Billy Graham was given a beautiful funeral. No one attended the funeral of the Son of God. He didn’t have one. He almost didn’t have a burial, an important matter for Jews. A burial normally happened within twenty-four hours of a death. They were usually laid to rest, not buried underground as is done today.
In the case of a crucifixion, family members would request the body. Those without families were left for the birds, then thrown in the Valley of Gehenna, the smoldering garbage dump outside the city. Joseph spared the body of Jesus from such humiliation. Imagine the work of taking his body down, carrying it to the tomb, and cleaning the battered and bloodied body, then anointing it. Who did it? Not the family, nor any of the Twelve. They were hiding. They were not thinking death, so neither did they think burial.
The man who buried Jesus. First, his name is Joseph, mentioned in all Gospels. Second, he was rich, fulfilling scripture that “he was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9). Third, he was “a prominent member of the Council” (Mk.15:43). Everyone knew him, which makes his action all the more courageous. Jesus died on a public thoroughfare. Fourth, he “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body” (v.43). John says that “Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews” (Jn.19:38). Perhaps the death of Jesus upgraded his commitment.
The word would certainly get out that he had buried Jesus, ostracizing him from fellow-leaders, who may have killed him for it. Mark and Luke say that (fifth) he was “waiting for the kingdom of God.” Just as there are a group of saints who surround the Christmas story who believed in God’s coming reign, we can put Joseph in the same group.
Luke describes him as “a good and upright man” (23:50). This would not characterize most Council members. Jesus called them hypocrites, snakes, and whitewashed tombs who appeared righteous to people but were “full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt. 23:28). The rich man from Arimathea was an exception.
Jesus was crucified on the Day of Preparation, the day before one of the most important Sabbaths of the Jewish year, the Passover Sabbath. Jesus was never more helpless than on the cross and after his death, and Joseph and Nicodemus stepped forward to carry out the task. Some say Nicodemus was cowardly because he came to Jesus at night, but he chose to come out of hiding and show his love for Jesus, which certainly meant he was no longer “the teacher of Israel,” one of the most prominent positions in Israel.
Joseph and Nicodemus were operating under two pressures, time (they had slightly more than two hours before sundown to bury the body without breaking the law for working on the Sabbath), and the pressure of their true motives being identified.
Joseph secured permission from Pilate, purchased a linen cloth, while Nicodemus purchased about seventy-five pounds of spices, enough for the burial of a king. They met back at the crucifixion site, laid the cross down, extracted the body from the nails, and carried it on a public thoroughfare during the busiest time of the year to Joseph’s personal tomb. They did a quick work of anointing and wrapping the body, then placing it inside the tomb.
The significance of Christ’s burial. The burial is recorded in all four gospels. Why? First, it confirms the truth that Jesus really died. A common myth to discredit the resurrection is that Jesus did not die but was only unconscious and resuscitated. Unconscious people are not buried. Second, Paul says that the burial of Christ is like our baptism. We are identified with him both in his death and in his burial. Just as Jesus was dead dead, so we die with him, and are in fact “buried with him through baptism into death” (Ro.6:4).
What joy Joseph must have experienced when Jesus rose from the dead. Imagine him returning to his tomb (if still alive) and thinking, “Jesus stayed here.” But not anymore.
I am moved by God’s sovereign action in the midst of people doing what they are going to do. Soldiers carry out their responsibility—and two prophecies are fulfilled. A kind man provides a tomb—and another prophecy comes to pass. Do you have something that Jesus can use? Unnamed friends offered him a donkey. A boy said, “He can have my lunch,” and thousands ate. A religious leader said, “He can use my tomb.” We will meet him in heaven for his kindness and courage–and Nic!