Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Judas Iscariot and Joseph of Arimathea

Approximately 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ walked this earth. He was God's Son, and what He accomplished during his brief 33 years is and always will be the most significant events in history. He impacted every life with whom He came in contact, and time itself was divided by His birth. He spread love, healing and deliverance to everyone He met. His words and actions to people are still studied, discussed and respected by Christians and non-Christians alike. However, the purpose of this post is not to talk about what Jesus did, but rather, it is to talk about how He was treated by two people who played very different roles in His earthly life.

One of these people is very well known. His name has become synonymous with betrayal and scandal. Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus' closest followers. He accompanied Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. He was there when Jesus fed five thousand men, along with their wives and children. He witnessed Jesus heal and deliver an epileptic boy and watched as Jesus called Lazarus from his grave. Judas heard the Sermon on the Mount, and he was present when Jesus privately explained the parable of the sower. He saw Jesus walk on water and joined Him for His last meal. For three and a half years, he traveled with Jesus all over the nation of Israel, but in the end, He chose to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas' time with Jesus, although there were probably some great moments, will forever be remembered for his selfishness and greed in the end. 

Joseph of Arimathea is not as well known as Judas. The Bible does not even record a single conversation that he and Jesus had. We don't know if He ever witnessed a single miracle or how many times, if any, he heard Jesus preach. He may have never heard Jesus rebuke the Pharisees or see Him bless the children. For all we know, he may have only heard about Jesus or seen Him from a distance, but in the end, he gave up his own personal burial tomb and allowed Jesus' body to be placed there. Joseph of Arimathea's time with Jesus, as brief and fleeting as it might have been, may be a detail that many pass over as they read the story of Jesus life, but it was significant enough that it was foretold more than six hundred years before it happened. 

The prophet Isaiah prophesied about Joseph of Arimathea and what he would do many generations before he was born. In what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and precious Old Testament prophecies about Jesus as the Messiah, Isaiah said:

   He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But He was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave (Isaiah 53:9 NLT, emphasis mine).

Joseph of Arimathea was this rich man, and the body of Jesus was laid to rest in his grave.

Judas had such little esteem for Jesus that he was willing to betray Him to His death, even after spending so much time with Him. Joseph, on the other hand, so highly esteemed even the bruised and beaten body of Jesus that He offered His own grave to a man he probably barely knew. 

Now, let us fast forward about two thousand years. Jesus has ascended back to the Father, Judas took his own life and Joseph has also passed away. The natural body of Jesus is no longer present on this earth, but His people make up His body now. We are his representatives to a world that is dying and needs His healing touch. However, we are far from perfect. We all have shortcomings and weaknesses. None of us is a perfect representation of Jesus on an individual level, and collectively, we have made some serious mistakes that have been some of the worst travesties in history. Nonetheless, we are the body of Christ today. 

The man sitting beside you at church is a part of Jesus' body. You may be aware of sin in his life, but he is still a part of Jesus' body. The pregnant teen who is afraid to come back to church is also a part of His body. The single father and the homeless man who sits in the back are both a part of His body. The family who left the church upset and the church across town that just split because they couldn't agree on the volume of the music are a part of His body. Indeed, His body is still broken and bruised, but who will we be, Judas Iscariot, or Joseph of Arimathea? 

Will we betray one another, or will we sacrifice for one another? Will we pass judgement on the body of Christ today, or will we embrace His body, in spite of the damage that may seem to be beyond repair? Will we sit in the pew with our jaw clinched in disdain, or will we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty? Will we criticize, or will we walk with our neighbors through the messes and ugly sides of their lives? Will we choose to look down on them, or will we commit to pray for them every step of their journey? Will we betray those around us, or will we lay our own lives down for them?

Who will we be, Judas Iscariot, or Joseph of Arimathea?

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