Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 6-23-03

Title: The Face of Fear: Joseph

Scripture Reading: “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission.  So he came and took the body of Jesus.  And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.  Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.  Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.  So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby” (John 19:38-42).

 

Today, we are going to be dealing with facts, the great historical facts of the gospel.  Someone may wonder, “What is the gospel?”  Well, Paul defined it for us.  “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  These are the central facts of the gospel.  Our salvation is based on our relationship to those facts and to the person of Jesus Christ.  Do you trust Him?  Do you have faith in what He did for you when He died on the cross?  Do you believe He died a shocking, substitutionary death for you?

In our lesson today, we are going to see that the cross of Christ changed two cowards.  They came to the cross bound by fear but they left with a life filled with courage.  Many of us find it easier to identify with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus than with anyone else at the cross.  We have known what it is to remain silent when we should have spoken, to keep our relationship with Christ a secret when it should have been shared. In many ways Joseph of Arimathea is a man of admirable character.  He is presented that way on the pages of the New Testament. 

Each of the gospel writers tells of Joseph’s part in Christ’s burial.  They tell us that he was a successful business man.  He was also part of that remnant, that God always maintains, that looked for the kingdom of God.  This man had a “good spirit,” much like that of Simeon and Anna, who appeared earlier in the life of Jesus. Joseph was probably a member of the Sanhedrin along with Nicodemus.  This placed him in a unique position to act in the behalf of Jesus. 

Since the Sanhedrin’s decisions had to always be unanimous, Joseph and Nicodemus apparently stayed away from the important meeting to decide Jesus’ fate.  Being absent would be easier than speaking up for Jesus.  If not there, they wouldn’t have to make it known that they were His “disciples.”

After Christ’s death, however, Joseph and Nicodemus could keep their secret no longer.  The cross overcame their fear and allowed them to act in a responsible way.  It took courage for Joseph to ask for Jesus’ body to bury in his own tomb.  This was surely a public sign of friendship and support for the dead Christ. 

There are three things to see in this story about fear:
1. The cause of fear.
2. The cost of fear.
3. The case for fear.

You are an extraordinary person if you have never failed your Lord.  Instead, I think you may feel like I do; I regret that in my early years that I failed Him so often.  But we can’t do anything about our failures except ask God to forgive us.  And He will do that.  Let’s serve Him now and be faithful to Him. 

For now, let’s look closely at our story to see the cause of fear.

John analyzes Joseph like this, “Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.”  But it was not the Jews that caused the fear; their presence simply caused it to be revealed.  What really caused Joseph’s fears?

One thing that could have caused the fear was valuing his position before men more than his position before God.  He was a rich man and his position on the Sanhedrin made him a respected man in the community.  Joseph enjoyed all the privileges he had earned from a lifetime of effort.  He could not just throw it all away without a thought. 

What would it mean to lose them?  He must have thought to himself, “How can I give up all that I have worked so herd for.  And what will people say about me if they know that I am a disciple of Christ.  Maybe I can keep it all, and yet serve Him in secret?”  Surely a bold confession of faith in Jesus would cause him to lose his position on the Sanhedrin, and it would probably hurt his business.  These misguided values were at the root of the fear that silenced him.  But, let’s not look down on him, because the same type of value system has bound countless people with fear throughout the ages.

Let me ask, “What impact does your value system have on your relationship to Jesus Christ?”  Are you one who keeps silent when you hear someone criticize Him or are you one who is willing to give a bold witness for Jesus?  If you want to be a witness for Jesus, you must be willing to “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).  In Christ, you have died to the old life and been raised to a new life, so make the new life the focus of your attention. Set your mind on it; seek to experience all that you have in Christ.

Another cause for Joseph’s fear could be that he valued the praise of men more than the praise of God.  Gaining the approval of others can become very important; losing the approval of others can become a major crisis.  This was the reality that faced Joseph.  If he made an open stand for Christ, the price would be high.  Losing the approval of others would have immediate consequences.  What others think can cause us to do many hurtful things.You probably don’t need to fear a physical attack if you become a Christian, although you may have to face ridicule from your friends and family.  But which is more important: having their approval or the approval of God.

Next, let’s look at the cost of fear.

Here we must read between the lines and attempt to put ourselves in the situation that this Jewish businessman found himself. One thing that fear cost him was the opportunity for fellowship with Jesus. 

We don’t know for how long Joseph was a secret disciple, but his opportunity for fellowship was lost forever.  He missed seeing many miracles, hearing many lessons, and sharing many conversations with Jesus.  He could have joined Peter and the others as they walked with Jesus. 

Let me ask, “Is fear keeping you from a closer walk with God?”

His silence could have cost him the assurance of eternal life.  There may be room for debate about whether or not a person can have eternal life and be a “secret disciple.”  Regardless of what you and I believe about it, surely you will agree with me that a secret disciple can have no real assurance of salvation.  Fear brings only torment, guilt and self-accusation.  Joseph must have been ashamed to face himself in the mirror when he considered his cowardly actions toward Christ. 

