Afterward, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus (but secretly for fear of the Jews), asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and removed His body.
I. THERE ARE VARIOUS CAUSES WHICH ACCOUNT FOR SECRECY IN CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. It is natural and proper that the beginnings of conscious discipleship should be hidden. When the seed begins to germinate, to put forth the signs and the promise of life, it remains hidden beneath the surface of the soil unseen by any eye. And when a young heart in its yearnings, or a penitent heart in its mingled regrets and hopes, turns to the Lord Jesus, as to a Divine Friend and mighty Savior, the change is unknown, unheeded by the observer. The time comes when the plant appears above the ground; and the time comes when the tokens of spiritual life in a changed character, disposition, and habits are unmistakable. But there is a time for secrecy, and there is a time for publicity.
2. There are those who keep secret their interest in Christian truth, their affection for Christ himself, through a trembling reverence for spiritual and Divine things. Doubtless many are sincere in the public shouts and songs, by which their boisterous natures boast of new-found light and liberty. But many gentle, timid, and refined spirits are equally sincere and devout in their reserve. Men and women there are like her who "kept and treasured these things in her heart." A time there is in Christian experience when feeling is too sacred to be professed.
3. Distrust of self, and an awed sense of responsibility, account for the backwardness of many sincere disciples to avow their faith and love. What if they should profess to be Christ's, and then afterwards should prove ashamed of him, or should discredit him by any want of loyalty? The very fear lest this should be so leads to reticence and silence.
4. An inferior motive has to be considered, viz. the fear of man. Some, especially among the young, fear the opposition or the ridicule or the reproach of their fellow-men. Such was the case with Joseph, who feared the Jews - dreaded lest he should, like Jesus, be persecuted, or lest he should be despised and hated. A member of a distinguished and privileged class is peculiarly sensitive to the coldness, the contempt, or the ridicule of those whose opinion makes the public opinion which has most influence over him.
II. THERE IS MISCHIEF WROUGHT BY SECRET DISCIPLESHIP. When those who love Christ, and make it their aim to serve him, conceal their attachment and their pious resolution, whether through timidity or distrust, harm follows.
1. The disciple who withholds or delays his open confession of the Savior, by so doing thwarts his own religious progress and happiness. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." The very attitude of bold and public acknowledgment of faith in the Lord Jesus is a means of spiritual confirmation and improvement. For such an attitude is the natural expression of faith, and attracts the countenance and sympathy of those who are like-minded.
2. The withholding of a confession of Christ is disobedience to Christ and to his Spirit. If we learn of him, we are bound to obey him. And be has bidden us take up our cross and follow him. He has bidden us observe the Lord's Supper in memory of his death. It is not honoring Christ to delay, without sufficient reason, such an avowal of our faith in him as his own Word justifies, and indeed requires.
3. Secrecy of discipleship is discouraging to the Church of Christ. That Church has many enemies; it has need of all its friends. It weakens the forces of the spiritual host when those who should fall into the ranks stand aloof. There is a sense in which those who are not with Christ are against him.
4. The world is confirmed in error and unbelief when there is a disinclination on the part of Christians openly to avow themselves what they really are. It is natural enough for the world to interpret such conduct as indicating a want of heartiness and thoroughness in discipleship. Men ask whether those who stand outside are not in the same position as those who go up to the door, but do not enter in.
III. THERE ARE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAY PROTECT AGAINST THE TEMPTATION TO CONCEAL CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. The greatness of the Master to whom we owe allegiance. Christ is so great that none need feel any shame in belonging to him; such a relation is the highest honor accessible to man. Christ is so great that none need feel any fear in openly avowing loyalty to him. None is so well able as the "Lord of all" to protect and deliver those who adhere to him.
2. It should be remembered by those who are in doubt whether or not to confess Christ, that a day is coming in which the real position of all men with regard to the Divine Redeemer must be made manifest. Of those who are ashamed of him before men the Lord Jesus will be ashamed in the judgment before his Father and the holy angels. - T.
And after this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews.I. THE POWER OF WORLDLINESS. Both of these men had opportunities of being convinced of Christ's Messiah-ship, and both were in sympathy with Him, yet neither made a public avowal of discipleship. There were perhaps, three elements of worldliness that influenced them in the matter.
1. The love of wealth. Confession of Christ meant excommunication and the spoiling of goods. Hence Christ reminded His hearers of the sacrifices they would have to make, but neither Joseph nor Nicodemus had the moral courage to make them.
