This week’s #FridayFive prompt from my friend, Kelly at Mrs. Disciple is Easter. It was challenging for me, as it typically is, to reign in the ideas of what to write about. My heart and my brain go into overdrive and I usually end up writing close to three posts before I get a handle on which direction to go in. This one was no different.
I decided to look deeper into the first story of Easter. As I read the accounts in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), the names of a few people who we don’t hear or talk about much kept jumping off the page. We hear much about Herod, Pilate, the angry crowd, the sorrowful crowd, Mary Magdalene, Barabbas and even the criminals who hung on their crosses beside Jesus. But the five characters I’m writing about today are unlikely stars of the Easter story. While Simon, Nicodemus, Joseph, John and Joanna may not be center stage, the first Easter story would most definitely not be the same without them.
Let’s get to know these five uncelebrated people of the first Easter. I think you’ll see why they are worthy of their day in the spotlight.
Simon of Cyrene
Simon walked behind Jesus and carried His cross.
“And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.” Luke 23:26
I don’t know the ins and outs of this man’s full story. There is too much speculation about him. What I do know, however, is that he walked behind Jesus and carried His cross. A burden or an honor? Based on his origin, Cyrene, we can assume it would have been both. An honor to be of service to Jesus but a burden to have to assist in any way, a stagehand if you will, in the crucifixion.
Do you remember being in school and sensing that the teacher will soon be calling on someone to answer a question? You think that if you don’t make eye contact they won’t call on you, right? What strikes me about Simon is that he was likely paying attention. They called on him. He was making eye contact with the Savior. He was chosen without a choice, as the scriptures say, but he was willing and able. He did it. It was hard but it was right. Simon of Cyrene, the uncelebrated cross-carrier who walked behind our Savior.
John 3 starts out by telling us that Nicodemus was a high profile Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night (for safety I presume) and questioned His teachings of salvation in terms of physical birth and spiritual rebirth. It was Nicodemus who first heard the ever famous John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Nicodemus’ story doesn’t resolve in John 3. Nicodemus would one day see John 3:16 come to fruition right before his eyes.
He joined Joseph of Arimethea in caring for Jesus’ body. His provision of spices, 75-100 pounds of myrrh and aloes, to prepare Jesus’ body was of great monetary value. Equal to that of what would be provided for a King. Some research shows that today, this amount of spices would cost around $200,000. In John 3, Nicodemus questioned Jesus the Messiah and came to Him at night in secret. In John 19, he believed and came out of hiding. He risked his position, he risked everything, to care for Jesus’ body.
He (Joseph of Arimethea) was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. John 19:39-40
Joseph of Arimethea
Joseph provided Jesus with a tomb. Joseph was wealthy. He was a behind the scenes follower of Christ until he watched Jesus die and could not follow silently any longer. It’s entirely possible that His faith needed to be kept secret for such a time as this. Had he not been a secret follower, Pilate may never have granted him Jesus’ body. He risked his safety and his life by asking Pilate for Jesus’ body. He provided a clean tomb for our Savior born of a virgin, who had no ancestral burial place. The tomb was in, what some believe to be, Joseph’s garden. A garden tomb would be where royalty or those who are wealthy would be buried. A tomb with honor, fit for a king. There is so much sybolism in all of this. Joseph, the uncelebrated provider of a resting place for the body of the Messiah.
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. Luke 23: 50-53
“…but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” John 19:25-27
John was right there with Jesus. The “disciple whom he loved”. He “stood nearby” at the foot of the cross. He wept at the foot of the cross. He watched His friend, his brother, his master, his Savior, die. He stayed with Him to end. Then John took Jesus’ mom home with him to care for her. She was his mom now. I love how Jesus cared so much for His mom right up until the very end of His life and then He provided for her beyond His death. She would not be left to grieve alone. She would be provided for. As she was losing one son, Jesus provided another for her. Jesus knew that she would need John and John would need her. Jesus trusted John to care for her well. For John to care for His mom was His dying request.“Behold, your son!” “Behold, your mother!” John… the uncelebrated disciple who gave Jesus’ mom a son and a home.
I sent a text to my husband when I began working on this and said, “who in the world is Joanna in the Easter story?” He didn’t know either. I have to admit that I had never heard, or maybe never paid attention to is more like it, this scripture before:
“Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles…” Luke 8:10
I’ve been in church all of my life and heard the Easter story preached and taught and discussed and “Joanna” just looks like a misprint to me. But it’s not. She’s right there and she was part of the first Easter, she was a part of Jesus’ ministry.
Joanna was the wife of Chuza (another random character in the story I’d never heard) who worked for Herod. Joanna was healed by Jesus from sickness and evil spirits (Luke 8:1-3). She used her own monetary resources and risked her position, and that of her husband, to provide for Jesus and the Disciples. Joanna was among the last to shed tears at the cross, she saw his body in the tomb and she was among the first to announce that the tomb was empty. Joanna, the uncelebrated devotee who used her influence and resources to minister to Jesus in His life and His death.
I’m not a center stage kind of girl. I like being behind the scenes. I like my support roles very much. These five characters in the first Easter story inspire me.
~I may not be able to carry Jesus’ cross like Simon did, but I can carry mine.
~I may not have prepared Jesus’ body for death like Nicodemus, but I can prepare the way for His return.
~I may not have a tomb to share like Joseph, but I can share my heart.
~I may not be able to care for Jesus’ mom like John, but I can care for Jesus’ people.
~I may not have resources or influence of one in the King’s court like Joanna, but I can give what I have and I have a voice in my home and neighborhood.
Are you a star player or are you a backstage supporter? Either way, the story is definitely better with you in it. What part will you be playing this Easter? Every role plays an important part of the story. Play your part.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27
This @FridayFive is brought to you by Mrs. Disciple’s Friday Five Link Up over at Mrs. Disciple and Easter. Go check out Kelly’s motivational post, 5 Ways to Prepare Your Heart for Easter, and visit a few others who have linked up. Be sure to leave some comments. Bloggers love feedback! Share with us your thoughts about Easter. One of them or 5 of them.