What Nicodemus saw
By John Fischer of the Purpose Driven Life
(Part II of a three-part series of historical fiction around the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.)
Better late than never, Nicodemus thought as he waited for Joseph of Arimathea to return from his meeting with Pilate. The sky was black with night, and the torches around the crosses cast long flickering shadows over the hillside. Only the shadows danced. The bodies were still, none stiller than the one in the middle. They had found each other, Joseph and Nicodemus: two wealthy Jews. Too well-connected to risk following Jesus in life, they had finally risen to the occasion now in his death and were prepared to ensure proper care and burial for the body.
Nicodemus had watched the crucifixion the way he followed Jesus for the last three years – from a distance. Now in the darkness, he ventured closer. Suddenly, a tear-stained face filled his vision as if out of nowhere.
“Aren’t you … ?”
“Nicodemus.” He finished it for the man. “I have followed from afar. I wanted to come closer, but I’ve been foolish and afraid. Now I am too late.”
“No, you aren’t. You are here,” said John, newly named son of Mary. “Come.”
John gently took Nicodemus’ arm and guided him closer to the women who were still huddled near the cross. They were in shock, out of touch with everything, even grief. Nicodemus had first resisted John, but once he was in the light and the company of the others, he broke into a thousand pieces inside and started to cry uncontrollably. Suddenly he was touched and held and surrounded by people he did not even know, and they all seemed thankful for a fresh supply of tears.
Nicodemus looked into the faces of people he would have judged hours earlier and wondered at what he saw in their eyes. These were unlearned peasants, but they seemed so much wiser than he. Then he looked at the body of Jesus, and in the lifeless form on the cross he saw himself – a tired old self-righteous man, weary of justifications and the foolish arrogance that kept him from people. He saw the ugliness of his pride and the lies by which he tried to maintain his superiority. He saw it all and hated himself in that moment, and he wept bitterly, alternately abhorring and longing for the touch he was receiving from those around him.
“He spoke of you often,” said John with his arm on Nicodemus’ shoulder. “He said you were one of the few in your position who could see.”
“He did?” Nicodemus raised his wet eyes and wiped them with the sleeve of his robe. “I didn’t know myself ... until just now.”
Up until now, Nicodemus had been dealing with Jesus and the prophets and the nation of Israel and the Gentiles in his mind – each part fitting like clues to a mystery that drew him closer and closer to the cross as if he were following a long shadow toward its source. But now that he was there, right to it, standing right in front of God’s intervention in human history, with all his knowledge and the new revelations he had gained, all he could see was Nicodemus and the sin of Nicodemus. And all he could do was weep, but not the bitter tears of self-pity and remorse he was used to. This was a longed-for release – strangely sweet, cleansing tears, the first blush of forgiveness, in the process of being won by the man on the cross.
Today is the comemmoration of Jesus' death on the cross. Father, let me pause today to remember what that means to me as your child who was purchased at this great price.