Lessons from Joseph (Of Arimathea)
• Life’s lessons come from some unusual places and unusual people. As a college student, I went to a church as interim Minister of Music/Youth for a little over 6 months. During that time the pastor (who shall remain nameless) taught me much about protecting myself (as a single young man) from being seen overly-friendly with the girls. Imagine my astonishment when, a few years later, I got word that this same pastor, who has long sensed moved to another church, was accused of child molestation – in his study. Yet, he was convicted and served a prison term. When I think of this man, I wonder how did he teach me what he did when he was doing was he was doing?
• If we keep our eyes, minds, and hearts open, we will discover that we learn lessons for life in some of the most unusual places from the most unsuspecting people. Such is the case in our text today.
• I’ve entitled this message, “Lessons from Joseph of Arimathea” because at this critical time in scripture, this man whom we have never heard of – steps forwards to make at great personal risk to take care of the human remains of our Lord Jesus. His actions are so much a part of this story that all four of the gospel writers tell His story. Let get our context & learn from Joseph.
• As you know on crucifixion morning, even though Pilate had declared Jesus not guilty 3 times, Pilate (bending to the crowd) sentenced Jesus to death. Around 9 to 9:30am, they crucified Jesus. Crucifixion was more about inflicting pain than causing death. Many times those crucified would hang on their cross for days, allowing carnivores to eat at their bodies, & ultimately for the body to simply begin to rot. At this point, the corpse would be taken down & thrown into the dump.
• In the case of Jesus, there are a couple of things to note: Because it normally took the crucified so long to die and this was Passover, the Jews appealed to Pilate to speed up the deaths. (Perhaps this, also was an excuse to hasten Jesus’ death – but it was true that they wanted no one hanging on a cross during Passover). So John tells us that Pilate dispatched soldiers to break the legs of the three. This would substantially hasten their deaths. However, when they came to Jesus, they discover Him already dead (BTW – this fulfilled the prophecy of no broken bones). The other thing of note is that when Joseph asked for the body of Jesus, Pilate was genuinely surprised that Jesus was already dead. Confirming with the Centurion that Jesus was indeed dead, Pilate granted Joseph the ‘corpse’ of Jesus. Interesting choice of words. This leads us to believe that if Joseph hadn’t stepped forward (as divinely planned) then the Romans would have disposed of the body.
• It would seem logical that Pilate was living in a day of surprises. Quite likely, he was surprised that the ‘Religious Jews’ would actually kill a man which was innocent, he was surprised that Jesus died so quickly, and he was (likely) surprised when a member of the Sanhedrin (the group who insisted on having Jesus killed) requested the lifeless body. Although we don’t believe we know a great deal about Joseph, from the 4 gospels, we can discern 4 characteristics which transfers to us.
1. His Character – Verse 43 tells us that Joseph was a ‘respected,’ ‘prominent,’ or even ‘honorable’ member of the council which we know as the Sanhedrin. Candidly, we know that his home town was about 20 miles away but now resided in Jerusalem and that he was rich. Luke tells us that he was a ‘good and righteous’ man. This meant that he was not just a passive member of the council but rather, he was distinguished. His reputation might have been the very thing which got him an audience with Pilate to make his request. By the way, Joseph doesn’t appear to be a leader who ‘went along to get along’ type of person. Luke paints this picture of Joseph by saying, “He (Joseph) had not consented to their decision and action.” This leads us to believe that there was 1 no vote.
• Character is not recognized by going along with the crowd when you know something is wrong, it is recognized by doing things with integrity, honesty, and no personal agenda except to do what you believe before God to be right. Joseph, so we are told, was this type of man. What he was in public, he was in private. Others recognized him as good & righteous - & thus, well-respected.
• One last thought: we read that Joseph gave Jesus his BEST. This speaks to his character. He had just paid for the tomb to be cut out, no an inexpensive proposition. At the onset, Joseph could have put Jesus in a less expensive tomb and still been thought well of. Yet, his character would not allow giving Jesus 2nd best – what a lesson for us today! The reason for this was his character;
2. His Conversion – While we don’t read about the actual day Joseph was converted, we read in all four gospels about his faith. They record it in different ways. Mark and Luke says that he was also ‘looking for the Kingdom of God’ which was a phrase that would parallel the teaching of both Jesus and John the Baptist. Matthew and John calls Joseph a disciple, secret disciple mind you, but a disciple nonetheless (we’ll get to the secret in a minute). This meant he had trusted Christ and had become one who followed after Christ, His life, and His teachings.
