A Man Named Joseph
Ken H. Matier, Newton Stewart
When preachers are dealing with the circumstances surrounding the crucifixion of our Lord, they are, generally speaking, commendatory of the women followers of Christ, and condemnatory of the men; and not without good cause. They point to the women standing at the foot of the cross, faithful to their rejected Lord, and apparently willing to risk the wrath of the people. They point to the women following the little funeral procession to see where the body of Jesus was laid, and then early in the morning of the first day of the week, coming while it was yet dark, bringing the spices which they had prepared. How they must have loved the Saviour, and how worthy of commendation! Then they point to the men. One betrayed Him, one denied Him, one followed afar off, and the rest forsook Him and fled. How fearful they all were, and how they deserve the condemnation. Yes, the preachers are right, but with one or two noteworthy exceptions.
In the midst of the gloom surrounding the events connected with the death of Christ at least one man (Joseph of Arimathea), shines out like a beacon. All that the Scriptures have to say of him is found in Matthew 27. 57-59; Mark 15. 42-46; Luke 23. 50-53; and John 19. 38-42. Preachers seem largely to have ignored Joseph. In over 60 years the writer has never heard a sermon, or read a magazine article wholly devoted to him.
Matthew tells us that Joseph was a rich man, a man of affluence, whose wealth was used for Christ. Mark tells us that Joseph was an honourable counsellor, a man of influence, and the record reveals that Joseph sacrificed his prestige with men for the sake of Christ. Luke tells us that Joseph was a good man and a just man of integrity, who fearlessly showed his true character for Christ. John states that he was a disciple, a man of faith and indeed he is seen as a faithful follower of Christ.
As the name Joseph means "the increaser", so Arimathea means "the heights", and surely Joseph was a man of heights who increased daily in his knowledge of the mind and will of God. One is reminded of the words of the Saviour in Matthew 6. 19-20, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven". Paul contributes to the same thought in Colossians 3. 2, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth". It is from the heights that we see things from God's standpoint. May we know what it is to "stand upon the mount with God".
Firstly let us notice Joseph's FAITHFULNESS. Luke records that "The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them". The rulers had plotted and planned to put Christ to death; they had counselled against Him, but Joseph, though a member of the Sanhedrin, took no part in that counsel. When they had succeeded in crucifying the Saviour, and the dastardly deed was done, none could say that Joseph had a hand in that deed. The open disciples of Christ had fled for their lives, but Joseph, up to this point a secret disciple, was faithful to his Lord taking his stand with the rejected Christ and prepared for anything that might happen. That day Joseph showed, in actions that spoke louder than words, he was on the side of Christ. He was faithful. We should be faithful in our witnessing; faithful in our stewardship of the things with which God has entrusted us; faithful in our use of time, of treasure, of truth; faithful in that which is least, for it is for faithfulness we will be rewarded. "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Next note his COURAGE. Mark records this. This is what he says, "Joseph of Arimathea . . . went in boldly unto Pilate and carved the body of Jesus". Commonsense should have told him that Pilate was a man to avoid. He had condemned a man he had declared to be innocent; he had allowed himself to be blackmailed by the Jews whom he despised; he had rejected the plea of his wife to have nothing to do with a just person. He possibly was annoyed with himself for his action that day. Discretion will have suggested to Joseph that he should wait, or that he should employ an intermediary, or even that he should use his wealth to buy a favour. But no! There was need for courage, and Joseph "went in boldly unto Pilate". He may have taken his life in his hands, risked his all. How do we stand in the matter of courage? Remember Moses who forsook Egypt, "not fearing the wrath of the king". Remember Elijah when the king's armies were seeking him to put him to death he said, "Go tell the king, behold, Elijah is here". Does the fear of man ever cause us to keep silent when we should be bold to proclaim the saving power of Christ? Remember Paul in Romans 1, "I am debtor ... I am ready ... I am not ashamed".
