Joseph of Arimathea: The ‘Secret Believer’ Who Sacrificed for Jesus Christ (The Unsung Heroes of Easter #6)


TEXT: Mark 15:42-47

Today, we come to the sixth person in our unsung heroes of Easter series. This person is Joseph of Arimathea. Arimatha was a city in Judea. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin — the Jewish religious council which had condemned Jesus to be crucified. He was a wealthy man and he was also a secret believer in Jesus Christ.

We do not know more about Joseph from the Bible, but other sources say that Joseph gained his wealth by trading metal, which was a much needed product in the Roman Empire. Some say that he was an uncle of Mary, and thus a blood relative of Jesus Christ.

After Jesus’ ascension, it is believed that Joseph became a missionary, traveled through Europe with other early followers of Christ, and eventually took the Gospel to Britain which was the northern-most fringe of the Roman Empire. In Britain, he is said to have built the first official church building near what is present-day Glastonbury. At that time Christians still met in houses. It is interesting that near the ruins of this church, there is a plant known as the Glastonbury Thorn which buds twice a year only around the Easter and Christmas seasons. This plant originally came from the eastern Mediterranean area.

We don’t know how much of this is true or partially-true, but many people in the early church recognized the significant role that Joseph played in the Gospel story. In fact, Joseph’s burial of Jesus Christ is recorded in all four of the Gospels. Let’s briefly look at what makes Joseph stand out.

1. Joseph was a searching man. The Bible tells us that Joseph was a man who “waited for the kingdom of God.” Like many Jews during that time, Joseph had an expectation that the Messiah would come to save his people from their sins. He was on the lookout for such a person to arrive.

2. Joseph was a sincere man. The Bible tells us that he “went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.” The word “crave” implies that Joseph desired strongly or begged for the body of Jesus. He was sincere in his desire to do something for Christ. He was not just putting on or doing something for show. At that time, it was far safer to be on the side of Jesus’ enemies than to be on the side of Jesus. For a while, Joseph was secretly loyal, but when the chips were down, he didn’t lose faith when it looked like all was lost.

3. Joseph was willing to sacrifice. When Joseph acquired Jesus’ body from the cross, the Bible informs us that he “laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock.” The fact that Joseph did this indicates the level of respect that Joseph had for Jesus Christ. Most people during that time were buried in stone boxes in the ground. But the wealthy people had great tombs carved out of rock. Such a tomb cost a lot of time and money to make.

The Roman Centurion had a Change of Heart (The Unsung Heroes of Easter #5)


TEXT: Mark 15:37-39

The Roman Centurion who was in charge of carrying out the crucifixion was one of the people in closest proximity to Jesus during his final hours. A centurion was a Roman army officer normally in command of about 60 to 80 soldiers. This centurion may have carried out or witnessed dozens of crucifixions during his career. He was a hardened soldier and not easily affected by a criminal’s cries of pain and agony. Yet, we find that this Roman Centurion was so affected by the manner of Jesus’ death, that he ended up admitting what Jesus’ disciples and His beloved followers believed — that he was the son of God.

How did this centurion come to this conclusion? It is quite likely that he did not see any of Jesus’ miracles. He had not sat among the multitudes who listened to Jesus’ teaching. What did he see in those final hours of Jesus’ life that caused him to make this admission? I believe the centurion saw three things about Jesus that convinced him that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God.

1. The Centurion saw Jesus’ strength. As Jesus was put on trial, he demonstrated tremendous strength in the way he handled the accusations that were made against him. He never answered his accusers. He never tried to defend himself. He showed great strength and restraint by not fighting back. As someone once said, “Pilate has the army, but Jesus has the power. Pilate has the throne, but Jesus has the authority. Pilate asks the questions, but Jesus holds all the answers.”

2. The Centurion saw Jesus’ serenity. Not only did Jesus show great strength, he showed great peace in his death. Most people meet death struggling to find a way to get out of it. But, Jesus Christ willingly went to the cross. The reason why he was able to demonstrate great peacefulness in his death is because he knew that he was fulfilling God’s purpose for his life.

3. The Centurion saw Jesus’ sympathy. In his waning moments on the cross, Jesus demonstrated his love and care for others. At a time when most people would have been concerned only about themselves and easing their pain, Jesus showed that he was most concerned about the people around him.

John: The Disciple Who Loved Jesus to the Very End (The Unsung Heroes of Easter #4)

TEXT: John 19:25-27

In the midst of the Passion story, we often overlook the fact that there was one disciple who stayed close to Jesus throughout the trial and crucifixion. This disciple was the apostle John. He was a man who came from a family of some means, he owned a house in Jerusalem, and he was the younger brother of James. He and his brother were dubbed by Christ the “sons of thunder” due to their hot tempers. John was a fisherman and likely first heard about Jesus from the preaching of John the Baptist who proclaimed Christ to be the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Shortly thereafter, Jesus called John to become a fisher of men, and John left his occupation to follow Christ. He became a member of Christ’s inner circle of disciples, along with James and Peter.

