A Last Minute Burial that Tells the Story of Eternal Life (John 19)
How do you feel when you see the lifeless corpse of a person you have loved dearly hanging on the cross, knowing that he just suffered the most horrific and humiliating death on earth?
The Burial of Jesus
38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
The Roman executioners confirmed the death by piercing Jesus' body with a spear. It was about 3 p.m.
Sabbath was to begin at 6 p.m. when no one could do any work. So Jesus' friends had only 3 hours to bury the body (as no one believed Jesus would rise again). But Jesus' closest friends were all gone--scared, fleeing, hiding, and denying Jesus.
None of the four Gospels mentions any of Jesus' disciples in their narratives of these three hours. But they all mentioned two critical men who carried out two critical acts during these critical hours:
Joseph of Arimathea
What do we know about him?
He had a public position: a high counselor and a voting member of the Sanhedrin (which officially wanted to see Jesus sentenced to death).
He kept his faith secret: For some reason, he didn't display his faith in Jesus publicly, possibly because of his high position in the Sanhedrin.
His unique position turned out to be critical for Jesus' burial. He was in a position to seek permission to take Jesus' body directly from Pontius Pilate!
And as a wealthy man, he happened to have a new tomb available nearby! An unused tomb was necessary for Jesus because he died by execution. The location was critical because they only had 3 hours to move the body there.
The tomb was probably Joseph's personal tomb he had bought for himself. This was his eternal resting place. Once Jesus used it (in fact, he would only use it for about 60 hours), it's unusable. He willingly gave up his tomb for his (dead) Messiah.
And the tomb was craved out of stone! It would be impossible to steal from it. What a nice, safe, brand new tomb in an expensive location!
The tomb couldn't serve its intended purpose though. Tombs are only for dead bodies, and Jesus was out by Sunday morning. It would remain empty forever and serve a rather different purpose.
What do we know about Nicodemus?
Again, he wasn't a big 'fan' of Jesus like Peter and John.
Like Joseph, he had a high public position as a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin.
Like Joseph, he also came out for Jesus in this critical time.
He brought myrrh and aloes (quite a large amount!), prepared Jesus' body for burial and wrapped it with strips of linen.
Imagine preparing this to someone you know. Imagine doing this to someone who taught you what it meant to be "born again" in God's Kingdom. "How can I be born again?" That conversation must have been in Nicodemus' head while he was burying Jesus. He would find out a new understanding of the answer soon.
Joseph and Nicodemus were both in important positions, but came out in public and did something very important for Jesus. People were probably watching and gossiping. All these effort was not easy---physically, emotionally, financially, politically. There was with no reward at all.
Joseph sacrificed his tomb, and Nicodemus brought linen. All for a final goodbye for a friend, now lying there hopelessly. A large stone sealed the tomb and Roman soldiers guarded the tomb. All was finished. What hope could there be?
Well, it depended not on who guarded the tomb, but who was in the tomb.
The empty tomb and folded linen were to become the symbols of joy and evidence for hope for billions of people in centuries to come.
While Jesus was merely a lifeless body in this story, is there any sign of God's glory throughout?
Has God ever transformed your resources and situation that can bring no hope into something that point to the joy and hope that only God can provide?
In times of despair and hopelessness, when God seems completely 'dead', how do you keep your faith and live on? How does the story help you?