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The Burial of Jesus

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.


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Matthew 27:57. And when the evening was come. Let it be understood that Joseph did not come in the dusk of the evening, but before sunset, that he might perform this office of kindness to his Master, without violating the Sabbath; for the Sabbath commenced in the evening, and therefore it was necessary that Christ should be laid in the grave before night came on. Now from the time that Christ died until the Sabbath began to be observed, there were three free days. And though John does not mention Joseph only, but joins Nicodemus as his companion, (19:39;) yet as he alone undertook the business at first, and as Nicodemus did no more than follow and join him, the three: Evangelists satisfied themselves with relating in a brief narrative what was done by Joseph alone.

Now though this affection of Joseph deserved uncommon praise, still we ought first to consider the providence of God, in subduing a man of high and honorable rank among his countrymen, to wipe away the reproach of the cross by the honor of burial. And, indeed, as he exposed himself to the dislike and hatred of the whole nation, and to great dangers, there can be no doubt that this singular courage arose from a secret movement of the Spirit; for though he had formerly been one of Christ’s disciples, yet he had never ventured to make a frank and open profession of his faith. When the death of Christ now presents to him a spectacle full of despair, and fitted to break the strongest minds, how comes he suddenly to acquire such noble courage that, amidst the greatest terrors, he feels no dread, and hesitates not to advance farther than he had ever done, when all was in peace? Let us know then that, when the Son of God was buried by the hand of Joseph, it was the work of God.

To the same purpose must also be referred the circumstances which are here detailed. Joseph’s piety and integrity of life are commended, that in the servant of God we may learn to recognize the work of God. The Evangelists relate that he was rich, in order to inform us that his amazing magnanimity of mind enabled him to rise superior to the obstruction which would otherwise have compelled him to retire. For rich men, being naturally proud, find nothing more difficult than to expose themselves voluntarily to the contempt of the people. Now we know how mean and disgraceful an act it was to receive from the hand of the executioner the body of a crucified man. Besides, as men devoted to riches are wont to avoid everything fitted to excite prejudice, the more eminent he was for wealth, the more cautious and timid he would have been, unless a holy boldness 295295     “Une saincte hardiesse.” had been imparted to him from heaven. The dignity of his rank is likewise mentioned, that he was a counselor, or senator, that in this respect also the power of God may be displayed; for it was not one of the lowest of the people that was employed to bury the body of Christ in haste and in concealment, but from a high rank of honor he was raised up to discharge this office. For the less credible it was that such an office of kindness should be performed towards Christ, the more clearly did it appear that the whole of this transaction was regulated by the purpose and hand of God.

We are taught by this example, that the rich are so far from being excusable, when they deprive Christ of the honor due to him: that they must be held to be doubly criminal, for turning into obstructions those circumstances which ought to have been excitements to activity. It is too frequent and customary, I acknowledge, for those who think themselves superior to others, to withdraw from the yoke, and to become soft and effeminate through excessive timidity and solicitude about their affairs. But we ought to view it in a totally different light; for if riches and honors do not aid us in the worship of God, we utterly abuse them. The present occurrence shows how easy it is for God to correct wicked fears by hindering us from doing our duty; since formerly Joseph did not venture to make an open profession of being a disciple of Christ, when matters were doubtful, but now, when the rage of enemies is at its height, and when their cruelty abounds, he gathers courage, and does not hesitate to incur manifest danger. We see then how the Lord in a moment forms the hearts to new feelings, and raises up by a spirit of fortitude those who had previously fainted. But if, through a holy desire to honor Christ, Joseph assumed such courage, while Christ was hanging on the cross, woe to our slothfulness, 296296     “Mandite soit nostre lascheté;” — “accursed be our sloth.” if, now that he has risen from the dead, an equal zeal, at least, to glorify him do not burn in our hearts.

Matthew 27:59. And having taken the body. The three Evangelists glance briefly at the burial; and therefore they say nothing about the aromatic ointments which John alone mentions, (19:39) only they relate that Joseph purchased a clean linen cloth; from which we infer, that Christ was honorably buried. And, indeed, there could be no doubt that a rich man, when he gave up his sepulcher to our Lord, made provision also, in other respects, for suitable magnificence and splendor. And this, too, was brought about by the secret providence of God, rather than by the premeditated design of men, that a new sepulcher, in which no man had ever yet been laid, was obtained by our Lord, who is the first-born from the dead, (Colossians 1:18,) and the first-fruits of them that rise, (1 Corinthians 15:20.) God intended, therefore, by this Mark to distinguish his Son from the remainder of the human race, and to point out by the sepulcher itself his newness of life.

61. And Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, were there. Matthew and Mark relate only that the women looked at what was done, and marked the place where the body was laid. But Luke states, at the same time, their resolution, which was, that they returned to the city, and prepared spices and ointments, that two days afterwards they might render due honor to the burial. Hence we learn that their minds were filled with a better odor, which the Lord breathed into his death, that he might bring them to his grave, and exalt them higher.




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