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John 19:38-42

38. After these things, Joseph of Arimathen (who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, through fear of the Jews) besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave. He came, then, and took the body of Jesus. 39. And Nicodemus, also, (who at first came to Jesus by night,) came bearing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40. Then they took the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41. And in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden there was a new sepulcher, in which no person had yet been laid. 42. There they laid Jesus, therefore, on account of the preparation of the Jews; for the sepulcher was near at hand.

 

38. Joseph of Arimathea besought Pilate. John now relates by whom, and in what place, and with what magnificence, Christ was buried. He mentions two persons who buried Christ; namely, Joseph and Nicodemus, the former of whom requested Pilate to give him the dead body, which otherwise would have been exposed to the lawless violence of the soldiers. Matthew (Matthew 27:57) says, that he was a rich man, and Luke (Luke 23:50) says, that he was a counsellor; that is, he held the rank of a senator. As to Nicodemus, we have seen, in the Third Chapter of this Gospel, that he held an honorable rank among his own countrymen; and that he was also rich, may be easily inferred from the great expense which he laid out in procuring this mixture.

Till now, therefore, riches had prevented them from professing to be the disciples of Christ, and might afterwards have no less influence in keeping them from making a profession so much hated and abhorred. The Evangelist expressly says, that Joseph has formerly been kept back by this fear from venturing to declare openly that he was a disciple of Christ; and as to Nicodemus, he repeats what we have already seen, that he came to Jesus secretly, and by night, (John 3:2 and John 7:50.) Whence, therefore, do they derive such heroic magnanimity that, when affairs are at the lowest ebb, they fearlessly come forth to public view? I say nothing of the great and evident danger which they must have incurred; but the most important point is, that they did not scruple to place themselves in a state of perpetual warfare with their own nation. It is therefore certain that this was effected by a heavenly impulse, so that they who, through, fear, did not render the honor due to him while he was alive, now run to his dead body, as if they had become new men.

They bring their spices to embalm the body of Christ; but they would never have done so, if they had been perfumed with the sweet sayour of his death. This shows the truth of what Christ had said,

Unless a grain of corn die, it remaineth alone;
but when it is dead, it bringeth forth much fruit,
(John 12:24.)

For here we have a striking proof that his death was more quickening than his life; and so great was the efficacy of that sweet sayour which the death of Christ conveyed to the minds of those two men, that it quickly extinguished all the passions belonging to the flesh. So long as ambition and the love of money reigned in thenb the grace of Christ had no charms for them; but now they begin to disrelish the whole world.

Besides, let us learn that their example points out to us what we owe to Christ. Those two men, as a testimony of their faith, not only took down Christ from the cross with great hazard, but boldly carried him to the grave. Our slothfulness will be base and shameful if, now that he reigns in the heavenly glory, we withhold from him the confession of our faith. So much the less excusable is the wickedness of those who, though they now deny Christ by base hypocrisy, plead in his behalf the example of Nicodemus. In one thing, I admit, they resemble him, that they endeavor, as far as lies in their power, to bury Christ; but the time for burying is past, since he hath ascended to the right hand of the Father, that he may reign gloriously over angels and men, and that every tongue may proclaim his dominion, (Philippians 2:9, 10.)

Secretly, through fear of the Jews. As this fear is contrasted with the holy boldness which the Spirit of the Lord wrought in the heart of Joseph, there is reason to believe that it was not free from blame. Not that all fear, by which believers guard against tyrants and enemies of the Church, is faulty, but because the weakness of faith is manifested, whenever the confession of faith is withheld through fear. We ought always to consider what the Lord commands, and how far he bids us advance. He who stops in the middle of the course shows that he does not trust in God, and he who sets a higher value on his own life than on the command of God is without excuse.

Who was a disciple of Jesus. When we perceive that the Evangelist bestows on Joseph the honorable designation of a disciple, at a time when he was excessively timid, and did not venture to profess his faith before the world, we learn from it how graciously God acts towards his people, and with what fatherly kindness he forgives their offenses. And yet the false Nicodemites have no right to flatter themselves, who not only keep their faith concealed within their own breast, but, by pretending to give their consent to wicked superstitions, do all that is in their power to deny that they are disciples of Christ.

40. As the custom of the Jews is to bury. When Christ had endured extreme ignominy on the cross, God determined that his burial should be honourable, that it might serve as a preparation for the glory of his resurrection. The money expended on it by Nicodemus and Joseph is very great, and may be thought by some to be superfluous; but we ought to consider the design of God, who even led them, by his Spirit, to render this honor to his own Son, that, by the sweet savor of his grave he might take away our dread of the cross. But those things which are cut of the ordinary course ought not to be regarded as an example.

Besides, the Evangelist expressly states that he was buried according to the custom of the Jews. By these words he informs us that this was one of the ceremonies of the Law; for the ancient people, who did not receive so clear a statement of the resurrection, and who had not such a demonstration and pledge of it as we have in Christ, needed such aids to support them, that they might firmly believe and expect the coming of the Mediator 190190     “Lt, venue du Messias;” — “the coming of the Messiah.” We ought, therefore, to attend to the distinction between us, who have been enlightened by the brightness of the Gospel, and the rather, to whom the figures supplied the absence of Christ. This is the reason why allowance could then be made for a greater pomp of ceremonies, which, at the present day, would not be free from blame; for those who now bury the dead at so great an expense do not, strictly speaking, bury dead men, but rather, as far as lies in their power, draw down from heaven Christ himself, the King of life, and lay him in the tomb, for his glorious resurrection 191191     “Sa resurrection glorieuse.” abolished those ancient ceremonies.

Among the heathen, too, there was great anxiety and ceremony in burying the dead, which unquestionably derived its origin from the ancient Fathers of the Jews, 192192     “Des Peres anciens des Juifs.” in the same manner as sacrifices; but, as no hope of the resurrection existed along them, they were not imitators of the Fathers, but apes of them; for the promise and word of God is, as it were, the soul, which gives life to ceremonies. Take away the word, and all the ceremonies which men observe, though outwardly they may resemble the worship of godly persons, is nothing else than foolish or mad superstition. For our part, as we have said, we ought now to maintain sobriety and moderation in this matter, for immoderate expense quenches the sweet savour of Christ’s resurrection.

41. Now, in the place where he was crucified there was a garden. This is the third point, as I have said, which ought to be observed in the history of the burial. It is related by the Evangelist for various reasons. In the first place, it did not happen by accident, but by an undoubted providence of God, that the body of Christ was buried in a new sepulchre; for although he died as all other men die, still, as he was to be the first-born from the dead, (Colossians 1:18,) and the first-fruits of them that rise, (1 Corinthians 15:20) he had a new sepulcher, in which no person had ever been laid True, Nicodemus and Joseph had a different object in view; for, in consequence of the short time that now remained till sunset, which was the commencement of the Sabbath, they looked to the convenience of the place, but, contrary to their intention God provided for his own Son a sepulchre which had not yet been used. The good men are merely gratified by the place being near at hand, that they might not violate the Sabbath; but God offers them what they did not seek, that the burial of his Son might have some token to distinguish him from the rank of other men. The local situation served also to prove the truth of his resurrection, and to throw no small light on the narrative which is contained in the following chapter.


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