When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
(Matthew 27:57-61 ESV)
Jesus died at 3:00 PM, which would have been towards the end of the Jewish day which started at sundown (or roughly 6:00 PM). The bodies of crucifixion victims were normally left on the cross to be devoured by birds and animals or they were thrown into the town dump. Either way, it was a further humiliation placed upon the victim.
But Jesus would be buried in a tomb. We may not think much of it, but this unusual move was a necessary part of God’s plan to raise Him from the dead three days later. So God providentially arranged for a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph to bury Jesus’ body.
Joseph of Arimathea was not mentioned anywhere in Scripture other than in relation to Jesus’ burial and even then only briefly. Yet we can learn a great lesson from what we know about him.
Joseph of Arimathea was also a disciple of Jesus. However, because he was a member of the Sanhedrin – the ruling body of Israel [Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50] – he kept his faith in Christ secret for fear of his fellow Jews [John 19:38].
As we’ve seen numerous times in our study of Matthew, the Jewish religious and political leaders hated Jesus and wanted Him dead. Joseph seemingly kept his faith quiet for fear of what his colleagues would think and say.
Nevertheless, Joseph boldly went to Pilate (who probably knew him well) and asked for the body of Jesus. Going to see Pilate (a Gentile) just hours before the start of the Passover Sabbath would have meant that Joseph would be defiled, and ineligible to participate in the Passover ceremonies.
But that didn’t bother Joseph. It was more important for him to serve God. He does so by sacrificing his own expensive custom-built tomb and giving it to Jesus.
The disciples didn’t show up at the cross because they feared being arrested themselves for their association with Jesus. This makes Joseph’s move all the more extraordinary.
At a time when it was dangerous to be associated with Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea came out of the shadows and publicly declared that he was a follower of Christ, putting his reputation, his career, and even his life at risk.
We, likewise, live in a world where it is not popular to be a follower of Jesus. The world admires and promotes behaviors and ideas that are contrary to those which Jesus stood for. To stand with Him today likely brings ridicule. It could even bring death as we’ve seen with the recent mass shooting in Oregon or in the middle east where Christians are killed by ISIS and other Muslim groups.
But the cross of Christ should not make anyone retreat into the shadows. There is nothing for any Christian to be ashamed of or to fear [Psalm 119:6; Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:8]. Rather, the cross should have the opposite effect – the effect it had on Joseph of Arimathea.
It should embolden those who believe that their sins were forgiven on that cross. Christians need to “come out” and declare that they are followers of Christ, even though, just like Joseph of Arimathea experienced, there will be a sacrifice for doing so.
In the process we’ll lose money, or reputation, or relationships. But that is of no consequence compared to the eternal life that those around us can gain when they see our faith.
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