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This is the Sunday we look at our budget for the year in preparation for our annual meeting. We met our budget for last year, and all the bills are paid, so nobody is worrying that we are running short. We need no desperate appeals. There are no pressures to feel guilty. What is our motivation for giving for the work of this congregation and our support of missions throughout the world?
A year ago at this time I preached about tithing. Some of you found that a bit of a shock. It seemed like a huge slice out of a tight budget. But some of you decided to try. Now a year later let me ask if any of you have lost anything as a result of setting aside one tenth of your income for God to use? Have you ever given anything costly to God, and found yourself in trouble? It's a bit like a father trying to teach his son to be generous. "Here is $10 for your pocket money, but I want you to give a dollar away." Does the father then say "Hey, you gave the dollar away, so you don't need those new shoes"?
Now let's look at what Joseph of Arimathea gave away, and the unexpected result. He was a rich man. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Parliament (Luke 23:50). He had voted against Jesus' crucifixion (Luke 23:50-51). And he was "a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38). That meant he had been baptized, and begun to learn Jesus' good news, but was still hesitant to commit himself too openly.
When Jesus died, and his corpse was still hanging on the cross, Joseph wondered "Where are they going to bury him?" That's when he must have heard God say "What about your new tomb, Joseph?"
The burial of ordinary people was by digging a grave. Those who could afford it liked to have a tomb cut out in the side of a rock face. And Joseph had just got his own big family tomb cut out and ready at great cost. You can imagine Satan saying "Don't be stupid. God can't ask that from you. The tomb is for your family. As the Bible says, 'anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse' (Deuteronomy 21:23). That Jesus you believed in was crucified as a common criminal."
It is important to see that God was not asking Joseph to give up his tomb so he could be rewarded with a place in heaven. He was already forgiven. The purpose of giving was not to earn but to learn. And what he needed to learn is that God is no one's debtor. You can't give anything to God (time, money, service, prayer), and get back less then you gave him.
But then Satan produced another religious reason why this was certainly a wrong course. By the law of Moses anyone who touched a dead body was defiled, and he could not take part in the Passover ritual (Numbers 9:6). He and his family had to wait and then celebrate the Passover a month later. So you can imagine Satan's argument. "What will your wife and kids say when you come home and say you are defiled by stupidly touching a dead body. Can you really say "That's it. Our Passover celebration is cancelled?"
But Joseph resisted Satan's religious arguments. He went through with what he had decided to do. He took the corpse down from the cross, and he wrapped it in a shroud with the spices that Nicodemus brought (John 19:38-42). Together they laid the body in Joseph's new tomb, and rolled the big circular stone in front of the opening to seal it.
Notice that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus did not know that Jesus had already gone to be with his Father. As he had said to the thief, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."
Three days later the tomb would be returned to Joseph empty. The Christians all said "This is Joseph's tomb where Jesus' body was laid." When his family gathered for the Passover a month later than everyone else, I am sure they were proud of what Joseph had done. And ever since people all over the world have honored him for what he did.
In this new year (1977) there will be times when the Holy Spirit suggests
some costly thing that needs to be done. "You could meet that need. You
could visit that person. You could make peace in that situation. You could
pray instead of criticizing." And Satan will give you very plausible religious
reasons why you shouldn't do it. Just remember to ask "What did Joseph
of Arimathea lose by giving away his brand new family tomb for the burial
of the Messiah's body?"