Being 61 years old, and having spent half my life in ministry, I have attended, participated, and led my share of funerals. Some were joyous celebrations while others were somber affairs. Some were well-planned while others appeared disorganized and disjointed.
In January 2008, I was in the thriving metropolis of Flagler, CO, (population 567 people) for my aunt Charity’s memorial service. Flagler lies ninety miles east of Denver near the Kansas border. Charity had passed away in AL and her ashes would be placed in the family plot at Flagler.
I flew into Denver, met my cousin, Janet, and together we headed east to Flagler. As I walked through the cemetery, I noted the grave markers listing the names of some of my relatives and ancestors. It appeared to me that the hole for my aunt’s urn was near the wrong headstone. But then again, I’m a city boy, so what do I know? As the workers encouraged us to head for the church, we learned that they had indeed dug the hole in the wrong location.
Joseph of Arimathea wanted to make sure no such mistakes were made when Jesus Christ died (Mark 15:42-47). He took control of the situation to ensure that Jesus was properly buried. In so doing, he provided us with a model of how a follower of Jesus acts. Based on his example, a disciple of Jesus Christ looks for where God is at work, takes a courageous stand for their faith, and demonstrates their devotion to Jesus.
The death of Jesus occurred at 3:00PM on Friday (Mark 15:34-37). Normally, a crucified criminal was allowed to remain on the cross for several days. Jewish law, however, required that the body be buried before sundown (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Since the Sabbath began at 6:00PM, and no work could be done on the Sabbath, there was a sense of urgency to bury Jesus.
The apostle Paul states that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus were matters of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Some, however, dismiss the idea of the resurrection by saying that Jesus did not die. He simply passed out on the cross and was later revived in the coolness of the tomb.
If you examine the facts, the death of Jesus was attested by:
- Joseph of Arimathea (43) – Joseph asked for permission to bury the body of Jesus. He recognized that he was dead.
- A Roman Centurion (44-45) – Pilate quizzed the Roman Centurion who was in charge of the execution. He attested that Jesus was dead.
- Pilate (44-45) – Pilate released the body to Joseph, again attesting to the fact that Jesus was dead. The word used for “body” (45) is the word for “corpse.”
- Jesus’ burial (46) – Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body and buried him in the tomb. You do not bury people who are living. You bury dead people.
- Mary Magdalene & Mary, the mother of Joses (47) – The two Mary’s witnessed the burial and knew the location of the tomb.
The historicity of the death of Jesus is firm. The early church would not have invented a story about Jesus being buried by a Jewish leader, who at most was a secret disciple, rather than his family or close disciples. Nor would invention have made women the chief witnesses of the event.
Seeing as there is little doubt about the death and burial of Jesus, the main question in this passage revolves around who Joseph of Arimathea was. Before the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea was:
- A respected member of the Sanhedrin (43). However, he did not approve of the crucifixion (Luke 23:51), which may indicate he was not present at the trial.
- A godly man who was looking for God’s kingdom (43). He was a devout Pharisee who knew the Old Testament scriptures and expected the kingdom to come through Jesus.
- A secret follower of Jesus who was afraid of what people would think if they found out (John 19:38).
Joseph’s life was apparently transformed by Jesus’ death. Afterwards, Joseph risked everything to demonstrate his devotion to Jesus.
- He risked political suicide by asking Pilate for permission to bury the body of Jesus (43). After an execution, the body was only released to family members. Joseph, a non-family member, identifies with a man executed for treason.
- He risked economic suicide by paying for the burial out of his own pocket (46). He purchased the supplies and used his own tomb for the burial.
- He risked religious suicide. By handling a dead body, he would be unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11) which meant he could not celebrate the Passover.
My prayer is that the death of Jesus transforms us like it did Joseph of Arimathea.
- We should become disciples who look for where God is at work. Pray for eyes to see what God is doing. Live with a sense of expectation. Understand God’s plan. Join him in his work.
- We should become disciples who take a courageous stand for our faith. Counter the culture. Tell people about Jesus. Resist temptation.
- We should become disciples who demonstrate our devotion to Jesus. Study the Scriptures. Make time to pray. Serve. Live obediently.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 15, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.