God’s Providence in Christ’s Burial

Selected Scriptures

As we come to thinking about the Resurrection of our Lord this morning, this will make Resurrection Sunday number 52 for me here at Grace Church. And there’s no shortage of ways to approach the Resurrection of our Lord, so I’m thrilled for another opportunity.

What is often overlooked in the glories of the cross and Good Friday and the glories of the Resurrection on Sunday is what happened in between, and that is the burial of our Lord. You might think on the surface that the burial of our Lord was just a matter of necessity, just an incidental. But the fact of the matter is the burial of Jesus is as supernatural as everything else around His redemptive work on that weekend two thousand years ago. And the burial of Jesus is so significant that the four gospels speak of it in detail, in order to paint a picture of the fact that even the burial of Christ is magnificently supernatural.

The reality is that from the moment Jesus’ suffering ended in death and He yielded up His spirit to the Father, entered paradise and the divine presence alive, God controlled every detail of His burial. The Father, you might say, ran the funeral of the Son. The divine, preplanned, prophesied, and powerfully executed features of His burial are more strong evidence for the divine purpose in history, for the veracity of Scripture, for the deity of Christ, for the sovereignty of God over all events and all persons. But the burial of Jesus gets overlooked, and something profound is lost in that case. In fact, understanding His burial will elevate your confidence in everything else about that weekend, His death, and His Resurrection. It will elevate your confidence in the Scripture and in the sovereign power of God.

Now throughout history God operates basically supernaturally in two ways. One is by miracles: Rarely, but on occasion, certainly as recorded in the Scripture, God does a miracle, and a miracle suspends natural law. God steps into life, natural law, suspends it, and then sustains that suspension for as long as He desires to operate supernaturally; and then sets things back in their normal order. It is a supernatural, unscientific, inexplicable interruption in natural law. That’s what a miracle is. A miracle is not when you find a parking place at the mall; a miracle is the suspension of natural law and the invasion of the supernatural, so that there is no human explanation—like walking on water, like healing blind people.

But there’s another way in which God works in history, and that is through providence. Theologians call it providence. And this is much, much more common than miracles. In fact, in this age you’d look a long time before you’d ever see a miracle; likely, you will not see one at all. Miracles were reserved for very special times of revelation, as God validated those who represented Him by attending their ministry with miracles. Since everything now is measured not by the miracle ability of the preacher but by the Scripture, miracles have ceased to be a part of normal life. But what has not ceased is providence. And providence is much more powerful an expression of God’s sovereignty than even a miracle.

For God to interrupt natural law and do something supernatural takes one act. But for God constantly, day in and day out, hour in and hour out, minute in and minute out, throughout all of human history, without interruption, without suspension, to accomplish exactly His own purposes through the events and personal behaviors of His creatures, so that everything when brought together does nothing but accomplish exactly what He intends, is too staggering to even comprehend. All the free behaviors of people, generated by an infinite number of inexplicable attitudes, motives, choices, actions, and reactions, God weaves together meticulously to fulfill His will perfectly—a far greater display of wisdom and power than a miracle. The constant, astounding wisdom and power of God in providence operates all the time, every millisecond, and is seen dramatically in the amazing divine control exhibited throughout all of human history—and certainly manifests itself in the burial of the Lord Jesus.

Now to give you the full story, I need to include all four gospels, so that’s what we’re going to do this morning. We’re going to see what the gospels tell us about the burial of Jesus—that is significant. We’re going to look at the burial from the vantage point of the indifferent soldiers, and then we’re going to look at the burial from the vantage point of the loving saints, and then we’re going to look at the burial of Jesus from the vantage point of the apostate spiritual leaders. So we’re going to get three perspectives on the burial of our Lord, and we’ll see the providence of God at work.

First of all, divine providence in the action of the indifferent soldiers. You can turn now in your Bible to John 19, John 19, and we will begin at verse 30. John 19, verse 30. This is, as you know, the final statement of our Lord before He bows His head. “When He had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit,” having also said, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.” Then in verse 31 we pick up the subject for this morning: “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man,” first thief, “and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced.’”

Normally, death is a surprise—at least the very moment of death. Normally, the person dying is not in control of that moment. But Jesus was in control of the moment of His death. He said, “It is finished! Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit,” and He gave up His life. Back in the tenth chapter of John, He said, “No one takes My life from Me; I lay it down of Myself.” And by the way, Revelation 1:18 says of Him He has “the keys of death.” He could unlock death even for Himself, anytime He chose.

