My pastor, Mike Watson, explained it well when he said, “The burial of Jesus vindicates Jesus’ death and validates His resurrection.” The following blog is based upon his sermon at my home church last Sunday.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Jewish law said that when someone was executed his body had to be taken down and buried that very same day. “You must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance” Deuteronomy 21:23. Jesus became the curse in our place. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'” Galatians 3:13
The body needs to come down. The two thieves had their legs broken so they would die in time to be buried before Sabbath. The family and closest friends of the individual are the ones who would come and extract that body. No family member, friend or disciple came forward for Jesus. The crucifixion was a billboard for Rome saying, “Don’t mess with Rome. If you mess with Rome, this could be your outcome.” Roman law would leave that body on that pole, on that cross, for all long as possible. Not only was the death horrific, but by rotting away on that pole, it was a visual reminder of the disgusting death of crucifixion. There is an old Latin saying that goes, “The body on the cross was food for the crow and scraps for the dog.” The bodies would stay up there so long that crows would come and remove the eyes, and tear off the ears, lips and facial skin. The dogs would jump up and tear apart pieces of the feet and legs. Once the body was finally thrown down, it would be thrown on a dump and the dogs would finish off the corpse. Here is the dilemma: Rome wants that body to stay on the cross, but the Jews are feverishly trying to remove it.
All of a sudden there is this new character we know very little about. Joseph of Arimathea was a voting member of the Sanhedrian. He could have been one of those at play condemning Jesus to death for blasphemy. Luke’s Gospel says he was not a part of that vote, and he didn’t consent with the action. He had nothing to do with it. It also says he was looking for the kingdom of God himself. He was an admirer of Jesus. Luke says he took courage and the other gospel accounts say he boldly went before Pilate. He had to contemplate whether he was ready to declare his allegiance to Jesus to this magnitude. He took courage and went to Pilate who was already pretty fed up by all of the actions of the Jews over the past few days. He really didn’t want to have anything to do with any other Jewish person. Joseph went forward, and he asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. This was unheard of! Pilate was a Roman governor. Jesus was guilty of a crime—in the Jewish court it was blasphemy, and in the Roman court it was citing riots and to some measure treason for elevating himself the way he did. For a governor to remove someone who was put on that cross for a criminal action was not heard of. The Romans wanted those people to remain on the cross. Joseph boldly asked for the body of Jesus.
It was very common for a crucified person to stay alive much longer than six hours. Jesus was not killed. They didn’t take his life–he gave his life in accordance to the plan of God. Pilate asked the centurion to verify whether Jesus was really dead. When it is confirmed, Pilate does the unthinkable and releases the corpse to this man Joseph of Arimathea. John’s account of the gospel says that Joseph was not alone. He bought a linen shroud. Nicodemus was another member of the Sanhedrin and another “secret disciple” of Jesus Christ. He was the man who came to Jesus in the dead of the night and asked him questions about his eternity. Jesus told him he must be born again. Nicademous wanted to know how to again enter his mother’s womb. Jesus told him it is a spiritual rebirth. It was amazing that Nicademous heard it an got it! He joins his fellow Jewish brother in burying Jesus’ body.
These two men were of high reputation. Joseph had the linen shroud and Nicademous has 75+ pounds of spices to anoint the body. They were going to wrap him in linen and put aloe and myrrh across Jesus’ body. No one here was expecting a resurrection. Aloe and myrrh were meant to beat down the smell of the decaying body. Imagine these two priestly men coming to cross, climbing up and extracting Jesus’ hands from the spikes, pulling his feet up off of the bottom spike and Jesus’ body falling forward. Picture their priestly garments covered in his blood, and these two men laying Jesus in the shroud and taking him to a tomb. There was garden with a tomb very near the crucifixion site. We find out later this tomb is actually Joseph’s tomb. This is were Jesus was laid.
How do we take the burial from just a historical event and bring it into our own lives?
What will you do when it appears God has completely failed you? The disciples, Joseph, Nicademous and the two Marys didn’t see this coming. They didn’t realize that in the course of a very few days such a catastrophic event would happen and tear their leader from their midst. The writers of the gospel had the first instinct to run. They scattered. What will you do when something hits your life hard? Will you run to someone else or something else? It is very common. You may choose another option, which is to watch from a distance. There is such a high honor placed to the women in this scene because the two Marys and multiple women who had followed Jesus were all standing at a distance. Ladies, I really salute you because the men ran! The ladies stayed close enough, but is this good enough? When life hits you hard, do you decide never to go towards the center again? Are you going to stay out of the periphery and just watch and listen? Will you fail to engage again with your full heart? The right option is to do what Jospeph and Nicademous did. Even though they saw him as a dead leader, they moved to do the right thing according to the scriptures. Joseph had to declare his allegiance to Jesus right in front of Pilate. Church history tells us that Joseph spent time in prison for this very action. They stepped up and continued to trust God. When something hits you hard, do the Godly thing. Stay tight in fellowship. Keep moving forward because there is a next step coming that you can’t even imagine. Just as it happened for them.
