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Joseph of Arimathea

“When evening came, a rich man from Arimathea, who was named Joseph (and was also a disciple of Jesus), arrived. And he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. This, Pilate commanded to be given him.”

(Matthew 27:57-58)

“Joseph, who was from Arimathea, a respected Counselor who was also waiting for the Kingdom of God, came and dared to approach Pilate and ask him for the body of Jesus.”

(Mark 15:43)

“And behold! A man named Joseph, who was a Counselor and a good and righteous man, who did not agree with the Council’s action toward him, who was from Arimathea (a Jewish city) and who was waiting for the Kingdom of God, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.”

(Luke 23:50-52)

“So, after these things, Joseph, who was from Arimathea and a disciple of Jesus (covertly out of fear of the Jews), asked Pilate that he might take down the body of Jesus. And Pilate commanded it. So, he went and took down his body.”

(John 19:38)

Here is the only spot in the Bible where we are introduced to Joseph of Arimathea. We know very little about either the man or the place from where he came. Based on the writings of Jerome and Eusebius, most scholars hold that Arimathea was the contemporary city located at Ramah, where the Judge Samuel was born (1 Samuel 1:19). This was a Jewish city located close to the border between Judea and Samaria and quite possibly one that Jesus frequented as he traveled through the Samaritan region.

We are also told that Joseph is a “Counselor.” Given his Jewish identity, this is most likely a reference to the Sanhedrin (which explains his connection to Nicodemus). We are told here that he was a follower of Jesus (at least behind the scenes), he was awaiting the Kingdom of God, and that he was discontent with the way that the trials of Jesus were handled. Hence he is called a “good and righteous man” — good, not in the eternal sense, but good in the sense that he was moral and had integrity.

Mark further tells us that he “dared” to approach Pilate. The term τολμάω (tolmao), which is used here, implies that there was a real sense of risk associated with this request. Perhaps it was risking his personal cleanliness just prior to the Sabbath, or it could have been his standing amongst the Jews of the Sanhedrin, or perhaps it was simply that of intruding on the home of a Roman official to request a favor on behalf of a convicted criminal. Perhaps it was all three. Even so, Joseph’s act stands as a reminder to us that no matter the risk or dangers, there are times in which we must act. In this case, not just out of Jewish propriety (as noted above), but out of integrity and to do a friend a kindness. Indeed, doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do (regardless of public opinion or the consequences) is the mark of integrity.

So, as we reflect and meditate on this “Good Friday” — “good” because of the work Jesus accomplished on the cross for those who believe — one of the questions we must be quick to ask ourselves is whether we will walk with the integrity of this man and whether or not we will cease being “closet Christians” (which is an oxymoron) and be bold in our witness and in our testimony to the world that there is only one name under heaven by which man may be saved and that is the name of Jesus Christ.

A Good Report

“And you know his character, how as child of a father he has served with me in the Gospel.”

(Philippians 2:22)

Over the years, between my time as a school teacher/administrator and as a pastor, one of the more enjoyable things that I have had the privilege of doing is to write letters of recommendation for students and former students. Whether they were applying for jobs, to colleges, or for scholarships or other honors, it is always a joy to tell others of the character of one you admire. And this, Paul has been doing on behalf of Timothy — and indeed, based on these words, Timothy has much to live up to, indeed.

Notice too that these words of Paul’s about Timothy are not an empty compliment. Timothy has proved himself to be faithful and useful to Paul by labor, integrity, and sacrifice. It is the laboring of Timothy in faithful service that gives definition and meaning to this statement. Of course, as Christians, we too ought to strive, like Timothy, that the same might one day be said about us not only by those Christians who have mentored us but ultimately by God himself pronouncing the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” We certainly do not earn our salvation nor can we ever do enough and sacrifice enough to warrant such a statement from God, but that statement of God takes on meaning in light of the sacrifice and faithfulness of the service for which we strive.

Indeed, let me reassert, we are not saved by or through our works…if works are added to grace then grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:5-6). If even one single work is necessary…no matter how small or insignificant seeming…then grace is meaningless. Even if that one work is nothing more than a choice one makes to accept grace, then it is still a work and grace is nullified. Salvation is God’s doing from beginning to end and many of us are brought into the kingdom kicking and screaming…but even if we aren’t, it is still God who brings us. If we seek, it is because God is drawing us to seek Him. Apart from God we are dead in our sins and a dead man can do nothing to help himself. God must first give us life and then we can respond.

That said, we are also called to make our calling and election sure by building on the things that God has begun in us (2 Peter 2:5-11). My challenge to you is to do so in such a way that, like Timothy, a good report will be issued in that day we stand before Christ’s judgment seat.

Do We Need a Polygraph in Church?