He gave up His own life sooner than normal. It was not necessarily the average, but typically people hung on a cross for two to three days. He was on the cross for six hours, from nine o’clock in the morning until about three o’clock in the afternoon. And the thieves crucified on each side of Him, as we just read, were still alive when He had already died—which is pretty remarkable, because He was sinless, and they were wretched and sinful, and sin just in its presence takes a toll; but at the level they engaged in, it probably took a greater toll on their physicality, whereas there was no toll of sin on the physicality of Jesus. And we would have expected Him to live a whole lot longer than one who had been burdened with the fallenness of Adam’s sin and then his own transgressions. But Jesus died before even the thieves died.

All these three men hanging in the sky that day outside Jerusalem needed to come down off the cross, and they needed to come down right then. Why? Because, as you’ll notice in verse 31, it was the day of preparation; that’s the day before the Sabbath, that’s Friday. So that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, the Jews “asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”

Why did they care whether those people were still hanging there on the Sabbath? Well, it goes back to Deuteronomy chapter 21. Let me read you a couple of verses, verses 22 and 23: “If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.” So God had given them the reality that if they had executed someone for a just cause, they didn’t leave that person hanging there until the next day.

Now this is even more significant when the next day is the Sabbath day; they did not want three bodies hanging on crosses on the Sabbath day. And this was not just any Sabbath, this was Passover. And so all three would have desecrated the Sabbath; they would have desecrated this Passover Sabbath if left on the cross, dead or alive. To leave the bodies on the cross, in the eyes of the Jewish leaders, would have been to defile the land. This is something of an insight into their hypocrisy. They didn’t want dead bodies defiling the land, even though one of those bodies belonged to the Son of God and the Messiah, whom they had sentenced to death. And by the way, they had already had a conversation with Pilate, and at some point entered his praetorium, which would have defiled them for certain by their own ceremonial tradition, to enter into any Gentile place.

They were very familiar with crucifixion, by the way. If you go back to 4 BC, the record tells us that there was a Roman general by the name of Varus. And Varus crucified two thousand Jews in the Holy Land; so they were familiar with that. And by the way, Augustus Caesar claimed to have crucified thirty thousand criminals. In fact, they were identified, at least by Augustus, as slaves. So they knew what crucifixion was, and they knew that people could linger on a cross for days.

Familiar with crucifixion, they knew the way to speed it up was pretty simple. Verse 31, they asked Pilate to give them permission to break their legs. What they would do is take a mallet and smash the femur on each leg. This is called crucifragium in the Latin. It involved smashing the femur of the victims’ legs with an iron mallet; and this gesture made death almost immediate, because the body would slump and could no longer push itself up on the nails through the feet and therefore get some breath, and they would asphyxiate rather rapidly. As well as the shock and the blood loss, the asphyxiation would take their lives very rapidly.

You’ll notice the man’s name is Pilate, who was the governor at that time, the procurator under Tiberius, for a period from about 26 to 36 AD, so through the time of the death of our Lord. So they asked if they could break those femurs so those men would die before the day previous to Sabbath was over. And again, this was the day of preparation; this is Friday, and it’s important that these bodies be down off the cross, to the Jews, before the Sabbath begins, or on Friday—and that’s important. “And that they might”—at the end of verse 31—“be taken away,” removed. “So the soldiers came,” having been given the permission, “and broke the legs of the first man and the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they didn’t break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”

Now it’s important to recognize that these Roman soldiers were executioners by trade. They knew who was dead and who wasn’t. They didn’t need an EKG. They were very familiar with death, having been involved in the crucifixion of likely thousands of people. They knew what they saw. They knew the thieves were alive, and they smashed their femurs so they would die immediately. They knew Jesus was dead, and to demonstrate that, they pierced His side with a spear. And out came blood and water; this is a mixture of blood and lymphatic fluid that could be the result of a cardiac episode. Psalm 69 has references clearly to the cross, and one of them, in verse 20, is that “reproach has broken my heart.” Could it have been that the cause of the Lord’s death was that His heart just exploded? So they found Him dead, and they didn’t break His legs.

