now you’re being put to death in the most horrible way imaginable.
And imagine as they stood in the back of that crowd, looking over the heads of the people in front of them.
Can you imagine this?
Peter has run away.
The disciples are hiding.
Most of them have given up hope and abandoned Jesus.
And there stands Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and a few Pharisees who had hoped—they had hoped he was for real.
And as they look over the heads of that crowd, slowly they see the head of Jesus being raised up to be placed on that vertical stake in the ground.
And they see his head.
And they see his neck.
And then they see his arms.
And that’s when it dawns on Nicodemus.
“Oh, this is what he meant when He spoke of Moses and the snake.
This is what he predicted.
This is what he expected.
This is what he knew all along.
This is part of God’s plan”
John 3: 14-15 (TNIV) “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone [that everyone—not who behaves, not who gets it right every time, not who’s perfect, but everyone] who believes may have eternal life [And how?] in him.
And suddenly it clicked for them.
Now, these were educated Jewish men.
And one of the passages they had memorized (that all Jewish boys and girls memorized, especially the boys and the men) when they were children, were the prophesies of Isaiah.
Because Isaiah prophesied that one day there would be a Messiah that would come and deliver Israel.
But part of the difficulty of Isaiah was that Isaiah said that this Messiah would suffer and be beaten, that this Messiah would suffer at the hands of men.
And the Jewish people couldn’t understand, how could someone sent from God ever suffer?
This makes no sense.
And they stood there watching Jesus being hoisted on the cross.
And no doubt, the prophesy of Isaiah came back to their minds.
Listen to this within that context.
Isaiah 53:5 “But he was pierced for our transgressions…”
Ah, now we get it.
Isaiah 53:5 “…he was crushed for our iniquities; [our sins]”
Look at this:
Isaiah 53:5-6 “…the punishment [he’s being punished] that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, [we all, we all] like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;”
Can you relate to that?
Isaiah 53:6 “…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity [or the sin or the rebellion] of us all.”
And while the rest of Jesus’ followers fled,
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and just a handful of other Pharisees who knew the law and knew the Old Testament prophesy so well
They must have stood in awe as they saw before their very eyes the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy.
And they realized…
That Jesus was, in fact, the Son of Man
That Jesus was, in fact, sent from God,
That he was sent from God to take upon himself the sins of the world.
That you entered the kingdom of God not through good behaviour but through faith in this one that God had sent on behalf of all humankind.
And that’s when Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea decided that we can’t hide any longer.
We can no longer be secret followers of Jesus.
And they did the unthinkable.
After they watched Jesus bleed to death and die on that cross—proven by the fact that a Roman solider pierced his side with a spear
They did the unthinkable and they went to Pilate themselves.
And they went to Pilate and they asked for the body of Jesus.
Here’s how John records it.
John 19:38 (TNIV) “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.”
Now, this was not unprecedented.
If you had enough money you could bribe your way into getting the body of a crucified loved one, but you had to pay a lot.
Generally, you went to a Roman officer.
Generally, you went to the person who was taking that wagon down to Gehenna to dump those bodies and say
Hey, could you stop the wagon?
Hey, for a few denarii, could I take that body?
And he would look left, and you would go right.
And you could get a body if you needed to, but it was unthinkable to go to the very person who had someone crucified
To come out openly and say, “I’m so committed to and I care so much for that one criminal I would like for you, Pilate, to give me permission, the authority, to take his body.”
Now, listen to what John says about Joseph of Arimathea.
John 19:38 (TNIV) “Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly [Why?] because he feared the Jewish leaders.
Mark tells us this:
Mark 15:44 (TNIV) “Pilate was surprised to hear that he [Jesus] was already dead.
Generally, people hung on a cross for days, but remember, Jesus had been beaten.
He had been flogged.
He had almost bled to death by the time he got to the cross.
Pilate was shocked that he was already dead.
Mark 15:44-45 (TNIV) “Summoning the centurion he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.”
And here’s what John tells us. No surprise here.
John 19:39 (TNIV) “He [Joseph of Arimathea] was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.”
Now they’re out in the open.
Now they’ve gone public.
They’ve decided from this point on
“We don’t care what people think about us. We just saw the Son of Man, the Son of God, give his life in a way that all of us missed right up until the last moment.”
Listen to what it says:
John 19:39 (TNIV) “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.”
This is how the buried people in the first century.
John 19:40 (TNIV) “Taking Jesus’ body the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.”
This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
What they would do is they would wash the body and then they would wrap it with all these spices so that as it decayed there wouldn’t be the immediate stench of death.
They wrapped it with all these spices.
They covered the head.
By the time they finished embalming the body in this way it was over one hundred pounds of additional weight on the body.
And if someone wasn’t dead before, he would be dead after this process, because the entire face and head and body was wrapped in all of this liquid weighing it down; again, over one hundred pounds.
The story continues:
John 19:41 (TNIV) “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.”
And Matthew tells us this was actually the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
He had a tomb that he had created for his family, for himself and for family members.
And they took the body of Jesus—trying to do this quickly before Passover—and they put the body in the tomb.
And it says they removed the wedge that held the stone.
Matthew and Mark tell us they rolled the stone into place and they sealed the tomb.
And then they left, assuming with all of their questions and all of their unanswered questions one thing was for certain:
Jesus, who came from God, was crucified, and he was dead, and there was no hope of ever seeing him alive or seeing him in this life again.
But you see, it was their faith, it was their courage, it was their concern for the body of Jesus that paved the way for first century Christians and generations of Christians afterwards to believe that Jesus actually died and rose again.
