“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was 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 away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:38-41)
Intense circumstances often prompt people to take responsibility and be leaders. Such was the case with two men who took charge of Jesus’ burial: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemas.
This is the first occasion in which Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned by the Apostle John. What do we know about Joseph?
To begin with, Joseph was a Jew of Arimethea. Arimethea is identified by some historians as also being the town of Ramathaim-Zophim, which was a town in Ephraim, the birthplace of Samuel, where David came to him (1 Samuel 1:1, 19). It is also noted that Arimethea was located approximately 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem.
The Gospel of Luke identifies Joseph as ‘a good and righteous man, … and he was looking for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 23:50–51). Luke also records that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin but did not consent to the decision and deed to crucify Jesus (Luke 23:50-51). The Gospel of Mark mentions that Joseph was a prominent member of the council (Mark 15:43).
The Gospel of Matthew mentions that Joseph was a rich man who had become a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57). It was Joseph who specifically went to Pontius Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:58; Luke 23:52). Matthew and Luke also mention that it was Joseph who took down Jesus’ body from the cross, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb which had never been used (Matthew 27:60; Luke 23:53).
John’s Gospel states that Joseph was ‘a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews’ (John. 19:38). However, Mark mentions that Joseph took courage to ask for Jesus’ body (Mark 15:43). When it really counted, Joseph was strong and courageous (Joshua 1:1-9).
Joseph’s actions were partnered with those of Nicodemas. This was the same Nicodemas who came to Jesus by night (John 3:1-10; 19:39). Nicodemas came with approximately 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body (John 19:39.
Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “An inaccurate understanding of the term used in the original, this mixture of spices weighed closer to 65 pounds. Myrrh was a very fragrant, gummy resin that the Jews turned into a powdered form and mixed with aloes, a powder from the aromatic sandalwood. The Jews did not embalm but did this procedure to suppress the odor of decay.”
The text then says that Joseph and Nicodemas took Jesus’ body, bound it in strips of linen (I.e. swaddling clothes) with the spices as was the Jewish custom (John 19:40). The text continues to say that the new tomb was located in a garden (John 19:41). They laid Jesus’ body into the tomb because it was the Preparation Day and the tomb was nearby (John 19:42). This was a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9.
One commentator explains that,” Normally, the Jews would bury criminals in a common grave outside the city gates, but the body of Jesus got a different treatment. Some commentators believe that Pilate’s willingness to give the body to Joseph (and Nicodemus; v. 39) is a further indication that Pilate believed Jesus was innocent, since he allowed Jesus not to be buried with other criminals.”
The practical application of today’s lesson is that when it truly counted, Joseph and Nicodemas served the Lord with great boldness in spite of their prior fear and trepidation. Have there been occasions when you feared serving the Lord? I’m sure we all have felt intimidation at some time or another. The solution is to repent of fear and resolve to serve Jesus with strength, courage and boldness.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!