And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews…
At first, it may disturb your sense of proportion to see the names of two mere men in such a connection; thinking that no name but His own should be mentioned. You care to know nothing about them, and have eyes, ears, heart for nothing but one solemnity. We shall, however, not be out of order, nor break any canon of Christian good taste by taking emphatic notice of them.
I. BEFORE THE DEATH OF JESUS THESE TWO RULERS had been His secret disciples.
1. Foremost in the transaction we see Joseph. When we are told that fear kept him from avowing his discipleship, we are tempted at once to pass sentence upon him. But it may have been a fear natural to a mental sensitive plant, shrinking from every rough wind and every random touch — a fear fostered by an atmosphere of reverence, and heightened by an exquisite, pain at the thought of difference between himself and other men. The companion of Joseph was Nicodemus, a man like himself in station, in wealth, and in being "a disciple of Jesus, but secretly."
2. These men were no worse than multitudes are now who pass as irreproachable. Many an undergraduate, many a man fighting his way through the earlier stages of a profession, having in his heart "some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel," holds it secretly, out of the fear inspired by his social surroundings. Many a Christian, now loud in profession, great in repute, had he lived in the days of the Incarnation would have received no nobler notice than this — "a disciple of Jesus, but secretly." How would it have been with you? How is it with you now? "Let him who is without fault among you cast the first stone."
II. THE DEATH OF JESUS ROUSED THE TWO SECRET DISCIPLES TO DECLARE THEMSELVES.
1. It is remarkable that the first fact recorded in Christian history after the death of Christ is one that warns us against being merely secret disciples. Grace is not a treasure to be "hid in the earth in the midst of the tent." Faith will not stay shut up in the heart any more than a seed will stay shut up in the soil. Sometimes, indeed, a seed may be dropped in some deep furrow where the clods harden over it, until a tearing storm fetches it out into light. Sometimes a Christian may be like that seed, and a storm of trouble may be needed to reveal him. At the Crucifixion such a storm burst upon these two disciples.
2. Look at Joseph. No one had suspected a stain on this white flower of the Hebrew aristocracy; no one had dreamt of anything on this soul of honour that could fear the world or shun the daylight; and perhaps, owing to the heart's deceitfulness, he had hardly thought of it himself; but when at length the Saviour in whom he had secretly trusted was put to death, the shock woke him up. Then, with pangs of burning shame, he would say, "What a terrible coward I have been!" Besides his sorrow on this account, he must have been sorry on his own — how much he had lost! The instructions, comforts, helps that open disciples had enjoyed. Never once had he said, "Jesus, I love Thee"; never once had he heard Jesus say, "Go in peace!"
3. The heroism of faith is almost always kindled by desperate circumstances. The heroism of Joseph began in Christ's hour of darkness. When the only voice lifted up for Him all that day had been the voice of a dying thief — then it was that he openly declared himself. He had "waited for the kingdom;" and perhaps this poor man's prayer made him resolve to identify himself with the King. "Boldly" is the fit word for describing his errand to Pilate. Such a request, in later days, has cost men their lives. But the brave deed was successful. At the same time it helped to kindle similar courage in the heart of Nicodemus. They had often met in the high places of life, each knowing the other had faith in Christ that he was afraid to profess; they now met at the cross as at the altar of decision.
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
WEB: After these things, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away Jesus' body. Pilate gave him permission. He came therefore and took away his body.