Joe & Nick’s Excellent Adventure
The movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is a 1989 American science fiction comedy film starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter and George Carlin. It follows slacker friends Bill and Ted, who travel through time to assemble historical figures for their high school history presentation. Bill and Ted, are seemingly nondescript, unpopular, dim-witted high school students at San Demas High School. They have their own band called the Wyld Stallyns and even though they are not very good at playing, they dream one day of being a successful band. But they have a problem in that if they fail their history class project, Ted's father plans to ship Ted to a military academy in Alaska, which for all intents and purposes, would end their dream of being a band.
Unbeknownst to them, their success or failure in passing this history project has far-reaching consequences for the future. In the year 2688, humanity exists as a peaceful, utopian society due to the inspiration of the music and philosophy of Bill and Ted, seen and heard in their music performed as the band “Wyld Stallyns.” So, with a little help from Rufus from the future they are able to use a time traveling phone booth to accumulate historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Genghis Khan, Billy the Kid, Socrates and Napoleon, bringing them into the future, and passing their history project.
Doesn’t that plot remind you of the stories we find in the Bible. For instance, God’s people, the Israelites, are being held captive as slaves in Egypt for over hundreds of years. God uses Pharoah’s daughter to save a baby from the Nile River, uses her to raise and educate him in Pharoah’s household, so he can grow up and be the one to confront Pharoah as an adult to let God’s people go. Along the way, he murders an Egyptian, has to flee to the desert, where he meets God in a burning bush. He then spends years tending sheep before he returns to lead God’s people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. As they leave Egypt, God through the Ten Plagues, causes Pharaoh and the Egyptians, to not only beg them to leave, but to gift them all the gold and silver they can carry as they are leaving. It says “they plundered the Egyptians.”
We see God’s providence and sovereignty all through the Bible. We see time and time again how God can and has used anyone and everyone, from Pharoah, to Nebuchadnezzar, to Judas, to David, to Peter (and the list goes on), to fulfill his purposes. He can use those who believe in him and he can use those who don’t. He also can and will use us and probably already has. The first question for you this morning is not if God has used you but when in your life has he used you to fulfill his purposes. He may not have called you to start a band that will usher in world peace and a utopia, but I can bet he has called you and used you to fulfill his purposes somewhere along the way. Maybe he is using you right now to fulfill his purposes. Adults, it could be raising your kids or it might be in the job he has you in right now. Students, it might be with your classmates in school. I know God is using Christian students right now in our schools to spread hope and the gospel to those who don’t have it during this pandemic. Or maybe he is using you to reach out to your family and friends or maybe he is using you right now at Idaville Church to fulfill his purposes. The second question is have you noticed it? If so, what did you do? Did you ignore it or did you go all in? I believe it is important that we notice when God is using us and then follow him completely as he leads us in accomplishing his purposes for his kingdom.
In our scripture this morning we are going to see two people who also have an excellent adventure. For now, I will call them, Joe and Nick. They are seemingly insignificant, nondescript and unpopular among their peers. Joe is only mentioned in the Gospels and only in connection with one event. Nick is only mentioned in the Gospel of John and only on three separate occasions. They are wealthy men and part of an important and prominent group of Jews but they are also followers of Jesus. In fact we will learn that they are secret followers of Jesus while he is alive, but after Jesus’ death, God uses them to not only fulfill his purposes, but uses them to fulfill the scripture, as well.
That brings us to our big idea that John wants us to understand this morning which is God can and will accomplish his purposes through anyone and everyone. He can use those who don’t believe in him, such as Pharoah and Pilate. He can use those who know the scriptures but don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah, such as Judas and Caiaphas. He can even use those who are secret disciples. He can and will accomplish his purposes through anyone and everyone and that includes you and me.
Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, I ask for the Holy Spirit to descend upon us this morning. I pray that we would have open hearts and minds to your Word and that it would seep deep down inside us. Use your Word to guide us, protect us, and correct us. And give us opportunities this week to share it with others who desperately need to hear it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I want to start by giving some background information on the two main characters in our adventure. I will start with Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph is found in all four Gospels but only in connection with this one event we will see this morning. Each of the Gospel writers gives us bits and pieces of the whole of what we know about Joseph. Matthew 27:57 says, “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus.” Verse 60 says, “and laid it (Jesus’ body) in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock.” From these verses we learn that Joseph was a rich man, he had become a disciple of Jesus and that the tomb Jesus’ body was laid in was new and was Joseph’s own tomb.
Mark 15:43, says, “Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God.” The council spoken of here is the Sanhedrin, which was a kind of Supreme Court of the Jewish people. Caiaphas, who sent Jesus to Pilate to have him arrested, was the leader of the Sanhedrin at this time. We also learn that Joseph had been waiting for the Kingdom of God.
Luke 23:50-51, says, “And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God;” In addition to what we already know we see that Joseph was a “good and righteous man.” We also learn that he had not consented to the Sanhedrin’s plan and action of having Jesus arrested and crucified.
Finally, one last piece of the Joseph puzzle is found in our scripture this morning in John 19:38, which says, “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews.” He was a disciple of Jesus, but he was a secret disciple because he was probably afraid of losing his position, his prestige and his wealth.
That is all we know of Joseph of Arimethea from the Biblical text. The other main character in this adventure is probably more well known to us but we still have very little to go on. He is Nicodemus. We only find Nicodemus in the Book of John. He is not mentioned in the other Gospels as Joseph’s helper or even at all. John 3:1-2 says, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night.” From this we learn that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a group of Jews who were considered to know the Jewish law the best and who legalistically kept every letter of it. They often opposed Jesus throughout His ministry and Jesus often strongly denounced them for their legalism. It is probable that both Joseph and Nicodemus were part of the Sanhedrin. We also learn that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. In all probability, Nicodemus came at night so none of his fellow Pharisees would find out.
We also find Nicodemus in John 7:50-52, “Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them, meaning a Pharisee) said to them, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” They answered him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you?” Here we see the end of an incident where the chief priests and the Pharisees had sent officers to arrest Jesus and had come back empty handed. Nicodemus seems to stand up for Jesus or at least stand up for due process of the law. He says they should hear Jesus out first before they arrest him. You can see from their reaction to Nicodemus that his words were not taken seriously. To “be from Galilee” meant you were insignificant, you were nothing.
That is all we know about these two men so far: they were part of the group that condemned Jesus to die and were secret disciples. But God was able to use them to fulfill scripture and to accomplish his purposes. Maybe, this morning, you are a follower of Jesus but realize that you are following him in secret like Joseph and Nicodemus. Maybe you are afraid of what your friends, family, fellow students or co-workers will say. Maybe you are afraid you will lose friends if you profess to be a Christian. In fact, if your friends, family, fellow students or co-workers don’t know you are a Christian, that’s a problem. If you are living as a Christ follower, they should not be surprised to find out you are a Christian. That brings us to our first next step this morning which is to stop living my life as a secret follower of Jesus and start living as a bold disciple of Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s turn to our scripture this morning, which we find in John 19:38-42. This is what God’s Word says, 38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. 39 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Like Matthew, John tells us that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but he goes on to say that he was a secret disciple because he was afraid of the Jews. We can assume that he was afraid of his position in the Sanhedrin, his possessions in that he was wealthy, and probably his prestige in being part of the ruling class of the Jews. But something happens between Jesus’ life and his death on the cross. Mark 15:43 tells us he boldly went before Pilate asking for Jesus’ body. Joseph finds a boldness that he didn’t have before. John makes it a point to tell us he was a secret disciple but he also presents him in a positive light in that he had the courage to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body when all the other disciples were hiding in the Upper Room. Now it is not written why Joseph asked for Jesus’ body but it could only have been for the purpose of burying it.
There are a number of important things we can learn from this. One, it was against Roman law to bury a crucified criminal. They would let them hang on the cross for the vultures, etc. to do their worst. It would have been a warning to others that this is what happens when you defy the Roman authority. Two, Joseph, by asking for Jesus’ body, could have easily been arrested for being a follower of a traitor to the Romans.
Three, we see the sovereignty of God in that Pilate granted Joseph’s request. This may have reflected his conviction that Jesus was innocent or he felt he was getting back at the Jewish leaders by allowing Jesus to be buried. No matter what he was thinking, God was in control, and Pilate granted Joseph’s request and Joseph goes to the cross and takes Jesus’ body.
In verse 39 we are introduced to the other character who joins Joseph in this adventure. That is Nicodemus. He is identified as the man who had earlier visited Jesus at night. He is also identified as Joseph’s helper in burying Jesus’ body. It says he brought about a hundred pounds of a mixture of myrrh and aloes, which they used to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. By today’s measurement the spices Nicodemus brought was more like sixty-five or seventy-five pounds but it was still a lot of spices. It seems like an extravagant amount to bury one body. In fact, that amount was normally only ever used to anoint the body of a king or a wealthy, prominent person for burial. This extravagance is reminiscent of the excessive wine leftover at the marriage feast in Cana. We also saw the same type of extravagance when Mary anointed Jesus feet with a pound of pure nard which was really expensive. These sixty-five to seventy-five pounds of spices might seem extravagant to us but John is making the kingship of Jesus clear. Jesus is not only the King of the Jews but the King of kings. He deserves this honor that is being shown to him.
The spices that Nicodemus supplied would have been used to bury Jesus’ body in the Jewish custom. The Jews didn’t embalm bodies like the Egyptians. They would wrap the body tightly with linen cloths adding the spices in and around the cloths as they wrapped it. They would then put more spices around and under the body after it was laid in the tomb. They used myrrh which was a fragrant, gummy resin which in powdered form was usually mixed with aloes, which was an aromatic powder made from sandalwood. The spices were to help with the smell as the body decayed.
From verse 41 we learn that in the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden. John is the only Gospel writer to tell us that. We also learn that in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been buried. We learned in Matthew 27:60 that this was Joseph’s tomb and that he was a wealthy person. This would have been a family tomb cut out from rock. It would have had shelves cut out inside to place multiple bodies of his family members. It would have also had a big stone that would have been rolled over the mouth to close the tomb. This is where Jesus’s body was being laid. Why would it have been important that Jesus’ tomb belonged to a wealthy person? The reason was because it fulfilled prophecy. Isaiah 53:9 says this, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” Seven hundred years before Jesus death, Isaiah wrote this about the Messiah being put to death with wicked men but being buried with the rich. Jesus was crucified between two thieves and as such should have been buried in a gravesite outside the city of Jerusalem with other criminals. Jesus’ family or disciples weren’t rich and could not have afforded a tomb like the one Joseph owned. Only by the providence and sovereignty of God was Isaiah’s words fulfilled.
Why would it have been important for Jesus to be buried in a new tomb where no one had ever been laid? The Jews would have felt that to bury a criminal in a family tomb would desecrate the other bodies in the tomb, but that is probably not why John wants us to notice the new tomb. Carson says, “More likely his purpose is to prepare for chapter 20: if on the third day the tomb is empty, only one body had disappeared, and only one person could have been resurrected.” God is sovereign and in control and he had it all worked out.
Again in verse 42 we see the providence and the sovereignty of God in that the tomb was close by where the crucifixion took place. The reason this was important was because it was the Jewish Day of preparation and the Sabbath, when all work had to cease, was due to start at sundown. Commentators believe that Jesus died around 3 PM and the Sabbath would start at 6 PM, which the Jews considered the end of the day and the start of the new one. There would have been 3 hours for Joseph to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body, to take his body down off the cross, for him and Nicodemus to prepare his body and then lay him in the tomb. We know from Mark’s Gospel, that when Joseph asked for Jesus’ body, Pilate had to make sure he was dead before allowing him to take it. Mark 15:44-45, says, “44 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.” We don’t know how long that took, but I imagine it took some time to verify. The fact that the tomb was close by would have definitely helped as sundown was fast approaching.
