Lesson 111

The Gospel of John

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away Jesus' body. Pilate gave him permission. He came therefore, and took away his body. 19:39 Nicodemus also came, he who at first came to Jesus by night, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred Roman pounds. 19:40 So they took Jesus' body, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 19:41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden. In the garden a new tomb in which no man had ever yet been laid. 19:42 Then because of the Jews' Preparation (for the tomb was near at hand) they laid Jesus there.

 Today's Lesson 

In this passage we have the hurried burial of the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Two unlikely people accomplished the preparations and burial, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus.


Joseph of Arimathaea is mentioned here in reference to the death of Jesus in all four gospels. Mark tells us that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, which would give us a common element between these two men that buried Jesus. The Sanhedrin was the ruling council of seventy elders and respected men who were, along with the chief priest, the ultimate Jewish authority in Israel. It seems that both of these men had come to believe that Jesus might well have been who He said that He was but neither of them had made an overt break with the Sanhedrin.


Joseph also seems to have been the man who donated the burial site where the body of Jesus was laid. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the tomb was Joseph's personal tomb that he had prepared for his own eventual death and confirms our Gospel that "no man had ever yet been laid" there. The Gospel of Mark tells us that Joseph was the one who rolled the stone in place when they departed.


Joseph of Arimathaea is also mentioned in British legend as the man who brought the Holy Grail to England in the legends of King Arthur. Perhaps such legends have developed because of his sudden appearance and departure in these passages. In either case, little else is truly known of Joseph and anything else that he did.


Nicodemus on the other hand is only found in this Gospel. He is last pictured here bringing and expensive mixture of myrrh and aloes to wrap the body in. Nicodemus was the member of the Sanhedrin that had come to Jesus by night and spoken with Him. He was also seen earlier trying to talk the counsel out of acting dishonorably by saying that they should question Jesus before condemning Him.


These two relative strangers buried Jesus. They were respected members of the Sanhedrin, not close followers of Jesus. Though they had sympathies toward Him, they could in no way be a part of some conspiracy to hide away His body or to disguise anything short of physical death. Their participation in His burial confirms the piercing of His side and validates His death.


So, in the end, Jesus is laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. It is hastily accomplished so that all would be completed before the sun went down and the Passover meal was to begin. The two that buried Him made another sacrifice that night that the text does not mention. Because they touched the body, they were ritually unclean and therefore could not participate in the Passover meal.


But, theirs was the greater service. For they lay to rest the Lamb of God. And though the grave would not confine Him, He was properly buried for the moment. The earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth had come to a close. He had died as a condemned criminal and a blasphemer. From the time of His arrest until His execution was less than one day. Though His suffering was intense and wholly unjustified, at least by the standards of the day it was relatively brief.


If the story were to end here, His life and teaching would not have accomplished very much. He had been deserted in the end, and had died in obscurity. There would have been no one to carry on His message. There would have been no legacy. If this were the end of the story, it would have been just another tragedy in the long and sordid history of man.


Is this all there is? Another flame that burned brightly for a moment and then is gone? If the story had ended here, would we even bother to read it today?


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