The Way that Refused to Go Away (4)
15 42And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimathe’a, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.
Consider this act of boldness with care. Joseph had nothing to gain by this request. Jesus was to all appearances destroyed – body, character, soul – and yet Joseph still chose to identify with Him. He was requesting to show honor to a publicly condemned criminal and a man cursed by God: “his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:23a).
This act of self-sacrificial love was the first small flicker of the blinding light that was about to break into the world Sunday morning. Though it would take the Resurrection and Pentecost for the Disciples to be set on fire, Joseph’s heart already was burning with new light.
44And Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph.
We last saw this centurion at the foot of the cross, exclaiming, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) when he saw how Jesus died. Now he stands before Pilate, a man whose main response to all that has happened is to be surprised at the speed of Jesus’ death. The rapidity of transition from ultimate holiness to vile commonness could not but have made a powerful impression.
Joseph’s boldness is rewarded.
46And he bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
Joseph has time to make only the most limited provisions for burial prior to the beginning of the Sabbath.
47Mary Mag’dalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Throughout Christ’s passion it has been the women who have followed most closely. They continue to follow right up to the entombment, surely already planning to return after the Sabbath in order to make their one last offering of devotion.
We terribly devalue the foundations of our faith by passing lightly over the depths of defeat to which the followers of Jesus found themselves at this point. They had been witnessing a man who healed the sick, drove out demons and even raised the dead. His words were astonishing in their originality, piercing in their impact and overpowering in their authority. He had bested his opponents in every encounter, even though they were the supposed elite religious teachers and he the hick from Nazareth. He had walked on water, calmed storms, fed the thousands and been transfigured on the mount. He had entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” as the conquering Messiah. This is only a partial summary of all that they had witnessed.
And then, this same man had been taken, bound, beaten, flogged, mocked and crucified. He had been marched nearly naked through Jerusalem, bleeding from his head, back and likely legs, chest and face. He had been laid out on a wooden cross and had nails driven through his arms and feet. He was then raised up, transfixed, unable to move, exposed to insects and birds, to mockery; unable to deal with the most basic bodily functions with any vestige of privacy. And there he remained, stripped of all honor, stripped of all hope, stripped of all grace – a cursed thing hanging from a tree until it died.
That is a tiny taste in words of the depths of defeat to which the followers of Jesus had been driven by the powers of this world. Don’t look away. Dare to look upon it.
49. How did Christ humble himself in his death?*
A. Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors; having also conflicted with the terrors of death and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God’s wrath, he laid down his life an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.
50. Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?*
A. Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day, which hath been otherwise expressed in these words: “He descended into hell.”
For unless you truly take it in you can’t begin to comprehend the astonishing nature of what happened next.
*The LARGER CATECHISM, The CONSTITUTION of the PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.) PART I BOOK OF CONFESSIONS