December 3, 2017
I’ve shared before that the summer before Bible college, I worked at a cemetery – Greenville Memorial Gardens in Greenville, SC. My job was primarily grounds maintenance; mow the grass, trim the bushes, weed eat grave markers; but I also prepared for burials. My first week, we had an interment at the mausoleum. A mausoleum is an above-ground structure that holds coffins – I guess for people who don’t want to be buried in the ground.
Well, as the new guy, I drew the short straw to prepare the space to receive the coffin. You see, the building was concrete, and they wanted it painted – white-washed before the graveside, or in this case, mausoleum-side burial. So they took me there, unscrewed the four-corners of the marble cover, gave me a ladder, can of paint and a brush, and said climb in. I remember immediately thinking the following three things:
First, when I climbed in, I hoped they wouldn’t think it funny to replace the cover as some practical joke. Second, I was glad spiders didn’t bother me since it was covered with spider webs. So I climbed in the space, large enough to hold a coffin – hunched up, ready to paint. Which led to my third thought. The deceased was a elderly woman – her husband had preceded her in death, and was in the coffin right next to me. You understand, it was nothing personal, but I hoped he stayed dead while I was in there with him.
In our study of Mark, we arrive this morning at the burial of Jesus Christ in a sort of mausoleum. Oh, and next week, we’ll find out, He hadn’t stayed dead, when others climbed in with Him. Now, at first glance, the text may seem insignificant. His burial was kind of a rush job to get done before the Sabbath, there were no family members present, there wasn’t much of a graveside service, and to this day, no one knows for sure where He was actually buried. In fact, we might be tempted to ask the question, why so much fuss about the burial? Every gospel mentions it; Paul later would include it as part of the gospel, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” What’s so important about the burial? I invite your attention to Mark 15:40-47, let’s read the text.
Not a lot of action – some of you are thinking, no wonder it’s taken us so long to get through Mark. Here’s my question, why is the burial so important? When we speak of the gospel, why do we speak of death, burial and resurrection? Our outline will go like this:
- The Personalities Around the Burial
- The Purpose of the Burial
Let’s begin by looking at the story itself to see the different characters involved. We meet the first group in verses 40 and 41. Actually, we’re still at the cross in this scene. Jesus had just died, and the centurion gave the eulogy, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” This battle-toughened warrior – executioner – had seen the miracles surrounding the death of Christ, and the way He died, and confessed, “This was the Son of God.” Then we get to the next verse, “There were some women looking on from a distance.” Stop right there – why is this important? There have been a few unnamed women in Mark – Peter’s mother-in-law, the woman with the bleeding issue, Jairus’ daughter, the little girl Jesus raised from the dead, the Syrophoenician woman, the widow and her mite, the woman with her alabaster vial of perfume. All unnamed.
But all of a sudden, here, we meet three women by name – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome. First, I suppose we should meet these women. When Matthew gives the introduction, he writes, “Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” The sons of Zebedee were James and John, and comparing Mark, we find her name was Salome. So, we have Mary, Mary, and Salome. By the way, John also tells us that Mary, the mother of Jesus was there – so we have Mary, Mary, Mary, and Salome.
At any rate, Mark tells us these women had followed Jesus from Galilee and ministered to Him. There are two very important things I want you to see. First, they, like the disciples, had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee. They didn’t fly down, they didn’t drive, no public transportation – they walked all the way from Galilee. This suggests they were committed followers of Jesus Christ. Notice secondly, they ministered to Him – the word is diakoneo, from which we get our word, deacon. They served, they waited on Jesus. Luke 8 indicates they provided for Him from their own resources, their own private means – meaning, there was a sense in which they funded Jesus’ ministry. They’re starting to look a bit more important.
Now, we don’t know much more about them. We know nothing about Mary the mother of James and Joses – we’re not even sure who James and Joses were. Some suggest this was Mary the mother of Jesus since Jesus had brothers named James and Joses. But most agree this would be an odd way to refer to His mother Mary. Notice, Mark calls James the Less, literally, the little. Most surmise he was either smaller, younger, or perhaps he was James the son of Alpheus, and not as well known as James the son of Zebedee, the brother of John. In the end, we don’t really know.
Salome again was the mother of James and John. We know her as the one who came to Jesus in Matthew 20 and asked that her boys be granted seats of honor in the kingdom – one on Jesus’ left, one on His right.
