“A DISCIPLE OF JESUS, BUT SECRETLY”
1. This is the story of the character I could not leave out.
a. I think he is connected with the passage we studied this morning (Jn. 12:42, 43).
b. More than that, though, I know he struggled with a spiritual challenge a lot of us are familiar with: how do go from being a secret admirer of Jesus to being a bold servant of his?
2. Joseph of Arimathea is the only person mentioned at the burial of Jesus in all four Gospel accounts, and he is mentioned only in this connection.
a. He will be forever known as the man who laid Jesus to rest in his own new tomb.
b. The beauty of his kind deed is appreciated even more because he stepped forward and did it at a moment when the enemies of the Lord had been so cruel, and must have triumphantly supposed that he was out of the way.
c. But Joseph had not always been that brave – and what made him different at this moment is the thing we need to look into.
1. “The more you know about him...”
a. In several ways, this Joseph is one of the most outstanding men in the Bible.
i. He was from Arimathea, a town of the Jews which was located in the hill country about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem (Lk. 23:51).
ii. He was a rich man (Matt. 27:57) who was also a member of the Council which exercised judgement among the Jew. By both position and character, he was highly respected among his people (Mk. 15:43).
iii. Luke adds that he was a good and righteous man who was looking for the kingdom of God (Lk. 23:51). In other words, in his attitudes as well as in his actions, and in his aspirations, Joseph was a godly man.
iv. We also know from Luke that he had not consented to their decision and action (Lk. 23:51). Does this mean he had not been present? Or, had he been there but not said anything? Or, had he gotten out-voted?
v. Matthew says, as does John, that he was also a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 27:57; Jn. 19:38).
b. Any way you measure it, the was a noble man.
i. There were things about Jesus which appealed to the best in people, and the best of people.
ii. A man who was rich, and respected, and righteous, and regarded by others as having everything an honorable person could want could still have his heart won by the Lord.
2. “But secretly...”
a. This is the “but” in the story which had thus far hindered Joseph in his service to the Lord.
i. He had been trying to be a learner of the Lord without anyone learning of it. It was an impossible way to live!
ii. It’s thought-provoking to compare this with John 12:42, 43.
iii. Did John know there were many believers among the authorities who didn’t confess it because people like Joseph and Nicodemus had told him?
b. What he was trying to do is understandable: it was “for fear of the Jews.”
i. If he was a member of the Council he knew first-hand how determined the opposition to Jesus was.
ii. What had taken place leading up to the cross, and upon the cross, was evidence enough of where siding with Jesus could take you.
iii. Besides, he had so much to lose.
c. But secret discipleship was, and is, a problem which must be overcome.
i. Matthew 10:32, 33
ii. Matthew 5:14-16; 6:1-2, 5, 7
iii. 2 Timothy 1:7, 8
3. “After these things...asked Pilate that he might take away the body”
a. Mark says he “took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (15:43). The secret disciple now acted with boldness.
i. After verifying that Jesus was actually dead, Pilate gave him permission and he came and took away the body.
ii. Nicodemus generously helped him, and they gave the body the kind of preparation for burial that would have been provided for royalty under the custom of the Jews.
(1) It was expensive.
(2) It was also work.
iii. There was a garden close at hand where there was a tomb in which they could lay him, especially since it was late in the day and the Sabbath was beginning.
(1) It was a new tomb in which no body had ever been laid.
(2) It had been cut out of the rock (Mk. 15:46), with a great stone ready to be rolled to the entrance.
(3) Matthew says it had been prepared to be Joseph’s own tomb (27:60).
b. Where did that kind of courage come from? What turned the secret disciple into a bold and generous servant at a moment like this?
i. Maybe the “after these things” of John 19:38 is part of it.
(1) What had happened on the cross may have put everything in perspective for Joseph.
(2) The ugliness of sin, the beauty of grace, and the cost of inaction were now all too obvious.
(3) There now didn’t seem to be anything to fear that really mattered.
ii. Sometimes the fact that there is something that simply has to be done calls forth the best in people.
(1) The disciples now all seem to have fled. Was the body of the Lord to simply hang there?
(2) If Joseph had been living under the assumption that “somebody will do something,” the truth was now clearly before him: he was the somebody.
(3) The crisis revealed his true character. He was a man. He now acted like it. He stepped forward and did what had to be done.
c. John’s account of this episode suggests that the presence of a friend who thought like he did was part of Joseph’s strength at this moment.
i. “Nicodemus also...,” verse 39 says.
ii. Observe that John notes specifically that this was the man “who earlier had come to Jesus by night.” It seems to me that he is indicating that this man too had been a disciple, but secretly.
iii. Had he and Joseph talked about it? Did they know of each other’s disagreement with the actions of the Council? Was their partnership in this what gave them the courage to act at this awful moment?
1. God raises up great people at just the right time to meet the need of the hour. Who knows but what you or me are the people “for such a time as this”?
2. Real faith cannot long be kept a secret. There is a time to decide once and for all whether you are on the Lord’s side.