“There are some true Christians in the world of whom very little is known. The case of Joseph of Arimathea teaches this very plainly.
Here is a man named among the friends of Christ, whose very name we never find elsewhere in the New Testament, and whose history, both before and after this crisis, is completely withheld from the Church.
“Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.” (John 19:38-39)
He comes forward to do honor to Christ, when the Apostles had forsaken Him and fled. He cares for Him and delights to do Him service, even when dead—not because of any miracle which he saw Him do, but out of free and gratuitous love.
He does not hesitate to confess himself one of Christ’s friends, at a time when Jews and Romans alike had condemned Him as a malefactor, and put Him to death. Surely the man who could do such things must have had strong faith!
…Let us hope and believe that there are many Christians in every age, who, like Joseph, are the Lord’s hidden servants, unknown to the Church and the world, but well known to God. Even in Elijah’s time there were seven thousand in Israel who had never bowed the knee to Baal, although the desponding prophet knew nothing of it.
Perhaps, at this very day, there are saints in the back streets of some of our great towns, or in the lanes of some of our country parishes, who make no noise in the world, and yet love Christ and are loved by Him. Ill-health, or poverty, or the daily cares of some laborious calling, render it impossible for them to come forward in public; and so they live and die comparatively unknown.
Yet the last day may show an astonished world that some of these very people, like Joseph, honored Christ as much as any on earth, and that their names were written in heaven…
It is not those who make the greatest show in the Church, who are always found the fastest friends of Christ.”
(J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Volume 3 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1880), 334-335. Ryle is commenting on John 19:38-42. This excerpt is taken from Tolle Lege, posted June 10, 2016)
Painting: Joseph of Arimathaea Seeks Pilate to Beg Permission to Remove the Body of Jesus, by James Tissot (1836-1902).