It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
Mark 15:43 introduces a man named Joseph, who was from Arimathea, a small town northwest of Jerusalem. He is identified as “a prominent member of the Council” (15:43). We know this council by another name, the Sanhedrin. This body, composed of the most influential Jewish leaders, exercised considerable authority over Jewish life, under the Roman governor, of course. Thus, Joseph was a major 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 himself waiting for the kingdom of God” (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 “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” Why was this so risky? 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. Joseph may have been motivated by the Jewish tradition of honoring the dead through burying them. The Romans did not bury victims of crucifixion as a way of adding insult to injury. Joseph may have wanted to rectify their dishonoring of a Jewish man. The Gospel of Matthew fills in the blanks here by identifying Joseph as a follower of Jesus (Matthew 27:57), though we don’t know exactly what this means. There is no evidence that Joseph had been literally following Jesus as he preached throughout Judea.
I close today’s devotion with two brief 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 TO CONSIDER:
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?
Today, do you need courage like Joseph of Arimathea? Will you ask God to give you this boldness?
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 us 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 we do. Help us to trust you enough to step away from our comfort zones so that we might honor and serve you. Amen.