For many months, we have been considering the death of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We now move on to look at His burial and resurrection. In one sense, we are moving to a new topic; and yet in another way we are not, since they are inseparable from one another, as a well-known quotation from the pen of Paul would remind us: “How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures: And that He was seen …” (1Cor 15:3-5).
Doubtless, the majority of this section of the articles will be concerned with the resurrection. However, we must resist the urge to rush on, and to neglect the burial of the Lord Jesus. So, for this month, we will contemplate His burial.
We have already seen that Christ really did die. That He was buried is also without doubt. All four gospel writers record the beautifully touching fact that a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathaea, went to Pilate to beg for the body, took it down from the cross, prepared it for burial, and buried it in his own new tomb.
What a tremendous work this one who had been “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38) did within those few hours! We can view his service in a number of ways.
What he did was, of course, of inestimable service to the Lord Himself. Those in authority would have seen no reason why He could not have been treated like any other victim of crucifixion, and buried in a common grave with them. Of course, it was impossible that this could ever take place. God would ensure that such would not happen to the holy body of His blessed Son, but Joseph was the human instrument He used to bring this about. So, when Joseph “came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43), he was initiating the events that would guarantee that, while wicked hands nailed Him to the cross, it would be loving hands that took Him down. While He was “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa 53:12; Mark 15:28), He would not be buried with them. The heartless dishonor heaped upon the corpses of slain criminals would not be His. On the contrary, He was accorded the dignity that was His due in burial. “Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:40). He would not be cast into a pit of corruption, but tenderly laid in a new “sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid” (Luke 23:53).
Related to this, Joseph did great service in bringing about fulfilment of the Scriptures. Hundreds of years previously, Isaiah had written: “And [men] appointed His grave with the wicked, but He was with the rich in His death” (Isa 53:9, JND). Doubtless over the intervening centuries, readers must have pondered the meaning of those words. But it all became gloriously clear on that day when “there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph” (Matt 27:57). And thus Christ was buried, not along with two “wicked” men, but by two “rich” men, Joseph and Nicodemus (John 19:39).
Joseph’s act was also a great service in the cause of the authentication of the gospel message. There are many who deny the truths of Christianity, and for whom the events surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ comprise the major object of attack. (By the way, the word “incontestable” in the title of this article does not mean that no one contests His burial and resurrection, but that anyone who does contest them is sure to fail). Some deny that He died on the cross; others say that He died, but did not rise. The careful record of the Lord’s burial disproves such assertions. Joseph went openly to Pilate, and took down the body in a very public place. It was buried under the eyes of witnesses: “And the women also, which came with Him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Assuredly, He was buried; and that shows that He really died. Moreover, His burial also shows that He really rose, for the evidence was there – the empty tomb. The occupied tomb is irrefutable evidence that He died; the empty tomb means it is undeniable that He rose again. We have much cause to be thankful to God for Joseph, who provided the tomb, and placed the body of the Lord Jesus in it.
Joseph’s actions are of service in another way – a way that remains to this day, for his deeds in the space of those few hours show to us a sterling example of devotion to the Lord. From a human standpoint, he was putting himself at risk in going to the Roman governor to beg the body of an executed person. His actions would certainly have done nothing to endear him to his colleagues of the Sanhedrin. He willingly gave the Lord his own tomb, the obtaining and preparation of which would surely have involved much expense. Then, when we look at all the materials that he (and Nicodemus) brought, they would have cost no small sum either. It would also have been heavy work to do all that they did, but they did it wholeheartedly, out of love to the Lord Whom those around them had so decisively rejected.
Joseph was a unique man, raised up at a unique time, for a unique purpose, to do a unique work. It is certain that none of us will ever do the work that he did. Yet we can learn from his self-sacrificing labor.May we seek to follow his example, in whatever sphere the Lord has placed us, in loving service for the One Whom the world still rejects.