Joseph of Arimathea showed his love for his Saviour at a crucial time and buried him in his own tomb. He is a reminder to us that God has his person for every emergency. Joseph is an example of a person who has been in the background spiritually but who comes to the fore when the cause of Christ seems to have been abandoned by everyone else.
The only details we have about Joseph are in the incident recorded in connection with Christ’s burial. No mention is made of him elsewhere in the New Testament. Arimathea, his hometown, has not been found with certainty. His life can be summarised as follows: he was a prominent man because he was an honourable counsellor; he was a pious man because he is described as being good and just; and he was a hopeful man, waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God.
Joseph served Jesus at an unlikely time. The cause of Christ was at a low point. All his disciples had fled. There seemed to be no one to take care of the body of the Saviour. Despite all the good he had done, it was too dangerous to identify with him.
Joseph was an unlikely disciple. He was an important man, a member of the Sanhedrin. He was also a rich man. He had his reputation to think about. Yet he used his position for Jesus – he had access to Pilate and so he went and asked for permission to take down the body of Jesus from the cross.
John’s Gospel was written last of the four Gospels. By the time it was written, about AD 90, Joseph is not remembered for his status in society or for his riches, but for what he did for Jesus. At the end of the day, that is what each of us will be remembered for.
Joseph was also an unlikely disciple from another point of view. Involving himself in the burial of Jesus would have made Joseph ceremoniously unclean, so he was depriving himself of participating in the Passover. This was an important occasion, something that he no doubt valued. But he was prepared to put Jesus before his own interests. In this he is a challenge to us.
Joseph’s actions also involved him in taking part in an unusual gathering. When he and Nicodemus went to the cross they would have met there the Roman centurion and the penitent robber. It is not too much to imagine that they would have told Joseph all that had taken place. The penitent thief could speak of his assurance of heaven because of the promise of Jesus. The centurion could describe how watching Jesus led him to realise that he was the Son of God. Nicodemus would recall his evening meeting when Jesus spoke to him of the new birth. In a sense, this gathering was just like a church, in which different people tell what Jesus has done for their souls. It is a picture of the spiritual unity that exists, between Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, all forgiven by the Saviour who died for them.