Are you going to be someone who is simply a parrot of the majority? Or are you going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? If you want popularity and affirmation from people then don’t waste Jesus’ time.
Can you think of a time in your life where you had to stand with Jesus instead of the group you were with? Has there ever been a time when you had to say “No”, or you had to be silent, or you had to speak up, and doing so would have made you the odd-man/woman out in the group? At work, at family get togethers, at a social gathering? If so then you can relate to Joe. Joe is Joseph of Arimathea. He is the guy who publicly came out of the closet as a disciple of Jesus. Joseph is the guy who went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body so that he could bury Jesus properly. Joe could not keep his faith concealed and bury Jesus. If he was going to give Jesus the honor of a proper burial it was going to publicly expose him as one of Jesus’ followers.
Even though he suffered unimaginable shame and humiliation, yet, in death Jesus was honored in His burial.
Today we are following Jesus to the grave. We’ve followed him to the Upper Room, to the Garden, to His trials, to His flogging, to the cross and now we follow him to His tomb. He began like all men, born from a womb. And He ended like all men, in a tomb.
Let’s go through the text under several headings: 1) Preparation Day, 2) The Prominent Man, 3) Pilate’s Surprise, 4) Properly Buried
PREPARATION DAY (42a)
All four Gospels state that the day Jesus died and was buried was Preparation Day (Mt. 27:62; Lk 23:54; Jn 19:42). Preparation Day was the day before a Sabbath day. It was the day where all the arrangements for the Sabbath were made ahead of time. Imagine pre-cooking meals, making sure trash is emptied, no dirty dishes in the sink, etc. You can’t do any of that on the Sabbath the next day, so you had to prepare everything the day before. Hence, Preparation Day.
But what is this idea of a Sabbath all about? Why was it such a big deal in Israel? Because it was a big deal. Jesus was constantly in trouble with the Jews because they thought He was breaking the Sabbath.
The Sabbath was a day of rest from all normal work. Sabbaths happened every week on the 7th day, which is Saturday. There were special Sabbaths during the weeklong Jewish festivals too. As a matter of fact, John’s Gospel says that the next day was one of those “special” Sabbath days. Typically the first and the last day of a festival was a special holiday Sabbath. These were in addition to the regular weekly Sabbath. Those special Sabbaths may have fallen on different days in the week and often did, which could result in 3 Sabbath days in the span of a week. We also read that there were even Sabbath years to be observed where the land was not allowed to be cultivated, but rested.
The Sabbath was not a universal command for all mankind. It was specifically for national-ethnic Israel as part of God’s covenant with them. The Sabbath was a sign that He is their covenant God and that they as a nation are “holy” to Him out of all nations. Failing to keep the Sabbath, God said, would result in death or cutting off from Israel. You can see why the Sabbath is so important when you understand that God intended for it to remind the Jews that He was their Redeemer and their Creator. That’s how they should see Him and that’s how they were to worship Him: as Redeemer and Creator.
As Redeemer, He was the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Think about this: the command to rest from work was an act of divine mercy contrasted with the harshness of forced labor every day back in Egypt. So the Sabbath reminded them that God was their Redeemer and had delivered them from slavery and brought them into rest.
The Sabbath also reminded them that their Covenant God was the Creator of the universe. Turn to Exodus 20:8-11. The basis for the 7th day as their Sabbath was the creation week, when God created in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Remember that Genesis describes that 7th day rest of God, it is not a command for all mankind to also observe a 7th day rest. The Jews were to understand that they owed their obedience to Him not only because they owed their salvation to Him (Redeemer), but, also because they owed their very existence to Him (Creator).
The Sabbath became deeply embedded in the Jewish consciousness. As seen throughout the Gospels it had been grossly abused and perverted by the teachings of the Jewish leaders. Adherence to the Sabbath had taken on monstrous perversions in Jewish life and the most ridiculous rules had been invented by Israel’s leaders in an attempt to enforce Sabbath observance. Jesus was assailed constantly by the Jewish leaders for what they saw was “breaking the Sabbath”. But, it was their man-made rules for the Sabbath that he broke, not the actual God-given Sabbath that He Himself as God had given.
The hurry the Jews felt to get the bodies down from the crosses came from their Law. In Deuteronomy 21 Moses told them that the body of a man condemned to death and hung on a tree was not to be left overnight. He was to be taken down the same day he died, otherwise the land would be defiled (22-3).
One of the reasons this is important is that these details show the historicity of the events. This is not legend, this is eye-witness testimony of actual historical events.
There’s another way in which the timing is important. If God timed the death of Jesus perfectly to happen right before a Sabbath, and, Jesus would be put into a grave before the Sabbath began, there may be a discipleship principle drawn from this: Rest follows Death. Jesus died, and, then went to rest in the grave during the day of Rest, the Sabbath. The Gospel is an invitation to sinners to enter into God’s rest. Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” There is rest with Jesus. Rest from your sins. Rest from your guilt. Rest from your burdens. Rest from trying to be enough. Rest from trying to do it all yourself. Come to me, he says. He’s talking to you – you who are weary and burdened. “I will give you rest” he says. The rest your heavy soul needs and seeks is in the Savior.
