The horrible day had past and evening had come. Jesus was dead, and it was time to take His body down from the cross. There was a man named Joseph of Arimathea who believed in Jesus and followed Him in secret. He was a true disciple, but he was also a member of the Sanhedrin. The hatred of the Jewish leadership against the Lord was so intense that Joseph was afraid to make it known. He could lose everything if they turned against him.
How Joseph must have mourned the terrible injustices of that day. These religious leaders were the men that he had spent his life with. These were the elite of the nation that he had silenced his own convictions for. How he must have hated their repulsive behavior. It was too late to stand for Christ while He was alive. The least he could do was honor Him in His death.
The news that a member of the Sanhedrin had given Jesus such respect would have spread throughout Jerusalem as the people tried to makes sense of the week’s events. It would have been seen as siding with the enemy. But Joseph went to Pontius Pilate and asked if he could take the body of Christ to bury Him. Once again, the affairs of Jesus came before Pilate. He agreed to release Him to this obvious devotee.
Joseph went to claim the body of Christ. Nicodemas came to help. He brought with him seventy five pounds of aloe and myrrh, the traditional ingredients that the Jews used for preserving the dead.
Nicodemas, too, was a disciple of Christ, and like Joseph, he had kept it hidden. He had gone to ask the Lord questions in the night, fearing what his leadership would do if they found out that he believed in Jesus. The fury of the leadership had not grown any less, and their great offenses were only highlighted by the bright purity of Christ. Even in His death, the Lord Jesus deserved his loyalty.
Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body and bound it up in spices with linen cloths. There was a garden near the place where Jesus was crucified. It had a tomb where no one had ever before been buried. It was a place for the honored and wealthy to take their final rest. And because it was close to the place of His crucifixion, the men could bring Him and lay Him to rest in a timely way, before the setting of the sun and the coming of the Sabbath rest.
Once again, unbeknownst to them, Scripture was fulfilled. Isaiah 53:9 reads: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, and nor was any deceit in His mouth.” As they left Christ in the tomb, they took a large stone and rolled it over the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James had followed them from the cross and stood outside the tomb, looking to see where He was buried. Then they went out to buy spices. They would return after the Sabbath to finish giving Jesus a proper burial.
Friday evening came, and the Passover Sabbath began. The families that had journeyed from all over Israel gathered together to celebrate and rest with the God of their fathers. Saturday dawned in a continuation of that rest. No work was to be done. The entire nation paused for the day to savor the wonderful works of their God. Yet on this particular Sabbath, their heads must have been full of the events of the day before. The city of Jerusalem had been turned upside down. Did any of them have eyes to see that they had witnessed God’s greatest work of all?
While the rest of Israel was honoring the Sabbath, the Pharisees and chief priests were busy. They had work to do. Jesus had declared that He would rise again from the grave. What if His disciples tried to fake His resurrection? It would create a whole new mess for them to clean up! They would be fighting that heresy for years.
How ironic that these wretched leaders remembered the words of Christ. His own disciples had completely forgotten! They were too awash in grief for such a hope. But the Jewish leaders didn’t know that, so they went back to Pilate with yet another request:
“‘Sir,’” they said, “‘We remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’”
Imagine what it was like for Pilate as he listened to this request. This Jesus, who proclaimed Himself to be King of an invisible land, had also claimed that He would rise from the dead. Did he know what to make of it? He looked at them and said, “‘You have a guard: go, make it as secure as you know how.’”
If the Jewish leaders were right, and the disciples wanted to commit a fraud, they would have to get past highly trained, heavily armed Roman soldiers to do so. That didn’t seem too likely. Jesus’ disciples were the same men that ran away in the Garden. Would they really be able to summon the courage to face a standing guard after watching soldiers crucify their Master? No regular band of citizens could get past a garrison of Roman soldiers. It was unheard of. Pilate knew that if all this was a fraud, there was no way that tomb would end up empty. On the other hand, if Jesus really was who He claimed to be, all bets were off. It didn’t matter how many soldiers were stationed at the tomb if Jesus was Divine.