Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
-- John 19:41-42
Unusual funerals abound in our world. In preparing for one of my first funerals as a pastor, I visited with a terminally ill woman, a sweet but poor lady named Maude, and asked her if there was anything specific she wanted me to say at her memorial service. "Tell them I died rich," she said, "with gold in my teeth, silver in my hair, and gas in my stomach."
Jesus' funeral was unusual, of course, as the God-man is the most unusual man to ever walk with man. It was no joke and no lighthearted atmosphere, though. There was a coroner, actually a rough bunch of coroners, who pronounced death. There were morticians, two of them, from very surprising backgrounds. There were mourners, at least from a distance, whose tears would flow for three days.
The coroner confirmed Jesus' death, and believed. Four Roman soldiers and a centurion carried out the death sentence of Jesus Christ. It was their job to serve as coroners, too, confirming the actual, physical death, so that burial could be arranged. Their method for this, like everything else about crucifixion, was brutal and cruel. To add cruel insult to fatal injury, they stabbed His side with a spear. "Sorrow and love flow mingled down" according to Isaac Watts, "blood and water" according to John. Christ's death offered a new birth of belief.
John recorded all of this to promote faith in Christ and true Christianity. He says he recorded this episode "that you may also believe" (vs. 35). Indeed, this is the purpose of the whole Gospel (ref. 20:30-31). Surprisingly, at least one of the coroners did. John does not record his profession of faith explicitly, but you can read about it in Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39, and Luke 23:47. When the coroners' work was done, the time came to turn Jesus' body over to the undertakers.
The morticians buried Jesus in the tomb, and believed. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus make for an odd couple. Joseph was wealthy and a member of the Sanhedrin, which means he was probably a Sadducee. Nicodemus was most definitely a Pharisee. Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed on almost everything, except their joint jealousy of Jesus Christ.
At some point, however, they had come to believe in Jesus, but kept their Christian identity secret among "the Jews" up until this moment. I do not believe these two believers were cowards, they were more like spies embedded in Judaism until Christianity could take over. When Jesus said, "It is finished," they began professing, publicly, their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Joseph and Nicodemus knew Scripture well, and it is the word of God and the Spirit of God that causes a child of God to receive the Son of God as Lord and Savior. These Hebrew experts knew the swan song of Psalm 22 and the servant song of Isaiah 53, and watched Jesus perfectly sing them both. Then came the spear, taking the two back to Zechariah 12:10. It was then the men walked out in the open with their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, asked Pilate for Jesus' body, applied the proper burial ritual, and laid Him in the tomb.
The mourners wept for Jesus from a distance, and believed. John, Mary mother of Jesus, and other women, kept near the cross as Jesus died. Surely they watched from a distance as Joseph and Nicodemus buried Him. The other Gospels attest to it. Besides, they had to know where to return after the Sabbath, on the first day of the week.
For mother Mary, however, another memory must have resurfaced about the sword that pierced the deceased Jesus' side. When Jesus was born and brought to Jerusalem for consecration, Mary was met by a prophet named Simeon. He had good news, a confirmation of Jesus as the promised Messiah. But veiled within this good news was some bad news, too. Simeon told Mary there would be terrible opposition to Jesus, then said, "and a sword will pierce through your own soul also." Jesus' death proved He is the Messiah of the Jews, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all heaven and earth.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]