(Posted by David Hall)
Calvin had perceptive observations about Joseph and Nicodemus when he commented on their taking Jesus’ body for burial. As many know, Calvin admonished some who professed belief but sought to put their candle under a bushel. Some in Calvin’s day drew upon the final verses in John 19 to suggest that “Nicodemites” could get along very closely to the world.
Calvin noted, however, on John 19:39 that Joseph and Nicodemus were actually acting with “heroic magnanimity” such that when “affairs are at the lowest ebb, they fearlessly” took a public stand. Not only did they wish to avoid being in a “state of perpetual warfare with their own nation,” but it is also certain “that this was effected by a heavenly impulse, so that they who through fear did not render the nonor due to him while he was alive, no run to his dead body as if they have become new men.”
In this is “a striking proof that this death was more quickening than his life; and so great was the efficacy of that sweet savor whch the death of Christ conveyed to the minds of those two men, that it quickly extinguished all the passions belonging to the flesh. So long as ambition and the love of money reigned in them, the grace of Christ had no charms for them; but now they begin to disrelish the whole world.”
The example of these two shows how much we owe Christ, for these two “not only took down Christ from the cross with great hazard, but boldly carried him to the grave. Our slothfulness will be base and shameful if, now that he reigns in the heavenly glory, we withhold from him the confession of our faith. So much the less excusable is the wickedness of those who, though they now deny Christ by base hypocrisy, plead in his behalf the example of Nicodemus. In one thing, I admit, they resemble him, that they endeavor as far as lies in their power to bury Christ; but the time for burying is past, since he has ascended to the right hand of the Father, that he may reign gloriously over angels and men.”
Calvin summarizes: “When we perceive that the Evangelist bestows on Joseph the honorable designation of a disciple at a time when he was excessively timid and did not venture to profess his faith before the world, we learn from it how graciously God acts towards his people and with what fatherly kindness he forgives their offenses. And yet the false Nicodemites have no right to flatter themselves, who not only keep their faith concealed within their own breast, but by pretending to give their consent to wicked superstitions do all that is in their power to deny that they are disciples of Christ.”