The Face of Fear: Joseph Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
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 businessman. 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 on 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 hard 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 with 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 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.