Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.)
Mark 15:43 introduces a man named Joseph, who was from Arimathea, a small town northwest of Jerusalem. He is identified as “an honored member of the high council” (15:43). We know this council by another name, the Sanhedrin. This body, composed of the most prominent Jewish leaders, exercised considerable authority over Jewish life, under the Roman governor, of course. Thus Joseph was a prominent figure in Judea during the time of Jesus. Given the fact that he owned a grave that he was willing to use for the burial of Jesus, Joseph was probably a man of considerable wealth, in addition to power and influence.
Mark tells us that Joseph “was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come” (15:43). This suggests that he was not a Sadducee, since these leading Jews did not have expectations for a future kingdom. Joseph could have been a Pharisee, though this is not stated in the text. At any rate, Joseph’s concern for the coming kingdom was undoubtedly that which led him to be particularly interested in Jesus.
Mark 15:43 says that Joseph “took a risk and went to Pilate.” (The Greek verb used here means “to be bold” or “to dare.”) Actually, his risk was double-edged. On the one hand, by going to Pilate and asking for the body of Jesus, Joseph could have been identified as a follower of Jesus, which would not have increased the honor of a leading member of the Sanhedrin. It could well jeopardize his leadership, if not his life. On the other hand, by going to Pilate and asking for the body of Jesus, Joseph surely risked criticism or even ostracism from other members of the high council.
Mark does not tell us why Joseph asked to bury the body of Jesus. Matthew fills in the blanks here by identifying Joseph as a follower of Jesus (Matt. 27:57). But Joseph may also have been motivated by the Jewish tradition of honoring the dead by burying them. The Romans did not bury victims of crucifixion as a way of adding insult to injury.
I close this reflection with two observations. The first has to do with Jewish attitudes towards Jesus. To be sure, some Jewish leaders collaborated with the Romans to secure the death of Jesus. But many other Jews, including leaders like Joseph, supported Jesus and followed him. Thus, Joseph reminds us of the historical error of an anti-Semitic attitude that sees all Jews as opposing Jesus. (For more about this, see my blog series Why Did Jesus Have to Die?)
Second, the example of Joseph reminds us that there are times when we must act courageously in our faithfulness to Christ. Like Joseph, we may even have to risk our reputation or position if we’re going to acknowledge Jesus as our Lord. In such a challenge, God will give us courage to stand for him.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever thought about how many Jews were supporters of Jesus, even as he was being crucified? Has your faith in Jesus ever required you to exercise courage? When?
PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for Joseph of Arimathea. We know so little about this man. But the little we know helps us to honor him for his courage and faithfulness.
Help me to be like Joseph, to be willing to take a risk for your sake. Sometimes that risk will be speaking up on your behalf. Sometimes it will be reaching out to another with your love. Sometimes it will be . . . O Lord, you know so much better than I. Help me to trust you enough to step away from my comfort zone so that I might honor and serve you.
In your name, Amen.
A Letter to My Younger Self
One of God's great gifts to us is wisdom from those who have walked the road before us. Our elders offer deep insights into navigating the seasons of life, and when we take time to listen, they offer valuable strategies for leading from the soul. One day, with the Lord's blessing, we will all find ourselves entering a season of retirement, perhaps complete with grand-parenting, and soaking up years of grace.
How will we arrive at those years, and how can we plan now to live well in that season of life? We've asked a few friends to help us think forward in this series, A Letter to My Younger Self.