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The secret disciple

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JN 19:38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night…

Very little is known in the Bible about Joseph from Arimathea, a small city located in Judea, Jerusalem. Just like Nicodemus, another prominent man named in the Gospel of John, Joseph of Arimathea was also a member of the Sanhedrin. This was the highest Jewish tribunal, equivalent to a Jewish supreme court during the time of Christ.

What we know from Matthew is that Joseph of Arimathea was an affluent man. This explains why he owned a beautiful garden tomb where Jesus was buried after he died from crucifixion. (MT 27:57).

What we know from Mark is that he was waiting for the kingdom of God. This shows us his religious zeal and his spiritual steadfastness. (Mark 15: 43).

What we know from Luke is that he was an upright man. He enjoyed a favorable, wholesome and positive reputation in the community. This is also the very reason why he did not agree with the Sanhedrin’s decision to convict Jesus, an innocent man of crimes he did not commit. (LK 23:50).

What John mentions is that he was a secret follower of the Lord. This shows that despite the positive aspects of his character, Joseph of Arimathea feared public opinion. He could not openly stand by his own, personal convictions about Christ. (John 19:38.)

You see, Joseph of Arimathea was part of a complex and powerful religious circle that openly criticized and rejected the teachings of Christ. For many of them, Jesus was a heretic. For some of them, Jesus was even demon-possessed.

In short, Joseph of Arimathea knew that becoming identified with Jesus Christ was too precarious and too risky. It would complicate his otherwise peaceful, comfortable and quiet existence. And so for all practical reasons and intentions, and because of great fear of the religious majority, Joseph of Arimathea took the safest and most harmless road of all – he followed Jesus in secret.

Fear

JN 19:38 … Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. Fear is the feeling of dread, terror and panic. Fear is one the greatest reasons why many often choose the path of least resistance.

This is also known as the Principle of Least Effort. This phraseology is used in library science and research. This principle states that regardless of one’s skill and proficiency as a searcher, or regardless of their level of subject expertise, a person seeking information will always use research tools that are most familiar, most convenient, and most easy to use.

But you see, just like the experience of Joseph of Arimathea, change is inevitable. There will come a time when we will realize that the path of least effort is no longer the wisest, the most meaningful, and the most relevant path to take. And so after being a secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, stirred and convicted by the courage and righteousness of Jesus, rose up one day, risked all he had, and openly aligned himself with Christ.

Faith

v. 18 With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. Faith, in the context of Joseph of Arimathea’s experience, means rising up in courage to make a stand for Christ. It means taking a posture of courage and righteous action.

During the time of Christ, the remains of an executed criminal were often left unburied or at least, put in a pauper’s field. In some cases, a near relative such as a mother would ask permission for the body.

While the rest of the disciples and close associates of Jesus were hiding in fear for their lives, Joseph of Arimathea, finally stood in faith. He came forward to do what was right – to give Jesus a decent and honorable burial. Using very wisely his power and religious influence, he demonstrated an unexpected gesture of faith and courage. He asked Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus, and together with another secret disciple Nicodemus, they performed the required ritual of preparation before laying to rest the early remains of the Lord.

It was just a few hours before sundown, the start of the Jewish Shabat (sabbath). Everthing had to be done quietly, swiftly, and honorably. In another gesture of faith, Joseph of Arimathea goes the second mile. After wrapping the body of Jesus in traditional spies with the burial cloth, he offered a never-been used tomb in his garden to be the resting place of Jesus’ remains, fulfilling an old testament prophecy that the anointed one of God will indeed be buried among the rich.

Brothers and sisters, we learn from Joseph of Arimathea’s unique with Christ that God, in his grace and goodness, will provide every opportunity for his people to come forward and cross over from fear to faith. It is only necessary that when these prophetic moments come, we do not shrink back but rise to the occasion – we do not hide but step out in faith, knowing that a secret disciple is no disciple at all!

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