At one point, I considered camping out on John 19:38-42 and doing an entire sermon focus on Nicodemus and, especially, Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph is mentioned in all four Gospels, and when we compare all the texts together, we have a very complete picture of who he was before stepping out in faith and who he was after Jesus’ death.
Here are ten facts about Joseph that we learn from the fourfold Gospels (the relevant texts are Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56 and John 19:38-42):
- Joseph was from Arimathea (Mt 27:57//Mk 15:43//Lk 23:50//Jn 19:38). Luke tells us that Arimathea was “a Jewish town” (23:50). Many scholars believe that this is most likely the same city the Old Testament called “Ramah,” which is where the prophet Samuel was born.
- Joseph was a member of the Council (Mk 15:43//Lk 23:50). The Council likely refers to the Sanhedrin, which was like the Jewish Supreme Court. It was comprised of Pharisees and Sadducees and the High Priest (along with a few others at times). So Joseph enjoyed a very notable and lofty position among his people. This was probably how he knew Nicodemus, since Nick sat with him on the same Council.
- Joseph was respected (Mk 15:43). It’s one thing to be on the Council; it’s another to be respected on the Council. Just think of our national leaders. It’s one thing to be the President; it’s another to be respected as the President…
- Joseph disagreed with the Council (Lk 23:50). Luke’s Gospel tells us that Joseph “had not consented to their decision and action.” Specifically, he didn’t consent to the Sanhedrin’s decision to put Jesus to death. He was in the minority, and clearly they did not listen to his protests.
- Joseph was rich (Mt 27:57). This is the first thing Matthew tells us about Joseph, even before mentioning where he is from. His wealth is evidenced from his position on the Sanhedrin, as well as his ability to buy the linen shroud used to wrap Jesus (Mk 15:46).
- Joseph himself took down Jesus’ body (Mk 15:46//Lk 23:53//Jn 19:38). Three of the four Gospels explicitly tell us that Joseph himself took down the body of Jesus from the cross after getting permission from Pilate to do so.
- Joseph buried Jesus in his own tomb (Mt 27:60). Matthew tells us that it was Joseph’s own tomb that he used to bury Jesus, one in which no one had yet been laid.
- Joseph was a secret disciple (Mt 27:57//Jn 19:38). Matthew notes that Joseph was a disciple, and John clarifies that he was a “secret” disciple. He believed in Jesus enough to call himself one of Jesus’ disciples, but did not yet have enough faith to openly follow Him. The reason Joseph felt the need to be secretive about his relationship with Jesus was because he was afraid of the Jews. “The Jews” in John’s Gospel usually refers to the Jewish leaders, as it does in this context. Joseph was afraid of the very Council upon which he sat.
- Joseph was a godly man (Mk 15:43//Lk 23:50-51). Luke says that Joseph was “a good and righteous man.” Both Luke and Mark add that he himself was also looking for the kingdom of God. Joseph was continually seeking God and besides the secretive part of his discipleship, one could characterize him as a godly individual.
- Joseph’s final act took courage (Mk 15:43). Mark tells us that Joseph “took courage” when he went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. Though he was afraid of the Jewish leaders, the last we ever hear of him is when he boldly leaves that fear behind and gives Jesus a proper burial.
We can learn a lot from the details of Joseph’s life. As a wealthy, well-respected, godly man, it must have been difficult for him to stand up for Jesus when most others wanted Jesus dead. Even though he was not able to stop the death of Christ, he finishes well by courageously giving Jesus a decent burial, using his own tomb to do so. May we be so courageous when standing up for our Savior!