The final words had left Jesus’ lips, “It is finished”. The spear had been thrust through his side and his body hung limp on the cross. No words of wisdom coming from his mouth. No miraculous touch would come from those nail pierced hands. His disciples had disappeared into hiding and only a few of the women remained at the scene. Sunset and the Sabbath were quickly approaching as a man in the flowing robes of the ruling council stood looking on with disbelief at the tragic end of this imfamous day.
As he watched in sorrow and the minutes crept by,something stirred in his soul. Where is the family? Where are his followers? Surely they won’t leave his body to be thrown in the dump heap? His eyes searched among the soldiers and other bystanders, but only the small group of women remained weeping and watching the One labeled ‘King of the Jews’. Someone needs to take him down! The urgency mounted in his heart. Someone has to do something, and quickly. As his eyes again franticly searched for someone to fulfill this sacred task, a whisper came to his mind, soft but strong, ‘Why not you?’.
Me? But it’s not my place. Besides, I wouldn’t even admit I believed in him while he was living, at least, I didn’t until it was already too late. Not until I was forced with the choice as he stood before us and they called my name to cast my vote, ‘Joseph of Arimathea. Do you take a stand with us for the penalty of death?’ As I looked into his face, those eyes so filled with love, mercy and pain, no longer could I deny him. I remained seated and gave my answer, “I will not consent to his death.” The wrath that had been thrown at him was now thrown at me. ‘It won’t change anything. You’re only one vote. What? Has he bewitched you too, Joseph?’
No. It didn’t change anything. They still got their way. And taking him down, giving him a burial, that won’t change anything either, will it? But he deserves it! He deserves at least that. “Nicodemus. Go to the market and purchase the spices. I’ll get the linen and request permission. Go quickly and meet back here before sundown.”
They returned as planned and started a task neither of them had every done before, pulling the nails from the bloody hands and feet of the crucified, taking him down from the cross. They washed the beaten body as best they could before wrapping him in the linen soaked in spices and carrying him to the tomb Joseph owned nearby. They laid him there with solemn care and respect, rolling the stone over the opening, the final act.
Why did Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, a man of great standing, soil himself with this task? He has defiled himself by touching a dead body just as the Sabbath is about to begin. He has identified himself with the One so hated by his peers that they sought and achieved his death. It could cost him everything, his position, his reputation, perhaps even his wealth. Why would his risk all this for a dead man? Did he know that Jesus would raise from the dead in three short days? Not likely. The disciples had been told that by Jesus himself and still didn’t believe it when it happened. So why? What was Joseph expecting to get as a result of this noble deed? Nothing. Nothing. He didn’t do it to get something in return. He did it because Jesus deserved it. Jesus deserved it even if he was dead. To me this is the ultimate in serving God for His glory and not your own reward. A totally selfless act.
You will find that the name Joseph of Arimathea is recorded in all four Gospels, which is a very rare thing. And you will find the different pieces of the story I have told scattered amongst those four accounts. Those Gospels were written decades afterwards, but even then, everyone knew the name of the man who took Jesus down off the cross. And the Holy Spirit, as he inspired them to write, made sure that everyone of them included this man’s name as a tribute to that one selfless act. Joseph did it with no expectation of reward, but even today, his tomb is known not for death, but as a resurrection place.
Scripture references: John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:43-47; Luke 23:50-51