2. The desire for popularity. They occupied high positions and had the honour of the populace. Had they followed Christ they would have lost both, and loving the praise of men more than of God, had not the moral strength to make the sacrifice. There are three classes of men:(1) Those who have no moral convictions — the largest class.(2) Those who have moral convictions, but not enough courage to avow them. There are many such in parliament and the pulpit.(3) Those who have moral convictions and carry them out regardless of the frowns of men. These are the heroes, reformers and saviours of the world; and also the smallest class.
3. The power of caste. They were members of the highest class of Jewish society — a class which, as a whole, was malignantly hostile to Christ. Because "none of the rulers believed on Him," these men were too weak to pronounce for Him. These three elements are as strong here as there, now as then.
II. THE POWER OF THE CROSS. There was something about Christ's death which roused these men to manly exertion, and two wonders connected with the Crucifixion were calculated to produce this effect.
1. The material. The rending of the veil, the earthquake, &c., must have produced some impression on the most sceptical, much more on those in whom lurked a secret love.
2. The moral. His moral Majesty, His prayer, His last words — in all these there was a "still small," soul-penetrating voice, which must have affected these men. As they now handled the mangled frame, self-reproachful tears would fall. Thus the power of the Cross overcame, and is the only power to overcome the power of the world.
III. THE POWER OF PENITENCE. Now Christ is dead their consciences are stirred to their centre. Is it not always so with those who have neglected a true friend when he is gone?
1. It forced them to a compensatory effort, Nothing too good for Him now. Conscience will sooner or later drive a man to his duty.
2. The compensatory effort came too late. Of what use was the costly embalmment now! How often this is the case now!
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
1. The preparations that were made for it.(1) His body could not be buried till, by begging, his friends had obtained it as a favour from Pilate.(2) And when they had gotten it, they wind it in fine linen with spices. But what need of spices? His own love was perfume enough to keep it sweet in remembrance of His people to all generations. However, by this they will manifest the dear affection they have for Him.
2. The bearers — Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. None could imagine that ever they would have gone boldly to manifest their love to Christ, when dead, who were afraid to come to Him (except by night) when He was living, when those that made open confessions of Him are gone.
3. The attendants who followed the hearse — the women that followed Him out of Galilee.
4. The sepulchre.(1) It was another's. As He lived in other men's houses, so He lay in another man's tomb.(2) It was a new tomb; for had any other been laid there before Him, it might have been averred that it was some former body, and not the Lord's, that rose.
5. The disposition of the body. There is no mention made of the tears, yet we may well presume they were not wanting in plentiful expressions of their sorrow (Luke 23:48).
I. WHY HAD CHRIST ANY FUNERAL AT ALL, since He was to rise again?
1. To ascertain His death, else it might have been looked upon as a cheat. Now, since our eternal life is wrapt up in Christ's death, it can never be too firmly established.
3. To complete His humiliation. Lower He could not be laid.
4. That He might conquer death in its own dominion; which victory furnisheth the saints with that triumphant song (1 Corinthians 15:55).
II. WHAT MANNER OF FUNERAL CHRIST HAD.
1. It was very obscure and private. Here was no external pomp. Christ affected it not in His life, and it was no way suitable to the ends and manner of His death.(1) The dead body of the Lord was not brought from His own house as other men's commonly are, but from the tree. Had they not obtained this favour from Pilate, it must have been tumbled into a pit under the cross.(2) It was attended with a very poor train; a few sorrowful women. Other men are accompanied to their graves by their relations and friends. The disciples were afraid to own Him dying, and dead.(3) It was done in great haste. Time was short; they take the next sepulchre they can get, and hurry Him away that evening into it. Thus was the Prince of the kings of earth, who hath the keys of death and hell, laid into His grave.
2. Yet though men could bestow little honour upon it, the heavens bestowed several marks of honour upon it.(1) A miraculous eclipse put the heavens and earth into mourning.(2) The rending in twain of the veil showed that all ceremonies were now accomplished and abolished.(3) The opening of the graves showed the design and end of Christ's going into it.
1. Was Christ buried in this manner? Then a decent and mournful funeral (where it can be had) is very laudable among Christians.
2. Did Joseph and Nicodemus so boldly appear, at a time of so much danger, to beg the body and give it a funeral? Let it be for ever a caution to strong Christians not to despise or glory over the weak.
