Joseph Saves Easter: Matthew 27:57-66

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Following Jesus’ death on the cross, a previously unknown follower of Jesus steps onto the scene. The gospel of Matthew tells us three key details about the man known as Joseph of Arimathea, but while we don’t know many more details about this disciple, the role he plays when finally entering the gospel story is incredibly significant.

All four gospels share about Joseph, and John even goes the extra step in his gospel of including another secret disciple, Nicodemus, in his narrative.

However, instead of focusing in on what John describes, Matthew’s gospel includes a unique interlude event between Jesus’ death and resurrection, and for this reason, we will look at Matthew’s gospel for this podcast episode. Our event can be found in Matthew, chapter 27, and we will be reading from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. 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 to draw our attention onto a couple of interesting details. This is the part of our event that all four gospel writers include, and we really only are given three relevant details about Joseph, the previously unknown disciple of Jesus.

The first detail I will mention is perhaps the least relevant to us living today. This detail is that Joseph was from Arimathea. Perhaps this was significant to people living in the region during the first century, but for our discussion happening 2,000 years later, this detail is less significant.

The second detail, which comes a couple verses later was that Joseph owned a tomb that had never been used. This detail is significant because it was where he planned on burying Jesus’ body. In essence, Joseph planned on donating his tomb to Jesus. Whether Joseph believed Jesus would come back to life in a few days, or whether he was willing to give up his planned final resting place for Jesus to use, we see a unique but relevant gift to God in Joseph of Arimathea’s gift of a tomb.

The third detail is that Joseph was rich. This detail would be irrelevant except that the fact he is introduced as being rich either implies that his wealth bought him influence with those in power in Judea, or that a portion of his riches were used to buy Jesus’ body from Pilate.

While all the gospel writers imply that Joseph simply asked for Jesus’ body, it would be irrelevant information to describe him as rich unless his riches were important to the narrative. I wonder if some of the Jewish leaders were upset with themselves at not asking for Jesus’ body for themselves. While the request from anyone would have been considered out of the ordinary, Jesus’ enemies would have had ample reason for requesting Jesus’ body as Matthew soon points out.

Matthew, as well as several of the other gospels, point out that some women watched everything that happened, and while this is a side-note for our passage here, this detail becomes very relevant on resurrection morning.

After sharing the details about the women watching Joseph of Arimathea burying Jesus, Matthew goes on to describe something that none of the other gospels share. Picking back up in verse 62, Matthew tells that:

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.

These details are incredibly significant for us to pay attention to. Nowhere in any of the gospels is the idea even hinted that the disciples were planning on stealing the body to spread a lie that Jesus rose again. This concern originated directly with the chief priests and Pharisees.

This is important for us to pay attention to for two reasons. The first is that the religious leaders set themselves up for depending on this lie even when it could be easily disproved. Because they craft this lie before anything has even happened which might warrant them using it, they blind themselves to the possibility that there would be a much better story they could spread. While a resurrected Jesus is hard to believe, so is a group of soldiers sleeping on the job while what they are guarding gets stolen from behind a sealed heavy stone. Equally unbelievable is a group of untrained men overpowering a band of highly skilled soldiers.

But the second reason we should pay attention to Matthew’s event is much more significant than the first. The only reason there were guards at the tomb and not disciples was because the Jewish leaders had more faith in Jesus’ words than even Jesus’ followers had. The religious leaders paid attention to Jesus’ message about being resurrected on the third day, while it would seem that either the disciples missed this message entirely, or they had dismissed it because of their preconceived ideas about who the Messiah would be.

Roman guards posted at the tomb, while posted there at the demands of the Jewish leaders, become the most valid testimony of a resurrected Jesus that could have been asked for. If the guards wouldn’t have been present at the tomb, then no one would have witnessed the resurrection and Jesus’ disciples would have been just as confused as the religious leaders. Instead, we find a group of religious leaders with a lie premade for their worst possible fear, and a group of followers who are confused when learning about an empty tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea’s gift was perfectly timed because it gave everyone the ability to track where Jesus was at, and the fact that He was resurrected. Had Jesus’ body simply been thrown into the dump of bodies or into the trash heap to be burned, there would have been no way to prove or disprove a resurrection because no one would have known where the original body lay.

The gift Joseph gives Jesus saves the Easter story, because it gave the followers of Jesus – women included – a place to look for Jesus at, it gave the Jewish leaders a place to seal and watch closely, and it gave the Roman soldiers a clear place to guard. Joseph’s gift led a group of Roman soldiers into being the first witnesses of a resurrected Jewish Messiah – and perhaps some of these soldiers were among those who beat and mocked Jesus just days earlier.

We have been forgiven because of what happened on Calvary, but it is up to us to accept the forgiveness God offers, and place our trust, hope, and belief in Jesus for our ultimate salvation.

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

Accept God’s forgiveness and seek Him first in your life each day.

Choose to intentionally and prayerfully study the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God and to help develop a better understanding of who He is and what He is like.

And as I always end every set of challenges by saying, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 48: Cam discusses Joseph from Arimathea and what we can learn about this previously unknown, unnamed disciple, and how his gift saved Easter.

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