Notice next his HUMILITY. Says Matthew 27. 58, "He . . . begged the body of Jesus"; and Mark, he "craved"; and Luke, he "begged"; and John, he "besought"; a rich man begging. He had a position to maintain. He had a dignity to uphold. He had never had to beg in his life; his whole nature rebelled against the thing he was about to do, but he abandoned his pride, he "begged the body of Jesus" and life was never the same for him again. Humility is one of the true marks of a Christian. The world looks upon meekness as weakness. If you are humble you are liable to be treated as a doormat and be trampled upon. But the exhortations to humility are numerous and pressing in the Word of God. God says, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall". And, "to this man will I look", saith the Lord, "to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word". The New Testament urges us to be clothed with humility, and to esteem each other better than ourselves. The apostle Paul reckoned himself less than the least of all saints. The mother of James and John requested of the Lord that they should sit in His kingdom, one on His right hand and the other on the left. The other disciples were angry, for they coveted these places for themselves. Christ told them all that the world thinks that way, "But it shall not be so among you". "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will be chief among you let him be your servant." Not many applicants for that job!
We also note his DEVOTION. Mark relates, "and took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen". Rough, cruel hands put Christ on the cross; loving, gentle hands took His body down. The nails were hammered in with barbarity; they were taken out with gentleness. It would appear that by his devotion Joseph was trying to make up for all the shame and indignity that men had neaped upon his Lord. "He made His grave with the wicked", cries Isaiah, "and with the rich in His death". They prepared a malefactor's grave at the foot of the cross, but He never occupied it: the devotion of Joseph saw to that. We are living in days of irreverence, when even Christians speak to God, and of God, as though He were someone casually sitting alongside them. God has made this same Jesus both Lord and Christ and there is need for devotion to the person of Christ, reverence as we speak of Him and acknowledgment of the dignity that is His. True love in our hearts will achieve this and our attitude will be that of Thomas, "My Lord and my God". It is good to remember that when men nailed Christ to the cross, and after He had endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself, God said, "So far and no further". And Joseph's loving hands took Him down, and wrapped Him in new linen.
Now see his SACRIFICE. Matthew 27. 60 says he "laid it in his own new tomb". To the Jew, a tomb was sacred, as the story of Abraham in relation to the cave of Machpelah shows, for there he would bury Sarah and make it the family burying place. All through the Old Testament we read of the children of Israel when the end of life came, that they slept with their fathers and were buried with the family. Joseph, however, gave up his tomb for Christ. What a sacrifice! Mark tells us that "he bought fine linen". John tells us that he and Nicodemus brought spices, about one hundred pounds in weight. If Mary's box of ointment was very costly, what shall we say of Joseph's hundred pounds of spices? The truth is that there was nothing that Joseph would not give out of love to Christ. He would make himself ceremonially unclean, by touching a dead body. He would even jeopardize his place in the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the nation. His former friends would henceforth having nothing to do with him. His sacrifice cost him everything. How do we stand in the matter of sacrifice? Are we ashamed to mention the word in relation to ourselves? If we give of our abundance we do not sacrifice. The Macedonians gave "to their power . . . and beyond their power"; "their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality". What made them do it? Says Paul, they "first gave their own selves to the Lord, and then unto us by the will of God". Could that be where we lack? Remember the widow who gave two mites, of whom the Saviour said that she had given more than all the rich men, because she had given all that she had, while they had only given of their abundance. God is interested in what we have left, as well as what we give. How does our sacrifice compare with Joseph's?
Then we notice his EXAMPLE. Surely, the example of Joseph influenced and emboldened Nicodemus. He saw Joseph boldly risking the wrath of the authorities on behalf of Christ and knew that he should do the same. And suiting his deeds to his thoughts he took his place boldly and openly, side by side with Joseph. As with Joseph, things would never be the same again for Nicodemus. What kind of example are we? Do we encourage people to come out for Christ, or does our example hinder them? Paul, writing to Timothy says, "be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity", 1 Tim. 4. 12. We are either good or bad examples. Christ said, "whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea", Mark 9. 42. What a powerful example Joseph was! If we were like him, it might be recorded in heaven to our credit, "then came children, colleagues, neighbours, etc."
Finally, notice his FAITH. In Mark 15. 45, Pilate, when describing the body of Christ, uses the word ptoma which means a corpse. When Joseph speaks of the "body" he uses the word soma, the word used of a living body. When the Lord Jesus spoke of His death no one understood except Mary, and she anointed Him against the day of His burial. He also spoke of His resurrection, and perhaps nobody understood except Joseph, in placing the body in his tomb probably believed that He would rise again. Psalm 16 says, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption". Joseph could have understood it.
If we want to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, what better example could we follow than this man called Joseph? These are the things which would characterize us: Faithfulness, Courage, Humility, Devotion, Sacrifice, Example and Faith.