Summary: “What is the gospel?” Well, Paul defined it for us. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the
Title: The Face of Fear: Joseph
Scripture Reading: “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby” (John 19:38-42).
Today, we are going to be dealing with facts, the great historical facts of the gospel. Someone may wonder, “What is the gospel?” Well, Paul defined it for us. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). These are the central facts of the gospel. Our salvation is based on our relationship to those facts and to the person of Jesus Christ. Do you trust Him? Do you have faith in what He did for you when He died on the cross? Do you believe He died a shocking, substitutionary death for you?
In our lesson today, we are going to see that the cross of Christ changed two cowards. They came to the cross bound by fear but they left with a life filled with courage. Many of us find it easier to identify with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus than with anyone else at the cross. We have known what it is to remain silent when we should have spoken, to keep our relationship with Christ a secret when it should have been shared. In many ways Joseph of Arimathea is a man of admirable character. He is presented that way on the pages of the New Testament.
Each of the gospel writers tells of Joseph’s part in Christ’s burial. They tell us that he was a successful business man. He was also part of that remnant, that God always maintains, that looked for the kingdom of God. This man had a “good spirit,” much like that of Simeon and Anna, who appeared earlier in the life of Jesus. Joseph was probably a member of the Sanhedrin along with Nicodemus. This placed him in a unique position to act in the behalf of Jesus.
Since the Sanhedrin’s decisions had to always be unanimous, Joseph and Nicodemus apparently stayed away from the important meeting to decide Jesus’ fate. Being absent would be easier than speaking up for Jesus. If not there, they wouldn’t have to make it known that they were His “disciples.”
After Christ’s death, however, Joseph and Nicodemus could keep their secret no longer. The cross overcame their fear and allowed them to act in a responsible way. It took courage for Joseph to ask for Jesus’ body to bury in his own tomb. This was surely a public sign of friendship and support for the dead Christ.
There are three things to see in this story about fear:
1. The cause of fear.
2. The cost of fear.
3. The case for fear.
You are an extraordinary person if you have never failed your Lord. Instead, I think you may feel like I do; I regret that in my early years that I failed Him so often. But we can’t do anything about our failures except ask God to forgive us. And He will do that. Let’s serve Him now and be faithful to Him.
For now, let’s look closely at our story to see the cause of fear.
John analyzes Joseph like this, “Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.” But it was not the Jews that caused the fear; their presence simply caused it to be revealed. What really caused Joseph’s fears?
One thing that could have caused the fear was valuing his position before men more than his position before God. He was a rich man and his position on the Sanhedrin made him a respected man in the community. Joseph enjoyed all the privileges he had earned from a lifetime of effort. He could not just throw it all away without a thought.
What would it mean to lose them? He must have thought to himself, “How can I give up all that I have worked so herd for. And what will people say about me if they know that I am a disciple of Christ. Maybe I can keep it all, and yet serve Him in secret?” Surely a bold confession of faith in Jesus would cause him to lose his position on the Sanhedrin, and it would probably hurt his business. These misguided values were at the root of the fear that silenced him. But, let’s not look down on him, because the same type of value system has bound countless people with fear throughout the ages.