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5th Wednesday of Lent

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I grew up in a country/rural area.  Behind our backyard was just corn fields or soybean fields.  One of the nice things about living out in the country is there aren’t as many regulations as living in a city.  One thing my family had was a burning barrel we’d use to get rid of some of our garbage.  Since I kind of enjoyed burning this task usually fell to me.  Well, one time I looked and noticed the fire died down and there was just smoke but not all the papers had burned up, so I took a stick and started to poke around in there, stirred it up a bit, caused a little turmoil and agitation, and then…all of a sudden the fire took off and really blazed again.  Sometimes when you think something has been snuffed out, a little turmoil can cause something great to happen.

Tonight we’re looking at a man called Joseph who was from a town called Arimathea.  As far as his faith was concerned he was like a smoldering wick, but after the events of Jesus’ death his faith was fanned into a great flame.

Think for a bit about the many astounding things that happened around Jesus’ death: Jesus was like no other, in the face of all these mockeries, abuse, accusations Jesus said… nothing, when He’s nailed to the cross, instead of cursing His executioners He’s forgiving them!  In the middle of the day, the earth went dark!  A powerful earthquake was felt by all, the enormous curtain separating the holy and most holy place in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, while typically people last for more than a day on the cross, Jesus chose the time by giving up His own spirit.  So many astounding events went on here!

But then one more astounding event: Joseph.  Who’s Joseph?  It’s interesting that all four of the gospels tell us about this Joseph, but all we hear about him is in regards to this very event: the burial of Jesus.  Well, who is he?  He is described as being a rich man, wealthy; he also had purchased his own new tomb.  He was described as a good and righteous man.  He was a prominent member of the Jewish ruling council.  He was a secret disciple of Jesus.  He had a weak, small faith; he followed Jesus but was still afraid of the Jews.  At least until now.  How strange is this?  At Jesus’ suffering and death, NOW he takes a stand for Jesus, NOW he associates with Jesus, NOW he takes a public interest in Jesus?

Although part of the council we’re also told that he did not go along with the others when they sentenced Jesus to death, likely he didn’t even show up at their meeting, his absence would have showed that he wasn’t on their side.  Then after Jesus died (about 3 p.m.) and before the Sabbath day began at 6 p.m. Joseph went in to Pilate and requested Jesus’ body, a very public show of care and concern for Jesus.  He then took Jesus’ body down from the cross, in a public place, many would have heard about it, he defiled himself by coming into contact with a dead body, and gave Jesus a proper burial in a tomb.  And it turns out that all this fulfills what God had written hundreds of years earlier through Isaiah: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9).

So what do we learn from this Joseph, a weak man who became strong?  Well, are there times when we are weak in our faith?  Perhaps far more times than we’d like to admit.  Times we aren’t ready to stand up for what is right in the face of what is wrong.  Times when we fail to confess our faith to those around us because we are afraid of what they may say or think of us.  Times when we fail to call sin what it is: sin, afraid of what others might think, afraid to disrupt the status quo or rock the boat, even when the status quo is not God-pleasing.

Or maybe there are times when we think that we are strong in the faith, that we are standing firm, that there is nothing that could take us down, no tragedy so great we wouldn’t be able to handle, no temptation so great we couldn’t master, no threat from the Evil One that we couldn’t overcome?  Surely we might have thought Jesus’ own disciples would have been at his side through thick and thin, hardship and trial, but where are they?  Just as soon as the going gets tough, as the soldiers come to arrest Jesus they flee for their lives.  Peter, the often spokesman for the disciples, had said he was willing to give up his life for Jesus!  The very ones who ought to be strong in the faith, who had spent countless hours walking and talking and learning with Jesus, they are nowhere to be seen as Jesus’ body lies pitifully on the cross.  So, perhaps we should learn that it’s the times when we might think we are standing firm and are very strong in the faith when in reality those are the times when we are dreadfully weak and about to fall.

We don’t know what the future holds or what we will face.  Will I lose a child or a spouse?  Will I suffer a terrible disease?  Will I be faced with a great challenge to my faith?  We don’t know.

It seems often at times of crisis and tragedy is the very time when God who is both willing and able raises up even those who are weak and timid in faith and gives them the strength and boldness to confess His name.  He fans smoldering embers into flames.

I don’t know what may come into your life, but God has given us an awesome example of His wonderful grace and love in this account.  Think about it: Joseph was a man who was “looking for the kingdom of God.”  He must have been well-read in the OT Scriptures, he was looking for the Messiah to come and as a disciple of Jesus he must have believed Jesus was it.  So, nurtured by God’s Words and at a time when the person he thought was the Messiah was dead, he boldly goes in to Pilate to ask for the body.  If God is able to that with Joseph, then He’s certainly able to raise you who are nurtured by God’s Word up in the face of challenges and give you strong faith to make bold confessions even when it seems for nothing.

And notice something else: God raised this “smoldering faith” Joseph and used him in order to accomplish His plans and His purposes.  It was part of God’s plan for Jesus to be buried and placed in a tomb rather than to be left on the cross.  If God can use a weak man like Joseph to carry out His plans and to make bold confessions of faith…then He can certainly use you too!  What amazing grace of God that He should choose to use sinful, often weak in faith and fearful people like you and I to carry out His work in the world, to be beacons of true light in a sin-darkened planet, to share the message of a crucified Savior who’s paid for sins in full!  May God give us strength, increase our confidence, uphold our faith in Him so with boldness and courage we too may live our lives for the One who lived and died for us!  Amen.