Assurance comes with a bold confession of Jesus as Lord.  That is what it says in Romans, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). 

Just saying that Jesus is Lord and believing in the fact of His resurrection is not sufficient for salvation. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness. Belief in the saving power of the risen Christ must come from the innermost part of man’s being. This is described as man’s heart. But more than that, with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Confession with the mouth is evidence of genuine faith in the heart.

Frequently both our Lord and the Apostle Paul indicate the bringing together of faith and a confession. Confession with the mouth does not bring about the reality of belief in the heart, but it gives evidence of it.

The final thing to see in this story is the cure for fear.

The cross of Jesus has the power to cure our fears by allowing us to see the end of fear. 

As Joseph and Nicodemus saw Jesus hanging on the cross, they could see the end of cowardly actions.  Deep within they knew their silence had played a part in this terrible tragedy.  Realizing what their silence had done prompted them to take action.  Do you realize that Jesus’ body might have been thrown in the trash heap or buried in a common grave with the thieves if these two had not acted? 

Here’s a question, “Have you ever considered the end of your fearful life?” Well, here’s some good news. The cross of Jesus cures our fears by revealing God’s love for us. 

Nicodemus probably remembered his first meeting with Jesus.  In the protective shadows of the night, Jesus had said to him, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  Here Jesus is using an event in the Old Testament for an analogy of His purpose in coming to earth. In this story, God punished the Israelites in the wilderness with deadly serpents after they had complained and spoken against God and Moses. Many people were bitten and died. When the people repented and begged for mercy, God told Moses to lift a fiery serpent high upon a pole within the camp. God promised that anyone looking at the raised bronze serpent would be healed of the snake’s venomous bite and saved from death. This Old Testament incident pointed to Jesus, who would be lifted up on a Cross as the sacrifice necessary for salvation. 

As Nicodemus and Joseph looked at Jesus hanging there on the cross, Nicodemus must have told Joseph about his earlier conversation with Jesus.  As He hung there on that rough wooden cross, they could see just how far He was willing to go for them. How could they be silent before such love? 

Let’s look again at our scriptures and consider their actions. “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.  And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.  Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:38-40).

Remember, these two men were both prominent men.  Joseph of Aramethia was a rich man and Nicodemus is the ruler of the Jews who had come to Jesus by night.  They were both secret disciples but now they had come out in the open for the first time. 

Let’s not be too critical of these men.  They had stayed in the background, but now that the Lord’s disciples had all scattered like sheep and gone undercover, these two men come out in the open, and they have decided to care for the body of Jesus.

Because the children of Israel had lived in Egypt, some believed that they were the ones who perfected the method of embalming that the Egyptians used.  The child of God in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament has always believed that the body will rise again.  It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.  It is sown in weakness; it will be raised in power.  It will be a glorified body.  For that reason, the child of God has a reverence and a care for the body.

The custom was to use about half the body weight of spices; so we can guess that the Lord Jesus weighed about two hundred pounds.  They would prepare the body by rubbing it with myrrh and aloes, then wrapping it with linen strips.  They would seal it and keep it out of the air.  They would begin with a finger, then wrap all of the fingers that way, then the hand, the arm, and the whole body.  In other words, they wrapped the body of the Lord Jesus like a mummy. 

Now John mentions specifically that they wrapped the body in the linen cloth using the spices, because this is a very important detail for him.  You remember that on the resurrection morning, when John saw the linen lying there and the body not in it, he understood that the resurrection had taken place, and he believed. 

Let’s read again the last two verses.

“Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.  So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby” (John 19:41-42).

They had to hurry because of the approaching Passover, and apparently they didn’t get the embalming process completely finished.  This explains why the women brought more spices and planned to come to care for the Lord’s body after the feast day.

Conclusion

In the light of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, I call you to action.  I call on you to cast aside your secrecy and your fears and to boldly declare Him as your Lord.  Let the entire world know that you rest your hopes of eternal life on Christ alone.  He promises, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).  To confess Jesus means to acknowledge that you belong to Him. 

In reality, secret discipleship is practically impossible.  Jesus constantly called for an open confession of Himself by His followers.  We must be able to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior.  He says that we are to make our confession before men, and that clearly indicates that a public confession of true Christian faith is a necessity. 

“Whosoever shall deny me” does not refer to one moment of denial (such as Peter’s), but to an entire lifelong resistance to Christ.  Therefore, it is not a single act of denial which makes one unworthy of being a disciple, but it is a refusal to confess Christ at all that eliminates one from being a true follower of Christ.

I pray that that I will never again be a secret disciple, and I pray for you also, that you will be a bold witness for Christ.  We don’t need to fear, if Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  The Hymn writer put it this way.

Jesus, the name that calms my fears,
That bids our sorrows cease,
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life and health and peace.

If you have never asked Him to save you, it is not too late.  Ask Him to forgive your sins and to save you.  Then you can sing this song with me.

And when, before the throne,
I stand in Him complete,
‘Jesus died my soul to save,’
My lips shall still repeat.
    Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Amen.

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