3. Hence we may be assisted in discerning the depths of Christ's humiliation for us, and see from what to what this love brought Him.
4. From this funeral of Christ results the purest and strongest consolation and encouragement to believers against the fears of death and the grave.(1) The grave received, but could not destroy, Jesus Christ; and as it fared with Christ's body personal, so it shall with Christ's body mystical (1 Corinthians 15:20).(2) As the union betwixt the body of Christ and the Divine nature was not dissolved, so the union between Christ and believers cannot be when their bodies shall be laid in their graves.(3) As Christ's body did there rest in hope, so it shall fare with the dead bodies of the saints (Psalm 16:9-11).(4) Christ's lying in the grave hath changed the nature of the grave, so that it is not what it was. It was once a part of the curse, but now it is no prison but a bed of rest; yea, and a perfumed bed (Isaiah 57:2; Psalm 23:4).
5. Since Christ was laid in His grave, and His people reap such privileges by it, as ever you expect rest or comfort in your graves, see that you get union with Christ now.(1) The covenant of God holds firmly with our very dust (Matthew 22:31, 32; Romans 14:7-9). That dust is still the Lord's.(2) As God's covenant with our very bodies is indissolvable, so God's love to our very dust is inseparable (Romans 8:33).(3) As God's love will be with you in the grave, so God's providence shall take order when it shall be digged for you; not till you are fit to be put into it (Job 5:26; Acts 13:36).(4) When ever you come to your graves, you shall find the enmity of the grave slain by Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21, 22).(5) Christ keeps the keys of all the chambers of death, and as He unlocks the door of death, when He lets you in so He will open it again for you when you awake, to let you out; He Himself wakes and watches by you while you sleep there (Revelation 1:18).
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING HIS BURIAL.
1. The persons who are bearing the blessed Jesus to His tomb. And who are they? The disciples? These "all forsook Him and fled;" and now He is dead, they leave His body to be mourned over and buried by others. But though, in the hour of need, they desert us who ought to be the first to minister to our necessities, yet "the Lord will provide."
2. The time in which Jesus was interred. "The Jews' preparation day," and the people were now attending the service of the Temple; but Joseph and Nicodemus were not among them. They offered to God a more acceptable service than prayers and sacrifice; but having buried the Saviour, all their love for Him could not bring them to His tomb till the Sabbath was ended. Thus did they manifest the ardour of their affection, and at the same time admonish us to suppress the noblest feelings of our nature, rather than violate the command of God.
3. The place where the Lord was interred.(1) A garden on the very hill on which He was crucified. It was right that the place where He suffered the greatest ignominy should be the first scene of His glory.(2) His sepulchre was "hewn out in a rock." A body could not hastily be removed from such a sepulchre by a subterraneous passage, nor could the disciples enter unperceived.
II. WHY WAS HE THUS BURIED?
1. That the prophecies concerning the Messiah should be fulfilled.
2. To prove the reality of His death.
3. To comfort His people in the prospect of death.
III. THE EFFECTS WHICH A CONTEMPLATION OF THE SAVIOUR'S TOMB SHOULD PRODUCE ON US.
1. A penitential sorrow for all the injuries we have done Him, and all the pain we have given Him.
2. Joy that His sufferings are past and His happiness begun.
3. An earnest desire to be where He is and to behold His glory.
4. The deepest anxiety to be prepared for our own latter end.
(C. Bradley, M. A.)I. THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS (ver. 38):
1. By whom effected. Joseph, assisted by Nicodemus, John, and the women.(1) A native of Ramathaim in Ephraim, the birthplace of Samuel.(2) A rich man, which rendered his service a signal display of courage, a true token of inherent nobility, a striking companion-picture to the Magi at Christ's birth, and a beginning of fulfilment for Isaiah's oracle concerning His death (Isaiah 53:9).(3) A member of the Sanhedrim, though probably not present when Christ was pronounced guilty of death (cf. Luke 23:50, with Matthew 26:66; Mark 14:64).(4) A good man; one of the few who kept God's commandments, and waited for the consolation of Israel (Luke 1:6, 24).(5) A secret disciple — like others of the rulers (John 12:42); e.g., Nicodemus, whose faith waxed stronger as Christ's cause grew darker.
