Summary: This message will show how Jesus’ death conquered fear in a secret disciple, in a cowardly disciple, and how His death stirred open and unashamed commitment.
Last week we witnessed, along with the Apostle John, the crucifixion of Jesus. We were with Him to the end when He proclaimed, “It is finished.” He showed no fear as He gave His life that we might live. Through Jesus’ death, he conquered the fear of death. He was triumphant over death. Jesus’ death conquers fear for the genuine believer. In tonight’s passage, we are going to see how Jesus’ death conquered fear in a secret disciple, in a cowardly disciple, and how His death stirred open and unashamed commitment.
READ 38. In this verse we are told some things about Joseph of Arimathea. First, he was a secret disciple. Second, he feared the Jews. And third, it was he who was brave enough to ask for Jesus’ body.
Scripture tells us some things about Joseph of Arimathea. He was a counselor, a senator, a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling body of Israel. He was apparently highly educated, highly esteemed, well liked, very responsible, and capable of leadership. He was a just and good man—a man of good quality, high morals, a man of feelings, of compassion, of truth, and of law.
He was a man looking for the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. He was, however, a man who was afraid to stand up for Jesus. John reports here in verse 38 that Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. Joseph probably had met Jesus and arranged meetings with Him when the Lord had visited Jerusalem, but he feared making a public profession.
His position and prestige were at stake. After all, his peers, the other rulers, opposed Jesus. He believed in Jesus, but out of fear he kept his discipleship a secret. We need to note that when the vote was taken to put Jesus to death, Joseph did abstain from voting, but he didn’t stand up for Christ. He didn’t participate; he simply remained silent.
How many people of today are just like Joseph? They are good and just people. They are believers. But they are afraid of what their friends and fellow workers will say. They fear for their position, prestige, promotions, acceptance, popularity, friends, job, or income. But we should remember that Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and y words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Ld. 9:26)
Joseph was a man changed by the death of Jesus. We see this in two facts stated in verse 38. First, Joseph actually asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. This was a great act of courage. The Romans either dumped the bodies of crucified criminals in the trash heaps or left the bodies hanging on the cross for the vultures and animals to consume.
The latter served as an example of criminal punishment to the public. Joseph also braved the threat of Pilate’s reaction. Pilate was fed up with the JESUS MATTER. Jesus had proven to be very bothersome to him. He could have reacted severely against Joseph.
Secondly, Joseph risked the disfavor and discipline of the Sanhedrin. They were the ruling body who had condemned Jesus, and Joseph was a member of the council. There was no question; he would face some harsh reaction from some of his fellow Sanhedrin members and from some of his closest friends.
What made Joseph turn from being a secret disciple to a bold disciple? It seems to be the phenomenal events surrounding the cross. He witnessed the behavior and words of Jesus. Then there was the darkness when the sun refused to shine. He felt the earthquake. He saw the torn veil. When Joseph witnessed all this, his mind connected the claims of Jesus with the OT prophecies of the Messiah. Apparently Joseph saw the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus so he stepped forward braving all the risks and taking his stand for Jesus. A remarkable courage stirred by the death of Jesus.
Every secret believer of Christ can gain strength and courage simply by looking and studying the cross of Christ. It will turn them into a bold witness for Christ. Joseph asked to take care of the physical body of Christ. Today, the body of Christ is the church. There are times within the church when special needs demand that we be courageous and step forward to show care. In those times a fresh look at the cross will be helpful and can be used of God to stir us.
Joseph was a man who cared deeply for Jesus. The words and acts of Joseph in this passage express care and tenderness and love and affection as well as courage and boldness. Joseph took the body down from the cross. He wrapped the body in linen. He laid the body in a tomb in which no one had ever been laid. He acted quickly, before the Sabbath began. Jesus died at 3 PM Friday afternoon. Friday was the day of preparation for the Sabbath. Work was forbidden on the Sabbath, so if anything was to be done with Jesus’ body, it had to be done immediately. Only 3 hours remained for work.