by Mike Benson
All four gospel accounts tell us about this man who stepped forward to bury the body of Jesus (cf. Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:38-42).
He was a member of the Jewish counsel, the Sanhedrin–the Supreme Court of the Jews (Luke 23:50a). He was a good and just man (v. 50b). But unlike his peers, he did not agree with the council’s decision to kill Jesus (v. 51a). He was also a fearful man.
“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus”(John 19:38).
But fear didn’t stop Joseph.
Mark tells us:
“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43-emphasis mine, mb).
Have you ever stopped to ponder what was involved in that phrase “and taking courage”?
It’s likely that Joseph had to explain to Pilate why he wanted Jesus’ body in the first place. But what could he say? How could he, as a member of the very group which demanded Jesus’ death, now want the Lord’s corpse for a proper burial?
Under law, those condemned to death on the cross forfeited their right to burial. Historians tell us that their bodies were either left for birds to consume, or were taken down and then disposed of in the city garbage dump.
Remember also that Pilate and the Sanhedrin had already crossed swords. The Jewish leaders had brought Jesus to him on obviously trumped up charges, insisted that he find the Lord guilty, and then have Him put to death. When Pilate resisted, the council threatened to complain to the Roman authorities:
“From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar” (John 19:22).
So this fearful member of the council, secretly went to Pilate, who had already tangled with this very same group, asked for the body of Jesus, knowing that as a condemned criminal Jesus had no burial rights, and knowing that news of his request could eventually reach the ears of his peers in the Sanhedrin. /1
That took incredible courage.
Robert Kennedy once observed:
“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence, yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world.”
Dear reader, the next time you want to take a stand for Christ and change your little part of the world, but you are afraid-like Joseph of Arimathea, remember that phrase, “and taking courage…”
1/ He had to know that as soon as the news got out about his taking Jesus’ body, he might lose his social standing, his status, as well as his wealth. He had to know that he could be voted out of the council, excluded from any position of religious or social influence, and have his reputation smeared around Jerusalem (cf. John 9:22).