Verse 35 then tells us that John was there, the writer, and he saw it. “And he who has seen has testified,” John meaning himself, “and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.” John is saying, “I want you to know I was there; I was an eyewitness, and Jesus was dead. Jesus was dead.” That was important, important because of two Old Testament prophecies, verse 36. The first one is from Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, and even Psalm 34: “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” If He had not been dead, they would have violated that prophecy; He would not have fulfilled that prophecy, He would not be the Messiah, and God not in control of everything. Passover lamb (and the reason I refer back to Exodus and Numbers), Passover lamb could have no broken bone—a picture of the final Lamb.

And another Scripture, verse 37, Zechariah 12:10, they shall look on Him whom they pierced. So it was prophesied that “not a bone of Him would be broken,” as is the case of the Passover lamb, and that they would look on Him—the Jews, one day in the future, Zechariah is saying—“whom they pierced.” John says, “I was there. Not a bone was broken, and He was pierced.”

So the action of not only our Lord giving up His life, but the action of the soldiers on the body of Christ, were under divine control, and authenticate the Old Testament prophecies, authenticate the messiahship of Jesus, set up the reality of His resurrection as the Son of God, and demonstrate the sovereign providence of God over every detail. All these figures—the Jews, Pilate, the soldiers, the executioners—they’re operating in a measure of freedom. They have no sense of divine Scripture, no sense of prophecy. They’re not trying to fulfill anything, they’re just doing what seemed the reasonable thing to do. But God providentially was controlling His Son’s burial, controlling every detail with regard to His body and how it was handled. He needed to be off that cross, the Jews said, because He needed to be down before Passover. But we know He needed to be down before Passover, not so He didn’t defile the Passover, but so that He would be in the grave three days: part of Friday, all of Saturday, part of Sunday. They didn’t know that they were fulfilling that prophecy or any other prophecy.

So as we come to the actual removal of the body from the cross and its placement in the tomb, I want you to turn to Mark 15, Mark 15. This is amazing. What are they going to do with the body? Jesus is dead; the Jews want Him down. If you know the story, you know that the disciples had, for the most part, fled. His mother had been put into the care of John. It was something the Romans did even for criminals, to give the body to the family if they asked. But no one in the family did. We can assume that Mary was in the care of John, and bereft.

So what’s going to happen to the body? Verse 42 of Mark 15: “When evening had already come,” which means it’s in the afternoon, “because it is the preparation day”—again it tells us this is Friday—“that is, the day before the Sabbath”—some people try to say Jesus was crucified on Wednesday or Thursday; no, it’s the day before the Sabbath. “Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.”

We go from divine providence in the action of the indifferent soldiers to divine providence in the action of loving saints. And we meet Joseph of Arimathea, and a partner that showed up—and we’ll meet him in a moment—by the name of Nicodemus, and the women. And very importantly, again, are reminded in verse 42 that it was the preparation day, the day before the Sabbath. And in the absence of anyone else coming along to take the body of Christ, if that’s how it had ended up, they would have thrown Him in Gehenna, the city dump.

This is the only appearance of this man in the New Testament, Joseph of Arimathea. His story is brief, but his story is wonderful. It’s a story of salvation. It’s the unexpected testimony of faith in Christ, set apart from the whole nation’s overt, blasphemous rejection. He’s like the thief who believed. He’s like the centurion who believed, or the other soldiers who at the cross believed. This is a soul rescued from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court made up of seventy prime, noble leaders, priests, and laypeople, and one extra, the high priest; and it was they who had procured the death of Christ. He had been on trial before them. One of them appears, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the council, a priest perhaps, the lone dissenter. Luke says this about him: “He was a good and righteous man”—same word used by the centurion to refer to Jesus: “Truly this man was righteous, this man was the Son of God.”

Two people at the cross identified as righteous: Jesus and Joseph. And Joseph was only righteous because he believed, and the righteousness of Jesus was credited to his account. One was righteous by nature: the Lord Jesus; the other was righteous by grace. There weren’t too many of these kinds of people in Israel at this time; their religion of Judaism was so apostate. There were a few. There was Zacharias and Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist; Zacharias was a priest. There was Joseph, and there was Mary. There was Simeon, and there was Anna, the two who were at the Temple when Jesus was taken there for the ceremony after His birth. Matthew says about Joseph this: “He was a disciple of Jesus.” John says, “He was a disciple of Jesus, but secret, for fear of the Jews.” He was a secret disciple.

So he, along with Zacharias and Elizabeth, and Joseph and Mary, and Simeon and Anna, is one of the remnant, I guess you could say, one of the holy seed that Isaiah wrote about, a remnant saint in an apostate nation, a believer in Jesus Christ who was then granted true righteousness. But he was not very bold; he was still struggling with fear.

