Joseph of Arimathea: A Covert Plodder 8/8/99

Luke 23:50-53

Jesus Christ said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

In the Biblical era as in every age there has been a legion to do so. Today there are many who march in the ranks of the loyal. In matters of faith as with all disciplines there have been plodders, people who hang in there for the long run. These are people of purpose. They are not necessarily front runners but they are finishers.

To refer to them as plodders is by no means a slur. The term isn’t a synonym for klutz or buffoon. Nor does it means to poke or drag along. It means to consistently pursue with a purpose. I aspire to be a plodded.

Conversely, unfortunately at all times there have been those who are slow learners and reluctant to fully obey Him. Happily some become late bloomers because they do quietly plod along.

Athletic annals are filled with examples of plodders.

One of my favorite announcers who was one of my favorite baseball pitchers is Don Sutton. June 21, 1986, Don became only the thirtieth pitcher to win over 300 games.

He performed few extraordinary feats. Only once did he win more than 20 games. Only once did he lead the league in any category (2.21 ERA, 1980).

He said of himself, “I never considered myself flamboyant or exceptional. But all my life I’ve found a way to get the job done.” Plodders do, they get the job done.

Sutton called himself “A grinder and a mechanic.” America saw six presidents come and go while Don did what a pitcher is suppose to do; he won games. With tunnel-vision he spent twenty-one seasons redefining greatness. He was a plodder. He was reliable.

Follow this plodder. In high school his sports career almost ended when he broke his ankle. His mom wanted him to quit football because he was too small. Slowed by the break the coach moved him to quarterback. When he finished high school he wanted to go to Notre Dame. However, the Irish were reluctant to gamble on a six foot, 138 pound quarterback. The University of Louisville took a chance. His college career blossomed enough that the Pittsburgh Steelers took a chance and drafted him as their 9th pick. They cut him right away. The Cleveland Browns promised him “next year” but he never heard from them. A year later the Baltimore Colts did take a chance on him. In the fourth game of the year with the Colts leading the Browns 20 – 14 their quarterback broke his leg. The aspiring young quarterback went in and threw his first pass for a touchdown as the opposing safety intercepted and ran it back. On the first play after the kick off he fumbled and the Browns covered it for a touchdown.

He lost 58 – 27.

He was a plodder. He being, Johnny Unitus, who when inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame was called “the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.” Unitus, called “the golden arm,” holds the record for the most consecutive games in which a TD pass was thrown. Johnny Unitus, was a plodder, a winner.

Come with me now to the Scripture as we consider the second plodder in our series. The first was Anna who had prayed for the coming of Messiah and at the age of 84 saw the infant in the temple. She was a plodder present at His birth.

Now at His burial we find another plodder, Joseph of Arimathea. He was a rich intellectual plodder who asked Pilate for the lifeless body of Jesus Christ that he might bury it. That was a bold open identity with the man crucified. It was a dramatic departure from his past.

Joseph is described as “being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly” (John 19:38). The reason for being a covert follower is given “fear.”

He was a member of the equivalent of the Supreme Court of that day, the Sanhedrin.

Noted in Luke 23:51 is an important event. He, a disciple of Jesus, was there the night the Sanhedrin, afforded Christ a mock trial, falsely accused and condemned Him to death. However, Luke notes “he had not consented to their counsel and deed.” He was a decenter.

Logically the term secret and disciple don’t go together. A disciple is a learner, one who follows the teaching of another. Against a lifetime of learning one system of religion He had been awakened to the truth taught by Christ. His faith was strong enough at this stage of his development to want to learn and grow. However, old beliefs like old habits are hard to break away from. He had enough faith to want to learn from Christ.

He had enough fear that he was reluctant to be identified with Christ openly. All the time his faith was covert he was learning.

He knew he would be the object of derision, would lose his leadership role, disrupt friendships, and negatively impact his financial fortune if he openly identified with Christ. All of those things still serve as significant centennials used by Satan to keep people from taking a stand for Jesus. We are prone to ask of ourselves: “what will my friends think?,” “will I lose my position?,” and “how will it impact me financially?”

Though those costs must be considered there is one question that must take precedence over them. It is, “what does Jesus Christ want me to do?” It is often said, “Is there a decision that you know it would please Christ for you to make? If so make it without regard for anything or anyone else.”

In the gospel there is a group of people that typify many today: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42, 43).

A person professed faith in Christ and let it be known in a small group. There was no follow-up, no public profession of faith. No evidence of wanting to obey Christ and experience New Testament believers baptism. Upon being asked why not the answer was, “I have prayed about it and God and I decided to keep it a secret.”

In making that statement I am convinced the person was conscientious. However, our thoughts and opinions should be measured against the Biblical norm. Let’s measure that position against God’s standard. The decision to trust Christ as Savior is the most personal decision one will ever make. However, in the Bible this highly personal experience was never private. At this stage of our story Joseph’s faith was still private. You may be at that stage at this point. However, momentarily you are going to know what caused Joseph to overcome all his fears and go public. At that point you should do as he and go public.

Joseph was in process. He was learning.

Luke gives him an admirable identity. He is depicted as being “a good and just man.”

“Good” describes what he was personally internally. His goodness resulted in the second trait, he was “just.” This describes his external conduct in dealing with others.

If good works saved a person this man had a lock on heaven. He was intellectual, as evidenced by being on the Supreme Court, he was described as wealthy, and characterized as good and just. Even those admirable traits don’t save. Reflect on this summary:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

Anna, in the temple, is depicted as waiting for the kingdom. Joseph was “waiting for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:52).

That is the quality that kept his faith alive. He lived a life of expectancy. That energizes life. It frees a person to celebrate life.

The waiting is about over. The center of Joseph’s universe is about to change.

In the cartoon “the Wizard of Id” the dwarfish king of Id enters the workshop of Wiz and finding him staring through a telescope asks, “Whacha looking for, Wiz?” The astrologer answers, “The center of the universe.” The little king answers, “Speaking!” That is a powerful statement of self- centeredness.

The self-centered world of Joseph was about to become a Christ centered world. The same reason that effected this change is the one that should change ours. In a moment it will be noted.

After his colleagues condemned Christ He was immediately crucified. His disciples who had followed Christ for three years were without means and unavailable to bury Him. It was common for the corpse of persons crucified to be thrown on a pile of unclaimed corpses.

Enter Joseph. The secret disciple is about to remove his disguise and acknowledge His allegiance to Jesus Christ.

Joseph was a wealthy man who owned a tomb in a garden near Calvary where Christ was crucified. He went to Pilate and asked to be allowed to bury Christ. What a moment that must have been. In that moment the most powerful religious leader of the day looked into the face of this legal leader and saw a new loyalty. Joseph was a secret disciple no longer. What a murmur must have gone through the assembly. Joseph did not care.

Realizing how cowardly he had been at the trial he became bold in asking for the body of Christ. He was indecisive no longer.

Joseph was about to step on the stage of history as a main player in the fulfillment of prophecy. When he placed the body of Christ in his own personal tomb he was fulfilling prophecy. Isaiah (53:9) had prophesied centuries before Messiah would be buried with the rich.

There is a painting by Peter Bruegel entitled “The Blue Cloak.” In it he has combined at least 78 proverbs, maxims, rhymes, and symbols. One shows a woman carrying fire in her right hand and a bucket of water in the left. It represents an old proverb, “she carries fire in one hand and water in the other,” meaning she carries two contradictory opinions.

Jesus put it simply: “You cannot serve two masters.”

The apostle Paul was equally direct: “Be of one mind.”

Now comes the reason the secret disciple was no longer covert but committed openly.

All the time he had been learning from Christ He had been searching the Scripture. Though secret He was searching. Fortified with facts one act completed the transition.

What was it?

The thing that moved Him to acknowledge his faith and openly demonstrate his devotion was the death of Christ. In that he saw the love of Christ for Him. That love took precedence over all else and he could restrain himself no longer. Out of the depth of love he responded publically. That is the highest form of motivation. The love of Christ enables us to overcome our fears and take a stand regardless of the restraints. It moved Joseph from the category of secret disciple to stalwart disciple. He was no longer a covert disciple but a committed disciple.

The plodder went public.

Mark 15:43 reveals that Joseph “boldly” went to Pilate and asked for the body of Christ. The coward became courageous motivated by Christ’s compelling love as demonstrated on the cross.