Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Vision (10.16.14): Lessons from Joseph of Arimathaea: A good and just man

Note:  The devotion below is drawn from several sections of last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 23:63-71.

And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just (Luke 23:50).

All the Gospel writers agree that the man responsible for taking charge of the remains of Jesus after his crucifixion was Joseph of Arimathaea.  He was part of the Jewish counsel, the elite group of seventy men who formed the Jewish Sanhedrin and who were given limited governing authority by the Romans.  That was his external office.  Luke proceeds, however, to give us an internal profile of this man as well.  He describes his character:  “and he was a good man, and a just [man].”  The word “good [agathos]” implies that he was a sound and morally upright man.  The word “just [dikaios]” implies that he was righteous, fair, and honest.  Luke describes Joseph in the same way that the centurion described Jesus (v. 47).  There was a Christ-like quality to this man.

Earlier in Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial it had seemed as though the whole counsel had been unanimous in condemning Jesus (see 22:70-71; 23:1-2).  They seemed to have spoken with one voice.  But now we learn that the verdict had not been unanimous.  Maybe Joseph had not been present or maybe he had lain low, or his voice had been drowned out.  Still, Luke records:  “The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them” (v. 51a).

Luke adds two more important notes in v. 51b:

First, that Joseph was from the Jewish town of Arimathaea.  Joseph was a popular name, so men were often identified by the places from which they came (cf. Judas Iscariot or Simon of Cyrene).  We might note the providence that at his birth the infant body of Jesus was cared for and protected by Joseph of Nazareth and, at his death, by Joseph of Arimathea.  Both were named for the Biblical Joseph who said to his brothers:  What you meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen 50:20).

Second, Luke says that he “also himself waited for the kingdom of God.”  This is the kingdom that Jesus had announced was present in his life and ministry.  The kingdom he called men to enter into.  The kingdom of which he taught his disciples to pray:  “Thy kingdom come” (Matt 6:10).  But also, the kingdom that Jesus taught would not fully come until the end of the age when the Son of Man came in the clouds in glory to judge the nations (Luke 21:27) and to separate the wheat from the tares (cf. Matt 13:37-43).

Matthew says that this Joseph was “rich man” and that he “also himself was Jesus’ disciple” (Matt 27:57).  John 18:38, likewise, says outright that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, then adds, “but secretly for fear of the Jews.”  He reminds me of some Christians I have heard about especially in some Muslims counties who become believers but they have to do so secretly, for fear of the repercussions which would take place if their faith was found out.  Perhaps Joseph’s conscience had been torn over whether he should publically identify with Jesus or not.

Knowing this makes what Luke says he did not all the more amazing and encouraging:  “This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus” (v. 52).  That took an act of courage on his part.  It put him at risk before Pilate and the Jewish council.  What if there had been an attempt to round up the followers of Jesus and send them to the cross as well?  Despite the risk, Joseph went to Pilate and was granted permission to bury the body of our Lord.

Here is the question we need to ask:  Can it be said of us, as it was by Luke of Joseph, that we are a good and just men? Like Joseph have we been content to lay low, to stand at the back, to blend in?  Have we shown a tendency not to want to stand forward and be publically identified with Christ?  Are we, like Joseph, secret disciples?

Notice that there were some like Peter who boldly promised to follow Christ, but when the rubber met the road, they denied and deserted him.  Thankfully, Peter was, however, finally restored.  On the other hand, here is Joseph who laid low in his faith during Jesus’ life but then courageously stepped forward in his death.  In his commentary on this passage Norval Geldenhuys observed:

In the hour of crisis it is often the Peters who have sworn loyalty to Jesus with big gestures and fullness of self-confidence, that disappoint, and it is the secret and quiet followers of the Master (like Joseph, Nicodemus, and the women) that do not hesitate to serve Him in love—whatever the cost (Luke, pp. 619-620).

Maybe you are like Joseph.  You have not been as vocal, as public in your faith, but you are ready to come into the light when he calls upon you.  Is he calling you for such a time as this?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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