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. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:38-40, NASB)
Some may think it odd that Nicodemus has had such an impact on me. Most would judge him a minor New Testament man. But after all, he has quite a role in the Easter narrative. We just don’t know much about him.
When I discovered Nicodemus is a major character in The List, Buck Storm’s new historical Christian novel, I could hardly wait to begin reading. Back to this later.
Faith in Christ?
My friendship with Nicodemus began almost forty years ago. As I was studying the Easter story in the Gospel of John, I was drawn to Nicodemus, who merited only three short references in the entire Bible. No, he didn’t get much press, but you’ll probably remember the incidents.
First, John 3:1 identifies him as a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the elite Jewish leadership. Then John tells us that Nicodemus sought out Jesus one night to ask Him about the miracles He was doing. Jesus tells him about being born again, but that concept leaves Nicodemus still in the dark, so to speak.
You know why he came to Jesus at night, right? As a Jewish leader, he would almost certainly have risked his position if he openly showed respect for Jesus in any way.
Second, Nicodemus appears in John 7:50-51 while his peers are scheming to seize Jesus and arrest Him with no valid cause. Nicodemus reminds them that their law did not allow judging a man without giving him a chance to defend himself.
Third, after the crucifixion of Jesus, Nicodemus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea, another Sanhedrin member, to ask Pilate’s permission to take the body of Jesus away for burial (John 19:38-40). Verse 38 tells us explicitly that Joseph was a secret follower of Jesus. But there’s no statement about Nicodemus and his relationship to the crucified Christ.
Footnotes in Christian history
Now as I followed this scant trail of Nicodemus through the Scripture, my eyes were drawn back to verse 39, which tells us Nicodemus was with Joseph, to help bury Jesus. Then I found a footnote to verse 39 in the fine print at the bottom of the page.
The footnote said: “Nicodemus apparently became a secret follower of Christ.”
Apparently? Wham! It hit me. Hard. Conviction. I began reviewing my own life, wondering how well my deeds and my words demonstrated that I follow Jesus. Did the people I worked with, the people who served me at the restaurant or the grocery store have any idea that I was a Jesus follower?
I began to imagine the distant future. Will the history of the Christian faith in my generation have only a few scattered references to Randall Murphree? Will it mention me only in occasional activities around Christ and His church?
Will my place in Christian history end with a footnote that reads, “Randall Murphree apparently became a secret follower of Christ.” That’s not what I want!
Through the decades since that encounter with Nicodemus, I am often reminded and challenged anew to consider my witness for Christ.
Fiction affirms biblical truths
I’m grateful for The List, the story that brought me to a fresh reminder of that age-old principle: We are – I am – commanded to carry the gospel to the world. For most of us most of the time, I suspect opportunities to do so will likely be one-on-one, person-to-person.
I don’t hesitate to commend this novel, a captivating story that entertains, yet points to the gospel, the greatest story ever told. It doesn’t hurt that Buck Storm is an extraordinary storyteller whose gifts with the language always shine through – creative dialogue, artful description, and compelling narrative.
In The List, he and co-author Bill Perkins craft an absorbing story. They give Joseph and Nicodemus wives, friends, enemies, adventures, fears, integrity, perseverance, and passion – with nothing I can discern that detracts from Scripture. In fact, the human qualities they integrate into their novel enhanced my grasp on what these brave early believers must have endured.
And they remind me again not to run the risk of being footnoted as an apparent secret follower.