Holy Week #6: “What caused Joseph of Arimathea to stop being a secret disciple”?

Joseph of Arimathaea was described as “a good man and just”. (Luke 23:50) He knew what the law stated and he earnestly followed it. Imagine his shock when he discovered what had happened the night Jesus was betrayed. Members of the Sanhedrin were brought to Caiaphas’ home where the Sanhedrin had hastily gathered. Probably not all 70 members had been invited and Joseph was most likely not in attendance.

This trial was immediately illegal because was held at night in violation of their own laws that stated trials had to be held during the day. It was a mock trial because they had decided ahead of time what the verdict would be: that they would kill Jesus. (The High Priest, Caiaphas, said that it was necessary for Jesus to die for the entire nation. -John 11:30) It was also illegal because there were no witnesses to initiate the trial, but instead, they sought for witnesses while the trial was in progress. Another reason it was illegal was that the verdict in a capital case had to wait and be given the day after the trial, however Jesus’ guilty verdict was rendered immediately. That was why it was specifically forbidden to have a trial the day before Passover.

Imagine, when Joseph of Arimathaea came to the Sanhedrin in the morning only to discover that during the night, while he slept, Jesus had been unjustly tried and sentenced to death. Can you imagine how this must have shocked Joseph who, being a good and just man, also expected the Sanhedrin to follow the law as he did. He was suddenly faced with the blatant hypocrisy of the Sanhedrin who proudly claimed to adhere to the minutest details of the law, but now purposely manipulated the law to kill an innocent man. Joseph clearly saw the travesty of the court and the evil that the Sanhedrin had done. He must have been appalled and outraged.

It seems that Joseph was present at the cross when Jesus died because he knew of Jesus’ death before Pilate did. “And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.” (Mark 15:44) So, we can assume that Joseph went to the crucifixion site and beheld the indignity of Jesus’ suffering, which was far greater than any persecution he feared would have happened to him if he professed Christ openly.

He witnessed the darkness encompass the earth for three hours while Jesus hung on the cross. He felt the earthquake as if the entire Creation was shaking at the death of its Creator.

Joseph had witnessed Jesus’ agony on the cross. He witnessed the ultimate suffering Christ that endured for him. That awful scene could have moved him to examine his own cowardly conscience, and how he feared ridicule of others. He finally decided that he must take a stand for truth. At the very least, Joseph was now stirred to action. He could be silent no longer.

Up to this point, he had been a disciple secretly. But, no longer. Now we see an man, outraged at himself for not standing alone to defend Jesus and allowing this deed to happen, and outraged with the those who crucified Jesus. He had lost all respect for the Sanhedrin and their underhanded ways. No longer did he care what the Jews would do to him. He had been ashamed to admit his faith before, but now, he boldly confessed his faith in Jesus Christ. It didn’t matter if it meant losing his job. It didn’t matter if it meant losing respect of others. It didn’t matter if it meant losing his life.

This was a time when all of Jesus’ acquaintances stood at a distance (Luke 23:49). But it was Joseph, the secret disciple, who stepped forward. He who had hung back for fear of the Jews now courageously claimed Christ’s body from Pilate.

Perhaps Joseph sinned in valuing his position in society too high. But, when he witnessed the terrible pain and suffering that Christ went through, he became broken hearted and repented.

Then, Joseph of Arimathaea came out of the shadows. He responded to the call and played the part God called him to play in the Drama of the Redemption of Mankind. He came out to center stage and played his part perfectly. He claimed the body of Jesus Christ, prepared the body for burial and laid Jesus in his own new tomb, perfectly ordained by God to fulfill a prophecy given over 600 years earlier by Isaiah. This is an amazing example of God fulfilling prophecy and simultaneously working in a man’s heart

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