THE PROMINENT MAN (43)
Now enters a prominent man: Joseph of Arimathea. When we combine the four Gospels we have a full picture of this Joseph. He was from Arimathea which was in Judea about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. He was not only a member of the Sanhedrin but it says he was a prominent member – someone who was highly respected and had a lot of sway among the highest leaders in Israel. Luke adds that he was both a rich man and a righteous man, known to be good and upright. He was waiting for the kingdom of God, and along with Nicodemus he had become a disciple of Jesus. When the Council made its decision to execute Jesus he objected and did not go along with the rest of the leaders.
Joseph was a man who was ruled by integrity, not gain or power. He did not get his convictions from the majority, but, from his commitment to God. And he was willing to stand against the majority, risking his own stature, his own reputation, and probably even his own wealth.
So this is the guy that Mark says “boldly” went to Pilate to gain permission to take charge of Jesus’ body. Mark is the only one who says “boldly”, and it stands out to me. Boldly means “daring” or “audacious”. It describes someone who has courage and confidence and doesn’t concern themselves with the consequences they might face for their actions.
Of course, we might ask what is so bold about asking for Jesus’ body? For Joseph to go get Jesus’ body and give him a proper burial showed honor to Jesus. Yet, Jesus just suffered the exact opposite: extreme shame and humiliation in crucifixion. The enemies of Jesus were the very Council members that Joseph was part of. Joseph would set himself apart as one who honored Jesus when they all orchestrated his ghastly death. In other words, performing the act of honor towards Jesus’ corpse would publicly and categorically identify Joseph as a disciple of Jesus, no doubt resulting in reproach from his peers. No doubt lessening his reputation among them. They wanted him to be tossed disgracefully in the trash while Joseph wanted to carefully, respectfully, honorably, adoringly treat his body to a proper Jewish burial.
Teenagers: are you standing with Christ or your peers? Are your friends leading you to Christ or away from Him? You have everyone in the world affirming you in whatever life you want to live: news media, social media, teachers and professors, liberal churches, friends, even family. What kind of man or woman are you going to be? Are you going to be someone who is simply a parrot of the majority? Or are you going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? If you want popularity and affirmation from people then don’t waste Jesus’ time. If you want the praise of God then stop flirting with the world. Take note of Joseph of Arimathea. When it comes to acting on our convictions let each of us be so bold.
PILATE’s SURPRISE (44-45)
Pilate was surprised. Read verses 44-45.
There is one thing clearly Pilate was surprised about. But I am inclined to think there were actually two things that surprised Pilate when Joseph came to him.
First, and obviously, Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead. The text says so. The reason this surprised him was it was typical that those who were crucified lasted several days on the cross. Remember this form of execution was meant to make the suffering last as long as possible. Yet, Jesus was gone after only 6 hours. Pilate finished breakfast, sent Jesus to the cross, and before dinner Jesus was already dead.
Sometimes skeptics leap on Pilate’s surprise and say here is proof that Jesus wasn’t dead on the cross.
Why did Jesus die so quick compared to nearly everyone else? I’d offer two reasons: one physical and one theological. Physically, Jesus was beaten badly before even getting to the cross. (Remember he wasn’t even able to carry his own cross). He was already so weakened by the time he was crucified that he wasn’t going to last long.
The other reason though, is a theological one: Jesus decided when He would die. In both Matthew and John we are told that Jesus “gave up His spirit”. That seems to suggest more than merely He finally was so weakened that He died. It seems from that language that Jesus was in control of the timing of His death. His spirit would be released when He decided for it to be released. This is not a strange thought when you consider Jesus said in John 10:18, “I lay down my life on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and to take it up again”.
Now Pilate was surprised that Jesus was dead already. But, I think he may have been surprised by something else: that it was Joseph who was asking for Jesus’ body. Here was a member of the Council who just orchestrated the execution of Jesus now asking for the body of Jesus out of respect for Jesus. Pilate may have been surprised to learn that one of the Council members not only didn’t support the group’s vote to kill Jesus, but apparently had great respect for Jesus. You may remember that Pilate also did not want to execute Jesus. Over and over again he declared the innocence of Jesus to the Jews and tried to spare him. There may have even been a modicum of admiration for Jesus. So when he was approached by Joseph, Pilate may have been surprised – and pleased. If Pilate didn’t share Joseph’s respect for Jesus, he surely shared a resentment of the Jewish Council for what just happened.
Before Pilate gives Joseph permission he wanted verification that Jesus was indeed dead. He summons the centurion who oversaw Jesus’ crucifixion and the soldier confirms it. Turning to Joseph, legal possession is granted. Immediately Joseph turns and leaves. He only has several hours left to get Jesus buried. Remember, the way Jews kept time, the new day started at sundown, which would have been around 6pm. Jesus was dead at 3pm. Joseph has less than 3 hours to take Jesus’ body down, transport his body to the grave, prep the body, bury it and move the stone in place.
