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The Characters of Lent: Joseph of Arimathea
John 19:38-42

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service VI—April 1, 2009

Up to the point of Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea had been a secret disciple of Jesus.  That is because Joseph had a lot to lose if it became known that he was Jesus’ follower.  For he was a wealthy man and a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council.  But, it was the Sanhedrin that voted to kill Jesus, although Joseph “had not consented to their decision or action,”  and the Sanhedrin had threatened to excommunicate anyone found to be a follower of Jesus. 

If Joseph of Arimathea made his discipleship known, he might lose it all: his powerful position on the Sanhedrin; the honor, respect and recognition this position brought him; and even his wealth, since he would be shunned and no one would do business with him anymore.  And so, John reports, “Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.”

It seems the death of Jesus on the cross should have made Joseph even more fearful, even more afraid of making known his faith in Jesus.  And, yet, it is the death of Jesus that finally moves Joseph into action.  Mark says he “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.”  It was not unusual for the loved ones of crucifixion victims to request their bodies for a proper burial.  But, how very surprised Pontius Pilate must be that the loved one requesting Jesus’ body for burial is none other than Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the very Sanhedrin that demanded Jesus’ death! 

Joseph bought the linen cloth for burial, and Nicodemus, another secret disciple of Jesus on the Sanhedrin, furnished an extravagant, expensive amount of myrrh and aloes, myrrh to perfume the corpse, and aloes as a balm for its horrible wounds.  Together they wrapped Jesus’ body in strips of linen, with the myrrh and aloes, and laid it in Joseph of Arimathea’s own new tomb nearby.

Martin Luther says this about the fact that Jesus had a borrowed tomb: “The reason he has no grave of his own is that he will not remain in death and the grave.  So we, too, will be raised up from the grave at the last day, and through his resurrection we will live with him in eternity.”

Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”  Just as the death of Jesus moved Joseph of Arimathea to show himself as Jesus’ disciple and to lovingly serve Jesus by so beautifully caring for his body, in the same way Jesus’ death on the cross to pay for your sins will move you, out of gratitude to God, to show yourself as his disciple, and to live no longer for yourself but for him, who died for you and rose again.

That is the lesson of the Lenten story of Joseph of Arimathea.  Amen.

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