Friday, March 25, 2011

Did Joseph Wait in Vain?

Reading: Mark 15—16   
Joseph of Arimathea is described as one “who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God...” (Mark 15:43). Though he had been afraid to profess his allegiance to Jesus, now at his death, he boldly goes to Pilate to ask for his body. Seems ironic. But there is an even bigger irony in play here: He has been waiting for the kingdom of God, and now he is given the dead body of the King to bury. Had he waited in vain? Was he just another dreamer as his namesake?
Joseph was from Arimathea, which is apparently the same town Samuel was born. (Ramah in Hebrew, but in the Greek Old Testament called Arimathea.) Samuel was the prophet who led Israel as the last judge under the Kingship of Yahweh. Israel rejected God as King under his rule, and preferred to have a visible king like the nations around them. Samuel anointed Saul, and then when Saul rejected God's rule over his own life, David was chosen. Since David, Israel had been waiting for the one who would come and reign over the kingdom... the one who would be the restoration of Yahweh's rule over His people. We looked in depth at this in the message, “A New Kind of King and Kingdom”.
Just Solomon had been put on David's mule and rode to the spring outside Jerusalem, and then had ascended the throne, this promised King would be expected to do a similar act (Zephaniah 9:9). Jesus, in fact, rode into Jerusalem as prophesied with people shouting, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” Following this ride, He ascended the His throne, in His palace, at least as far as the earthly picture of it goes, when He went to the temple and began to teach the people (Mark 11:4-11).
At His trial this theme is central. Mark 15 records the trial of Jesus. Note the central theme in these verses:
Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. (Mark 15:2)
Here, in the only words Jesus speaks at the trial, He acknowledges the central issue: He is the King of the Jews. He is the one they were waiting for. Yet, the Jews reject their king once again, shouting, “Crucify him!”
8The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 9“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate...
12What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. 13Crucify him!” they shouted. (Mark 15:8-9, 12-13)
Then when the Roman soldiers flog Jesus, they mock him for being king. Note each element of their mockery centers around this point.
16The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. (Mark 15:16-19)
This Praetorium is wherever the imperial official, Pilate, is staying. In Jerusalem it was either one of Herod's palace's when Pilate was there, or more likely the former palace of the Hasmonean Dynasty (the Kingdom which had successfully rid Israel of Gentile rulers under Simon Maccabeus). This scene is the complete rejection of Christ as King by the Roman soldiers.
Then as Jesus is crucified, the charge posted against Him is, “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). Then mockery reaches its climactic irony in the mouths of the priests and teachers of the law:
In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:31-32)
Let this Christ (meaning the one anointed king), the King of Israel, come down that we may see and believe. And He dies. Then Joseph, the one waiting for the kingdom is given the body of Jesus. Is this cruel irony? Is this a mockery of Joseph as a dreamer, and all who were awaiting the coming King? Maybe. Or, maybe not.
Joseph, once fearful to admit his faith, now boldly goes to the Roman procurator and asks for Jesus' body at the very time when the disciples had just fled. Joseph seemed to see something that the chief priests and teachers of the law had missed. Mark's Gospel drives home the point that those who come under His reign will come into it by faith, not sight. Mark ends with an angel telling us about the resurrection, with three fearful woman trembling and bewildered, fleeing the tomb. But they had an instruction and a promise.
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)
They were to go tell his disciples that they would see Jesus just as He promised. And we, as disciples, are left with the last words of this Gospel. The implication is that we have the same instruction and promise. Go tell, and you will see Him just as He promised. But like Joseph, we only do that when we see by faith that the Crucified One is indeed the One they were waiting for.1
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1The earliest manuscripts show that Mark ends at 16:8. A perfect ending for a Gospel which has emphasized faith—faith which has to do with what we see about Jesus. (For more on Mark and Faith read, Seeing is Believing After All.)

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