No Joseph of Arimathea, No Easter

Tomb-Of-Joseph-Of-Arimathea-From-Views-Of-PalestineJoseph of Arimathea, How many people even know who he was? He is a minor character in the passion of Christ narrative. But if Joseph had not acted at the precise time when he did, the story of the resurrection of Christ would be vastly different.

First, let me remind you of what Joseph did. We read in Mark 15:43 that he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus after He had died in order to bury him. Why was this such a big deal? For one thing, when a person was executed by the Roman government, they not only lost their life, they also lost their property and the right of burial. It was common for a body to be left on the cross to rot, or be eaten by birds and other animals. The release of the body for burial was based solely on the generosity of the magistrate in charge. Usually if the relatives of the condemned man asked for the body, it would be given to them. The problem is that there was no one to ask for Jesus’ body. The only relative of Jesus that we know to have been at the crucifixion was His mother Mary. From the cross, Jesus gave His disciple John the responsibility to care for her. Apparently, John took Mary away immediately after Jesus died. The rest of the disciples had fled in fear. So there was no one to bury Jesus.

Another problem was that Jesus died around 3:00 pm on Friday afternoon. By Jewish reckoning, the Sabbath day would begin at 6:00 pm on Friday. It is certain that no self-respecting Jew would take a dead body down from the cross and bury it on the Sabbath day. So there were only a few hours in which Jesus could be buried.

But there was another problem. We are told in Mark 15:43 that Joseph was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin. This was the very council that condemned Jesus and turned Him over to Pilate to be crucified. Joseph did not consent to that decision because he was a believer in Christ, but no one knew that about him because he had kept it secret.

As Joseph watched Jesus die, he knew he had to do something–but he was scared. If he asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, he would be making his devotion to Jesus Christ public knowledge. His peers in the Sanhedrin truly hated Jesus and those who followed Him. He did not know what would happen, but we are told, “He gathered up courage and went in before Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.”

So why was it such a big deal that Jesus be buried? For one thing, His burial was a confirmation that He actually died. The gospel writers are very precise in noting witnesses who saw Jesus die on the cross and then witnessed His burial as well. You see, if Jesus did not die, then your sins cannot be forgiven. The wages of sin is death. In death, Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sin. But if He did not die then no person has any hope of forgiveness for their sins. Enemies of the Christian faith understand how important this is. I recently read of a well-known critic who accused the early church of making up the story of Joseph of Arimathea. He has absolutely no proof of that, but it shows that he knows Jesus’ death was of monumental importance.

But Jesus not only needed to die, He also needed to be raised from the dead. If Jesus somehow came down off the cross when no one was looking, then people could say that He never really died. But since Joseph buried Jesus in his tomb, and since the tomb was sealed so that no one could go in or out–the fact that the tomb was empty on Sunday morning gave clear testimony that He was risen. He was risen indeed!

Joseph of Arimathea was taking a huge risk–but it was a holy risk. He was acting out of genuine devotion to Jesus Christ. And God used the simple act of burying a dead man in a huge way. Joseph wasn’t looking to have his name included in the Scriptures. He would be shocked that people still talk about him. He would be even more shocked that people see what he did as so important that they deny he ever existed. But God took this simple good work, this holy risk, and multiplied its fruit beyond what he could ever imagine.

What holy risk do you need to take today? He is risen! He is risen indeed!