Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
13. Faithful follower
Luke 23:50-54 (NIV)
Luke 23:50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no-one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, … the Sabbath was about to begin.
Also refer to—Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; John 19:38-42
Who is Joseph of Arimathea?
Several men called ‘Joseph’ are found in the Bible. The best-known Josephs are Jacob’s son, the man with the multi-coloured coat who became the equivalent of the Prime Minister of Egypt, and the husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Now meet another Joseph: Joseph of Arimathea in Judah. Who is he?
To answer that we will look at Joseph from each of the four Gospels’ ‘camera angles’—Luke 23:50–54; Matthew 27:57–61; Mark 15:42–47 and John 19:38–42. We can learn a lot from what he did and why. There are important lessons and blessings here for us all.
Jesus died on Calvary’s cross in our place to bear our sins and the punishment that we deserved. Before then, Joseph was a ‘secret disciple’ of Jesus. You cannot remain a ‘secret disciple’ for long. Either your growing inner conviction or the force of circumstances will cause you to make it known that you know and follow Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, otherwise you will lose your Christian edge, and perhaps backslide into sin and compromise, until you repent and come back to God to be forgiven. Then you must follow Jesus whole-heartedly. I was so miserable when I was backsliding. At times I tried to hide my wobbly faith in Christ so I could ‘go with the crowd’ to doubtful places for reasons that did not please God or help me. I vainly tried to fool myself that I could be a Christian at the same time. I was a hypocrite. A Christian friend challenged me by saying, ‘If Jesus is not your Lord of all, then he is not your Lord at all’. Romans 14:9 says, ‘For this very reason, Christ died, and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.’ That included me.
Why was Joseph a secret disciple and what changed him?
The four Gospel descriptions of him reveal at least two important things: he is ‘a member of the Council’ and he is a ‘prominent member of the Council.’ John adds he is a disciple ‘secretly because he feared the Jews.’ The ‘Council’ (also known as ‘Sanhedrin’) is the ruling supreme court of the Jews and feared by Joseph. The crooked Chief Priest is its President. Pharisees and Sadducees control it. Joseph, a ‘rich man,’ has a prominent position. If he antagonises them, he may face strong and cruel opposition and persecution, as other Christians soon will.
But when God works in a man, it changes how he acts. Joseph’s heart belongs to the Lord, despite his fear of the Jews holding him back from whole-hearted discipleship. He is described as: ‘a good and upright man,’ ‘waiting for the kingdom of God,’ who ‘had himself become a disciple of Jesus,’ (presumably when already a Council member). But things are changing—he recently has ‘not consented to their decision and action’ about crucifying Jesus. His change from secret disciple to bold witness for Christ, seems to have begun. He rejects his Council colleagues’ unjust and cruel treatment of Jesus. Now he reaches a ‘crunch point.’ He now feels compelled to show his loving support for Jesus by asking for His dead body, soon after seeing Jesus die. God is now strengthening his former ‘secret disciple.’ He now goes ‘boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.’ Pilate knows who he is. His position and influence allow him to be bold in front of this hard and cruel Roman Governor, as he asks for Jesus’ body. His discipleship is no longer secret. He now invests his life, reputation, and future in following Christ, as he openly identifies with his crucified Saviour. He will now take any resultant ‘flack.’
Did Joseph survive the persecution of Christians?
Does he survive the later widespread persecution of Christians that starts in Jerusalem with Stephen’s martyrdom? We do not know. But he has exchanged being a ‘secret disciple’ to be known as a caring disciple who approaches boldly the Roman Governor, to request the body of his beloved Saviour, and generously gives his own new tomb, intended for his own burial, to bury Jesus. The best that he kept for himself is now given to His Saviour and Lord. Soon, across the world, after the well-testified resurrection of Jesus takes place from Joseph’s tomb, the entire world will know that Joseph of Arimathea is on the side of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To prepare Jesus’ body decently for burial (as we would want to do for our loved ones) he teams up with Nicodemus, another Council member. Nicodemus previously visited Jesus ‘by night’ (again, probably from ‘fear of the Jews’ and especially those on the Council). Jesus told him ‘You must be born again’ and explained what that meant (see, John 3:3,7; and compare 1 Peter 1:23). The Bible’s most well-known verse, John 3:16, is the result.
So is Nicodemus, the once ‘secret seeker,’ now ‘born again?’ I think so. Why? Well, just like Joseph will do later, he speaks out for fair treatment of Jesus. Also, he now identifies with Joseph and Jesus, even before Pontius Pilate, in asking for Jesus’ body. (Read about Nicodemus in John 3:1–21; 7:45–52 and 19:38–42.) So, it seems that he who once feared the Jews now helps and supports his Christian Council colleague, Joseph, by working with him to honour Christ. Those God blesses want to bless others, and those converted to Christ want to help their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Blessings and lessons to receive and learn
What blessings and lessons come for us from considering Joseph of Arimathea?
- First, do you know Jesus Christ in your heart as your Lord and Saviour? Do you realise He took in His body the full judgment for your sins for you? Have you asked the risen, living Jesus into your life by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling? That is the most important issue ever.
- Do you see the benefits of not being a ‘secret disciple’ but openly trusting, obeying, following, honouring and living for Jesus, by His grace, strength and power? Read Romans 10:9–10. When you ‘believe in your heart’ in Jesus and ‘confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord”’ these three blessings always follow:
- God is pleased, honoured and obeyed (the priority).
- You are greatly blessed and helped by God yourself. For a start, your assurance of salvation comes from exercising saving faith in Jesus in such a real way that you are prepared to tell other people about it. When you confess Jesus as Lord to others it blesses you, and probably others in God’s time.
- Some who see your changed conduct and hear what Jesus means to you will want to come to trust Him as their Saviour too. But remember, it is not always easy!
- Remember Joseph and Nicodemus—make sure that you enjoy fellowship and mutual help with others who know and love Christ, and work with them when you can. Support fellow Christians. Make your ‘secret’ an open one to share with others.
If you were a secret disciple of Jesus, even occasionally, when you started hearing about Joseph of Arimathea are you now willing to ask God to give you the courage to make it known that you love Jesus, and reflect that in how you live? How about doing that now, today?
If you have not yet turned to Jesus to save you, make sure you are wholehearted when you turn from your sins to receive Him in your heart and life as your Lord.