Bystanders Day 10: Joseph of Arimathea

By Jaime Sherman

  • Matthew 27:57-61
  • Mark 15:42-47
  • Luke 23:50-56
  • John 19:38-42

As Jesus gasped His final breath upon the cross, a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea made a risky decision. He, a Jew and member of the council of religious leaders who had called for Jesus’ death, would request a word with Pilate, the Roman governor. Joseph would dare to give voice to a request that would forever link him to this religious fanatic and would upend his standing as a respected member of the religious establishment.

Listen to Jaime share today’s post.

He would ask for the body of Jesus and give Him the burial He deserved, but this was easier said than done. At some point in the three years Jesus had publicly ministered to the sick and demon possessed and taught openly in the Temple courts, Joseph had gone from one waiting for the Promised One to come to believing that Jesus was this King of kings. But in fear, he kept his discipleship a secret. He hadn’t consented to the council’s decision and action to eliminate Jesus as a threat, but he had allowed the voices of the angry majority to silence him.

But no longer.

As the earth shook and rocks crumbled around him in a powerful display that matched Jesus’ final words, ”It is finished,” Joseph, a bystanders to all that was happening that day, took courage and requested an audience before Pilate. When it was given, he boldly asked for the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth.

Surprisingly, Pilot granted his petition after confirming with a centurion that Jesus was indeed dead. Joseph hurried to Golgotha to undertake a gruesome and bloody job not befitting his position as a religious leader.

With great respect but a sense of urgency because the Sabbath was quickly approaching, Joseph took down Jesus’ mangled body from the cross and dislodged the nails from His hands and feet. As Joseph moved the body to his own, untouched tomb cut in the nearby hillside, another secret disciple joined him.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had questioned Jesus early in His ministry, came bearing 75 pounds of  myrrh and aloes. Joseph provided the linen sheeting, and together they shrouded Jesus’ body in the long-honored tradition of the Jews and laid it in the tomb. Then, before they left to celebrate the day of rest in accordance with the law, they rolled a stone over the tomb’s entrance. Their job was done, and the next day they presumed that the women from Galilee who traveled with Jesus, those tearfully watching at a distance, would return to apply more spices and ointments to the corpse.

On this day when we remember that Jesus went to the cross for us, consider whether you have taken courage to be named as a follower of Jesus. While they struggled earlier in Jesus’ ministry to set aside their good reputation before the religious leaders and their own comfort and riches to honor their Savior, Good Friday marked a turning point in Joseph and Nicodemus’ lives. What might it look like for you today to follow their post-crucifixion example and honor Jesus above all others, including your own comfort?

For additional narratives in our Bystanders series, click here.

Join us today for the Way of the Cross art project in Kesey Square in downtown Eugene from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and for our Good Friday service from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at UFC. On Sunday we will celebrate together that “He is Risen!” Easter services will be at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the church.