The record of history is filled with men and women remembered for one solitary action. Their accomplishments leading to the pivotal moment remain shrouded in the dust of time. They enter, play their part, and then depart the stage. Consider Joseph of Arimathea, the man who donated his tomb for Jesus. Who was he? What led him to extend such an offering?
The greatest ministry earth has ever witnessed was that of Jesus Christ. In three short years He churned the stagnant religious environment of His day and became the target of multiple plots to discredit Him. He did not build His ministry around the famous nor did He limit His staff to only the best and brightest. Jesus never erected a campus with His name arrayed in gleaming letters across the buildings. He did not own a limousine or a personal jet nor did He reside at a luxury estate.
Jesus traveled a small segment of the land of Israel, mingled with people from all walks of life, and lifted hearts through His personal touch. He was moved by the plight of those around Him, and His message transformed willing humans forever.
Betrayed by one of His closest 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 Jesus died alone, forsaken by all.
Roman soldiers had no reason to exercise caution with a body they had whipped, jabbed with thorns, and nailed to a cross. The bodies of most crucifixion victims were left in place 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 of facing the same fate. Who would give Him a proper burial?
Enter Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph’s part in the resurrection story is recorded in all four Gospels, but outside those verses nothing authoritative is recorded of him. Scripture reveals that:
- 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.
Showing kindness to Jesus of Nazareth defied the wishes of the chief priests who insisted Jesus be dispatched like a common thief. Joseph faced a gut-wrenching challenge as he took the stage for his moment in history. He would risk his position and possibly his life asking Pilate for the body of Jesus. Mark writes that Joseph had to gather his courage.
Joseph determined his faith in Jesus would no longer remain cloaked by fear and secrecy. 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’s Gospel records the meeting with Pilate was not a quick in and out. Joseph’s request for the body surprised Pilate who summoned the centurion to confirm Jesus was dead. Was the wait awkward? Did Joseph and Pilate discuss Jesus, a man they both knew to be innocent?
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 the same.
Nicodemus, another Jewish leader, joined Joseph to wrap the body in a clean linen cloth adding seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. The men may have been assisted by servants, but none of the eleven disciples of Jesus were available to lend a hand.
Joseph donated his tomb, and a stone was rolled over the entrance to secure the site from grave robbers. Pilate ordered the tomb 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. 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 you believe may be costly and will demand courage.
- God has a plan.
- You can be part of His plan.
- A tremendous act of worship occurs when one is surrounded by chaos, 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 a Roman cross. The plan for a restored Israel seemed lost, but the man from Arimathea followed his heart and buried Jesus. Imagine the joy in Joseph’s heart as he surveyed the empty tomb three days later.
Followers of Jesus aren’t limited to looking back to the words and actions of One long dead. Christians do not make a shrine out of an occupied grave. Christians follow a risen Lord who 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
Note: Joseph’s story can be found at the following locations in your favorite copy of the Bible: