On Your Mark by Dr. George O. Wood
The Burial of Jesus
Nov. 9, 2014
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47, NIV)
Think of the Gospel writers as literary photographers. They place their word cameras in different positions, and it requires us to examine all their photographs to gain a composite understanding of the burial of Jesus.
Their main perspective is to establish clearly that Jesus was dead. He did not swoon or fall into a coma on the cross. The centurion, who oversaw the crucifixion, affirmed to Pilate that Jesus was indeed dead. Then Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb.
You do not bury someone who is alive. Had there been any sign of life, pulse, or breath in Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would not have swathed Him in burial cloths and placed Him in a dark tomb.
A sub-theme to the burial is the story of the ones who took Jesus down from the cross and buried Him. All the Gospels identify Joseph of Arimathea as the one who took initiative to secure the body of Jesus; however, John’s Gospel notes that Nicodemus assisted in removing the body from the cross, wrapping it with spices, in strips of linen, and burying Him in a new tomb near the place where Jesus was crucified.
If you visit Jerusalem today you know there are two different sites held as possibilities for the crucifixion and burial: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb. It matters not which one is the “real” site — the important thing is that Jesus is NOT in either place! He’s alive, and is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high!
Both Joseph and Nicodemus were prominent members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Jewish elders. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus talked with Nicodemus about the importance of being born again. That conversation must have borne fruit in Nicodemus’ heart because we see his love for Jesus in his defense of the Lord at the Feast of Tabernacles and in his participation in the burial (John 3:1-21; 7:45-52; 19:38-42). Certainly, such acts would not have had the approval of his colleagues, who disdained Jesus.
Luke’s Gospel notes Joseph had not consented to the action and decision of the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:50,51).
These two prominent religious leaders show a loyalty to Jesus that not even His own disciples demonstrated. They risked their lives by going to Pilate and asking for the body of Jesus, and risked their reputation with their religious colleagues as well.
Why did they do this? Because even though Jesus was dead, they were still looking for the Kingdom of God. Jesus would not disappoint them! And He will never disappoint you!
A prayer of response
DR. GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
On Your Mark