This rush-job may explain why the women, who watched all this, went back to the tomb after the Sabbath. Perhaps in the hurry Joseph and Nicodemus didn’t do the best job had they had more time. Or, maybe the women just thought men couldn’t do it right no matter how much time they have!
PROPER BURIAL (46-7)
We learn from other Gospels that Joseph was not alone in caring for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus is there helping him (Turn to John 19:39). Nicodemus was also a member of the Ruling Council along with Joseph. He is the guy that Jesus said those famous words, “You must be born again to enter the kingdom of God” in John 3.
If you study John’s Gospel you watch a progression in Nicodemus as a follower of Jesus. First, in John 3 he conceals his commitment to Jesus and comes to Jesus secretly in the dark. Then in John 7 he “tests the waters” by questioning the Council’s legal right to condemn Jesus. He is mocked. Now, along with Joseph, he comes out fully exposed as a disciple of Jesus by helping to bury Jesus properly.
Application: you can’t stay secret for long. If you’re really committed to Jesus then He’s going to “out” you eventually. If you’re not committed He will also out you. Jesus and the world have this in common: neither will let you be faithful and secret for very long.
In John’s Gospel we’re told Nicodemus brings a 75 pound mixture of myrrh and aloes to prepare the body of Jesus. They had clean linen cloths to wrap Him in. One painting I’ve been thinking about and looking at is Descent from the Cross. My favorite is by Rembrandt. It makes me think through the actual physical work of removing Jesus’ body from the cross. Did the Roman soldiers take them down or did they leave them there for the family to come get? Or for animals? If the soldiers took them down did they take the cross down first, then remove the nails and the body – basically a reverse order of hoisting them up? In the painting I’m struck by the team of people working to gently free Jesus from the cross and carefully bring him down. I doubt it would have been done this way historically, but, it makes for great art.
The care for Jesus body in taking him down from the cross contrasts with the violence used to get Him on it in the first place. Can you imagine Mary his mother? She saw Him tenderly held when He came into the world. Now she saw Him tenderly held in His leaving it.
Application: Should this inform us about how to care for a body in death? God makes much of the body – we’re not Gnostics. The body is God’s creation, and its sacred. In life we care for and respect the holiness of our bodies. Perhaps we ought to carefully consider the way in which we treat our bodies at death.
After applying the aloes and wrapping Jesus’ body, then Joseph does something striking: according to Matthew 27:60 Joseph donated his own tomb to Jesus. John’s Gospel says that at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden and a new tomb that had never been used before. That tomb belonged to Joseph. Joseph had bought it in preparation for his own death someday. Now he donated it to Jesus. Several things come to mind
First, the fulfillment of Scriptures is seen yet again. Isaiah 53:9 says, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death…” How many prophecies were fulfilled in these hours of Jesus’ life?
- No bone broken in his death (John 19:31-36)
- The timing in history of His death (Dan. 9:24-27)
- The gambling for his clothes (Ps 22:__)
- Crucifixion as the method of execution (Ps 22 and Zech 12)
- The vinegar drink (Ps 69)
- Betrayed by a friend – Judas (Ps 41)
- Betrayed for 30 silver coins (Zech 11)
- His silence and non-retaliation when suffering (Isa 53)
- He was numbered with sinners (Isa 53)
- He would feel forsaken by God (Ps 22)
- Now, after his death, his body would be placed in a rich man’s grave, as Isaiah 53 says, “he was assigned a grave with the rich in his death”
These are only a few of the prophecies Jesus fulfilled. You can take God’s word to the bank. Everything He says He’s going to do He is going to do.
REWORD THIS – The second thing that comes to mind in seeing Joseph donate his own tomb is this: the uniqueness of Jesus. I see the uniqueness of Jesus in the special, holy treatment He receives. Jesus was born from a virgin womb, and, buried in a virgin tomb. The idea of holy is the idea of “set apart”. In other words, when something is “holy” that something is set apart for God’s sacred purposes. It is not used for anything else. The womb Jesus was born to was holy. The tomb he was buried in was holy. He wasn’t buried with Judas, or with common
The third thing I see in Joseph offering his own tomb for Jesus is this: Jesus is our substitute. How symbolic is it that Jesus went into Joseph’s grave instead of Joseph! Can you see the picture? Jesus in Joseph’s place? Jesus went to death for Joseph?! “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment of death that brought us peace was upon him, and by his death we are healed.” Isaiah 53 says. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “AND to give His life as a ransom for many.”
The faith of Joseph and Nicodemus here is astounding. They were burying the man they considered to be the God-promised Christ. Like Abraham had to trust God that if Isaac died God was still going to fulfill His promise that Isaac was the promised child. Now, Joseph and Nicodemus
The women watched.
CONCLUSION: TAKE AWAYS:
- Trust God’s Word. He will do what He says.
- Faith will make you bold.
- Get your convictions from God’s Word