Besides, if he comes out of the closet about his relationship with Jesus, he’ll lose the chance to be a light in a dark place. At least that’s what he tells himself when the twin rats of shame and cowardice gnaw at the edges of his conscience. But he’s a good man, and he wants to do what’s right.
Nic struggles too, and he and Joe often talk about it. They compare notes in hushed conversations punctuated by long silences. There is much to think about. They know the prophecies. They’ve heard him preach. They’ve witnessed his miracles. It is undeniable, but they just can’t risk it. They’re too afraid.
But into every coward’s life there comes a time when fear goes toe to toe with faith.
Joseph thinks the time has come when the late-night council calls for a vote. He waits, heart pounding, as the moderator calls the role. Surprisingly, a few before him also voice quiet nays. Perhaps they, too, are secret disciples.
After the moderator calls his name, a string of angry yeses overshadow his soft dissent, and the murderous motion passes.
I tried, he thinks. What else can I do? Guilt and shame hangs heavy as he looks across the council room at Joe. The slump of his friend’s shoulders mirrors his own. Their eyes meet for a moment of shared misery, then drop again to their hands. No blood stains their fingers, but they take little comfort in that.
It is the way of quiet cowardice. Don’t take a stand unless you have no other option. Don’t make waves. Don’t take risks.
But something changes that day on Golgotha.
Maybe it’s the way the earth shakes and the sky darkens, visible manifestations of the battle that rages as the Creator breathes his last.
Maybe it’s the words he speaks, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Maybe it’s the gut-wrenching cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that echoes in their ears long after the wind carries away his words.
Somehow they know.
Long before he breathes his last. Long before the soldier jabs his sword into his side and blood and water burst forth. Long before the buzzards begin to circle.
They know they can’t let his body rot in the common criminals’ boneyard.
A hurried consult at the fringe of the crowd, then they part ways. One to gather the donkey and the spices, the other to beg Pilate for his body.
It’s a foolish attempt, really, to think that the same governor who sentenced Jesus to death might grant him a decent burial. But raising from where he has prostrated himself before him, Joe looks deep into Pilate’s soul.
In the instant between his stammered request and Pilate’s surprising consent, he knows what Pilate knows—that he has betrayed an innocent man and perverted the justice he was supposed to uphold. The least he can do is grant him a decent burial.
He meets Nic on the hill as the sun begins its descent into the valley. Hurriedly, for the day of Preparation is near, they wrap Jesus’ body in linen and tuck spices among the cloth. Only the occasional trickle of sweat from their faces testifies to the emotional and physical struggle raging in their hearts.
“Lift him gently,” he says as they prepare to move him into the tomb. I’m glad I bought the finest tomb on the hill. I never dreamed . . .”
Nic grunts under the weight of Jesus’ prone body and ducks into the yawning mouth of the cave. Taking a clean cloth from the bag at his waist, he hesitates. For the first time since they lifted his body from the cross, he looks into his Savior’s face.
Dried blood plasters his hair to his skull. One cheekbone is swollen, and the other is crushed. Dark bruises make his face almost unrecognizable. The lips that had taught, and laughed, and cried are silent.
“Forgive me,” he whispers, and places the cloth gently over his face. The words of a long ago conversation settle like snowflakes onto the frozen soil of his heart:
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. . . . He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed.”*
“I believe,” he whispers.
Ducking outside, he joins Joe in pushing the stone down the incline to seal the mouth of the tomb. A silent handshake, a hasty hug, and a mutual parting sends each man home a different way.
The guilt and shame that had lain like a thick blanket across their shoulders lifts, and a new thought lightens their footsteps.
Maybe God can even use cowards.
What about you? Are you a secret disciple? Do you struggle to take a stand and share your faith? What part of Joe and Nic’s stories resonates with you? Is there a lesson you can apply to your life?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or, if you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online, scroll down, and leave a comment.
* John 3:14, 15, 18
This narrative is based on John 19:38-42.