Friday, April 19, 2019

The Vision (4.19.19): Joseph of Arimathea: A Secret Disciple

Image; Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion, engraving, 1773, reworked c. 1810, by William Blake (1757-1827). Medieval legends suggested Joseph brought the "Holy Grail" to Britain.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:36-42.

And after this Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore and took the body of Jesus (John 19:38).

John agrees with the other three Gospels (cf. Matt 27:57-58; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51-52) in saying that a man named Joseph of Arimathea took the lifeless body of the Lord Jesus from the cross. Who was Joseph?

Each of the Gospels give us bits of information about him:

In Matthew 27:57 he is described as “a rich man” and as “Jesus’s disciple.”

In Mark 15:43 he is described as “an honorable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God.”

In Luke 23:50 he is also described as “a counsellor” but also as “a good man, and a just” man.

And in John 19:38, John says he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews.”

Why was Joseph a secret disciple? Perhaps because of his wealth, or because of his position as a counsellor among his fellow Jews, or because as a good and just man he feared having cast upon him the scorn and opprobrium that was cast upon Christ.

Joseph indeed stands forever immortalized in Scripture as one who tried to keep quiet his commitment to Christ due to fear of man.

We need to remember, however, that though Joseph had been a secret disciple, at this moment of crisis, at the very time after Christ had been crucified, his fear was taken away and he stepped forward to honor Christ by giving his body a proper and respectful burial.

Think of the courage it took for him to approach Pilate to beseech him “that he might take away the body of Jesus.”

Calvin notes that here we have “a striking proof that [Christ’s] death was more quickening than his life.” Christ now extinguished the passions belonging to the flesh of Joseph. So long as ambition and love of money reigned in Joseph the grace of Christ had no charm for him, but now he began to disrelish the whole world.

Ryle said: “But his case teaches us that there is sometimes more spiritual work going on in men’s minds than appears. We must not set down every one as utterly graceless and godless, who is not bold and outspoken at present. We must charitably hope that there are some secret disciples, who at present hold their tongues and say nothing, and yet, like Joseph, will one day come forward, and be a courageous witness for Christ.”

Joseph had indeed been changed by the passion and death of Christ on the cross, and he is, therefore, a harbinger of myriads of timid and fearful men who are made bold when they are gripped by this great reality (cf. John 12:24-26).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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