 

I suppose that all of us have seen the movies or read the pulp stories where the evil villain captures the hero and forces him to reveal some sort of important information by strapping him into a chair and hooking him up to a lie-detector machine of some sort. How the hero would sweat and squirm trying to avoid giving away the truth while diabolical questions are asked.

“You know the location of the secret government base…” the villain would press.

“No!” Our hero would lie to cover up the knowledge and the machine would quickly register the lie and the interrogation would continue.

In real life, the polygraph is a machine that measures changes in blood pressure, perspiration, pulse, and skin conductivity, and while the scientific basis for the machine is debated, its use by a skilled technician reportedly provides surprisingly reliable results in many cases. They even sell “home polygraph” units that can be plugged into a computer (to interpret the results) for use as a party game or perhaps to find the location of your spouse’s secret candy stash. And that is what brings us to the church.

One of the essential Christian virtues is that of integrity. As kids, we were taught that integrity is what you did when nobody was watching you. The Oxford American Dictionary defines it as the “quality of being honest and of having strong moral principles.” Both carry with them the same basic principle—integrity is doing what is right and honest even when it is unpopular or costly to do so. Integrity demands that you live up to your word and that you not try and convince the world that you are something that you are not. Such is an essential part of our Christian witness.

The problem is that the church is not viewed as having integrity by the broader culture today. Some blame it on false christians masquerading as genuine believers, some blame it on a culture that often intimidates people if they wish to live as a committed Christian, and some blame it on the church being in “power” over the past several hundred years in America, for when you are the only game in town, you no longer need to act with integrity.

In post-Russia Ukraine, there is a large group of Muslims emigrating into the nations. In those nations, there is a proverb: “If a Muslim tells you he will do something, it will get done; if a Christian tells you he will do something, it may get done or it may not get done.” Being in the minority, the Muslims who emigrate there work hard at building the trust of those in the community they live in, while Christians in that area, still dominated by the influence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, don’t feel the same urgency to live with integrity because they are in the majority. Such is true in America as well. Particularly in areas where it is the cultural norm to be considered “Christian,” there are a lot of nominal believers who may have a good speech in church on Sunday, but the rest of their life is never touched by their Christian faith. Similarly, when they arrive in church Sunday morning and are asked how things are going in their life (spiritually, physically, or with their general well-being), they typically respond: “Great, how about you?” Of course, the response that they desire to hear from you is that everything is just fine and if you start unloading your troubles in their direction, usually they will maneuver themselves out of the conversation as quickly as possible.

Hence my suggested solution to the problem: instead of wearing nametags, strap a portable polygraph machine onto every member when they walk in the door. Rather than attaching the polygraph to a fancy stylus like one usually sees in pictures, a much simpler light and beeper could be attached. While the beeper would be sufficient to alert most people of a lie being told, the light would be a useful resource for older members of the congregation who no longer hear so well. That way, the moment a lie comes from someone’s mouth, everyone would be aware of it.

At first, the response would largely be that no one would say much of anything (which as a secondary benefit would cut down on church gossip). Some may even storm out of the church— “How dare the elders force me to tell the truth!” Of course, dissenting folks would not word it in that way. You might even have some hurt feelings from those who are forced to hear the truth from their neighbor for the first time. One drawback is that most hymns would become un-singable. Can you imagine all the beeps and flashes if a congregation were forced to wear such devices while singing lyrics like:

“I love to tell the story, of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love. I love to tell the story, because I know ‘tis true. It satisfies my longings, as nothing else can do. I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story, of Jesus and his love.”

Or:

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we’ll pray that all unity will one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our Love, by our Love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our Love.”

Or:

“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

And:

“I love thy kingdom Lord, the house of Thy abode, the church our blest Redeemer saved with his own precious blood.”

Of course, as time went by, a wonderful thing would happen. People in church would not only learn to tell the truth and not put up a mask of false piety, but they would also learn to be honest with one another not only about their successes, but about their trials as well. And in that honesty, genuine fellowship would take root.

I am sure that there are some who may not appreciate my sense of irony and touch of sarcasm, and to those in that category I say, “I love you, but get over it.” In many ways, those who will be most offended are probably the ones who need this the most. If we remain in the pattern of “doing” church as many of our churches are doing today, then we will fade away from public view as a dead sect. Yet, if we get beyond the masks and layers of armor, we will discover the meaning of true Christian fellowship, of the healing of the wounded soul that comes as part of a body of intentionally honest and transparent believers, and the world will begin to notice the integrity that comes with being a body of believers who are new creations in Christ.

What we all desire in a friend is one who knows us as heartily as we know ourselves yet who does not hold that knowledge against us. How sad it is that people often can only find such relationships in the secular world. How sad it is that the ones who worship the God of Truth most need to be hooked up to a polygraph for the truth to be seen in them.