The Savior’s Burial
“And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem. And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.” (Mark 15:39-47)
The death of the Lord Jesus Christ as the sinners’ Substitute, to put away the sins of his people, is the greatest and the most important event in history. The sin-atoning sacrifice of the God-man, the only Mediator between God and men, is the most important fact of Christianity. All the hopes of fallen men hang upon this one event. If what the Scriptures say about the death of God’s Son is so, then there is hope for sinners. If these things are not so, there is no hope for anyone.
Knowing something of the importance of this fact, we should not be surprised to find that the fact of our Savior’s death is placed beyond the realm of dispute by God’s wise and good providence. The Jews of our Lord’s time, and countless scoffers since then, have tried to explain away the fact of our Lord’s resurrection by asserting that he never really died at all. They would have us believe that he really just passed out, and everyone thought he was dead. What folly! In the verses before us we see that God wisely arranged to verify the fact of Christ’s death by three witnesses. The united witness of the Roman centurion, the women who followed the Savior, and the disciples who buried his dead body place the matter beyond any dispute.
All these people could not have been deceived. They all saw the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the ordeal of his mock trial and crucifixion. They saw him lay down his life by the triumphant act of his own sovereign will as he became obedient unto death for the salvation of our souls. The Lord Jesus Christ, our incarnate God and Savior, died for our sins according to the Scriptures, under the wrath of God, and was buried in the earth.
The Amazed Centurion
The first thing that stands out in this passage is the amazement of the Roman centurion. — “And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God” (v. 39).
This centurion was the Roman soldier who was the head of a band of soldiers, whose task it was to watch the crucified Son of God to make sure no one took him down from the cross or gave him any comfort. Matthew tells us that there were others with him “watching Jesus.”
These men were united in their hellish mockery of the Lord Jesus, humiliating him and tormenting him in every way they could imagine. They had all watched the mock trial before Pilate. They had all mocked him, spit in his face, beat him and tortured him. They had all nailed him to the tree. They all observed his royal behavior. They all saw the three hours of darkness. They all heard and felt the earthquake and the opening of the graves. They all heard the Master’s seven statements, as he suffered the wrath of God as our Substitute. And they were all terrified and confessed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Matthew tells us that “the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).
The centurion was placed as he was by God’s providence to verify to Pilate and to all reasonable people the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ actually did die at Calvary.
“And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph” (vv. 44-45).
When this man was called to Pilate to verify the fact that the Lord Jesus was indeed dead, I can almost hear his trembling report. — “I heard him cry with a loud voice, ‘Father, forgive them!’—- ‘My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?’ — ‘Today, thou shalt be with me!’ — ‘It is finished!’ — ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my Spirit.’ I watched him do what I never saw any other man do. — He breathed out his own life! When we came to break his legs, as you ordered us, he was already dead. Just to make sure, one of my men shoved his spear through his heart; and the strangest thing happened - Water mixed with blood came gushing out of his side. Yes, I would say the man is dead.” When he got done, the Scripture tells us that Pilate “knew it!”
This centurion also shows us a demonstration of the fact that there is a repentance to be repented of. — “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This man was convicted; but his conviction was a mere legal conviction. He had repentance, sorrow for his deeds; but it was the sorrow of the world, which ends in death, eternal death in hell.
Legal fear, the fear of death, judgment and eternal damnation in hell, is not repentance. That is not Holy Spirit conviction. True repentance, true conviction is more than a sense of guilt and terror. It is a sorrow for sin. It is taking sides with God against yourself. And it is an acknowledgment that you deserve to go to hell; but it is more, much more. — True repentance arises from the revelation of Christ in our hearts. It is the blessed persuasion of sins forgiven, righteousness established and judgment finished (Zechariah 12:10; John 16:8-11). There is no salvation without this conviction.
The Faithful Women
“There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem…And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid” (vv. 40, 41, 47).
