“Descent from the Cross,” Rembrandt, 1634
“When it was evening, a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph came, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. He approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body” (Matthew 27:57-58).
Here are the facts as we know them about Joseph:
- He was a rich man from the village of Arimathea.
- He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court.
- He had not consented to the death of Jesus.
- He was looking for the kingdom of God.
- He had become a disciple of Jesus.
- He had purchased a tomb for his burial place.
- He asked Pilate to release Jesus’ body to him.
He was a good man in a hard place. Because of his wealth and his position, we know he must have been a leading man in his community. It couldn’t have been easy to be a disciple of Christ and also be part of the Sanhedrin. Given the raging hatred that led to Jesus’ crucifixion, he put himself in a dangerous position by asking Pilate to release Jesus’ body so he could give it a decent burial.
Once Pilate gave permission, he purchased a linen shroud and then went to Golgotha where Nicodemus (another secret disciple) helped him take down the body of the Lord. I am using “secret” in a loose sense here. I’m sure his family and friends knew of his belief in Jesus. But it would be dangerous to speak too openly about his faith.
The body of Jesus was in bad shape when they took it down from the cross. It bore all the marks of the abuse he had suffered. He was covered with blood, there was a hole in his side, his face was horribly disfigured, and the skin hung from his back in tatters. Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped the body in strips of linen cloth. Then they sprinkled about 80 pounds of spices throughout the linen strips. The spices made the linen strips stick together and form a tight wrap around the body. That was how the Jews embalmed their dead.
Because they had to bury Jesus before sundown and it was already late in the afternoon, Joseph volunteered the use of his tomb, one freshly dug out of the rock in a nearby garden. When they finished placing the body inside, they rolled a stone across the entrance.
Darkness fell on the garden cemetery.
Everyone had left.
Inside the tomb . . . silence.
It is a remarkable fact that the Bible says very little about that Saturday. We know about Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but of that Saturday in between we know almost nothing. Luke says of the disciples . . . “And on the Sabbath they rested.”
The message of Holy Saturday is, “Get ready. Something is about to happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.” Thank God, we’re not moving back toward the crucifixion.
We are Easter people marching from Good Friday through Holy Saturday on our way to Easter Sunday. We’re not quite there, but we’re moving in the right direction.
It’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming. Let that thought give strength to your heart today.
Lord Jesus, we pray for faith to see your promises through our tears. We thank you that Saturday leads on to Sunday, and that Holy Week always ends in a resurrection. Amen.