2. When attempted. After Christ's death, which happened about 3 p.m. Obtaining leave from Pilate, he would then concert with Nicodemus about purchasing the linen cloth, &c. It would then be approaching even.
3. How carried out. The Evangelist is silent; but from the performers, we may conclude, with reverence, tenderness, and tears.
II. THE EMBALMMENT (ver. 39, 40). Nicodemus now steps into the foreground.
1. His person identified. The same mentioned in chap. John 3.
2. His courage emphasized — in contrast with that interview.
3. His love proclaimed. With no straitened hand he carries out his heart's design.
4. His reverence recorded. Along with the others he proceeds to embalm the corpse. First they lay the body on the white winding-sheet. Next the women, it may be supposed, take the smaller cloths from Nicodemus, and, filling them with aromatic powder, wrap them around its members. After this Joseph folds around it his great white sheet, and the work is complete.
III. THE INTERMENT (vers. 41, 42).
1. The place of sepulture.(1) A garden grave. In a garden death achieved its first victory. It was fitting that in a garden that victory should be reversed.(2) A strange grave. In another grave He is laid, who died for another's guilt.(3) An honourable grave. He who died on a cross between malefactors is laid in a just man's tomb.(4) A new grave. It was congruous that He who was a new Man (sinless), born in a new way (of a virgin), who had died a new death (for sin not His own), and who was to rise unto a new life (of glory and immortality) should rest in a new tomb.(5) A near grave. Close to Jerusalem as ours is to the heavenly city.
2. The funeral procession. Contrast it with that of the great, even the wicked great. Lessons:
1. The overruling providence of God in the fulfilment of Scripture.
2. The guarantee that the sinner's debt has been paid.
3. The transformation of the grave.
(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
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.)
I. THE SLOW PROCESS BY WHICH SOME ARE BROUGHT TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.
1. Joseph was one of that class to which belonged Simeon and Nathanael. After Christ's ministry began, he became a secret disciple, convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Did not confess, but kept from complicity in the conspiracy of the rulers. Deterred by dread of singularity and love of caste. The last stage, that of open sympathy with Christ, was reached and revealed by this act.
2. There are some Christians who cannot recall the time when they did not love and follow Christ. Others, once avowed enemies, have reached almost at a bound the position of open confessors; while others have attained only after long hesitation, and through many difficulties.
II. HOW THE VERY EXTREMITY OF A CAUSE BRINGS FRESH ADHERENTS FROM UNEXPECTED QUARTERS. Who would have thought that members of the Sanhedrim would be the first to identify themselves? Neither the enthusiasm of the people nor the malice of the rulers sufficed to bring matters to a crisis with Joseph. But now, when Christ is dead, and, seemingly, his cause too, hesitation is changed to decision.
1. Something similar has often happened in struggles for national liberty. When things have come almost to a hopeless extremity dormant patriotism has been roused.
2. So in persecution for Christ's sake; as martyrs have laid down their lives others have taken their places.
3. So in the spiritual; so long as men only admire in Jesus the perfect character, &c., they may not be prepared to sacrifice much; but let them apprehend Him dying for sin, and they will be ready to brave all obloquy for His sake.
III. HOW THE TRUE CHARACTER OF A MAN MAY BE MANIFESTED IN A SINGLE ACT. Joseph's intercourse with the counsellers did not reveal all that he was; only at the cross were disclosed his nobility, courage, faith. How many pass a quiet life among their fellows, who little know what spirit they are of. Revealing epochs occur in most lives. Sometimes brought about by sudden affliction, or change in circumstances, or temptation.
(J. Fawcett, M. A.)One Joseph is appointed to take charge of Jesus in His infancy, and another is raised up to provide for His burial.
(W. H. Van Doren.)I. WHY MANY BELIEVERS PREFER SECRET ATTACHMENT TO OPEN DISCIPLESHIP. Possibly it is —
1. The stringency of His requirements.
2. Shame at association with one of so lowly an origin, or so radical a reformer. Joseph would feel the force of these difficulties.
