THE MAN WHO GAVE JESUS A TOMB
When it was now evening, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, a respected member of the council, and a man who was himself waiting for the Kingdom of God, ventured to go to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion, and asked if he had been long dead. And when he had learned the facts from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. And Joseph bought fine linen, and be took him down from the Cross and wrapped him in the linen, and put him in a tomb which had been hewn out of rock, and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he had been laid.
Jesus died at three o’clock on the Friday afternoon and the next day was the Sabbath. We have already seen that the new day started at 6 p.m. Therefore when Jesus died, it was already the time of preparation for the Sabbath, and there was very little time to waste, for after 6 p.m. the Sabbath law would operate and no work could be done.
Joseph of Arimathaea acted quickly. It frequently happened that the bodies of criminals were never buried at all, but were simply taken down and left for the vultures and the scavenging wild dogs to deal with. In fact it has been suggested that Golgotha may have been called the place of a skull because it was littered with skulls from previous crucifixions. Joseph went to Pilate. It often happened that criminals hung for days on their crosses before they died, and Pilate was amazed that Jesus was dead only six hours after he had been crucified. But when he had checked the facts with the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
Joseph is a curious study.
(i) It may well be that it is from Joseph that all the information came about the trial before the Sanhedrin. Certainly none of the disciples was there. The information must have come from some member of the Sanhedrin, and it is probable that Joseph was the one. If that is so he had a very real share in the writing of the gospel story.
(ii) There is a certain tragedy about Joseph. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and yet we have no hint that he spoke one word in Jesus’ favour or intervened in any way on his behalf. Joseph is the man who gave Jesus a tomb when he was dead but was silent when he was alive. It is one of the commonest tragedies of life that we keep our wreaths for people’s graves and our praises until they are dead. It would the infinitely better to give them some of these flowers and some of these words of gratitude when they are still alive.
(iii) But we cannot blame Joseph overmuch, for he was another of those people for whom the Cross did what not even the life of Jesus could do. When he had seen Jesus alive, he had felt his attraction but had gone no further. But when he saw Jesus die–and he must have been present at the crucifixion–his heart was broken in love. First the centurion, then Joseph–it is an amazing thing how soon Jesus’ words came true that when he was lifted up from the earth he would draw all men to himself. (Jn.12:32.)
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