Monday, April 2, 2018

The Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.
Matthew 27:57-60

It was a dark day.  In fact, it was the darkest day of all the days the world has ever seen or will ever see.  The death of the Son of God happened on the 14th day of the month of Nisan or the month of Aviv.  It was Wednesday, a day before the annual Sabbath day, which was the Passover day.  Many people misunderstood the annual Sabbath day that time with the weekly Sabbath day that always took place on Saturday.  And so many assigned the death of Jesus Christ to Friday.  But it was Wednesday and it was the gloomiest day ever.  This truth is extremely important because it affects the precise calculation of the number of days Jesus died.  If Jesus had died on Friday, and was resurrected on Sunday morning, then Jesus could not have been dead for three days.  He would only be dead for one and a half day.  But since He died on Wednesday before sunset, then he remained dead for full three evenings and three days, before finally rose up from the dead on Sunday morning before daybreak.  Thus the prophecy was fulfilled that Jesus was to be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40; cf. John 2:19-22).  And secondly, the significance of the death of Christ on Wednesday right before the annual Sabbath at that time (the Passover) is that Jesus IS the Passover Lamb.  As John the Baptist declared in John 1:29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
In that darkest day, when all his friends, closest disciples (except for John), and families deserted him, a man from Arimathea by the name of Joseph came out of nowhere, risking his life and honor, in order to respect his secret teacher and master (John 19:38).  This was the only occasion Joseph of Arimathea was mentioned by the gospel writers.  All four gospels record this event.  It must be important for all of us to pay attention to.  No, the gospel of Matthew is the only gospel that recognizes Joseph as “a rich man.”  Why did Matthew think highly of this piece of information?  Many theologians immediately referred to Isaiah 53:9 that prophesied:
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
The fulfillment of the prophecy is extremely important to confirm that Jesus is the Messiah.  So Matthew took this matter very seriously and direct his Jewish audience to this undeniable fact.  Not only that Joseph was rich, but he also was a member of the Jerusalem council as mentioned in Luke 23:50-54 and Mark 15:42-46.  The fact that he could come to the governor was proof that he must be a very important man and known to the political rulers of the day.  John 19:39 records that Joseph did not come alone, but he was accompanied by Nicodemus, another member of the council – Sanhedrin.  But it was not that simple for Joseph to request for Jesus’ body in order to be buried.  James Montgomery Boice pointed out in his commentary that Joseph risked a lot by doing so:
The Romans did not normally allow crucified persons to be buried, least of all traitors. The fact that Joseph approached Pilate is a testimony to his courage.
It is an interesting fact that this is the first and only time we hear of Joseph. He has not been mentioned before in the Gospels, nor does his name appear again after this event. Yet at the very moment when Christ’s other disciples (save John) had forsaken him, he alone came forward boldly to identify with Jesus. He did it at great personal cost too, for if Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, as Mark and Luke say he was, his care for Jesus’ body must have ended his career with that court. The Sanhedrin would have had no use for him once he had shown an interest in their enemy.[2]
Let me unpack that a bit and show you that Joseph’s risk was twofold.  First, Pilate could be mad at him and have him punished for boldly asking for a criminal to be buried – an act of respect.  Crucifixion was the worst death sentence reserved only for the worst criminals.  Treating a dead crucified criminal with respect would ridicule the Roman court decision in sentencing the “criminal” to death.  Second, Joseph also risked his prestigious status in the council by doing such thing.  The second he publicly honored the enemy of the council, he declared that he opposed the council’s decision.  Thus, his political and religious positions were at stake.  So, why did he do it? – Knowing all the risks!
There is a lot to learn from Joseph in this significant event.  But what struck me the most was the fact that Jesus would risk everything as he was rejected, mocked, persecuted, and betrayed by His own people, and then bullied by the ruler of the land before He was handed over to be crucified without any shred of evidence of His crime.  There on that cross He died a most painful and humiliating death, rejected by man and God, hung between heaven and earth.  He did not have to do that.  He could have opted to pass the cup.  He had every right as the Son of God to stay in heaven.  He could have just chosen to not to enter into the sinful world.  And even when He was on earth, he could just overthrow the world upside down, destroy it altogether, and be done with it.  But yet He let Himself to be sacrificed.  The pure Lamb of God was slaughtered without mercy.  He died on that cross when all the world did not realize the significance of His sacrifice.  He was nailed to the cross when the whole wide world did not appreciate His act of redemption.  Why did He do that? – Knowing all the risks!!  Moreover, knowing all the rejection, the suffering, the humiliation, the unjust judgment, and so on!!  Why?
