Matthew 27:57-66 May 2009

THE BURIAL OF JESUS

The burial of Jesus is a very important part of the death and resurrection of Jesus because the burial is the final process in death.

Time and time again I have found during funerals that it’s not until the body is lowered into the ground that the realisation hits people that their loved one is dead. If they haven’t cried up to the point they will generally cry then.

If there is any doubt about someone being dead, that doubt is soon dispelled when their body is placed in the grave and completely buried. The burial of the body is the final act of death.

Ill. There was once a notorious criminal who was greatly feared in his neighbourhood and a lot of people wanted him dead but somehow he always managed to escape every attempt on his life. One day some of his enemies heard that he had been killed, but they wouldn’t believe it until they had seen the body in the coffin and followed the coffin to the cemetery and made sure it was lowered into the grave and completely covered up. And only then were they truly reassured that their arch enemy was dead.

That is why baptism is so important. The Bible says that when we become followers of Jesus we identify with Jesus in His death and burial. Jesus died in our place, He was executed for our sins and when we become followers of Jesus we accept that Jesus death was our death. He literally died our death. In fact Paul says in Romans 6 that we died with Christ – and were buried with Him.

Now Satan our old enemy who used to have power over us needs to be convinced that we have died with Christ and he will only be convinced when he witnesses our burial and that takes place when we are baptised.

Paul says in Romans 6:4 that we were buried with Christ in baptism and when Satan comes along and tries to control us again we simply say to Him, “I am dead to your power. I died with Jesus, was buried with Him in baptism and you witnessed my funeral. You have no hold on many any longer.”

It was so important that Jesus was buried for those who followed Him – they witnessed the death and burial and knew Jesus was definitely dead. And it was so important for Jesus enemies that Jesus was securely buried because they could find no satisfactory answer for the disappearance of the body. Because of their actions no one could fake the resurrection.

The courageous followers

The conniving frauds

THE COURAGEOUS FOLLOWERS v57-61

The only believers who attended Jesus funeral were Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and a handful of women.

Ill. I heard of the new Pastor who never taken a funeral before and he was very careful to find out from the Bible what he should do. So he read the Gospels to find out how Jesus handled funerals. He didn’t get a lot of help because he discovered that every time Jesus went to a funeral, He ruined it by raising the dead person to life. Even His own funeral eventually turned into a resurrection.

Let’s look at this man Joseph of Arimathea. A very interesting character.

We are told here that he was rich, Luke tells us he was a member of the Jewish Council, the same group of religious leaders who condemned Jesus to death, but Luke also tells us that Joseph did not support their decision. John tells us that Joseph was a follower of Jesus, but he kept he kept his identity secret because he was afraid of the other religious leaders.

So here was a man who believed in Jesus, but he kept quiet about his faith because he was afraid of getting a hard time from his colleagues.

I have heard people say that when believers keep quiet about Jesus, it’s because we are ashamed of Him. In most cases that is not true. It’s more that they are afraid of the negative reactions of those who don’t believe.

It is sad that Joseph kept his faith in Jesus a secret, it’s sad that he did not speak up in Jesus defence at the trial. And I would say that because of that he felt really stink about his unwillingness to stand up for Jesus.

It wasn’t until he saw Jesus on the cross that he decided he was going to come out in the open.

If you are afraid to speak up for Jesus when the opportunity comes, look at the cross and remind yourself that Jesus was prepared to be unjustly condemned to death, ridiculed, mocked, flogged, beaten, stripped naked, nailed to a cross and publicly exhibited for you and me.

And may the sight of the crucified Jesus inspire and embolden us to speak up for Him.

Joseph of Arimathea decided to come out in the open, go to the Roman governor, Pilate and ask to be given the body of Jesus so that he could give Him a decent burial.

Remember that Jesus was crucified as a criminal and criminals were not given a proper burial. Their bodies were thrown onto a burning pile in the city rubbish dump and set alight.

There were 2 reasons Jesus body was buried in a tomb and not cremated in the city rubbish dump.

1. Isaiah prophesied almost 700 years before Christ that He would be assigned to the same treatment as criminals but would end up with a rich man in His death. Isaiah predicted in chapter 53:9 that Jesus body would be earmarked for the same fate as common criminals but instead be placed in the grave of a rich man.

2. Jesus prophesied that he would be buried. That he would be 3 days and three nights in the grave and then rise again.

When Joseph went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus he took a very courageous step. Okay we might say that Joseph was a coward whole Jesus was alive – afraid to speak up for Jesus, but the other disciples were no better. They gave into the fear of others and deserted Jesus at the cross.

