Luke 23:44-53. Mark 15:31-45
There is no way we can possibly comprehend or even imagine the events that took place on that day 1994 years ago. Hundreds if not thousands of people, ordinary folk, the chief priests and leading Pharisees mingled among them, People from the countryside and even other countries who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover-Feast. They would have followed that procession that led to Calvary for the crucifixion. Not so much for the common criminals but for that one who said he was The Son of God, The King of the Jews. Rumours running rife with one of his followers who had already hung himself, and Barabbas the murderer set free instead of that blaspheming do-gooder. Pilate’s words quoted all over the place "I find no fault in him", I find no fault in him,.... then why is he now here hanging on the cross. Matt.27:41 says the chief priests mocking him as he is hanging on the cross, likewise the scribes and elders, "He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let God deliver him now, if he will have him; for he said, I am the Son of God." This would have been 10 o’clock in the morning and as there was no sign of Christ coming off the cross the chief priests, scribes and elders were satisfied that they would be rid of the one who was rocking the foundations of their man-made religion of tradition and formalities. I want you to understand that that religion was APOSTASY, dead religion, dead to the true and living God. John 8:47 He that is of God heareth God’s words; ye , therefore, hear them not, because ye are not of God. And so the greater multitude of people left that ghastly scene on Calvary. then there is three hours darkness and an earthquake. By no now it is three o’clock in the afternoon. The centurion had been watching the one on the centre cross for six hours. He had heard what he said while hanging there in excruciating agony saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He certainly had never heard anything like that ever before in his lifetime and after the centurion saw all this he said: "Truly, this man was the Son of God."
Jesus is dead.
The disciples are shattered and scattered, apart from a few women not too many are left by the cross. It is here, in the darkest and most devastating hour of history when all things seem lost and futile. The impossible has happened, even Pilate said three times I find no fault in him at all, yet he got crucified. It is here, where the agonizing over what has happened dulled the senses, it is here where we see that God has His Man at the opportune time. The Man I am speaking of is Joseph, Joseph of Arimathea. He was an honourable counsellor, who went boldly to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. No matter how dark the hour, no matter what the circumstances - God will have another Joseph of Arimathea come forward. There was a Joseph for Israel in Egypt, there was a Joseph for Jesus at his birth, and there was a Joseph for Jesus at his burial. When all others have lost hope and shirked responsibility, God has the most unlikely to stand up and serve him. We know from Scripture that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews. He was with the underground - a secrete disciple. We do not need to copy him in that. Joseph was afraid by what the Jews might say about him if he would come straight out and declare himself a follower of Jesus. The fear of Man, the Bible says, brings a snare. We never need to be ashamed to be a Christian, never, never because our Saviour died the Just for the Unjust that he might bring us to God. Think of the things that Joseph missed out on by being a secrete disciple. The other disciples walked with the Lord Jesus, they were taught by Him, they saw hundreds of miracles, they saw His power and compassion, they lived with Him and He with them. Not so Joseph. There is no such thing as a freelance Christian in the New Testament. No such thing as a church hopping Christian either for in 1Corinthians it says that God has set them, set them like concrete, into the churches. The Lord’s disciples had unique training and dining with the Lord Jesus, but not so Joseph. You too will miss out on many blessings if you are a secrete disciple be it for the fear of men, lack of resolve or whatever reason. Of course the motivating factor to come forward must be the death of Christ, every other reason is wrong, for the Lord Jesus said: "If I be lifted up, I shall draw all men unto me". This is what happened with Joseph. All the things he knew about Jesus did not produce an open confession, but now that Jesus is dead, Joseph of Arimathea is starting to shine like Venus before the Sunrise. That awful death of Christ had far greater impact on Joseph than the impeccable life. We know that Joseph did not consent with the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus to death, and I believe that the whole affair became so repulsive to him. The enemies of Jesus had gone too far; he could no longer sit still, an innocent man had been condemned and put to death. He could no longer keep silent to such murder. He decided to take sides for that which is right and just. The death of Christ brought him out of his shell. He no longer cared about what these murderous Jews would say. He no longer cared about his official position in the Jewish Council, he no longer cared about his riches, he did not even fear Pilate, but went boldly to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus.