John is referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved. As you read John’s Gospel, you will notice that love is one of John’s major themes, along with the themes of truth and light. John repeatedly contrasts truth with lies, light with darkness, and love with hate. In the three epistles which bear his name, these themes are reiterated over and over again.

I believe that just as Jesus loved John, John loved Jesus. John was the disciple who sat beside Jesus at the Last Supper. In Jewish culture, the person who sat beside a host at dinner was considered an honored guest. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, John and Peter were the only ones to follow Him to the place where the trial was being held. Because John was acquainted with the high priest, he was let in. Perhaps he was able to observe the trial. He followed Jesus once the Jewish authorities took him to Pilate, and he followed Jesus from the place of his trial to Golgotha. We find him standing with Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross.

Why did John stay with Jesus when all of the other disciples had fled? I believe it is simply because throughout his experience following Jesus Christ, John realized that Jesus was truly God’s Son, and that as such, God was demonstrating his love for the world through Jesus Christ. Let’s look at what this meant in the life of John the apostle.

1. John experienced true love. John was an eyewitness to the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Jesus expressed his love for his disciples in his prayer for them in John 17. He said, “I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus wanted his disciples to experience the same love from God that Jesus Himself felt from God.

2. John was called to demonstrate love. As Jesus hung on the cross, he looked down, and the Bible tells us that he saw John and his mother standing there. Jesus “saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”

3. John encouraged others to live a life of love. Not only did John experience Jesus’ love and demonstrate Jesus’ love, but he encouraged others to live a life of love after the pattern of Jesus Christ.

Mary: A Picture of Peace in the Midst of the Storm (The Unsung Heroes of Easter #3)


TEXT: John 19:25-27

We often speak of Mary in her role of giving birth to Jesus Christ. Not much attention is paid to Mary’s presence at Jesus’ crucifixion. However, this detail is so important that all four of the Gospel narratives record Mary’s presence at the foot of the cross. As we continue our series on the unsung heroes of Easter, I want us to take a look at Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.

But before we get deep into the significance of Mary at the foot of the cross, I want us to be clear that unlike many Catholics, we do not worship or pray to Mary. Mary is just a woman who God saw fit to use to bring His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Pastor and author, Dr. John MacArthur, says as much in his expansive teaching on the heresies of the Catholic church, “Catholic tradition dictates that Mary is part of the monarchy of heaven, soliciting grace and mercy from the Lord on behalf of sinners, and covering sin by distributing from her Treasury of Merit. She became a co-redeemer with Christ in His suffering on the cross, and is now a co-mediator alongside Him in heaven—essentially an alternative avenue of access to God. She replaces the Holy Spirit in bestowing aid and comfort to believers. In effect, she becomes an additional member of the Trinity….Scripture actually has very little to say about Mary. There’s no description of her physical appearance, nothing about her life, her later years after Christ’s death, or her own death and burial. And when she does briefly appear with the disciples and the other believers on the day of Pentecost, she’s not an object of worship or even a leader in the early church—she’s just one among many. There simply are no biblical examples of anyone ever praying to her, honoring her, or venerating her.”

Mary was just a young woman from an ordinary family when the calling of God first came on her life. She was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to a child. Of course, this was news that turned her whole life upside down. She had the unenviable task of explaining to her family and to Joseph, whom she was engaged to, that she was pregnant and yet still a virgin. She gave birth in a manger surrounded not by family and friends, but by animals. Shortly after that, she had to escape to Egypt because King Herod wanted her child dead. And when she and Joseph returned to Israel, Mary, like all mothers, had to deal with the difficult process of Jesus Christ growing up, becoming a man and moving out to do his “father’s business.”

When Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus up to the Temple, a man of God named Simeon told Mary, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

I have often wondered what Simeon meant by saying that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul as well. Perhaps he was trying to tell Mary that life after giving birth to the Son of God would not be easy. There would be difficult things she had to go through emotionally and spiritually. Like any mother would, Mary felt pain every time she heard insults, accusations, and slander against God’s Son whom she had been used to bring into the world. The lashes of the whip that tore at Jesus’ skin, tore at Mary’s soul. There were probably countless times when she wanted to rush to Jesus’ defense. But, not one time in the Bible do we see Mary in the middle of an outburst. She never made a scene. She didn’t try to take matters into her own hand. Whenever we see Mary, we see a calm, strong, peaceful woman. What was Mary’s secret? What caused her to be so peaceful in the middle of the storms and upheaval that surrounded her firstborn son?

