T H E
R I B B O N - B E A R E R ,
P A R T
For most of the subjects of the Romans, life was bearable, since they had never known genuine freedom, and tyrants had always ruled over them, doing whatever they pleased with their absolute and arbitrary powers (the "divine right of kings" to rule and do as they pleased, an order that was seemingly supported by heaven and a legion of deities acknowledged by the primitive, supersititious populations). For Greeks, and especially Jews, freedom was a burning flame in their hearts. The Greeks had found freedom through the unbounded activity of their intellect and within the small, self-contained civic rule and affairs of their hundreds of competing, rival city-states.
The Jews, quite the opposite in temperament, found freedom in their invisible God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This God, in placing them under His rule and law, choosing them out from the nations as His special people and special instrument, also gave them freedom unknown to other peoples who did not know God's covenant. What was this freedom? It was born of God, giving them inalienable rights, which much later would be called life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
No such rights existed outside Jewry. Romans reserved the right to take life, shackle liberty, and suppress happiness. Only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instituted and protected these rights of the Jews with His own divine signature, when he covenanted with Abraham in the beginning. As long as the Jews revered God and obeyed his Ten Commandments, loving Him at the exclusion of pagan gods, and, in the same way, loved their fellowmen and did not oppress the wayfarer and sojourner from other lands, God prospered the Jews and protected them from their foes. But, of course, the Jews fell down on their side of the covenant, and forsook their God, loving other gods, and oppressed the stranger or sojourner in their midst. As God had warned them, the penalties fell after they murdered the prophets he sent to call them back to the right path. One of the worst penalties ever was the Roman rod.
How could a people who had known great happiness and freedom under God's rule ever submit to the Roman tyrant? It was impossible, but they were defeated militarily, and hadn't the resources to drive out their foe. Yet the whole nation seethed, hoping the Messiah would come and deliver them, just as various sopetets, or Judges, had been sent by God in the past to deliver Israel from various oppressors.
Taking advantage of this hope, many claimants to Messiahship had appeared from time to time, proclaiming that they were the Lord's right hand, come to set the people free and defeat the enemy. Each time they got thousands to flock to their banners, and each time after a revolt the self-proclaimed Messiah was defeated, his followers slaughtered or driven off, and things returned to the same dismal state.
Hadn't Yeshua of Nazareth been just another one of this breed? Apparently so! Yet certain men seated in the highest court and government of the holy people, the Grand Synagogue, believed he truly was the Messiah promised to mankind and particularly promised to Israel. They hadn't dared come out officially on behalf of Yeshua when he was arrested, tried, and condemned to death, but, nevertheless, they believed. To do anything like that, they would have brought condemnation and death upon themselves, of course. So they had remained relatively silent, except for a word or two. Yet once the Messiah was dead, hanging on the Cross, their faith seared their fearful hearts, and they rose up as courageous men, to do what men of honor must do, regardless of what people thought of them. Such a man, growing fearless and putting aside all thought of self and his family's safety, was Joseph of Arimathaea. Let his fellow members inform on him to the chief priests! Let it be made known to the Romans too that he was a disciple of the executed Yeshua, the condemned and punished enemy of Rome and blasphemer of the God of Israel ! He knew what he must do as a man, and nothing would stop him, he was determined. Not even the ferocious, wolf-mothered Romans! Maybe, he thought with hope and fear, he could yet restore his honor in his own eyes. He had let Yeshua down miserably, preferring to keep silent as a disciple, but now he was going to proclaim the fact in full public, regardless of the terrible consequences of anyone being identified as a follower of the tekton from Galilee.
Message to the governor-- "Give me, Sir, the dead Jesus!" -- Found no answer at that door But stubborn heart grown conscienceless.
"He is dead? 'Tis strange. How soon!" Thought the Roman in delay. Then his wife, she came to him. "Release the dead. Release, I say!"
Pilatus sent His message down. "Galilean? You can take! Bury him in land or town. But trouble me no more his sake!"
Joseph hurried at a run, Met a man who shared his word-- "Israel's Glory is God's Son, The Same we slew because we erred!"
Nation gripped by blood-stained hands, Rome and Herod then held sway. Who could break apart their bands? For all who tried lived but a day!
Heathen masters they obeyed, Yet their chief priests were vice prone. Greed and power blocked God's way As widows gnawed upon a bone.
Justice flew away to hide, Face ashamed to see its state. Murder laughed and held his sides, As law and crime took each to mate.
Johannes rose and spoke his Word, "Narrow, true, now make thy road. Poor, defend, and naked gird!"-- His preaching struck men like a goad.
Six months only did he preach. Herod took and cut him down. That had happened soon to each Whene'er God's prophet came around!
"Then compounded we our sin, Yeshua was scorned and slain. Who can weigh our guilt within? For He was truly without blame."
So said Joseph to his friend, Nicodemus, rich, well-placed; Both sat on the Sanhedrin, Jewish court that Christ had faced.
Resolute to make repair, Joseph shed both tears and pride. His hope for Israel lay dead there, While chief priests danced a jig beside.
"Come, my friend!" he said to him. "Help me salve a bleeding king, Innocent in every limb, Lest our souls into hell fling."
Nicodemus bore the gift-- Myrrh and aloes, linen shroud-- Hundred-weight, he felt a lift Where his own shoulder deeply bowed.
Widows, orphans, and the lame, Gathered dung upon their backs. Joseph heard them bless his name, For he paid their temple tax.
Down, then up across the town, Nicodemus, Joseph led. Empty, drear, the windows round All gaped as sockets in skull head.
Golgotha at last they came, Place where men were crucified. Soldiers finished up their game, The winner held a robe undyed.
Soldiers brought the slain Lamb down, Joseph eyes tight shut with shame. Hands o'er mouths to make no sound, As both men sealed up their blame.
Riches, rank, now meant nothing. The Council where they sat was wrong. Money, fame, they'd gladly fling Than live without their Lord life-long.
Close by lay Joseph's tomb, There they put the body wrapped. It was new, a rich man's room-- Isaiah's prophecy so apt.
Last of all, the capstone rolled. Great in size, it shut the door. Sabbath come, so dark, so cold, A day that seemed with doom to pour.
Joseph waited in his home. Life was forfeit, so he thought. "Old men should not run or roam, But greet Death as they ought."
Sunday dawned, he was alive! Earth had shook and then lay still. Murder fled, a gang of five, Too fearful made to seize and kill.
"God has spared me violence. Swords and daggers passed o'er me! God's my soul's own sure defense. He cast down all my enemy!"
Thanking God he left his gate, Thanksgiving vow upon his mind. Templeward, he turned too late As angels followed close behind.
Joseph heard a trumpet sound. He looked and, lo, the dead walked free, Loosed of grave, their souls unbound, A resurrection plain to see!
Hundreds saw the Risen Son, Burst through Gates of Death and Hell! Disciples preached what Christ had done-- Joseph too--so bold to tell!
Still remembered by those shores, Joseph left his riches there; His bones were lost, like shattered oars, But instead stood a Blessing fair.
Just as angels stood for him, Stayed the sword of all his foes, The Blessing kept faith in Albion, Like a candle wind-swept knows, Like a candle wind-swept knows...