This was no time for fear—cowardly until this moment. How do we know that? Well he was cowardly not only because we are told “for fear of the Jews,” he didn’t declare himself a disciple; but Luke 23:51 says, “He had not consented to the plan of action” of the Sanhedrin. And we don’t know whether he was absent, we don’t know whether he was silent, didn’t say anything; but when it came time to take a stand at the trial of Jesus, he could not consent. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say whatever he was afraid of, he overcame and he voted no, no. By then he was a believer and a disciple, and declared righteous and a good man, and had love for Christ, and is horrified by the Sanhedrin’s decision, and devastated by the death of the Messiah. And when they all agreed to Jesus’ death, the whole Sanhedrin—and that is said specifically in Matthew 27:1 and Luke 22:7, that—they all agreed, it is only Joseph who did not consent.

Who is this man? Joseph is a common name. Well he’s that Joseph—just for the sake of the church in the future—from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, Luke says. I guess there’s not an exact location for this, but it seems to be northwest of Jerusalem, somewhere between five and fifteen miles. And it is most likely the old city of Ramah, Ramah, Ramathaim-zophim [???], which was the birthplace of, for example, Samuel. So he was from a familiar place, and this is simply to identify him and sort him out from all the other Josephs—from this town, and a member of the Sanhedrin.

“He was”—I love this, verse 43—“waiting for the kingdom of God. He was waiting for the kingdom of God.” So was John the Baptist. So were Zacharias and Elizabeth. So were Joseph and Mary. So were Simeon and Anna. He’s a true believer in Yahweh. He’s a true believer in the Messiah. He’s expecting Jesus now, as Messiah, to bring the kingdom of God. But now He’s a corpse. His heart had to be broken.

Just exactly what prompted Joseph to want His body and to have the privilege of burying it? What was it? Was he motivated out of sympathy? Was he motivated out of compassion? Was he motivated out of protection so that the body of his Messiah wouldn’t be desecrated? Maybe, and surely those things are true. But was he also one who, because he was good and righteous, thought clearly, and maybe more clearly than even the disciples were thinking—and maybe believed that Jesus would rise from the dead? Certainly he acts out of love. Certainly wherever he was trying to hide and keep his discipleship secret, that was in the past, because it tells us, verse 43, “He gathered up courage”; and that means probably when the vote went on, he abstained or he sent some kind of dissenting message, but only one that would have been short of courage, let’s say.

But now he gathers up courage, and he goes to Pilate and asks for the body. He goes to Pilate? He’s not supposed to go anywhere near this Gentile. This took courage—because he’d been a secret disciple, because he’d been functioning as a prominent leader of the Sanhedrin. He went in to see Pilate. Verse 44, “Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead.”

So he went in to see Pilate, thus defiling himself on the Passover eve, by their tradition. There’s no doubt that the rest of the Sanhedrin were also asking Pilate for what they wanted, and they wanted those legs broken and those criminals down. John 19:38 says it was just after the Jews had asked Pilate to break their legs, and the soldiers went away to fulfill that request. As they exit, Joseph enters and asks for the dead body. Pilate hasn’t even received word from the soldiers as to whether Jesus is alive or dead, so he summons back the centurion, who told him that Jesus was dead. Joseph of Arimathea knew the Jews wanted Jesus and the others dead. He knew their tradition; he knew they wanted them down before sundown, down before Sabbath; so he asks for the body before Pilate knew if Jesus was even dead. Verse 45, “And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body,” ptōma in the Greek, the corpse, “to Joseph.”

This is a moment you need to stop and think about a little bit. He had now paid the price of his discipleship. He was on record publicly, openly. He had gone into the cursed presence of Pilate, defiling himself on the day before the Sabbath. He had declared himself as a follower of this dead Jesus. He now has His corpse. He loved Jesus, didn’t want His body to be dishonored. He wanted to follow any pathway that would minimize any further desecration. Some have suggested maybe he didn’t want Jesus’ legs broken. But I think what really is behind this is—and this is just because of the things that are said about this man—that he was still holding on to the hope of the resurrection. Maybe it was all true.

So many were scattered, so many were despondent. He wanted that body. What he probably never thought of was Isaiah 53:9, which says, “His grave was assigned with the wicked, but he was with a rich man in His death.” Seven hundred years before, Isaiah had said He would have been assigned to have His body thrown out with the wicked, but as it turned out, He was with a rich man in His death. His grave was planned to be with the wicked, but He was buried with a rich man.