Simon of Cyrene: Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone? (An Encounter with God on the Road to Golgotha) (The Unsung Heroes of Easter #2)

Simon of Cyrene
Simon of Cyrene

TEXT: Mark 15:12-21

Some of the most significant events in our lives happen unexpectedly. We do not plan them. We do not prepare for them. They seemingly happen by chance; however, we know that nothing happens by chance. Today, as we continue our series on the Unsung Heroes of Easter, I want to talk about a man who had a surprise encounter with God. His name is Simon, and the Bible tells us that he was from Cyrene. Cyrene was the capital city of a Roman province in North Africa, an area which we know as Libya today. It had a sizable population of Greek-speaking Jews who had immigrated there about 300 years before Christ was born. Simon was either a member of this Jewish population, or he was a native African who worshipped the God of the Jews. Simon happened to be in Jerusalem for the observance of Passover, as many Jews who lived abroad and many Gentiles who feared God traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate this important holiday.

Pastor Dave Wilkinson of Moorpark Presbyterian Church in California wrote an interesting article about Simon of Cyrene. In it, he wrote the following:

Simon has come to Jerusalem for Passover from Cyrene in North Africa. Many assume he is a Jew. There were many Jews in Cyrene. But it is at least equally possible that Simon is a convert to Judaism and not Jewish by blood. Or he may be a God-fearer – a Gentile who worships the God of Israel but doesn’t keep the whole law including circumcision. We meet a number of these God-fearers in the Book of Acts. I believe the evidence suggest that Simon is not Jewish by blood but is either a convert to Judaism or a God-fearer. … The evidence is certainly strong that Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross was a black man who had come first to faith in the God of Israel and then to faith in Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and savior of the world. That may well be why Simon was the one the soldiers grabbed – he stood out from the crowd and he didn’t look Jewish. … Simon later knew that he was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus only because Jesus first voluntarily carried the cross for Simon. … It was God himself who had chosen to confront Simon of Cyrene. He allowed Simon to carry the cross Jesus couldn’t carry so Jesus could die the death Simon did not want to die.

That is a powerful piece about this unsung hero of Easter. Now, as we move along, we find that during the time of Passover, as Simon was coming out of the countryside into the city of Jerusalem, a strange procession met him. At the head of this procession was a group of Roman soldiers surrounding a beaten and bloodied man who was struggling to carry a cross up the hillside. Behind them, were spectators, Jewish religious leaders, and women weeping. Simon probably tried to get out of the way, but his curiosity got the better of him, and he joined the crowd lining the street to watch the procession. As it passed before him, the man carrying the cross stumbled and fell. Despite the urging of the soldiers, he was unable to carry the cross any further.

One of the soldiers looks into the crowd of spectators. He sees Simon standing there and grabs him, pulls him into the pathway, and orders him to pick up the cross and carry it up the hillside. Any number of men could have been chosen to carry Jesus’ cross. But God saw fit that Simon was standing in that exact place at that exact time for him to be called on to bear the cross of Christ. As he stooped down to lift the heavy wooden beam, Simon found himself face-to-face with God.

People often meet God in the unlikeliest of places and under the unlikeliest of circumstances. As Paul says in the book of Acts, “God is not far from every one of us.” And it is a beautiful thing when God decides to reveal Himself to an unsuspecting person. Simon was perhaps on his way to join his family in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, when God interrupted his plans and said, ‘I want you to bear the cross of My Holy Son and the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ.’

1. Notice the Beauty of Cross-bearing. Simon probably did not think that helping a criminal carry a cross was something he would be doing once he got to Jerusalem. As his grip closed on the rough wood, he probably wondered, ‘Why me? Look at all these people standing around. Why did they have to pick me?’ When God thrusts us into an uncomfortable situation, isn’t that how we react? We wonder, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ But eventually we come to the realization that God is directing us, and we learn to trust his leadership.

2. Notice the Burden of Cross-bearing. While the end result of Simon’s encounter with Jesus Christ was a beautiful thing, his journey up to Golgotha was difficult. It was brutal and bloody. Cruel Roman soldiers hurried them along likely cracking whips, jabbing them with spear butts, and cursing along the way. A jeering, judgmental crowd followed them. A few weeping, compassionate women tried to get close to Jesus. The heavy, wooden beam pressed into Simon’s back. It was not easy carrying Christ’s cross.

3. Notice the Blessing of Cross-bearing. Even though cross-bearing is difficult, there is a certain blessing mixed in with this difficulty. Realizing these blessings will help us bear our cross with confidence. One of the blessings is knowing that we are following in Christ’s footsteps. Jesus said, “take up thy cross and FOLLOW me.” In other words, we are not blazing a new trail, we are following a path that has already been paved for us.

GLMX #26: The Seven Words that Jesus Said While He Was on the Cross for You and Me

Luke 23:34 tells us that Jesus’ first words on the cross were, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” The first words from the cross are not about the pain or the injustice. They are a prayer for those who have just crucified the very Son of God.

Listen to this Gospel Light Minute Extended Broadcast to hear all seven of the final words of Jesus Christ on the cross, and what they mean for us today.

+ Plus, listen to Flame singing “On that Cross”

Click the play button below to listen now.

MP3 Download Link: GLMX Show 26