3. Fear of —
(1) (2) (3) 4. Because of wrong ideas about Christianity. 5. Because of the inconsistency of professors. 6. Because they do not see the need of open discipleship. 7. Because there is no fervency of love to Christ. II. HOW FAR CHRIST RECOGNIZES SECRET DISCIPLESHIP. Let us see if we find any hint in the affirmative. 1. In the subsequent history of Joseph. We know little about him except that he gave to Christ, "who had had the death of a malefactor, the burial of a king;" but in this he seems to have had no hope in the Resurrection. No mention is made of Christ's appearance to Joseph. If the tradition that he founded Glastonbury Abbey be credited, it only shows that he had shaken off his secret discipleship. Had his secret discipleship been intentional to help Christ as Hushai helped David, or Blonde de Nesle Coeur de Lion, there might possibly be some hope of recognition. But it is an absurd idea that Christ wishes us to appear worldly, and hide our religion, to advance his course. 2. There is no suggestion of the recognition of secret discipleship in any of Christ's utterances. He claims open attachment — "Follow Me," "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me," &c. 3. In the nature of things it is improbable that Christ should recognize it. Suppose Christianity is weak. we ought to side with it because it is right. Sympathy with, and appreciation of, Christ demand it. (F. Hastings.) (J. L. Nye.)
(2) (3) 4. Because of wrong ideas about Christianity. 5. Because of the inconsistency of professors. 6. Because they do not see the need of open discipleship. 7. Because there is no fervency of love to Christ. II. HOW FAR CHRIST RECOGNIZES SECRET DISCIPLESHIP. Let us see if we find any hint in the affirmative. 1. In the subsequent history of Joseph. We know little about him except that he gave to Christ, "who had had the death of a malefactor, the burial of a king;" but in this he seems to have had no hope in the Resurrection. No mention is made of Christ's appearance to Joseph. If the tradition that he founded Glastonbury Abbey be credited, it only shows that he had shaken off his secret discipleship. Had his secret discipleship been intentional to help Christ as Hushai helped David, or Blonde de Nesle Coeur de Lion, there might possibly be some hope of recognition. But it is an absurd idea that Christ wishes us to appear worldly, and hide our religion, to advance his course. 2. There is no suggestion of the recognition of secret discipleship in any of Christ's utterances. He claims open attachment — "Follow Me," "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me," &c. 3. In the nature of things it is improbable that Christ should recognize it. Suppose Christianity is weak. we ought to side with it because it is right. Sympathy with, and appreciation of, Christ demand it. (F. Hastings.) (J. L. Nye.)
(3) 4. Because of wrong ideas about Christianity. 5. Because of the inconsistency of professors. 6. Because they do not see the need of open discipleship. 7. Because there is no fervency of love to Christ. II. HOW FAR CHRIST RECOGNIZES SECRET DISCIPLESHIP. Let us see if we find any hint in the affirmative. 1. In the subsequent history of Joseph. We know little about him except that he gave to Christ, "who had had the death of a malefactor, the burial of a king;" but in this he seems to have had no hope in the Resurrection. No mention is made of Christ's appearance to Joseph. If the tradition that he founded Glastonbury Abbey be credited, it only shows that he had shaken off his secret discipleship. Had his secret discipleship been intentional to help Christ as Hushai helped David, or Blonde de Nesle Coeur de Lion, there might possibly be some hope of recognition. But it is an absurd idea that Christ wishes us to appear worldly, and hide our religion, to advance his course. 2. There is no suggestion of the recognition of secret discipleship in any of Christ's utterances. He claims open attachment — "Follow Me," "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me," &c. 3. In the nature of things it is improbable that Christ should recognize it. Suppose Christianity is weak. we ought to side with it because it is right. Sympathy with, and appreciation of, Christ demand it. (F. Hastings.) (J. L. Nye.)
4. Because of wrong ideas about Christianity.
5. Because of the inconsistency of professors.
6. Because they do not see the need of open discipleship.
7. Because there is no fervency of love to Christ.
(F. Hastings.)Missionary News relates, was taken seriously ill, and requested one of the Orissa missionaries to visit him. In the course of conversation the missionary offered to lend him any book in his library that would be likely to interest and profit him. "I have a large number of books with which to instruct and exercise the intellect, but," added he, with emphasis, "When I want food for my soul I go to the Bible; there only," pointing to a copy of the English Bible which lay on the table, "I get something to warm my heart." When pressing on him the importance and necessity of making a public profession of his attachment to Christ, he said with tears, "God, who searcheth the heart, knoweth that I am a heathen but in name; that my trust, my heart, are fixed on Him to whom I offer my daily prayer, and in whose mercy alone I trust. And it is my hope and intention, by the help of God, one day to make a public avowal of this my faith."
(J. L. Nye.)