Commentary from Paul Tripp with added comments from Alicia Britt Chole and myself.
There are two very famous men in Scripture who share the name Joseph. There’s the Old Testament Joseph, the great savior of the nation of Israel, whose amazing story from abandoned brother to Egyptian lord is chronicled in Genesis. Then there’s the New Testament Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, who believed in the angel’s report and became the guardian of the young Messiah. But there’s a third Joseph, often overlooked because of the drama of the moment onto which he stepped.
I love his story of faith.
Joseph of Arimathea walks on stage during the grand redemptive narrative immediately following the death of Jesus. There could be no higher drama than the drama of this moment. The Pharisees had falsely charged and murdered the Messiah, crucifying him like a low-life criminal. As part of his torture, they made sure to mock his supposed kingship. Seeing this, the disciples of Christ fled from the unthinkable horror.
How could it be that the life of Jesus would end this way? How could it be that the faith of those who followed him was in vain? How could it be that the signs and wonders they had seen and the amazing teaching they had heard were not so wonderful and amazing after all? If Jesus truly was the Son of God, how could he die? If Christ really possessed the divine power he claimed to possess, why didn’t he use it crush the enemies who were plotting his death?
Joseph of Arimathea had these same questions, doubts and fears. Like everyone else, he had no idea what God was doing. He didn’t have the ability to see the future, so how could he know that the worst thing that had just happened – the death of the Messiah – would become the best thing to ever happen? This Joseph had no special revelation to help him understand that the Cross wasn’t a moment of divine defeat, but in fact a public declaration of divine victory. In the moment, it seemed like all was lost. There was so much he simply didn’t understand.
“It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So, evening approached. Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So, Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” Mark 15: 42-46
While the other disciples were hiding in confusion and fear, Joseph of Arimathea acted with remarkable courage and love. If you noticed from the passage, this man had everything to lose with this move. He was a member of the Jewish Council publicly and a disciple of Jesus privately. He had not endorsed the Council’s decision to condemn Jesus. Joseph had kept his commitment to Jesus a secret for fear of those with whom he ruled.
Asking for the body of this crucified man was a public declaration of his love for Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea would no longer be a secret disciple. When he could have remained under the radar, Joseph inserted himself into the middle of a religious and political drama, the very drama that sent the rest of the disciples into hiding. In one move, Joseph risked everything: his wealth, his reputation, his power, and even his life.
But Joseph of Arimathea loved his Lord too much to let his body rot on the cross or be ignominiously thrown with other criminals into some shallow public grave. With a heart of worship, he gave to the Messiah a tomb. Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus his resting place. It was a treasured, costly space reserved for Joseph himself. But he gifted it to Jesus and with a heart of love. He buried his Lord with honor.
What Joseph didn’t know was that his burial of Jesus would not be the end. By God’s power and grace, his tomb was not a casket of death, but a doorway to life. After three days, the stone would be rolled away and the grave linens left behind, because Jesus would live again, and so would all who followed him by faith. The tomb that Joseph offered was not a final resting place, but rather the ultimate symbol of God’s complete and final victory over sin and death and his delivery of the promise of forgiveness and new life to all who put their trust in him.
Joseph of Arimathea had no idea that generations of believers to follow would not look at his tomb with the stone still in place and weep but would look into the tomb with stone rolled away and rejoice with eternal hope. Joseph’s tomb of death now stands honored as a symbol of life. It stands as a picture of the power of Almighty God. It lives as a portrait of the faithfulness of God. It’s a sign that points to the grace of God. It sits in human history as a guarantee of the final completion of the redemptive work of God.
Joseph’s empty tomb is a finger that points us toward another resurrection to come. We will rise from this sin-scarred, suffering-stained world to a new world with the Son in the center and no sin or suffering anywhere to be found. Joseph’s tomb signifies that there will be a day when there will never again be a need for any tomb of any kind, because death itself will be dead.
Joseph of Arimathea had no idea what would result from his courageous act of worshipful love, and we don’t have any idea either of what God will do in us and through us as we act in the courage of faith and with worshipful hearts of love. Our Lord is able to take ordinary responses of faith and do extraordinary things with them, and we must remember that we have all we need in what he has revealed to act in the courage of faith and the worship of love.
For me, I know that there is someone who loves me far beyond what I am capable of loving myself.
His name is Jesus.