3 things Joseph gave to Jesus:

He gave his influence

Because Joseph was a member of the Jewish leadership he was able to approach the Roman governor and ask for the body of Jesus. Joseph used his position of influence for the cause of Christ.

Over the years many people in places of influence have used their influence for the cause of Christ and the good of others.

Ill. Many of you saw the movie “Amazing Grace”. It’s the story of William Wilberforce who was a member of the British Parliament in the days when owning slaves was acceptable in society and he used his position of influence to bring about radical social reforms based on the teaching Jesus, particularly the abolition of slavery.

Ill. Some of you may have read Billy Graham’s autobiography, “Just as I am”. Billy earned the respect and the friendship of many of US Presidents and they often called on him for counsel and advice. Billy used his position of influence to promote the cause of Christ and through Billy some of those presidents were challenged and inspired to follow Jesus.

He gave His wealth

Joseph had prepared and paid for his own burial site in advance like many people do today. They select and pay for their plot. It wouldn’t have been cheap either.

It was like a cave cut out of the rock with a huge round flat stone to cover the entrance. The tomb was set in a garden. So Joseph would have paid for all of that and yet he gladly gave that to Jesus.

The level of our giving is a pretty good indicator of our trust in Jesus and love for Jesus. I think it was John Wesley who said the last part of a person to be converted is their wallet. In fact I would say that one of the marks that a person is a true follower of Jesus is generosity – how can anyone who has been given so much in Christ be stingy giver.

Ill. In a remote village in Central America a Missionary who had served the Lord and the people for many years was preparing to retire. When a very old and poor man heard she was leaving he wanted to give her a gift expressing his thanks for all she had done for him and his people. He walked over the mountains for 4 days carrying his gift for the Missionary which consisted of 2 coconuts. They were all he had. When he presented the missionary with the coconuts she said to him, “Brother, I cannot believe that you would walk so far to present me with this gift,” His response: “Long walk, part of gift.”

John Grisham the Novelist said a while back ‘My wife and I measure the success of a year not by how much money we make but by how much we give away. The bulk of it goes to Christian based work.”

He gave his reputation.

It cost Joseph of Arimathea dearly to come out in the open and identify with Jesus. He would immediately lose his standing in the Jewish counsel, he would be black listed by his business associates who would stop doing business with him, and he would lose a lot of friends. He would lose his reputation and become a nobody in Jewish society.

If we stand up for Jesus and follow Him, we may find that we lose our social standing, our reputation and our popularity among those who are not sympathetic with the cause of Christ. But we are in good company because Jesus gave up His reputation and judged as a common criminal in order to bring us back to God.

Ill. When Dr Albert Schweitzer announced that he was giving up his lucrative, respectable career in music, theology and medicine and going to Africa to serve the Lord as a missionary, a well meaning friend said to him, “Out there you will be a nobody”

Ill. A new Christian once asked Charles Spurgeon, “Now that I am a Christian, how much of the world should give up?” Spurgeon, “Don’t worry; the world will give you up.”

Can I just say before we leave Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph became a nobody in the eyes of the Jewish leaders because He identified himself as a follower of Jesus, but what Joseph did is recorded in all the 4 Gospels and long after those Jewish leaders have been forgotten, Joseph of Arimathea is remembered by millions of believers all over the world.

It doesn’t matter what the unbelieving world thinks of you, it’s what God thinks of you that counts and if you continue to follow, serve and obey Jesus long after people’s opinions and comments have dried up – God will say to you, “Well done good and faithful servant…”

The others who attended Jesus funeral were the women who had been with Jesus throughout His ministry and when the other disciples had deserted Him they never left Him.

They witnessed His death, and His burial and that is important because they knew without a doubt Jesus was truly dead. Their testimony has provided us with the record of the events at the cross for which we are very grateful. It’s not a co-incidence that these women who knew for certain Jesus was dead were also the first to see Him alive on Sunday morning.

THE CONNIVING FRAUDS v62- 66

I am speaking of the religious leaders and the reason I have called them conniving frauds was that they were religious frauds, pretenders, hyprocrites who claimed to know God, but when He sent His own Son to them in the person of Jesus they had Him executed because they saw Him as a threat to their power, their wealth and their whole hypocritical religious system.