• For years inside the church we have used the term ‘convert’ or ‘conversion’ to speak of salvation and well we should because it is a Bible term. But what exactly does it mean to be converted? We know this about financial conversions. For every 100 Japanese yen you possess you can convert it to about $1, 100 Israeli shekel coverts to a little over $28, & 100 British Pounds gets you slightly over $150. You convert what you have into what you need. This is what happens in the human heart & life, we bring to Jesus what we are, trust Him, & He converts us into what we need to be. The Greek word for conversion carries the idea of ‘turning’ which is why repentance & conversion run parallel. Logically, Joseph may have been one of the council assigned to go, hear, & see Jesus, for the purpose of reporting. It is likely that He, like Nicodemus, found Jesus to be the Messiah.
• I mention Nicodemus because John tells us that Nicodemus helped Joseph with the burial. Neither of these men had let it out that they were Jesus followers. John 3 records the encounter of Jesus & Nicodemus. What most people don’t know is that he defended Jesus before the council (Jn 7). Yet, their story had not been told. One theologian has suggested that during the trial & crucifixion these two men were hiding in the tomb which Jesus would ultimately lay. Candidly, it seems that both men had made decisions to follow Christ, but until now had kept it to themselves.
3. His Courage – Notice the wording in verse 43. Our text says Joseph “took courage” while others say, ‘he gathered up courage’ or he ‘went boldly’ or ‘without fear.’ This was a huge step for Joseph because listen, ‘he was risking it all for Jesus.’ How long has it been since your have risk ‘anything’ for Jesus, let alone ‘all.’ He was a man of plenty (rich) and he could have lost all he had by being identified with Jesus. He was a man of position (Sanhedrin) & could have been banished by being identified with Jesus. He was a man of prestige (highly respected) & asking for the body of Jesus – a victim of crucifixion – could have damaged his reputation. His actions took courage!
• Courage is that thing which a person has to stand – even in the face of incredible odds, when the cards are stacked against him, and when you feel like you have everything to lose. What is interesting in the life of Joseph & Nicodemus is – they were basically ‘secret disciples’ until now. Because we can trust and depend on God’s word, we know that they were disciples, but no one else knew. I must tell you that until I read about Joseph of Arimithea I did not believe in the ‘secret disciple.’ Yet, there are many in the Americanized church which claim to love God, follow Christ, & pledge their allegiance who keep it quiet. One man, without an apology, had worked at the same plant, with the same people, on the same schedule for 15 years; and a visiting evangelist asked him how it went to be a Christian in such a non-Christian environment and the man’s response was, “I don’t think they know I’m a Christian.” This bring us to the last thought.
• What does it take for a Christ-follower to ‘come out of the closer’ about their trusting & following Christ? What did it take for Joseph, Nicodemus, or even you? In a picture, see;
4. His Crisis – A crisis has a way of turning our regular lives on its ear. Think about Joseph: It seems he was content to go to ‘church’ and hear Jesus preach, witness the miracles, & be marginally connected to Jesus as long as Jesus lived. Watch this: The life of Jesus was enough to convert Joseph, but it took the cross (the death of Jesus) for Joseph to publically commit. It was only when he saw Jesus abused, battered, punished, nailed, bleeding, and dead, that Joseph was moved to a public action which put his comfortable life at risk. Seeing the treatment of Jesus & knowing the truth behind the scenes (that Jesus was innocent of charges & really was the Messiah), Joseph stood at a crossroad, a turning point, and a time of decision. What would he do? Would he continue to hide his faith? Would he continue to deny Jesus? Would he allow the body of his own Lord to be discarded as trash in Gehenna? He wouldn’t and he didn’t, question is, will we or better ask, “Have we?” I could point a finger at those outside of this building & make the point that they are waiting for us to ‘come out of the closet’ with our faith – and that would be correct. I could argue that unless & until we tell them they are in danger of hell’s fire in a Christless eternity. I could eve argue that we are at a crossroad today, but most of my words will fall on deaf ears.
• Why? Because we are not at a crisis, yet. We can hear about the blood of Jesus but dismiss the horror of the event, we can hear about the abuse of Jesus and write it off as God’s plan, and we can hear about the death of Jesus and forget that He was killed for us (you, me). We can do this because we are comfortable in life, we live in luxury today, & sense no compelling need to call on Him, come to Him, & lean on Him – we don’t know the crisis of depending on God for our next morsel of food, our next dollar to spend, and our next breath to survive. My prayer today is this: God help up learn from Joseph how to take courage & commit our all to you.