When I was a teenager, the one weekly quiet time in our house wasn’t prayer time, but 4:45 on a Saturday afternoon when the football scores were read out and dad waited to see if his predictions had come good.
If there’s one person who’s spot on with predictions, it’s Jesus. So far, his Passover prediction is right on course. In Matthew chapter 26 verse 2 he said, ‘The Passover is two days away and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’
Jesus has been rejected and crucified. His lifeless body hangs on a pole. The question now is, ‘What will we do with the body?’ In Jesus’ time corpses would be buried before sunset, as a dead body rots fast in the middle eastern sun. Also, someone like Jesus would get a fast-track funeral. Moses was clear that an executed criminal’s body wasn’t to be left hanging overnight, for that person was under God’s curse (Deut. 21:22-23). Political funerals can be explosive and so much is riding on Jesus’ funeral. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has staked his reputation on rising from the dead (Matt. 16:21). What will happen to his body? We must know, for what happens to it is a key part of this incredible story.
The body is seen
When someone dies you don’t usually note who was there, yet Matthew notes that many women were present when Jesus died and some of them are named. These women had been following Jesus as his carers, organising meals and Airbnb’s for Jesus’ team. Jesus isn’t the first man who needs a woman to look after him, but it is incredible that he is the one who Matthew says is God with us (Matt. 1:23), yet he needs these ladies to sort out his care package in order that he could carry out his mission. This is the body of a man who had needs, who depended not only on his Father and the Holy Spirit, but on people too.
Think of the devotion these women show to Jesus. Some of them have families of their own, yet they’re all part of this great gospel enterprise. Matthew wants to highlight that these women were witnesses to Jesus’ death and burial. As in some religious societies today, a woman’s testimony wasn’t worth much, but Matthew makes no apology for marking their presence, for God in his providence ordained that women would be witnesses of his Son’s last moments and burial. They were there, like CCTV, witnesses to us as to what happened to Jesus’ body.
The body is settled
If Jesus had made a will, there would be nothing to leave as the soldiers seized his whole estate when they divided up his clothes. The law dictated that a criminal’s corpse must be buried quickly, so it’s with one eye on the clock that Joseph marches in to see Pilate and asks for Jesus’ body.
We know Jesus is truly dead, for Pilate would never have given the body otherwise, and Joseph makes a big personal sacrifice by burying it in his own tomb in a prime location.
Little is known of Joseph, other than he comes from a town called Arimathea, has a great Old Testament name, and is rich. However, none of these facts answer why he does this for Jesus. Matthew tells us though that Joseph has been discipled by Jesus (Matt. 27:57). Throughout Matthew’s gospel Joseph is in the shadows but now he steps into the light. It is easy to assume that Jesus only cared about poor people, but here is a rich person Jesus reached out to. Joseph has been learning from Jesus and now he’s seen Jesus’ words come true. He’s witnessed the injustice, but at the cross Joseph realises, ‘This is time for me to take up my cross, to stand for Jesus, even if it costs me my life.’
Perhaps this is the time for you also to identify with Jesus, to come out of the shadows, step into the light, and confess Christ openly as Lord. Like Joseph you must ask, ‘What does it mean for me that Jesus died on the cross?’
Notice though how this section ends. Verse 60 says, ‘Joseph rolled a big stone in front of the tomb and went away.’ There’s no thought of Christ rising, no party organised, just a couple of ladies hanging about. Joseph has the Sabbath to prepare for. He’s performed his final act of devotion by rolling the stone over the entrance to deter grave robbers, then he gets up and goes off. The body is settled, and as far as the church folks are concerned, Jesus’ story ends here at the tomb.
The body is secured
It was a long dark night before the Sabbath. Chief priests and Pharisees were political enemies, but the Jesus crisis changes everything, and a common hatred of Jesus unites bitter enemies. Those who were quick to criticise Jesus for doing good on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:2) have no scruples about visiting a pagan politician to secure a tomb on the Sabbath. It shows how panicked they are about Jesus, that they are prepared to break their law to silence the gospel. It should warn us against religious hypocrisy, making rules for others we’re not prepared to keep ourselves.
While the disciples may have been deaf to what Jesus was saying, the priests have got the message and they’re taking no chances. They went to Pilate. ‘Sir, we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I’ll rise again”’ (Matt. 27:63). Jesus has been preaching that he will die, be buried, and rise again. The first two have happened, and the leaders determine that the third will not.
If Pilate had thought it was case closed when Joseph buried Jesus’ body, the religious leaders are worried news gets out on social media and young impressionable people are taken in by this deceiver’s message. Pilate gives this order, ‘Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how’ (Matt. 27:65). This seems like the last devilish attempt to silence Jesus’ good news and prove him false. Yet in the mysterious providence of God these moves serve to prove the credibility of Jesus’ words. If Jesus is to rise from the dead, how could he do it? The stone, the seal and the soldiers are all powerful blockers to the resurrection of a corpse that was certified to be dead. If at the end of the day that tomb is opened, and no body is found, then only God could have performed the miracle!
If the story of the empty tomb is a hoax, and the Pharisees were right, that Jesus has deceived us by pulling off the biggest con trick in history, how did he do it? Anyone can predict with certainty that they will die, but only one person predicted he’d rise again, and countless people believe he did. As you think of Jesus’ body seen, settled, and secured, where does the evidence lead you?