Summary: It took the crisis of the cross to change his cowardice into courage. Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring out a man's true faith.
A fireman who was half dead from exhaustion and smoke
inhalation, with face dirty and uniform covered with grime, staggers
past the crowd and is almost deafened by their shouts and cheers for
him. He has just come from a burning building where, at the risk of
his life, he climbed to the third story and rescued a trapped child.
The crowd watched breathlessly as he walked along the ledge of the
building with his precious burden, and finally managed to get back to
the ladder and down to safety. The crowd cheered this man more
now than they ever thought of doing on the day of the firemen's
parade. He marched by then in his freshly cleaned uniform with all
the buttons shined. It is obvious why. Even though he was more
presentable marching in a parade, that was only a superficial duty of
a fireman, but now they had just witnessed his sacrificial duty. He
had risked his life, and the awful appearance which he now exhibited
was the result of his willingness to perform the hardest, highest, and
most sacrificial duty of a fireman. This called for cheers and praise.
We would think people mad if they thought more of him all spic
and span marching in the parade than they thought of him now. Yet,
it is just this very thing that happened in the last week of the life of
Christ. On Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the crowds
cheered him and honored Him like a king. A few days later when He
hung on the cross they mocked Him. This was as foolish as mocking
the fireman for saving the child. Couldn't they see that the triumphal
entry was only the parade, but the cross was the real victory? Here
was the king on His throne doing the real and sacrificial duty He
came into the world to do. It was on the cross that He was at His
best. He came to give His life a ransom for many, and now as he
fulfills this greatest and most sacrificial duty of all time, the cheering
crowds have become the cruel crowds. They were blind, and they
missed the meaning of it all.
What was obvious in the case of the fireman is just the opposite
here, but we want to consider the happy fact that not everyone missed
it. The Bible tells us of several who were deeply moved by the death
of Christ. We have the Roman Centurion, Joseph of Arimathea, and
Nicodemus. We want to focus on Joseph, for he was the first
Christian man we know of who was so moved by the cross that he
made an all out commitment of his life. We want to consider his
experience in two stages.
I. HIS COWARDICE BEFORE THE CROSS. v. 43
Simon of Cyrene, the penitent thief, and the Roman Centurion, all
found Christ at the cross, and they could sing as a trio, "At the cross,
at the cross, where I first saw the light." This was not the case with
Joseph of Arimathea. Matthew and John both tell us that he was
already a disciple of Christ, but John adds, "But secretly for fear of
the Jews." It was not at the cross where Joseph first saw the light,
but it was there that the light penetrated deep into his heart, and
compelled him to come out into the light of open commitment.
Where was Joseph before the cross? Why don't we hear of him
until now? It was because Joseph was one of those men who wanted
to eat his cake and have it too. He and Nicodemus were both
members of the Sanhedrin, the highest ruling body among the Jews.
Most of the followers of Jesus were from the common people. His
chosen disciples were mostly uneducated fishermen. You certainly
would not expect a man of his standing to come out in an open
declaration of his belief in Christ. Just about everyone in his circle of
high society was opposed to this Galilean upstart who taught with
more authority than they did.
It was too risky to operate in the open, and so Joseph decided he
would be a secret disciple. He, no doubt, had all kinds of good
reasons why this would be best, such as, I'll be more influence in this
position of power; I'll be able to be a silent witness among the elite,
the up and outers. John tells us the real reason: He was just plain
scared. Nothing is so hard as going against the group.
Joseph was not alone. There were others who were afraid to risk
their position and reputation by making an open stand. In John
12:42-43 we read, "Nevertheless, many even of the leaders believed in