Joseph isn’t hurrying because he’s that rich man; he doesn’t know that. He isn’t hurrying simply because he doesn’t want the body of Jesus further dishonored. He isn’t hurrying because he doesn’t want to violate the Sabbath. He may be motivated by a small amount of faith that, once buried, Jesus would rise. What is driving this man? Simply, God. He’s compelled by God. He’s being driven by God. He’s moving at a divine speed, not just to give Jesus an honorable burial, a proper burial; not just to do it all with as much dignity as could possibly be remaining for that kind of condition; but rather, he is moving on God’s time, to get Jesus in the grave on Friday—because He has to be there three days. Matthew 12:40, “The Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”; and a day and a night constituted any part of the 24 hours.

So he “took Him down” in verse 46, being compelled by God, but not even knowing it, but he put, first of all, “a linen cloth” out, then “took Him down and wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” Mark says he did it all himself. John says he took the body away himself; he carried his Savior. It’s beyond comprehension to imagine what was going through his mind as he slung the body of Jesus, the corpse of the Messiah, over his shoulder. But just imagine when the cross came down and was lying flat, and he pulled the two feet through the nails, and removed the thorns that were stuck in His head, and pulled His hands and wrists up out of the nails, and looked into the bloody face and wiped off the blood, the sweat, the tears, the dirt, wrapped Him in a linen cloth, and by himself put the Son of God on his shoulder. And by the way, the Jews did not embalm. They wrapped in strips, linen cloth, and they wrapped the entire body; and then they, between those wrappings, would sprinkle spices to minimize the stench of the decaying flesh.

Now none of the gospels say that Joseph had any spices. But John tells us they were brought by another person who just happened to show up with spices, John 19:39. Well, back to 38, just to set the stage: “Joseph of Arimathea, disciple of Jesus, secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take the body of Jesus. Pilate granted permission. He came and took away His body. Nicodemus”—familiar name, John 3, the teacher of Israel—“who came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”

Somewhere in the night as he headed for the tomb, Nicodemus showed up. Myrrh, harvested from plants, kind of fragrant, gummy rosin in powdered form. And aloe is very much the same; aloe comes from the leaves of a flowering succulent, also aromatic powder. And that much, hundred-pound weight, is a lot. That would be something for a very, very important person. So here is Nicodemus, another follower of Christ. Somewhere between John 3 and John 19, somewhere between meeting Jesus the first time and seeing His dead body, Nicodemus had become a follower of Jesus. He had been born again by the Holy Spirit.

So that takes us back to Mark 15 again, and together now they lay Jesus in the tomb. The spices are placed on Him, and He’s put in the tomb, the tomb hewn out of rock. Matthew 27:60 says it was Joseph’s own tomb. Matthew also called Joseph “a rich man.” John says—I think it’s chapter 19, verse 42—that it was very near Golgotha. And they “laid Him in a tomb,” essentially, which no one had ever been laid in. And then Joseph of Arimathea “rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” John 19:41 says this tomb was in a garden; that’s why it’s called, even today, the garden tomb.

All this, obviously, to honor Christ by loving followers. All this to prevent grave robbers from stealing—because people were buried with their valuables—even though they might not have done too well if they’d robbed Jesus’ tomb, since He really didn’t have any valuables. But they wanted to protect His body. This was the most trusting, loving, careful, honorable burial that two men could offer one they loved. But behind it was this: God was moving to be sure He was in the ground Friday before sundown, so that He would be “three days . . . in the heart of the earth.”

Now just to explain a little about this tomb. Typically tombs had shelves; they were hewn out of the rock. And they would have shelves, and they would put a body on a shelf. They’re not embalming; the body would decay somewhat rapidly, and eventually it would be a pile of bones; and they would go in and take the bones and put them in a box called an ossuary. Have you ever heard that? An ossuary. And the bones would be kept. That would have been the normal process. But this was a tomb no one had ever been in.

So what a funeral. No hymn was sung, no prayer was prayed, no sermon was preached, no eulogy was read; just a body laid there to decay. But they were fulfilling Scripture. He had been pierced, no bones had been broken, and now He had been buried in a rich man’s grave, as Isaiah said; and He would be there three days.