Be you Christian or Unbeliever- have you ever considered the death of Christ, the Lord of Glory, the only Son of God ?
Can you see Joseph, he had just seen the Roman soldier put a spear in the side of Jesus, now he is walking back into the city of Jerusalem, to Pilate’s palace to ask for the body of Jesus. Pilate is surprised that he is already dead, sends for a centurion for confirmation and then gives permission to Joseph to take the body off the cross. Joseph goes back to the site where the crucifixion took place. Luke tells us that Joseph took the body down, but I believe he had help from John who was there with the women, and some very unexpected help from whom ? Who do you think turns up at this late hour ? Nicodemus, John 19:39, who at the first come to Jesus by night. And Nicodemus was not alone either I should say he had a servant with him because he would have had trouble to carry 100 pounds of spices that he brought along for the burial. I think it is absolutely amazing here is another secrete disciple coming out of the woodworks. What does it take to reveal the hearts and thoughts of men - The death of Christ. When Nicodemus saw how they had brutalized the teacher from God, who told him how to be born again. When Nicodemus realized they had murdered the prophet of God. When Nicodemus comprehended the evil and heinous crime that was committed he could no longer hide. It was time to stand up and be counted. Nicodemus and Joseph had common ground in one who was unjustly murdered. The arrest of Jesus caused friendship between Herod and Pilate, but the death of Jesus brought together two very timid followers who found extraordinary strength. It brought them out into the open confessing allegiance with Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, even though he was dead. There was money involved - lots of it. Joseph brought all the fine linen for the burial and Nicodemus brought the spices for the embalming, a hundred weight of them, that could have been anything up to two years wages. He supplied a tomb too, he gave away his very own grave. Oh, I just hope you realize how you have to be identified with the death of Christ to bring out your true colours. You see if the death of Christ will not make an impact on you, will not motivate you for the better, produce an open confession, make you stand up, nothing else will. Though Jesus was dead, Joseph and Nicodemus put their hands into the purse, and did not count the cost. that is practical Christianity, help where help is needed, the body of Jesus now belonged to them, it would not finish up in the valley of Hinnom to burned as rubbish, yet this is how I see so called Christians treat the Lord of Glory by their inactivity, their unwillingness to take a stand and not retreat. If there is a cost involved, Nicodemus and Joseph resolved, so be it. Practical Christianity is to take up responsibility when all others have run away.
The Holy Spirit has given us Joseph and Nicodemus as example that there is no need ever to fear, the Lord is in complete control, no matter how bleak things may look. There is no degree in life, a child that is 2 years old has the same life than someone who is 40 years old, and so it is with life in Christ. If there is life like in Joseph and Nicodemus, if you are born again, God will bring about circumstances to make that new life to shine out for His Glory. Too often we are under the impression that things are out of control, but nothing could be further from the truth. When the Lord Jesus was taken from the cross all hope seemed gone - but have we too forgotten that these things happened by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God. They might seem strange words to you, but they say that it was all in God’s plan, all under His control. He provided the circumstances to bring out greater things in Joseph and Nicodemus than to be a secrete disciple. I haven’t got to the punch-line in this message and before I get there I want you to know that I have written this for your encouragement. If you think that Hackham South is God-forsaken, you are wrong. God is bringing about the circumstances to refine the silver. In plain English, he is making His redeemed shine brighter and better. Christ is the Head of this Church and don’t ever forget this. Christ is the head, and He is in control.
Now I suppose you are wondering what the punch-line is in this message. Well, we all know that Joseph of Arimathea got his grave back because the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, and ever since he is declared to be THE SON OF GOD with power from the resurrection from the dead. We know He is no longer just Jesus but LORD OF ALL. We know that He is our GREAT GOD AND SAVIOUR. We know that He is THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, far above principalities and powers, and you say, what is the punch-line?
Well, would you consider what stirred up Joseph and Nicodemus, would you consider what Joseph and Nicodemus did for Jesus when he was dead, .... how much more should we be stirred up, and stand up, for our Saviour who is alive forevermore ????
F.J.R. Hackham South 30.3.97