They schemed, plotted and planned to get rid of Jesus when he was alive and even after He was dead they plotted and schemed to ensure that He stayed dead.

And do you know that their conniving plan only served to provide some of the greatest evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. As Joseph said to his brothers after they had sold him into slavery and he ended up becoming the prime minister of Egypt, “You intended it for evil, but God used it for good.”

They went to the Roman Governor, Pilate and they said that Jesus had told them He would rise again after the third day in the tomb. They then asked Pilate if he would make the tomb secure until the third day otherwise Jesus disciples might come and steal the body and then tell everyone that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

So Pilate dispatched a group of soldiers to guard the tomb and they also put a seal on the stone, which would have been a lump of hot wax in the crack where the stone touched the wall. This would have had Pilate’s insignia on it. The soldiers would know if the stone had been moved because the wax seal would have broken.

But as I said, all this served to provide some of the greatest evidence for the resurrection.

The disciples would not have stolen the body of Jesus because the guards were there and the seal on the stone would have been broken if it had been moved.

And why would the disciples steal the body of Jesus and then suffer persecution and face execution for a story they had made up? Absolutely ludicrous!

The guards wouldn’t have stolen the body of Jesus because they were under strict orders to ensure it stayed put. If it had gone missing they would have been in deep trouble.

And of course the religious leaders would not have stolen the body because if they had, they could have put a stop to the story that Jesus was alive by simply producing the body.

So when those conniving, hypocritical religious leaders arranged for the soldiers to guard the tomb they hoped to put an end to the cause of Jesus Christ, but God actually used their scheming to serve His own glorious purposes.

There was no other viable explanation for the empty tomb other than Jesus had risen from the dead. When they thought they had done everything in their power to keep that body in the tomb, God blew their plans to pieces and raised Jesus from the dead.

Time and time again in history God has overruled the evil schemes and plans of men or even used them for His greater purposes. This gives us so much hope.

In the book of Esther we read about the time when the evil Prime minister of Persia Haman persuaded the King to wipe out all the Jews in the known world, but there was a Jewish woman named Esther in the Kings palace and the King chose her for his queen, not knowing she was Jewish and God used her to sabotage Haman’s evil plan and save His people from extinction.

When Paul was arrested in Rome because of his Christian faith, he was chained to a Roman soldier. The Roman Emperor believed that by keeping Paul out of circulation he could stop the spread of the Gospel, but God overruled his plan. As each soldier took his turn guarding Paul, Paul would share the Good News about Jesus with him and by doing this God was able to infiltrate the very household of Caesar, because when Paul wrote to the Philippian believers from his prison in Rome he said, “All the believers in Caesar’s household greet you.”

Ill. When Mao Tse Tung and the communist party came to power in China in the 1940s he was determined to stamp out every vestage of religion in China and to some degree he managed to do that. He also introduced a single language for the whole country – simplified Mandarin. But God used Mao’s atheistic shemes for His purposes. Mao’s policies created a spiritual vacuum in the lives of the Chinese people to such a degree that the church in China is one of the fastest growing in the world today and with the one language being spoken by all, it has made it that much easier and cheaper to distribute the Bible throughout China.

Ill. Jacob Deshazer was an American pilot during the 2nd Word War and he flew in bombing raids over Japan. Jacobs’s plane was shot down and he taken prisoner by the Japanese. Most of the men in the camp died from physical abuse and starvation but somehow Jacob survived. At the end of the war when the camp was liberated Jacobs’s emaciated body weighed barely 45 kilos. Jacob refused to become bitter and resentful towards the Japanese because of the atrocities inflicted on him and his fellow prisoners. Instead Jacob returned to the US and prepared himself to go back to Japan as a missionary. A few years later Jacob returned to Japan bringing the Good News of Jesus with him and the very person he brought to Jesus was one of the prison guards who had treated him so brutally.

Here again God was able to use a very tragic situation for His greater purposes.

The whole story of the cross and resurrection is the story of how God overruled the evil purposes of Satan and men to bring hope and forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who comes to Him through trusting in Jesus.

It doesn’t matter how tragic or difficult your circumstances are, God is far, far bigger than them and He is able to work through them, with them and in spite of them for His greater purposes.

It may be this morning that you have been focussing on your difficult circumstances and becoming more anxious and discouraged. Isn’t it time to hand them over to God and keep your eyes on Him and trust Him with them? He who turned the horror of the cross into the glory of resurrection can do the same with your circumstances.

God will make a way