The opening verse confirms the Friday burial, “the preparation day,” verse 42, “the day before the Sabbath.” Verse 47 then closes out Mark’s record in this chapter: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.” Apparently they were following Joseph of Arimathea. Remember, they’d been standing at the cross, and then they backed up and they were farther away. Luke adds Joanna and some others. The disciples were scattered, but the women were there. Where’s Peter? Where’s the rest? They were gone. But the women were there.

Luke chapter 23 gives us the next important picture, verse 54. Again, Luke 23:54, “It was the preparation day,” it was Friday, “and the Sabbath was about to begin. Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid.” They were watching, as we read in Mark. “Then they returned” to their homes “and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” So He’s in the grave on Friday. On Sabbath, Saturday, they rest. They will not be outdone by strangers. They will add their own expressions of love by spending the last hours of Friday mixing spices to bring back to the tomb, not on the Sabbath, because they couldn’t take a journey, but on the first day, Sunday. And so chapter 24 begins that way: “On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.” They rested on the Sabbath. They were obedient to God’s Word, they honored the Sabbath. This is, by the way, the last legitimate Sabbath. From now on, we don’t worship on Saturday, we worship on Sunday, the day He rose.

So we see the action of loving saints, added to the action of indifferent soldiers, all demonstrating the action of God providentially, as He has His Son buried on Friday. And that brings us to the third group that play a role in this burial: the indifferent soldiers. And the loving saints, and then divine providence in the action of the hateful spiritual leaders. And let’s go back to where we started in reading Scripture, back to Matthew chapter 27, and we’ll wrap it up.

Matthew chapter 27, and 62 is the verse: “On the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I’m going to rise again.”’” Now wait a minute. The day after the preparation is the Sabbath. What are they doing in a Gentile house on the Sabbath? What are they doing with Pilate? Their traditions were very conveniently set aside because they’re worried.

“We remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first. Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.’ And they went and made the graves secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.” “We’re going to make sure He never comes out of that grave.” They’re going to make sure that there’s not a worse deception than the deceiver, Jesus, alive by the disciples stealing His body—so the grave was sealed.

Some people say, “Jesus wasn’t dead on the cross, and that’s why He came out of the grave.” Really? That’s impossible. The soldiers knew He was dead. Some people claim, “The women went to the wrong grave, and they went to one that was empty.” That’s not possible, because we know His body was anointed with spices. Some people say, “The disciples stole His body.” Really? They say, “Well, how could they steal His body if the Romans set a guard there?” Well, they couldn’t—so they had to bribe the soldiers.

I love this, chapter 28. Jesus is gone, tomb’s rolled away. The soldiers come into town. “The guard,” in verse 11, “report to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers.” There’s a word for this: bribery. And “you’re supposed to say this: ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’” Really? So how do you know that, if you were asleep? You’re going to have to do better than that, stupid. “And if this should come to the governor’s ears,” when you tell that stupid story, “‘we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.’ And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.” The lie proved the Resurrection.

Isaiah 46 says this: “I am God, and there is no other. I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purposes will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’” And God accomplished the burial and the raising of His Son, not only through miracle power, power of life, but through providence. God reigns. God works in every feature of everyone’s life, according to His purpose. No matter what men do or don’t do, you can take indifferent soldiers, you can take loving saints, you can take hateful spiritual leaders, and when they all mix together their acts of free choice, they will do what God wanted done.

Jesus was raised, as we read. And He said this at the end of 28: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I’m with you always, even to the end of the age.” Right at the end of this tremendous account about the Resurrection comes the Great—what?—Commission. Is Jesus alive? Then go tell.

Father, we thank You for Your Word. So many elements of it are wonderfully powerful and compelling and convicting. We thank You for such a blessed day; we could only wish that we could start all over and do it again. The joys of this day have been supreme joys. The highest joys of life, the grandest expressions of love, the sweetest levels of fellowship are all found in the corporate worship of Your redeemed church. We have endeavored in song and prayer and from the Word to lift up our God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but in particular today, to give glory to the One who raised Christ from the dead—the Father who raised Him to validate His sacrifice, the Spirit who is the source of life, and the Son Himself, who brought us life through His own Resurrection.

Thank You for filling our hearts with joy this morning; and may that transfer itself into an eagerness to go and make disciples, and let the world know the truth of the risen Christ. How desperate they are, how lost they are; this is their only hope. Use us mightily in this day to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified and risen and coming again. And for His glory we ask. Amen.

by John MacArthur

One thought on “God’s Providence in Christ’s Burial

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