I love Joseph of Arimathea!
It would be easy in this passage, with the empty tomb just around the corner, to completely forget about Joseph of Arimathea and what he has to say to us this morning. I love the roads less traveled in Scripture because they contain so many scattered jewels that I have not stopped to appreciate before.
One of the most important things we first realize about Joseph of Arimathea (from St. Matthew’s account) is that Joseph was rich. I mention this because usually Jesus is giving the rich a pretty hard time: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And yet what do we discover about this rich man Joseph? He was “waiting for the kingdom of God.”
On his own, a rich man has about as much chance of seeing God as a camel does of passing through the eye of a needle. But becoming spiritually poor for the sake of the riches of God, a rich man has exactly as much chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven as a poor man.
The second strike against poor Joseph is that he was a council member of member of the Sanhedrin. Throughout the Gospels it is particularly the leaders of the Jews who hate, reject, and conspire against Jesus. In fact, it is the Sanhedrin that has just met and sentenced Jesus to death. But not Joseph of Arimathea.
Already, Joseph is so unlike other rich rulers in Israel, but there is more. Like Simeon and Anna back in Luke 2, Joseph was waiting for the Kingdom of God, and when he heard that Jesus had died, he went looking for it (him.)
Now Joseph could have been like any of the 12 disciples who were at this time nowhere to be found. He could have lurked about at a distance, not daring to openly profess his hope in Jesus of Nazareth. He could have secretly hired someone to find the body of Jesus so that his hands could remain clean.
But this is not what Joseph does. Making use of his God-given human authority, he marches right up to Pontius Pilate (of all people!) and asks for the body of Jesus. Now Pilate, who had already acceded to the demands of the Jews to gain favor for himself, something Joseph knew full well, might easily have not wanted to get involved. He may even have become angry. It probably took courage for Joseph to ask: in fact, Mark 15:43 says that Joseph had to “take” courage.
After Pilate had given Joseph permission for Jesus’ body, Joseph “took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock.” How amazing that this rich man who could have ignored Jesus’ dead body, or at least had the propriety to hire someone to do his dirty work, goes and takes care of the body of Jesus himself. We must imagine the details here. Most of the time, if you’re like me, you’re in such a rush to have Jesus be resurrected that you don’t meditate on the fact that He must truly have been dead. We rush to the Crucifixion, spend some time there, and then rush to the Resurrection. But Jesus is here in His death as well, and Joseph teaches us this.
With a fatherly love, Joseph takes down the Body of the Son from the Cross. At this point Jesus’ Body is still showing the evidence of the crown of thorns, his intense flogging, his hours of agony on the Cross, the holes in His Body where the nails held Him to the Cross, and the puncture wound in His side. His Body is bloody and bloodless at the same time. It is limp and white and humanly speaking ghastly and disgusting.This is the body this rich man himself takes down from the Cross. Joseph must take down the Cross, take out the horrible nails still in the body, and unloose the ropes that would have held the body to the Cross. Next, Joseph wraps this disfigured Body in linen, surely his own, and himself carries the Body to an expensive tomb cut out of rock. This is Joseph’s own tomb that he lays Jesus in. How symbolic! Joseph takes the dead Jesus, puts Him in his own tomb, and out of Joseph’s tomb Jesus’ resurrects. This is a picture of salvation and entrance into the Kingdom of God for all of us: Jesus dies in our place and is resurrected so that we might live with Him.
How blessed it was for Joseph to have Jesus die in his tomb! How blessed for us to have Jesus die in our place!
But what Joseph did we must also do. Joseph used the human authority God had given him and took the courage the Holy Spirit offered to ask Pilate for His Body, and we must use all that God has given us each day and seek Jesus, with courage and without regard for what others might think. Joseph himself found Jesus and took hold of His Body and carried it, and we must take up Jesus, our Cross, daily, and carry Him each day. Joseph spent his own resources, the ones God had blessed him with, and provided a place for Jesus, participating in His death that he might participate in His Resurrection. This rich ruler was not above getting his own hands bloody and dirty: no wonder that there is a tradition that Joseph of Arimathea was one of the 70 disciples.
Our challenge this morning is to be like Joseph: to seek Jesus with courage, to use the gifts of God to seek Him and serve Him, in the hope that by seeking the Kingdom of God we might, with Joseph and the thief on the cross, also enter into Paradise.
One of the primary ways we honor the body of Jesus today is to honor the Body of Jesus on earth, His Church. His Body is precious to Him, and His Body requires care. His Body is in need, and He has given each of you His riches with which you may care for His Body. More than just having a few minutes’ meditation on the need to seek Jesus in our hearts, we must seek Him in His Body, the Church, and care for it as we would the bloodied body which Joseph of Arimathea cared for.
Some in the Church are poor and weak, some are bloodied and lifeless. We all need to be ministered to with the care shown by Joseph of Arimathea.
Our goal each day should be to be with Jesus in His life; with Jesus on the Cross; with Jesus in the tomb; with Jesus in His Resurrection; and with Jesus in heaven in the presence of the Father. We do this not only in our own hearts but also in our lives, in His Body the Church, and in the world.
Prayer: Lord, I give you thanks this morning for making me rich beyond all earthly measure. I ask that by Your grace You may encourage me to seek You with those gifts and to use them to glorify You. Help me to seek You not only in my heart but also in Your Church, that I, like Joseph, may tenderly care for the Body for which You died.
Point for Meditation: In what ways has God enriched you so that you might give back His gifts for His kingdom, to care for the Body of Christ?
Resolution: I resolve today to seek Jesus with the riches God has entrusted to me. With courage and without regard to the cost to myself, I resolve to lay hold of Jesus in at least one of the ways He is calling me to serve Him today.
Joseph of Arimathea and the Descent from the Cross – U.S. Public Domain