You see, if they had not taken care of the body, if three days later Jesus walks in from the Valley of Gehenna—you know with garbage all over him and rat bites and he stinks and he looks like . . . He walks into town announcing, “Hey, I’m back.”
That would have been remarkable, but that would have been explainable.
Well, obviously he never died in the first place.
But their care for the body proved beyond a shadow of a doubt for first century Christians, people who lived in the vicinity, that in fact, he really was dead, because these men would have looked for signs of life.
Not only was he dead
He was buried, and no one stood outside that tomb – not even his mother – expecting a resurrection.
And on Sunday morning, as the sun rose and Passover ended, Mary, Martha, and a group of women, they came to the tomb.
And the Gospel writers tell us this: This is kind of funny, and I know I’m reading between the lines, and ladies, you’ll get this immediately.
The Gospel writers tell us that the women also brought the things they would need to embalm and prepare the body for burial.
And women, why do you think the women brought what they thought they needed to prepare the body properly for burial?
Because a couple of men had done it, and they just assumed they probably didn’t do it right.
And let’s give them a little credit.
They were in a hurry.
They were trying to get this done before Passover.
And they show up.
They show up, and the stone has been rolled away.
And they walk in, and there’s no body.
It’s so cool.
The writers of the Gospels tell us . . . they didn’t say, Oh, he’s risen. He’s risen. They said,
“Where’s the body? Where’s the body?”
Mary says, “Who has taken the body of my Lord? Someone took the body.”
They did not expect resurrection.
Peter and John come to the tomb and they look inside, and the Bible says they were confused.
Nobody immediately assumed a resurrection because nobody expected it.
And then Jesus appeared.
And he said to them,
“Don’t you remember? I told you this is what to expect.”
And that’s how Nick and Joe saved Easter.
And isn’t it interesting, isn’t it interesting that the man to whom Jesus said,
“You must be born again” is the very man who paved the way for generations of believers to know with certainty that he died and rose again.
And that’s how they saved Easter.
But more importantly, that’s how they played a part in the story of your salvation and mine, as well.
Because for generations after that, including that first generation, suddenly, there burst on the scene this new idea that Jesus brought into the world—
That you enter the kingdom of God, you enter a relationship with God, one day you’ll enter heaven
Not through your behaviour but through belief in what Jesus did on your behalf.
The way that I look at it is just this—that at some point in all of our lives we have to transfer our trust or transfer our weight away from what we’re trusting in to get us to heaven into what Jesus did on our behalf.
That it is no longer about what I do.
It’s about what he has done.
And then we celebrate Sunday after Sunday and weekend after weekend, and for our whole lives …
We celebrate what he’s done for us.
Because of what he’s done for us there is an internal, a born again desire to want to follow the Saviour who gave his life for us.
And if while I’ve been speaking, there is something that has risen up on the inside of you that says
“I get it. I see it. I think I believe that”
That’s not good preaching.
That is the Holy Spirit of God drawing you toward the Saviour, who loves you.
If you’ve been coming for a while and it’s dawned on you
If you’ve been coming for weeks and it’s finally come to the place where you’re ready to make that decision for the first time
If you are a believer – born again and in love with Jesus … BUT, your relationship with Him is not as it once was… you have drifted
I want to lead you in a prayer.
This prayer doesn’t make you a Christian.
These words won’t make you a Christian.
These words will not reverse your drift away from Jesus…
The prayer is simply your expression of what Jesus spoke about to Nicodemus and accomplished on the cross…
I believe that you are my Saviour. I accept you as my Saviour, and I, by faith, believe you are receiving me into the family and the kingdom of God. I’m asking to be born again / I am asking you to come in a new and fresh way into my life … working in me, from the inside in a way that will eventually make its way into my behaviour on the outside as I renew my commitment to You / become a permanent part of your family.
If you’ve never done that, or you’re not sure you’ve done that, or you’d like to just mark this Easter day by doing that, I would love for you to pray with me.
You can change the words.
You can pray it in your heart.
You can pray it out loud
But this might be the day you look back on for the rest of your life to say, That was the day I transferred my trust from my good behaviour to what Jesus did on my behalf.
Would you bow your heads with me and close your eyes?
And you just pray this if you want to. Just say,
Heavenly Father, I believe you are my Father. I believe Jesus was your Son, whom you sent into this world to die for my sins. And right now I place all of my trust in what he did on my behalf. I’m not trusting my behaviour, I’m not trusting my promises, I’m not trusting my good intentions, I’m not trusting my church attendance, I’m not even trusting my prayers. I’m placing all of my faith and trust in what Jesus did when he died on the cross for my sin. Receive me into your family. Receive me into your kingdom. I believe in Jesus’ name.
Heavenly Father, I believe you are my Father. I believe Jesus was your Son, whom you sent into this world to die for my sins. And right now I admit that my relationship with you is not what it could be, is not what it should be, is not what it once was. Today, this Easter Sunday, I, once again, place all of my trust in what Jesus did on my behalf. I’m not trusting my behaviour, I’m not trusting my promises, I’m not trusting my good intentions, I’m not trusting my church attendance, I’m not even trusting my prayers. I’m placing all of my faith and trust in what Jesus did when he died on the cross for my sin. Renew my faith, draw me closer to You, to Your heart that I may follow You. That I will love you, once again, with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Help me to no longer be lukewarm – but to be passionate and on fire for You and You alone. Thank You for another chance. Thank You for your love and your grace. In Jesus Name.