Have you ever thought of this seriously?  Not just accepting the information of Jesus’ sacrifice like it is the same with any other information you read in the news.  I mean very seriously thinking of Jesus’ sacrifice in light of the fact that He did not have to do it.  He could have just walked away from it and still be righteous.  And try to ponder it in a more personal way.  Why did Jesus do all that for me? – And if we seriously evaluate ourselves we will find a sinful person, who does not deserve any kindness from God, how much more Him sacrificing His most precious Life for a walking dead who deserves to be sent to hell for all eternity.
We are all somehow afraid of the tomb.  When we go to a cemetery, even though we have confidence in Christ, we still feel the terror of death.  Our imagination could go wild as we look at the grave of the dead people.  A cemetery is always a dreary and gloomy place.  We do not go to the cemetery to celebrate or to have a party.  We go there to mourn.  We go there to remember in sadness and in silence.  Jesus went down to the tomb and be buried in it for a full period of three evenings and three days.  The Author of Life experienced death.  This is unfathomable.  I can’t understand it.  Boice quoted Herman Ridderbos:
“Jesus endured not only pain and suffering and the curse of death but even the terror of the grave, so that he could save his people from this forever.”[3]
The tomb is a powerful symbol of death.  Yet Jesus took it.  And it’s all for the sake of us.  For me it is like this, when I go down to my grave, Jesus is there to take me with Him.  Jesus won’t let me rot in the tomb for all eternity.  The grave has no power anymore over me for it has been overcome by the power of Jesus my Savior.  Brothers and sisters, this is salvation for you and me.  Jesus is not merely looking at us being buried in the tomb.  But He was buried in the tomb for real.  And when we come to Jesus’ resurrection, it’s the sure sign of Jesus’ victory over death and thus the grave.  Do you truly believe?
            I don’t know how Joseph took Jesus’ sacrificial death, but what he did to Jesus was written for all of us to learn from.  What Joseph did was proof of his affection to Jesus.  Taking all the risks upon himself, he chose to honor “the enemy of the state.”  I believe Joseph loved Jesus.  Perhaps with the love of friends, the Philea, like Peter’s love to Jesus.  But love nevertheless.  And this love prompted him to do the daring action.  The twofold risks were not enough for Joseph.  One more thing he did, he provided his own personal tomb to be used for Jesus.  Leon Morris observed:
This was an action of some generosity, for a rock tomb was expensive, and it was not permitted to bury a criminal in a family grave (Sanh. 6:5; cf. Daube, pp. 310–11); the tomb could probably not be used afterward for anyone else.[4]
A personal sacrifice indeed and an act of kindness.  When it was supposed to be the family who took care of the burial, they were nowhere to be found, providing an opportunity for Joseph to step in.  What Joseph did was beyond his comfort zone for sure.  He certainly had set an example for us to follow.  Doing things for Jesus’ sake is worth the risks no matter how great they are.
            If we observe carefully we will find that there were two sacrifices being done back to back here.  The greatest and ultimate sacrifice was done by Jesus.  And this kind of sacrifice can and must be done only by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  No one else could drink that cup.  But there was another sacrifice, a smaller one, done by Joseph of Arimathea.  And this kind of sacrifice is not exclusive to Joseph.  But instead, this kind of smaller sacrifice can be done by any of us.  We do not need to do a big sacrifice.  It’s good if we could and would.  Often the smaller sacrifice does not require us to shed our blood.  It is many times just a little inconvenience.  But like what we have learned, for Jesus’ sake any risk is worth taking.  For Jesus’ sake, a small sacrifice is worth it, because even the greatest sacrifice we can make is worth it.  Will we be the Joseph of Arimethea from this day and age?
            Let me tell you about David Livingstone and his perspective on sacrifice.  Livingstone was a Scottish missionary who ministered in Africa for thirty-three years.  After receiving his status as medical doctor from a prestigious medical school in London, Livingstone did not choose to stay in London, but he set sail for Africa to do missionary work.  Livingstone eventually died in Africa, suffering from malaria and dysentery.  And since he loved Africa so much he instructed that when he died his heart ought to be buried in Africa and to return his body to England.  In his own words on sacrifice:
“People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay?  ....  It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger now and then with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left his Father’s throne on high to give himself for us.”[5]
Livingstone said it beautifully.  And I hope this will encourage us to serve our Lord with more joy and thanksgiving.  Amen.

[1] וְאֶת־עָשִׁ֖יר בְּמֹתָ֑יו
[2] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 631–632.
[3] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 631.
[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 727.
[5] Chambliss, J. E.  The Life and Labors of David Livingstone.

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