Take Courage

Mark 15: 40-47

 Maybe you’ve been to a funeral and learned something about the person who has died that you didn’t know before? When attending a funeral, you can not only learn a lot about the person who has deceased, but also sometimes get added insight into their life by who chooses to attend. There was one particular funeral I believe there is something we can learn from if we look at the people who attended this particular event.

There were two groups of people at the burial of Jesus, or at least one group and another individual. A small group woman and someone called Joseph of Arimathea.  There are a number of places in the New Testament were this small group of women are mentioned but it is interesting to note that on each occasion they are mentioned Mary Magdalene is always mentioned first. Many bible scholars say this indicates that she was probably their leader. Another woman mentioned is also called Mary, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph. Then there is Salome and we are told elsewhere she ministered to the Lord with her worldly goods.

Remember at this point in the story there has been great hostility shown towards the Lord which has climaxed with Him being crucified only the day before. This suggest to me that these women should have been fearful after all the disciples fled because they were followers of Jesus and they probably thought they were next. However, the women had overcome that fear and remained faithful until the end. Their devotion to the Lord had meant that they had put him above their own personal welfare. They were faithful to the very end, more so than even the disciple.

Now we come to the second person in this passage, namely Joseph of Arimathea, “a prominent member of the Council”. That is interesting because saying he was a member of the council means he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Johns account actual tells us that he was in fact a disciple of the Lord, but keep it secret for “fear of the Jews” Here is a man who was a prominent respectable member of the ruling council of the Sanhedrin who had come to believe that Jesus was the Christ. However, he is understandably frightened of how his fellow members of the Sanhedrin might react if they knew this. The key statement, as it says in some translations that “he took courage” and “boldly” went before the council and requested that he might have the body of Christ. We see in this passage that Joseph stood up and spoke up for the Lord. However, he did more than just that, he stood up, he spoke up, and then he sacrificially served the Lord. He did so by taking down his body wrapping it in linen and placing it in a tomb.

On a practical level Joseph could not have removed Christ’s body from the cross all by himself, as a matter of fact, we are told in the gospel of John that Nicodemus helped him. Nicodemus was also a member of the ruling council, the one who secretly came to meet with Jesus in the middle of the night. There is a really significant sacrifice being made here because what is really significant in this is that they handled the body. For a Jew to handle a dead body meant they would have been disqualified from taking or participating in the Passover. On the eve of the Passover they did something that made them defiled in the eyes of their people and their faith group. So, they bury Jesus in a tomb cut out of rock and they roll a large stone against the door of the tomb.

I believe a lesson to be learned in all of this is that we too need to overcome our fears. Fear of the crowd or  what people might think can stop us in our tracks, it certainly stopped the disciples, who in a matter of a days had all turned and fled. It had stopped Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus from standing up prior to this point.

So, what’s the solution when we feel challenged or afraid. Should we wait until the fear subsides before we take courage or is taking courage the solution to the fear. Perhaps we are called not to wait until the fear is gone, but to speak when we are afraid. Paul writing in 1st Corinthians 2: 3-5 says;

 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Take heart and be courageous but please note this is not an arrogant attitude, haranguing people of there status before a holy God. This is a place of humility, coming in weakness, with great fear and trembling. Paul himself says he came to them in weakness and in great fear and trembling. He didn’t wait till the fear subsided, he took courage and spoke authentically even whilst he was afraid.

That I believe is an important part of the lesson of this passage. Were the woman afraid? Probably. Was Joseph afraid? Definitely because the text says he was, but neither of them let their fear control them. Courage is only courage if you are doing what you are afraid to do, there can be no real courage unless you are afraid. Next time you are afraid, try taking courage, and do the right thing whilst you are afraid. Sometimes we need to look fear in the face and take courage in spite of being in great fear and trembling. You don’t need to rely on persuasive words, you just need to get out of the way and let God demonstrate it through His Spirit’s power Because regardless of any loss we might experience today a day will come when because of that courageous step you will stand before the God who created this universe and because one day you will one day stand before the king and be given your reward.

Amen