Flashback Episode — The Sabbath Rest: Matthew 27:57-66

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As we near the end of Matthew’s gospel, I debated whether to include Matthew’s passage focusing on Jesus’ crucifixion or not. As I looked at what Matthew’s gospel includes in this event, and what I want to cover for the rest of the episodes this year, I decided it makes sense to jump over the point of Jesus’ death, and look at what Matthew’ gospel tells us happened right after Jesus’ death. In the entire crucifixion record, only Matthew includes a key set of verses that sets the stage for what happens on Resurrection morning, and it makes a lot of sense in my mind to focus on these verses leading up to the resurrection.

Leading into this set of verses, Matthew draws our attention onto a previously unknown disciple, and we discover that this disciple steps into the spotlight at just the right moment in history.

Our passage for this episode is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 27, and we will read it from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 57, Matthew tells us:

57 That evening a rich disciple named Joseph from the town of Arimathea 58 went and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate gave orders for it to be given to Joseph, 59 who took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. 60 Then Joseph put the body in his own tomb that had been cut into solid rock and had never been used. He rolled a big stone against the entrance to the tomb and went away.

61 All this time Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb.

Let’s pause reading here for a brief moment because I want to emphasize something that we might not immediately see from a simple reading. When Joseph from Arimathea steps onto the scene asking for Jesus’ body and placing Jesus’ body in his own tomb, we discover that this benefits everyone. This benefits Jesus’ disciples, the women who followed Jesus, and even the religious leaders. If no one had claimed Jesus’ body, it would have been thrown into the trash hole with all the other bodies to be buried or burned.

Joseph, while described as a disciple in this passage, steps into history at just the right moment as a neutral party with just what everyone in this event needs. Everyone needs a place for Jesus’ body to lay and a place that is clearly defined.

Most of the gospels include this detail, but what Matthew tells us next is fascinating and unique to his gospel. Continuing in verse 62, Matthew tells us:

62 On the next day, which was a Sabbath, the chief priests and the Pharisees went together to Pilate. 63 They said, “Sir, we remember what that liar said while he was still alive. He claimed that in three days he would come back from death. 64 So please order the tomb to be carefully guarded for three days. If you don’t, his disciples may come and steal his body. They will tell the people that he has been raised to life, and this last lie will be worse than the first one.”

65 Pilate said to them, “All right, take some of your soldiers and guard the tomb as well as you know how.” 66 So they sealed it tight and placed soldiers there to guard it.

On this Sabbath day, when the Pharisees and chief priests should have been resting, they were clearly worried about Jesus. It is amazing to think that while these leaders call Jesus a liar, they actually took His words about being raised seriously and are scared of the consequences if something should happen to His body.

It is almost funny to think that those most concerned about the protection of Jesus’ body in this entire event are the people who called Jesus a liar and the ones who put Him to death. While some of the disciples and the women who followed Jesus wanted access to His body to prepare it for burial, only the religious leaders were worried about the body disappearing.

In their attempts to keep Jesus’ body secure, the religious leaders actually place the most valid witnesses present at the tomb for the greatest event in history. While these soldiers appeared to be bribable, they were witnesses everyone could believe – that is except for the story the religious leaders try to bribe them to tell. The lie we will learn about in the next episode is less believable than the truth.

The last section of this passage is also fascinating in my mind. Pilate agrees to the religious leaders’ request. He tells the religious leaders to take their own guards and seal the tomb as well as they know how. The way Pilate frames this request is interesting in my mind. While traditional thought would believe Pilate loaned some of his own soldiers to the religious leaders, the way this translation of Matthew’s gospel frames this event, it is possible that Pilate told the religious leaders to use their own guards and to do the best they could.

It is interesting that Matthew frames Pilate’s message in this way because when we look a little later, it seems that these guards are both under the religious leaders command but also answerable to Pilate the governor. It is likely that with how Pilate frames this message that many of these guards at the tomb were among the mob that arrested Jesus and were present throughout His trial, beating, abuse, and crucifixion.

If the mob that came to arrest Jesus in the night scattered Jesus’ disciples, they were the perfect people to use to keep Jesus’ disciples away from the tomb.

The way Pilate frames his last statement is also interesting because it leaves open the subtle belief that the religious leaders were powerless to stop Jesus from doing what Jesus was going to do. While the religious leaders call Jesus a liar, they openly tell Pilate that Jesus predicted His own resurrection, and I think Pilate likely believed Jesus’ prediction over the Pharisee’s description.

All the plotting, worrying, and conspiring to keep Jesus’ body secure is actually a side story on this Sabbath Jesus was resting in the tomb. The bigger, amazing, massive, and also ignored significance of this Sabbath is that it marks the finished work of salvation. This Sabbath mirrors the Sabbath that was blessed and sanctified at the conclusion of creation week, and this Sabbath is forever significant as the point in History Jesus rested from His work of Salvation.

While Jesus has more to do for all of God’s people, Jesus gets a day of rest following the biggest event in the history of the universe, and the most significant event in our salvation story!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first and choose to accept Jesus as your Savior and accept the gift He gives to each of us that was purchased with His life. Don’t discount what Jesus did for each of us on the cross as something that was insignificant as I have seen some people do. Instead, take this event and study it to discover just how much God loves you and me!

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to grow a personal relationship with God. Choose to spend time praying and studying to grow personally closer to God and to fall in love with Him like He has fallen in love with you. Discover in the pages of the Bible, a God who gives us Himself because He wants to be with you, me, and everyone in history who is willing to accept His gift for eternity!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or discount and abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year in Matthew – Episode 48: After Jesus had been crucified, discover what Matthew tells us about the Sabbath Jesus rested in the tomb, and how this event sets the stage for Jesus’ resurrection the following morning.

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