Joseph of Arimathaea: Undercover Christianity (John #74)

Text: John 19:38-42


  • Joseph is someone who wants to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit of God recognizes him as having both good and bad qualities.  He’s very human.
  • Luke and Mark say Joseph’s good qualities are counsellor, honourable, good, just, and waiting for the kingdom of God.
  • Mark 15:43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.
  • Luke 23:50-51 And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.
  • Joseph is snared by fear
    • Joseph was a disciple, but secretly for fear of the Jews.
    • Warning to secret disciples.
  • His concern for his reputation scared him
    • The network scared him.
  • His potential loss of wealth scared him
    • Matthew noted that Joseph was a rich man (Matthew 27:57).
    • 1 Timothy 6:9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
  • His physical safety was threatened
    • The general principle is that discipleship has a cost.
    • You don’t get to call what you do following Jesus Christ unless you’re walking in the same steps he walked.
      • He doesn’t ask you to go anywhere He hasn’t gone.
      • He doesn’t drive or tempt you like the devil does.  He’s a shepherd who leads.
    • The problem with following is we don’t want to go where He is.
    • The Lord is my shepherdhe leadeth me.  But he’s really not your shepherd and he really doesn’t lead you because you’re not following.
    • Two paths before you on a daily basis.
      • The Lord’s path is here and it means you put your backpack and your stuff down and start walking with the Lord.  It’s this path that you’ll see the mighty hand of God on.  The other path is not the Lord’s way.  It’s your way.  You take what you want to, carry as much stuff as you desire, and start off.  Difference is you won’t see the Lord on this path.  Your supplies may get you through it and to the end of the trail where you’ll be disappointed to find it was the wrong trail.
      • This decision happens daily and I think it happens early.
    • Warning to secret disciples is this:
    • Whatever you’re afraid of isn’t worth fearing.  John is the only one that mentions Joseph of Arimathaea’s secret discipleship.  He also speaks of Nicodemus the same way.  Either it is frustration or John is letting other people know in writing that there were disciples deep within the Jewish hierarchy.
    • Whatever you’re waiting to happen so you can begin following Jesus Christ will never happen.  Because what you’re waiting on isn’t really what you’re waiting on.  It is an excuse.  This leads us to the second point.


  • The Bible says Joseph was one that waited for the kingdom of God in Mark 15:43 and Luke 23:51.
    • He’s waiting for the right thing.  So this is good.
    • The trouble is not what he’s waiting for, but HOW he’s waiting for it.
  • Undercover Christians are defined by spiritual inactivity, spiritual ineffectiveness, and a constant defense in spiritual matters.
    • If you won’t contend FOR the faith, you’ll contend WITH the faithful.
  • Undercover Christianity is defined by the defensive
    • I like the song Hold the Fort, but I also appreciate Onward Christian Soldiers?
    • I don’t want to be the Christian who just bunkered down until the rapture.  Can we gain some ground, bear some fruit, move forward by the Spirit of the living God?  Play some spiritual offense!
    • Patton quote:

My men don’t dig foxholes. I don’t want them to. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. And don’t give the enemy time to dig one either. We’ll win this war, but we’ll win it only by fighting and by showing the Germans that we’ve got more guts than they have; or ever will have…. War is a bloody, killing business. You’ve got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours…..When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt off your face and realize that instead of dirt it’s the blood and guts of what once was your best friend beside you, you’ll know what to do!”

“I don’t want to get any messages saying, “I am holding my position.” We are not holding a _____ thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything… Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like ____ through a goose; like ____ through a tin horn!”

“From time to time there will be some complaints that we are pushing our people too hard. I don’t give a good ____ about such complaints. I believe in the old and sound rule that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood. The harder WE push, the more Germans we will kill. The more Germans we kill, the fewer of our men will be killed. Pushing means fewer casualties. I want you all to remember that.”

  • The Bible said of Joseph he was waiting on the kingdom of God.  Now he’s right as to what he’s waiting on, but HOW he’s waiting is the problem.  You can wait like you’re in a waiting room or you can wait like a waiter and serve until your work is done.
  • Regret
    • Joseph didn’t know Jesus would be raised from the dead.  As far as Joseph knows, the Jews had finally gone too far, but it was too late.
    • He is regretting he wasn’t more vocal and more visible.
  • Rash decisions
    • Joseph and Nicodemus do something to hurry and get the body down and put away.  He apparently begged for the body of Jesus.  If you get a rich man to beg for something, you’ve reached the point of urgency.  Rich people don’t beg for anything.  This is one way you know Joseph is in desperation.
    • The other is this.  John said for the sepulchre was nigh at hand meaning it was close by and convenient.
    • This is not a planned event.  It is a desperate, rash decision.
  • Resources replace relationship with the Lord
    • Joseph is using his resources because he feels personally guilty for his lack of testimony.
    • Nicodemus does the same thing.  He brings 100 lbs of myrhs and aloes.  John also notes of Nicodemus that he was another secret disciple.
    • Don’t get me wrong, generosity with your resources for the Lord can be a wonderful thing.  But not when it takes the place of neglected duties.
  • Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”


  • Mark 15:43 says Joseph came out boldly to Pilate.  He finally ignored his fear.
    • (Mark probably empathizes here because Mark himself had lost faith and was given opportunity to take part in the work again in the book of Acts.)
  • There is hope.  We are all undercover Christians at times.  Some never get out of undercover work.  Hopefully today you’ll gain some courage for this week.
    • It’s amazing what a crucified Christ will do for an undercover Christian.
    • Joseph understands the death of Jesus Christ in a way few will.  The body of the Lord literally lays where Joseph is suppose to lay.  The substitution is literal, visible, and physical for Joseph.  He’s looking at Jesus dead body in his own grave and these words, I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live
  • Get back to where you started.
    • Sin started in a garden and now here we are in a garden again.
    • Death started in a garden and now the penalty of death is paid for all men in a garden.  We put flowers on our headstones because we want it to look like a garden.
    • The point is this has all come full circle.  We are back to where we started.  Joseph became a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ because someone else had fortitude.
  • Let me say again, It’s amazing what a crucified Christ will do for an undercover Christian.
  • Let me say again, Don’t just hold your position, advance it.  Shine light into darkness.