I continue to be amazed at the mysterious story lines found within the scriptures. These centuries long, scarlet threads seem necessary to backfill God’s character. Perhaps also, to contrast the lives of those religious who profess to represent the Divine yet, are so easily jaded by the politics of their religion.
This morning I seemed compelled to comment on the Josephs. For years now, I have been infatuated with the stories that surround these men and their brief moments of glory. First the Joseph of Egypt, with his coat of many colors and the life of paradox now studied by so many. Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he never gave up his dream or his heart for God.
Regardless of the era in which one lives, irony, intrigue, periodic humiliation, pain and often even death, seem common in the life tapestry of men and women of valor.
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.1
I find it interesting that though principal in Israel’s history, this first Joseph was not included in the names associated with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why? Perhaps the name of Joseph is being protected from the common; preserved for the more critical, transformational God moments over time?
Take the second Joseph, of Bethlehem. Betrothed to the Virgin Mary, he was visited by angels regarding an unlikely pregnancy that would soon to occur. God himself would become flesh. This Joseph would then become the intense custodian of the Christ, protecting him from the madman Herod. Like any father, he would nurture a balance of vocational skills, academic growth and social life. However, he would have to forego what dreams developed as he mentored this future Messiah, this child of heaven. Ultimately, like his ancestor Abraham, he would face the sacrifice of this son, though unlike Mt. Moriah’s ram in the thicket, no remedy would be provided this Joseph.
The third is Joseph, of Arimathea, described as a “prominent member of the Council,” the Jewish Sanhedrin. “The Great Sanhedrin as a religious assembly of 71 sages who met in the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Great Sanhedrin met daily during the daytime, and did not meet on the Sabbath, festivals or festival eves. It was the final authority on Jewish law and any scholar who went against its decisions was put to death as a zaken mamre (rebellious elder).”
“The Sanhedrin judged accused lawbreakers, but could not initiate arrests. It required a minimum of two witnesses to convict a suspect. There were no attorneys. Instead, the accusing witness stated the offense in the presence of the accused and the accused could call witnesses on his own behalf. The court questioned the accused, the accusers and the defense witnesses.”
“The Great Sanhedrin dealt with religious and ritualistic Temple matters, criminal matters appertaining to the secular court, proceedings in connection with the discovery of a corpse, trials of adulterous wives, tithes, preparation of Torah Scrolls for the king and the Temple, drawing up the calendar and the solving of difficulties relating to ritual law.”2
Mark’s statement about Joseph of Arimathea is interesting: “Joseph… was himself waiting for the kingdom of God.” Mark 15:43 (NIV). The scriptures imply a deeper relationship with God than that found among other religious leaders. Mark’s gospel goes on to reveal that this Joseph, at the risk of his position of influence, and perhaps his own life “went boldly to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body.”
Much of what we know of Joseph of Arimathea’s later life is by way of words captured in text, though not included in the Canon. The story goes that he was scolded for his kindness to Jesus and participation in the burial process with Nicodemus, and imprisoned by the Jewish Elders, with a seal placed on his cell. Upon later visit’s by this band of politically sanctioned terrorists, the seal was found intact though their prisoner had mysteriously returned to Arimathea!
“On the day of the Preparation, about the tenth hour, you shut me in, and I remained there the whole Sabbath in full. And when midnight came, as I was standing and praying, the house where you shut me in was hung up by the four corners, and there was a flashing of light in mine eyes. And I fell to the ground trembling. Then some one lifted me up from the place where I had fallen, and poured over me an abundance of water from the head even to the feet, and put round my nostrils the odour of a wonderful ointment, and rubbed my face with the water itself, as if washing me, and kissed me, and said to me, Joseph, fear not; but open thine eyes, and see who it is that speaks to thee. And looking, I saw Jesus; and being terrified, I thought it was a phantom. And with prayer and the commandments I spoke to him, and he spoke with me. And I said to him: Art thou Rabbi Elias? And he said to me: I am not Elias. And I said: Who art thou, my Lord? And he said to me: I am Jesus, whose body thou didst beg from Pilate, and wrap in clean linen; and thou didst lay a napkin on my face, and didst lay me in thy new tomb, and roll a stone to the door of the tomb. Then I said to him that was speaking to me: Show me, Lord, where I laid thee. And he led me, and showed me the place where I laid him, and the linen which I had put on him, and the napkin which I had wrapped upon his face; and I knew that it was Jesus. And he took hold of me with his hand, and put me in the midst of my house though the gates were shut, and put me in my bed, and said to me: Peace to thee! And he kissed me, and said to me: For forty days go not out of thy house; for, lo, I go to my brethren into Galilee.”
—Gospel of Nicodemus3
Three Josephs: the first, a carrier of the dream of God, one which would cost him greatly in terms of the joys typically shared within a family. That dream, then positions Moses and the descendants Israel for the next chapter in God’s great plan, the birth a nation in which Emmanuel, God with us, would be born.
The second Joseph would then parent the Messiah, whose life Israel had for centuries modeled in the sacrifices and religious ceremonies offered to their God as they awaited their Messiah. They would now reject the One who, in His life and now His death, unveiled the word of the prophets without error.
This third Joseph represents a man in whom God, perhaps for a lifetime, had cultivated this burning awareness that the Kingdom of God was drawing near. Only after Calvary would he recognize “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Rev. 13:8.