Where was Peter, who boasted that he was willing to go with his Master to judgment and to death? Where were the other disciples, who all said the same thing? The men, all of them, except for John (who was at some distance from the scene), were all gone. But these faithful women were faithful to the end. They had followed the Lord Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. When all others forsook him, they stayed with him. They stayed during all the horrors of that infamous day. They followed him right up to the tomb, and were found there on the morning of the resurrection. John Trapp observed…
“Heavy they were as heart could hold: yet not hindered thereby from doing their duty to Christ. Even sorrow for sin, if it so exceed as to disable us for duty, is a sinful sorrow, and must be sorrowed for.”
God often uses the weak to confound the mighty. How often we see this in the workings of God’s providence and grace. Here, the Holy Spirit tells us two things about this band of faithful women. In these two things they are set before us as noble examples of faith.
There is a great work which women can do for the glory of God and the cause of Christ in this world. Happy is that husband and family in which such a wife and mother is found. Happy is that church whose women know their work and faithfully do it, as unto the Lord. Elizabeth, Martha Mary, Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe are all held before us in the Word of God as elect ladies, in whom the grace of God abounded, causing them to gladly serve the Master by serving his people.
A Secret Disciple
And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre” (vv. 42-46).
I am so very thankful that the Holy Spirit has placed in the records of sacred history the name and works of Joseph of Arimathaea. We know virtually nothing about him except that he was a rich man from Arimathaea. He was a member of the Jews’ religious counsel, the Sanhedrim. He buried the Lord Jesus in his own tomb. And he was a believer, one who “waited for the kingdom of God.” Joseph was a secret disciple, but still a true disciple (John 19:38).
We know nothing about him until now; and nothing else is said about him in the Word of God after this. But this man was the man of the hour. He was where he needed to be, when he was needed, to do what was needed. Much could and should be said about this man, but I want to show you just three things here.
None of the other disciples were around to do what Joseph did. Perhaps no one else could have gotten Pilate’s ear as readily as Joseph. But at the time needed, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled (Isaiah 53:9), God raised up a rich man to bury the body of his darling Son in his own new tomb.
Let us learn, then, that the purpose of God is never in danger of failure. The will of God is never hindered. The work of God is never overturned. And the cause of God is never in jeopardy.
I am the first to acknowledge that secret disciples are always suspect disciples. But we must never forget the words of the Lord to Elijah (1 Kings 19:18). Our God still has his seven thousand in Israel, who have not bowed the knee to Baal. At the appropriate time, he will bring them out. The Lord still has many hidden ones in the earth. We may not know who they are, or where they are; but he has them.
Much might be said about this man’s failures and weaknesses; but Joseph’s faith was in many ways most remarkable. He was strong, when all others were weak. He was bold, when everyone else was terrified. The other disciples honored and confessed Christ, when he was working miracles and influencing multitudes. Joseph believed him, honored him and identified himself with him, when his body was a cold, dead corpse, covered with his own blood and the spit of others.
This fine linen was an emblem of or Savior’s own holiness and purity; and this linen is set before us in the Scriptures as an emblem of Christ’s pure, spotless righteousness, which is imputed to his people (Revelation 19:8).
The Honored Tomb
“And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre” (v. 46). — The Lord Jesus was numbered with the transgressors. Yet, he made his grave with the rich, exactly as the Scriptures had foretold. He is the Savior of all, both rich and poor. But the fact that his dead body was laid in the tomb must not be passed over lightly. Our Lord Jesus here puts special honor upon the grave.
The fact is we are all going to the tomb. We do not like to think about it; but we are all going to die, sooner or later. The time will soon come when someone will put our bodies in a coffin, drop us in the cold earth, and cover us out of view. Let us remember, this is the place where our Lord once laid. And, as surely as he arose from the tomb, so to shall all who trust him. When Christ died, we died with him. When he was buried, we were buried with him. When he arose, we arose with him.
Consequently, death has no terror. The grave has no sting. As we have confessed in our baptism, we are confident that, though the worms of the earth shall eat our flesh, yet, at the resurrection, in our flesh we shall see our God and our Redeemer.
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