No book in Scripture bears Joseph’s name, and though he is mentioned in all four Gospels, little is revealed about his life. Joseph is remembered for one solitary action, he loaned his tomb to the right Person. Joseph entered the stage of history, played his crucial part and faded into the dust of time.
Jesus Christ had churned the stagnant religious environment of Israel thereby becoming the target of multiple plots to discredit Him. For three years Jesus traveled a small area of the land, mingled with people from all walks of life, and lifted hearts through His personal message. He never erected a campus with impressive buildings. He had no TV presence and no Internet platform. He did not own a limousine or a jet or a luxury estate.
Betrayed by one of His followers and forsaken by the rest of His team, Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death. Although the presiding officials were certain of His innocence they refused to stand against the mob demanding execution. Jesus endured unspeakable suffering and died alone.
Roman soldiers had no reason to take care with a body they had whipped, jabbed with thorns, and nailed to a cross. The bodies of most crucifixion victims were left in place to decay or tossed onto a trash heap…unless a family member claimed them for burial. What would become of this One who claimed to be God’s Son? Those closest to Jesus cowered in fear behind locked doors, afraid of facing the same fate. Who would give Jesus a proper burial?
Enter Joseph of Arimathea. Scripture reveals these facts about him:
- Joseph was a rich man.
- He was good and righteous.
- He became a follower of Jesus.
- He waited for the Kingdom of God, convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
- Joseph hid his new-found faith because of his position.
- He was a prominent member of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
- Joseph did not give his consent to the majority decision that Jesus should be killed.
- Joseph had prepared a place for his own burial – a tomb in a garden outside Jerusalem.
Now Joseph faced a gut-wrenching challenge as he took the stage for his moment in history. Showing respect for Jesus of Nazareth defied the wishes of the chief priests who insisted Jesus be dispatched like a common thief. Joseph would risk his position and possibly his life asking Pilate for the body of Jesus.
Mark writes that Joseph had to gather his courage something we all must do in our defining moments.
Joseph determined his faith in Jesus would no longer remain hidden. He stood to be counted as a follower of Christ. Everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, would know about his audience with Pilate. Word would spread quickly to reach the ears of the Jewish leaders. Would Joseph be swept from the scene in a flood of rage as his fellow council members retaliated?
Mark records that Joseph’s meeting with Pilate was not a quick in and out. Crucifixion victims often lived for days. Joseph’s request for the body so soon after the event surprised Pilate who summoned the centurion to confirm that Jesus was dead.
Once the death was certified, Pilate gave his permission for Joseph to remove the body of Jesus for burial. Joseph’s public request, the centurion’s professional confirmation that Jesus was dead, and Pilate’s official permission for Joseph to bury Jesus gave confirmation that the man crucified and the man removed for burial were one and the same.
Nicodemus, another Jewish leader who once sought an audience with Jesus under cover of darkness, joined Joseph to wrap the body in a clean linen cloth. The men included seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Joseph and Nicodemus may have been assisted by servants, but no other disciple of Jesus arrived to lend a hand.
Joseph donated his tomb as the resting place for the body of Jesus, and a stone was rolled over the entrance to secure the site from grave robbers. Pilate ordered that the tomb be sealed and posted a guard. Joseph’s act of devotion and his generosity played a key role in preserving the evidence there was no grave tampering. We can be assured the crucified Jesus is the risen Lord!
What can we learn from Joseph of Arimathea?
- The majority position is not always right.
- Standing up for what we believe may be costly and will demand courage.
- God has a plan.
- We can be part of His plan.
- Worship becomes real when one is surrounded by pieces that don’t seem to fit and circumstances that prevent progress but trusts that God has everything under His control. Joseph’s Messiah died on that cross. The plan for a restored Israel seemed lost, but the man from Arimathea followed his heart and buried Jesus with love. Imagine the joy in Joseph’s heart as he surveyed the empty tomb three days later.
Followers of Jesus do not make a shrine out of an occupied grave. We follow a risen Lord who only borrowed Joseph’s tomb for a short time.
And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.
Mark 16:6 NASB
Read Joseph’s story firsthand at these references: