Our SaviorŐs Burial
ŇWhen the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was JesusŐ disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre. Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.Ó
In our study of MatthewŐs Gospel we have seen, from this inspired narrative, MatthewŐs declaration of the gospel ŇHow that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.Ó Our Lord Jesus Christ died as a voluntary Substitute, a vicarious Sacrifice, and a victorious Savior.
Whenever we think about the death of Christ upon the cross, we should always think of four words in our mindsŐ association with it: sovereignty, substitution, satisfaction, and success. Our Savior died by an act of and in accordance with GodŐs sovereign will. He died as a Substitute in the place of GodŐs elect, his people, his sheep, those who are actually justified and saved by his blood. The Son of God did not shed his blood for nothing. He did not die in vain for the multitudes who perish under the wrath of God. To suggest that he did is to make his blood meaningless and of non-effect. By his death upon the cross our Lord Jesus Christ made atonement particularly and distinctly for his elect and effectually accomplished and obtained our eternal redemption. That means that his sacrifice and death were a success. He shall have all that and all those for whom he suffered and died. That is the message of the gospel. That is ŇHow that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.Ó
In this portion of MatthewŐs gospel narrative we are given an inspired account of the fact Ňthat he was buried.Ó Our LordŐs burial is usually passed over quickly in commentaries, sermons, Bible studies, and theological material. It is commonly looked at as being only a necessary event between his death and his resurrection. There is a strong tendency to ignore the burial of our Redeemer. We look upon his death as an amazing thing; and it truly is. And we very properly look upon his resurrection as an amazing thing. We should look upon our SaviorŐs burial as equally amazing.
Every detail recorded about our LordŐs burial, including the scheming of his enemies, is a divinely ordered testimony to the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is exactly who he claims to be: the Messiah, the Christ, the King, the Son of the living God. MatthewŐs account of the burial of our Lord contains two very important lessons that I want to set before you in this study. The first is a lesson about the people of God. The second is a lesson about the providence of God.
The People of God
First, the Holy Spirit gives us a lesson in this passage about the people of God. Here we are introduced to a man called Joseph of Arimathea. We know very little about him. In fact, he is not mentioned before this incident, and he is not mentioned after it. The Gospel writers tell us only six things about him. — (1.) His name was Joseph, a very common Jewish name. — (2.) His home was in Arimathea, probably the city of Ramah. (3.) He was a man of considerable wealth. (4.) He was a member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43). (5.) He took the SaviorŐs dead body down from the cross, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and buried it in his own new tomb. And (6.) he Ňalso himself was JesusŐ disciple.Ó
Joseph had been until this time a secret disciple. We have no way of knowing how long he had been a believer, how he heard the gospel, or why he had kept his faith a secret from others. Much speculation has been made regarding these things I will not add to the confusion. If the Holy Spirit had intended for us to know them, he could have informed us as easily as he gave us the manŐs name. But there are some things to be learned from this man.
We should never presume that we know the spiritual condition of others. We do not. Our Lord has disciples and friends in this world who are altogether unknown to us. There may be some true disciples living very near, perhaps even among our own families, who are unknown to us.
I realize that believers confess Christ before men, that they confess him and identify with him and his people in believerŐs baptism, and that they are known by their fruits. I am aware of all those things. But that which is normally the case is not always the case. And we must take great care not to look upon someone as an unbeliever because he or she does not appear to us to be a believer. We simply do not have the ability to look upon the hearts of other people. We do not have the ability to separate sheep from goats, or wheat from tares. That is why the Lord tells us to leave them alone.
No one would have named Joseph among the LordŐs disciples; but he was a man whose love for Christ was demonstrated when none of the strong disciples dared to do what he did. At just the time he was needed, Joseph came forward to do honor to his Savior. At a time when the apostles had forsaken him, at a time when it was most dangerous to confess him, at a time when there seemed to be absolutely no earthly advantage to professing allegiance to him, Joseph came forward with boldness, begging Pilate to let him have the body of the Son of God, that he might save it from further desecration. He wrapped the SaviorŐs body in clean linens, carried it in his own arms to his own tomb, and buried it in honor.
Not all believers are alike. Some are bold. Others are timid. Some are strong, others weak. Some are known around the world, others are hardly known at all. Some are very passive. Others are very active. Some build up the church and kingdom of God as zealous witnesses, preachers, missionaries, and evangelists. Others come forward only in times of specific need, like Joseph. Yet, all are led by God the Holy Spirit and glorify their Master in the specific way, time, and place he has ordained.
The fact that we are here told of a disciple like Joseph, unknown to the other disciples, ought to make us both charitable and hopeful. We should be charitable in our opinions of those who profess faith in Christ. I am not suggesting that religious infidels, people who deny the gospel of GodŐs free and sovereign grace in Christ, should be embraced as our brothers and sisters in Christ. But I am saying that those who profess faith in Christ, who profess to believe the gospel of GodŐs grace, should be received and embraced as true believers, as Paul put it, Ňnot to doubtful disputationsÓ (Rom. 14:1), though they may behave in ways that we find inconsistent with faith, or who form associations we simply cannot fathom.
JosephŐs example ought to make us hopeful, too. We are far too often like Elijah, thinking that we alone are left in this world to serve our God. That is never the case. ŇMany shall (yet) come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heavenÓ (Matt. 8:11).
John tells us that Nicodemus, another prominent Pharisee, and another secret disciple, joined Joseph at the tomb. I find that interesting and instructive. DonŐt you? Those disciples, who had openly followed the Lord during his lifetime, fled from him in the end. But these two men, who had kept their faith in Christ secret while he was alive, came forward publicly to bury him honorably.
The second lesson in these verses is also a very important one to learn. It is a lesson about GodŐs providence. In infinite wisdom our God foresaw the objections that unbelievers, infidels, and atheists would raise against the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. Did the Son of God really die? Did he literally rise from the dead on the third day after his death? Might there not have been some delusion as to the reality of his death? Might there not have been some distortion of truth in reporting his resurrection? These and many other questions have been raised by men; but they are raised without a fabric of a basis in fact.
Our God, who knows the end from the beginning, prevented the possibility of such cavils having a basis in fact. By his over-ruling providence, he fixed it so that the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord were established as irrefutable facts. And he did so by overruling the actions of those very men who most desired to stop the influence of Christ in this world — his murderers! The facts recorded in these last verses of Matthew twenty-seven are recorded by Matthew alone. They make it evident for all to see that the Son of God literally died as our penal Substitute, that he was buried as a dead man in the earth for three days, and that he arose from the dead on the third day after his death.
The Lord our god is so gloriously sovereign that he makes even the actions of his enemies, even the most wicked acts of men to serve his purpose for the salvation of his elect and the glory of his own great name.
Sometimes God performs notable miracles, by which he alters the course of nature to accomplish his purpose for the good of his elect and the glory of his name. (The Flood — The Plagues in Egypt — The Slaying of the Firstborn — The Crossing of the Red Sea and Drowning of Pharaoh — The Manna that Fell in the Wilderness — Water Flowing out of the Smitten Rock — The Day the sun Stood Still — The Fallen Walls of Jericho — The Axe that Swam — The Ass that Spoke — The Opening of the Ground to Swallow Korah — The Fish to Swallow Jonah — The Burning Bush — The Fire that Could not Burn Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — The Lions that Would not Harm Daniel).
But the supernatural miracles performed by God seem almost insignificant, when compared to his sovereign disposition of all things in providence. Consider for a moment the magnitude of GodŐs providence.
á The Scriptures universally declare that our God rules all things, everywhere, at all times, absolutely (1 Chro. 29:11-12; 2 Chro. 20:6; Job 23:13; Ps. 76:10; 115:3; 135:6; Pro. 16.4, 9, 33; 21:30; Isa. 46:9-10; Daniel 4:34-35; Rom. 11:36; Eph. 1:11).
á The Word of God is filled with examples of GodŐs sovereign providence ruling and overruling even the most vile actions of men for the accomplishment of his purpose: — Joseph and His Brethren — Elimelech, Naomi, and Ruth — Esther, Haman, and Mordecai — David and Bathsheba (Ps. 76:10; Pro. 16:9; Jer. 10:23).
Yet nowhere in Scripture is GodŐs incredible and amazing providence more evident than in the burial of our Lord. Every detail, from JosephŐs begging for his body, to PilateŐs agreement, to the scheming of the Jews to have his tomb sealed under the protection of Roman guards, all are a testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is indeed the Christ of God, our Savior, and our Lord, crucified, buried, and raised again for our justification. There is no human explanation of these events.
Let all who truly are the LordŐs disciples come forth in this hour when his name is maligned to confess him in believersŐ baptism. As he was buried for us, we must take our place with him in the watery grave. May God give us grace both to boldly confess our SaviorŐs name in the midst of his enemies and to calmly trust his wise and adorable providence (Rom. 8:28-31).
 Robert HawkerŐs comments on Matthew 62-66 are excellent. I give them here without comment. — ŇHere is a precious testimony, and from the mouth of ChristŐs enemies also, in confirmation of the resurrection which followed. And with respect to the story of the disciples taking away the body, it is in itself too childish and ridiculous to deserve even the relation of it. That a few poor timid disciples, who during their LordŐs trial, and before any danger to themselves had even appeared, had all forsook Jesus and fled, should project such a scheme, as to come by surprise on a guard of Roman soldiers, who were placed at the sepulchre for no purpose but to watch the body of Jesus; and whose military discipline was the strictest in the world; and should actually take away the body, is one of the most extravagant suppositions, which ever entered the human mind.
And to heighten the representation still more, it is added, that this was done while the soldiers were asleep. Soldiers and centinels asleep! And so it seems, that the evidence these soldiers gave of this transaction, of what had happened, was while they were asleep. A new way of giving testimony!
Moreover, it is time to enquire, what possible motive these poor fishermen of Galilee could have to take away a dead body? Nothing can be more plain and evident than that the disciples of Jesus, at the time this transaction of ChristŐs death took place, knew not any more than their enemies, what the resurrection from the dead should mean. They had no other notions of Christ, notwithstanding all that Jesus had said to them, than that of a temporal prince; and when by his death, the hopes they had conceived of this kingdom were over, they would in a few days have returned to their former occupation again. In fact they did so.
Besides, where could they have put the body? Was it stolen, and yet intended to be concealed? And if so what could be then accomplished by it? And can it be supposed for a moment, that when the soldiers all of them awaked from their sleep and found the body gone, and taken away by disciples; would the Roman soldiers, aided by the whole Jewish Sanhedrim, have suffered this handful of poor fishermen of Galilee to have remained a single hour, without giving up their plunder, and bringing them to immediate punishment.
I have not dwelt so circumstantially on this subject from any apprehension of its necessity, for my ReaderŐs confirmation of the faith once delivered to the saints; but for the preciousness of any thing, and every thing connected with the resurrection of Jesus. Oh! the blessedness of knowing, and from divine teaching too; the certainty of that glorious truth, Christ is risen from the dead. And oh! when the conviction of that glorious truth is secured in the soul, by a testimony founded in the faithfulness of Jehovah; then in ChristŐs resurrection, the sure resurrection of his redeemed is included. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power. (Rev. 20:6).