But there was another reason why he needed to be buried before sundown on Friday. It was so Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:40 would be fulfilled, which says, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The Jews counted any part of a day as being a full day, so for Jesus to be considered in the ground for three days he needed to be laid to rest on Friday. In his burial as well as his death, Jesus orchestrated all the details to accomplish God’s already revealed purpose. Just think about how completely God looked after every detail of his plan.
It is fascinating to see the providence and the sovereignty of God at work. He is always working out his purposes in your life and in my life. When I think about his providence and sovereignty in my life I just stand in awe of who God is. The lesson we can learn from Pharoah, Caiaphas, Judas, Joseph and Nicodemus, is that God’s can and will accomplish his purposes through those who are opposed to Jesus or through those who are followers of Jesus. (Big Idea). It is important to have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing in our lives and then get behind whatever he is looking to accomplish. That brings us to our second next step which is to be open to God’s purposes in my life and ask him to fulfill his purposes through me. As we know, God doesn’t need our permission in order to accomplish his purposes through us but imagine how much sweeter it would be if we were surrendered to his will.
Burge in his commentary talks about the contemporary significance of Jesus the King, the tomb and the cross and Joseph and Nicodemus in the Gospel of John. I want to conclude with this. We see that Jesus is a king that deserves a king’s burial. Herod the Great, who was despised by the people at the end of his reign, had an elaborate and expensive burial. The funeral bier was gold and embroidered with precious stones, his body covered with purple linens, a gold crown on his head and gold scepter in his hand. The procession was 1500 meters long and 500 slaves carried aromatic oils and spices.
We can compare this to Jesus: his was not a pauper’s grave, the wealthy man’s tomb was among other wealthy people’s tombs, and a religious leader brought a tremendous amount of burial spices to Jesus’ grave. Jesus was buried in a king’s hoard of spices. Jesus was buried in a “garden” which is the same setting for Israel’s kings such as David. Remember Jerusalem had their own burial places for criminals and according to Acts 1 that was where Judas finally found his grave. But Jesus is buried in splendor, in beauty, in an unused tomb, as if it had been carved for him alone. To be buried in a new tomb would have been a special honor reserved for kings. John wants us to understand that Jesus is the King of kings.
When it comes to the tomb, John does not seem to employ it in the same way the Synoptic Gospels do. They seem to employ the tomb as a prelude from which we await the resurrection. The tomb is shut, a guard posted and we await the angels to arrive and an earthquake to break open the grave that cannot contain its occupant. The tomb is linked to Easter Sunday. But in John there are no guards or heavy stone rolled in front. The tomb is the resting place for the great King, the culmination of his work on the cross. For John, the tomb and the resurrection is another step along the way as Jesus moves from earth to heaven. The tomb is not a place of depressing defeat. It too like the cross, is a place of glory and victory. Just as the trial and the cross shows us the victorious King of kings so does the tomb.
Finally, what can we make of Joseph and Nicodemus? In John 12:32 Jesus predicted that when he was lifted up he would draw all men to himself and now that he has been lifted up Joseph and Nicodemus have been drawn. They step out from their ambivalent positions at tremendous risk and publicly acknowledge Jesus’ honor. They risked their personal honor by protecting Jesus’ honor. To bury him like they did was a statement noted undoubtedly by their peers throughout Jerusalem.
When we look at Jesus’ disciples such as Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael, we see the importance for the public visibility of faith among true disciples. As professionals with considerable social prestige, Joseph and Nicodemus were stepping into the circle of true discipleship, joining the community of the faithful. This is worthy of notice especially for those whom public visibility comes at some risk. John is setting before us a sterling example of two men who used their considerable resources to glorify Jesus and in doing so become genuine followers of Christ. I pray that you and I would be as bold in our Christian walk as we allow God to accomplish his purposes in our lives for his praise and his honor and his glory.
As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in our final hymn, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Word. We thank you for its wisdom and its truth. Let us use your Word to show others of your love, your justice and your truth as we pursue, grow and multiply disciples. Now, as we leave this place of worship, we pray for protection from the evil one, for unity among our body, for your complete joy to be in us and for a desire for holiness as we live our lives for you. Help us to be bold disciples of Jesus Christ, in his name we pray, Amen