Read: Matthew 27:59-66; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53-54; John 19:39-42
Holy Saturday is the seventh day of the Holy Week and many see it as the day that Jesus “rested” from His work. The last phrase uttered by Jesus on the cross was “it is finished”! His work on earth was indeed finished as His plan to “give His life as a ransom for many” was complete! Because His work was completed on the cross, “in Him[we also] have been made complete” as the apostle Paul explains in Col. 2:10.
From the scripture standpoint, there is very little recorded about this day. The burial probably happened right at the end of Friday before the Sabbath which began after sundown. Typically, Romans were in charge of the body even after death, and their custom was to leave the body of a criminal on the cross for days to rot and be eaten by wild animals to serve as a reminder to others of what happens when a person goes against the Roman government. The Jews, however, didn’t want any bodies left up during Sabbath and especially during the season of Passover, so they had asked Pilate to have them removed. After Jesus was confirmed dead, Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, both Pharisees and secret disciples of Jesus, (John 19:38) went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, in order to give Him a proper burial. It’s remarkable that the fate of even the executed corpse was in Pilate’s hands. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead according to Mark 15:44 because usually, crucifixion was a long, agonizing death, yet Jesus was dead in a few hours. His death was confirmed, however, by careful examination of eyewitnesses (John 19:31-36), and Pilate gave his permission. No doubt, the removal of Jesus’ body was a physical and emotional experience for Joseph and Nicodemus. The Bible says that they wrapped the body in strips of linen with seventy five pounds of spices (myrrh and aloe) which was the burial custom of the Jews. Before they could wrap the body, it would need to be prepared. This means that all of the foreign matter would have to be removed from the body, and then it would be washed. Preparing the bloodied and bruised body of Jesus knowing He was innocent must have been difficult for these men who didn’t follow Christ openly while He was alive. Yet, they are the ones who take care of his body, and the disciples, who were always by His side during His earthly ministry were no where to be found. I daresay that there were other Pharisees who believed in Jesus in secret – and many more will definitely believe after tomorrow!
Jesus’ burial is an important part of the gospel. (I Cor. 15:3-4) References to His death, burial and resurrection will be used over and over by the disciples in the coming days. The fact that Jesus was buried in Joseph’s tomb is a fulfillment of prophecy: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9) The burial fulfills several predictions that Jesus made about Himself: (Matt. 12:40, 16:21, Mark 9:31, 10:33-34, John 2:19) His burial proves His death. Some religions and people who do not believe in the resurrection claim that Jesus didn’t really die but actually survived the crucifixion. A Roman crucifixion was not survivable but beyond that Pilate would never have given permission for His body to be taken unless he was certain, beyond any doubt, that Jesus was truly dead. Yes, Jesus died physically and His burial provides further proof.
But before we look any further into the events of this day, let’s be clear about about what Jesus was doing on this day! He is not just wrapped in the linen cloth that Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped Him in, sleeping! The gospel writer Luke describes Jesus’ final moments on the cross like this: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23: 46). This particular passage contains some important information. First, it solidifies that while Jesus’ physical body died on the cross, His spirit was very much alive! In fact, His spirit was committed into the hand of the Father which is exactly what happens when Christians die. The spirit of a person goes on living in the presence of God; absent from the body; present with the Lord ( II Cor. 5:8). Another important proof that Jesus’ spirit is still alive is found in His conversation with the thief on the cross. Jesus tells this man who recognizes that Jesus is NOT just a man in Luke 23:43, “today you will be with me in paradise”. Yes, Jesus’ work of redemption was finished on the cross, and now He awaits the Big Day!
Behind the scenes, an event that we do know happened on this day is recorded in Matthew 27:62-66. The chief priests and Pharisees pay another visit to Pilate asking for him to secure the tomb because Jesus had said that after three days He would rise, and they were worried that the disciples would steal the body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. You have to wonder what Pilate was thinking about this desperate group of religious leaders who couldn’t seem to be satisfied by anything! Pilate tells them you have a guard “go make it secure”. Not only did they set a guard but they also sealed the tomb. A quick note about the Roman guard and seal. The Roman guard was sixteen men strong governed by very strict rules. Each member covered six square feet of space. There was no sitting, leaning or sleeping allowed. If this were to happen, the guard would be beaten and burned in all his clothes and the whole unit would also be killed because of the one guard’s failings. The Roman seal placed over the tomb authenticated that the tomb was occupied and Rome stood behind the seal. All of these precautions should have given confidence to the religious leaders that this menace, Jesus, would not bother them anymore! Of course, it is almost Sunday and well, they will discover that nothing can hold Jesus down!
What were the disciples doing on this day? Mark 14:50 tells us that when Jesus was arrested, ”they all left him and fled.” In John we read that they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of being arrested. Mark indicates in 16:10 that they were mourning and weeping. All of this tells us that disciples were not walking around Jerusalem or going with life as usual. They were grieving, afraid and keeping themselves hidden for fear of being arrested because of their connections with Jesus. You can imagine their sadness. This incredible teacher that they had just spent the last three years was just killed. They had believed that He was the one who was the promised Messiah but now He is gone. Although He had told them over and over again what was going to happen (Luke 13:33; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Mark 8:31), they didn’t really understand it. Based on all of the times that Jesus had told Him that He would have to suffer and die but would then come back to life, you would think they would be excited, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting. However, there is nothing in scripture to indicate that these disciples were awaiting His resurrection. In fact, the disciples’ fear and lack of boldness after Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the reasons that we know the resurrection was real! Their radical change after the events of Sunday is a pivotal point in history!
As disciples of Jesus, what are you doing today? Since we have the benefit of scripture to follow, we should be living in anticipation. Much like advent, awaiting the birth of Christ, we should be eagerly awaiting the events that will come tomorrow, with the faith and excitement of a little child! Additionally, we can rejoice and ponder the reality of what yesterday means. His death fulfilled the wrath of a Holy God for our sins. His blood poured out offers us forgiveness once and for all. His righteousness becomes our righteousness: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” II Cor. 5:21) Today’s focus should be gratitude! Despite living in this time of uncertainty, there are many things we can be certain of because of what He accomplished on the cross! What He did for us should cause us to offer up prayers of thankfulness and praise! We have been given an amazing gift, even though we don’t deserve it! “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Today is a great day to give thanks!
The time for great celebration is just hours away!
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