Where is God is times of great despair? For the followers of Jesus, their whole world collapsed. The one they thought was the Son of God was a mangled mess of humanity pegged to a pole. The Father momentarily turned His eyes from the Son. This experience was all preplanned by God. God was with Jesus all of the way through. Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. A prophesy was fulfilled because of Joseph’s obedience. Isaiah the prophet once said, as recorded in Isaiah 53:9, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” By Roman rule, He should have wound up a decayed mess on the cross and thrown out with the bodies of wicked in a dump. Joseph, a rich man, offered Jesus him own tomb. This is a very special tomb. It wasn’t just a cave in the hillside that they repurposed. It was a tomb that was carved out with a chisel out of rock. It was tomb that was never used before. It was very common to have a family plot where you put someone in, and over the course of time in that climate, the body would rot, would be swept together and kept in a vessel. Then they would put someone else inside of it. It is required that if a king is buried, he must go into a brand new tomb that has never been used. Jesus was given a king’s burial. Where was God? He was right there with Jesus.
Jesus really died. There are several conspiracy theories that swirl around the resurrection. There is a standout theory called the “Swoon Theory.” It basically states that Jesus didn’t really die. He fainted from all that he had been through. He passed out. When they put him in that cool tomb, the environment revived him. He supposedly got out on his own power and walked out of the tomb. He didn’t actually die, which means he wasn’t raised.
Jesus went through six trials–three with the Jewish officials, two with Pilate, and one with Herod. He was severely beaten by the Jewish temple guards. Then he was flogged by Roman hands. The whip was a small whip with leather tassels embedded with bone and stone. When you hit the back of the person you were flogging, that bone and stone would completely tear the top two layers of your skin completely off. It wasn’t uncommon for people to die during a flogging because of the amount of body mass that was exposed and wounded and the amount of bleeding. They put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head and batted it down into place tearing the capillaries in the thin skin of the scalp which causes profuse bleeding. Even what seemed like just mockery, they put a purples robe around him and paraded him around as the King of the Jews. With all of that skin exposed and torn, it would enmesh itself into the fabric, so that when they took off the purple robe their would have been horrific pain. Then they redressed him in his clothes. Brutal! He carried his own crossbeam as long as he could under exhaustion, dehydration and blood loss.
When he hung on the cross, spikes were pounded through his wrists and through his feet. There is a nerve that runs through the center of the wrists and the feet called the median nerve. If you should bruise or damage the median nerve, or tear it, or severe it, it causes a pain to roar through your limb that is like grabbing an electric wire. It doesn’t ebb and flow. It just pulses and rages. Jesus had this going on in all four limbs at the same time. Also, by puncturing the median nerve in the hands and feet, it renders the hand useless. It sends it into instant paralysis. Jesus hung for six hours pushing himself up with the spike in his feet. Then when he expired, a Roman solider took a lance and rammed it through his heart and exploded it. The Old Testament says his heart burst. It exploded and water and blood squired out, which meant that He probably had no circulation whatsoever in the upper part of his body because He had bled out.
Now He is wrapped tightly—mummified if you will—with straps of linen and spices mixed in through which would just encase him. It would be virtually impossible to break the binds of the wrapping. How could a man in this position have simply fainted? Jesus really did die! It takes much more faith to believe he fainted! Jesus doesn’t lie! Revelation 1:17-18 says, “ When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.'”
Others will always benefit from your faithfulness. If you run and hide, or if you retreat to the sidelines forever, others will see it as a discouraging defeat. If you stay the course and stay faithful, it will encourage and strengthen others. If Jesus didn’t die, He didn’t raise from the dead! 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” If we believe that we have died with Christ, then we will also live with him. In Mark 8:34 Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Don’t swoon and go through life still completely captured by all of the things that completely had you by the throat before you had accepted Christ. Jesus gives us the power to have a new life. By Him all things are made new!
Paul says, “I face death every day–yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord” 1 Corinthians 15:31. It is not a morbid, horrible thing. It is a release. When I die to the things of this world, then I walk out of the grave too. Our God suffered dramatically. He went through the humiliation of dying. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is alive and working in us, but it is a decision we make each day to say, “Today you die. Today you are being buried.”
Have you chosen to bury your old self and be made alive and new in Christ Jesus?