Just a quick blog today to cheer up and encourage a few dear, tired brothers and friends. Perhaps you're approaching the Sabbath and wondering what's the point of worship, instruction or teaching. You've slogged away for years! There doesn't as yet appear to be much Gospel fruit. The thought has 'ping-ponged' round your brain - on more than one occasion - that if this is the result should I not just dumb-down or give-up?
The surprising case of Joseph of Arimathea should put flight to such flagging or discouragement. He hailed from a Jewish town after which he took his name (Luke 23:50). He was a held in high regard by his peer-group on the ruling council, the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43). Though materially loaded (Matthew 27:57) he was religiously righteous and good (Luke 23:50) - he had clearly perceived the injustice of the ludicrous charges brought against Jesus, and refused to give his blessing to their cursing of the Christ (Luke 23:51).
This upper-class Arimathean had actually been looking for God's Kingdom - he knew in its present form, despite the outward pomp of the Temple, the Jews were slaves to Rome, and God's prophets promised something else. The heart of Joseph had been full of messianic expectations. Yet this elder of the Jews, until Jesus was put to death, was too afraid to speak, and to say what he really thought, as the 'Apostle of love' makes plain in John 19:38.
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was 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
Mark adds the remark that Joseph "took courage" (Mark 15:44). It was the day of Preparation, or the evening before the Sabbath. Joseph was in a rush to take Christ's body down from the Cross. With a holy, anxious, keenness he boldly puts the request to Pilate. After the Centurion, a man experienced in certifying death at many prior executions - no doubt - had verified the expiration of Jesus, Joseph goes to Skull Hill to honor the Crucified One.
Can you see with what admiration he selects, then packs, the finest linen shroud he has? Don't miss the selfless generosity in surrendering his own freshly-cut, limestone, tomb! Watch the reverent, tender, love with which he lowers the impaled lifeless, cold, stiffening, pale form of Jesus from His gruesome gallows - adoration undistracted by the two thieves either side now making their final grunts. Did his tears spill onto the face at the sight of Jesus thorn-pierced brow? Did he run his fingers over the nail prints of his Messiah and Prince? As the twilight fades, this faithful church leader meticulously, heavy-heartedly and worshipfully wraps Messiah's corpse.
The women are still there - two Marys bowed with tears - to witness the Christ's cortege, with the helping arms of Nicodemus. Down through the garden, into the tomb, set on a ledge - a low-pitched, rubbling, grinding sound is witnessed as the grave is sealed fast by the huge stone which Joseph has levered into place. The men long-gone are nowhere to be seen - male presence visible by its absence, with the exception of two former secret followers. With heroic daring, in the face of His curse, Joseph defies church and state to openly confess Christ.
Do you see my point in recounting this solemn, yet glorious, narrative? Nobody would have recognized Joseph as one of Jesus' followers. His family, friends and neighbors did not associate Joseph with the Nazarene. His fellows on the Sanhedrin were startled by His impartiality and integrity yet never, for a second, suspected a turncoat in their midst. Only God, to this point, as far as we know, was aware that this Arimathean had been foreknown before creation. Now when it really counts, by the impulse of the Spirit, while the world rejects the Cross, this disciple comes out of the woodwork!
Surely you can see that the predictions of the prophets, outcries of John the Baptist, miracles and messages of Jesus, had, by the power of the Spirit, begun a new work in His heart. Precious Gospel seed, unknown to any mortal flesh, had taken root and begun to germinate. Totally unsuspected, this man was a believer - the Gospel, in His case, had proved effectual unto salvation. As J.C. Ryle once noted:
Others had shown love to Jesus while he was speaking and living, but Joseph showed love when He was silent and dead ...Let us take comfort in the thought that there are true Christians on earth, of whom we know nothing about, and in places where we should not expect to find them. No doubt the faithful are always few. But we must not hastily conclude that there is no grace is a family or in a parish, because our eyes may not see it.
Whether we think it or not, that is always the case with the elect - believe brothers and sisters it "is the power of the God unto salvation of all those who believe" whether Jew or Greek, black or white, male or female, young or old, gay or straight.
So tomorrow, next week, and the following year, if Christ's return is delayed, there'll be far more happening than you think!
God is at work where His Son is made known. If the truth is preached some soul is likely being reached. There is more happening in your life than you really understand - God, by His Word and Spirit, is working out His purpose through sovereign providences in you life. With respect to others, whom you serve, more are being saved, more are being sanctified, more grace is being poured out, more Gospel seed is producing good fruit, through His own appointed means, than you realize.
So don't lose heart! And don't give up! Some day soon, in this world or the next, be it with friends, family, church members, colleagues or neighbors, a harvest will be reaped.