As the stone was rolled in front of the tomb, Jesus’ friends did not have such thoughts of resurrection in their minds. Yet Mark, as he relates these events, perhaps had in the back of his mind, “What a beautiful place for a resurrection!” Because he knows that in just a short while Jesus would rise again from the tomb. We look at the burial of Jesus this morning for these events will prepare us for Jesus’ resurrection that is coming. Let’s read Mark 15:42-47.
I. Let’s look first at the bold disciple in Joseph of Arimathea in verses 42-43.
There are 3 things about Joseph of Arimathea that are important to notice. First, he was a “prominent and respected member of the Council.” The Council was the Jewish Supreme court that had sentenced Jesus to death. Evidently Joseph was not in attendance the night before when Jesus was on trial. Second, Joseph was “himself waiting for the kingdom of God.” He was looking for God to save his people through the coming of the Messiah. He was likely attracted to Jesus’ teachings about the coming Kingdom of God. Finally, John’s gospel tells us that he was also a secret disciple out of fear of the Jews. Followers of Jesus had been thrown out of the synagogue before. As a result he had kept his discipleship a secret until now.
Now what did Joseph do? He “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” To go to Pilate and ask a favor was a bold thing to do because Pilate hated the Jews and would not be favorably inclined to help one of them out. Moreover, by doing this Joseph was making a public stand for Jesus. Taking such a stand would create many problems for Joseph on the Council.
Now we may think of Joseph, “Nice gesture, but a little bit too late!” But before we become critical of him, let’s consider how bold we are in our actions. Someone takes God’s name in vain in our presence; are we bold enough to ask him or her to stop? Someone gossips or speaks harshly about someone else, are we bold enough to say as a Christian that such things ought not to be said? Are we bold in condemning racism and hatred when we see it being displayed more and more prominently? Are we bold in confronting the pride and selfishness that seems to be overtaking our culture more and more?
We tend to hold back as well, either out of fear or out of our own selfish motives.
II. The reality of Jesus’ death is seen in verses 44-45.
When Joseph asks for Jesus’ body, Pilate is surprised that Jesus was already dead. We have seen before that typically death by crucifixion was a very slow death. It would be most unusual for a person to die just after a few hours. So Pilate asks the centurion to verify that Jesus was indeed dead.
Now why does Mark add this little verification detail into the story? Early in the church, there were heretics who taught that the resurrection was a fraud. They taught that Jesus didn’t really die, but rather fainted and was then revived in the cold tomb. Mark wants to prove to his readers that Jesus was indeed truly dead. Here is a fictitious letter written to an advice column along with the response:
Dear Eutychus: Our preacher said on Easter, that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered
Dear Bewildered: Beat your preacher with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his heart; embalm him; put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens. Sincerely, Eutychus
The centurion, as we saw earlier, was a powerful witness to Jesus’ death. Seeing Jesus’ death caused him to say, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.” He was used by God to proclaim the truth that Jesus is God and Lord. Now God uses the centurion again to proclaim to the world that Jesus was truly dead. This is no fake, no illusion or sleight of hand by the disciples. This pagan testifies to all that Jesus, the Son of God, truly died on the cross.
Jesus did really die; let’s not gloss over this fact. Dorothy Sayers wrote, “It is curious that people who are horrified whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear the story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.” Jesus suffered, died and was buried for our sins!
First, we should understand how crucified victims were usually treated. Roman law said that executed criminals lost their right to a proper burial. Because of this law, it was not uncommon for a body to be left upon a cross either to rot or to be eaten by birds of prey or by other animals. Most often if the family members asked for the body, it would be given to them.
However, the exception to this was those who were killed because of treason. This was routinely denied so the body would serve as a warning to others. Whenever burial after treason was granted, it was necessary for permission to be granted from the Roman magistrate. However, the law specified that there could be no ceremony or public mourning in connection with the burial. Thus Pilate releasing the body to Joseph for burial was remarkable.
Thus, while the Romans wanted to leave the bodies up as a warning, the Jews believed it would defile the land and so required executed bodies to be buried. Certainly, Joseph, as a prominent member of the Jewish leadership, wanted to keep the law regarding burial. And he certainly needed to do this before the sundown of the Sabbath. So Joseph “bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen” and then carried a short distance to the tomb.
All this shows the honor given to Jesus in his burial. It fulfills the prophecy 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.” Moreover, to be buried in such a tomb was something that was usually only reserved for the wealthy or royalty. The Kings of Judah were buried in rock cut garden tombs and so were honored.
Finally, we may wonder why Mark adds that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. A woman’s testimony in that day would not have any legal standing. And so God arranged to have women as these witnesses because it would show that Jesus resurrection was not arranged by the disciples. If the disciples were to fake a resurrection, complete with witnesses, they would choose men who would stand as legal witnesses. These women are also proof that Jesus was dead, buried and raised again. Now the stage is set for Jesus’ resurrection which we’ll look at next week.
IV. How do we prepare for the coming resurrection?
First, let’s be bold in our discipleship as Joseph was bold. There may be times this week when you have the opportunity to take a stand for Jesus. Let’s not let fear cause us to hide our faith, but let’s be bold in our witness for Jesus.
Second, let’s again consider the women. They are there simply observing and ready to say what really happened. Are we ready to give an account for the hope we have within us? Are we ready to proclaim with joy that Jesus died, was buried and rose again? Let’s be eager to tell others the reason for the great comfort and joy that we have.
Third, let’s realize what is at stake for us: Jesus won the victory over sin and death! How much it must have looked to Satan that he had won. Jesus was dead and buried and it appeared that Satan had indeed won. But Jesus’ death and burial were the prelude to the final victory in the resurrection. The resurrection not only means our sins are forgiven. It also means that sin no longer has power over us. However, sometimes we struggle on forgetting that the victory has already been won.
And so let’s gather at the tomb for a bit, thinking of Jesus’ death. And then let’s say: “What a beautiful place for a resurrection!” Then let’s live in the victory that is ours now through our risen Lord and King!