We know Mary Magdalene was from Magdala, on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. She had been healed by Jesus who had driven seven demons from her. Church tradition made Mary Magdalene a prostitute, but there’s no biblical support for that. Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code made her the wife of Jesus and a goddess, which is of course pure heresy.
This is what I want you to know about these women: they followed Jesus from Galilee just like the disciples – just like Peter, Andrew, James, John and the rest. But there is a significant difference between them and the other disciples. We never see them arguing about who was the greatest. We never see them boasting they would follow Jesus everywhere. We never see them boasting they would never flee. But what we do see is this – they didn’t flee. Look down at verse 47, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.” And the next time we see these women is in chapter 16, verse 1, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices so they might come and anoint Him….[drop down to verses 5-7]:
5 Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.
6 And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.
7 “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’”
Here’s my point. These women were at the crucifixion. Where were the guys? Oh yeah, that’s right, they fled. They were at the burial. Where were the guys? Oh yeah, that’s right, they fled.
They were at the resurrection. Where were the guys? Oh yeah, that’s right, they were cowering in the upper room.
Do you see? I love this part of the Gospel. These women, and these women only, were at the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. And apparently, it impressed somebody, because the angel appeared to these women, only, and said to them, “Do not be amazed (or afraid); you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here! But go, tell His disciples.” And Matthew 28:9 actually says, “And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.”
These women were privileged to see the empty tomb first. They were privileged to hear from the angel first – the only ones to hear from the angel. They were privileged to see Jesus first. And they worshiped Him first. They were privileged to carry the news of the resurrection first – to the disciples. It has been rightly said, the first witnesses to the gospel – the first to share the good news, were these women. Not the disciples – not Peter, not James, not John. Mary, Mary and Salome. In fact, Bernard of Clairvaux called Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles.
So what’s so special about them? Their pursuit of Christ was consistent and unwavering. They loved Jesus, and wanted to be where He was. When Jesus hung on the cross – while all the disciples fled – they wanted to be by Jesus. When Jesus was taken down from the cross, dead – they wanted to be by Jesus. When Jesus was buried, they wanted to be by Jesus. Three days later, they wanted to be by Jesus. And as a result, Jesus was by them, and appeared to them, first.
Now, I don’t think they fully understood the gospel – I don’t think they understood the resurrection. We’ll see next week they went to the tomb to anoint His body. They were just as surprised and scared as everyone else that Jesus rose from the dead. But the point is, their love for and commitment to Jesus was unwavering. While they didn’t understand what was going on, they simply wanted to be by Jesus. They loved Him – they ministered to Him all the way from Galilee, through His death, burial, and resurrection – and He ministered the gospel to them first. Is it safe to say they were the first Christians?
Society then had a tendency to overlook women – society today has a tendency to overlook women – but don’t do it – Jesus didn’t. They loved Him – and He loved them. We have been seeing much disgusting news lately about men in power – politicians, media figures, journalists, Hollywood moguls – using their positions of power to abuse women. It is horrendous and should not be tolerated, and to be clear, will not be tolerated here. Ladies, in a world where you are marginalized, mistreated, exploited, abused, taken for granted, disrespected, Jesus, of greatest position of power, did not. Christianity elevates women in a world that devalues them.
Again, it is true women were grossly overlooked then. They were considered unreliable – not allowed to give testimony in a court of law. If you were making up a story about the resurrection – you wouldn’t have written this. You would have Jesus appear first to Peter or James or John. This would have appeared incredulous. Exactly. Because it’s not made up. And through it, Jesus elevated women. He actually had women disciples in a world when other rabbis did not.
The second group of people associated with the burial was Joseph of Arimathea, and John tells us Nicodemus as well. You’ll remember it was Friday, and the Sabbath was approaching. Not just any Sabbath – it was a High Sabbath, meaning it fell during a holy week. It was the Sabbath after the Passover. So, John tells us the Jews, likely the chief priests, approached Pilate and said, listen, Pilate, it’s against the law for bodies to hang on a cross during the Sabbath.
Actually, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “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.” They almost got it right – except for the part about Jesus not committing a sin worthy of death, He was innocent, and the law actually said, don’t let them hang on the tree all night – it really didn’t have anything to do with the Sabbath.
But, that’s okay – they were trying to be law-abiding citizens. So, they said, Pilate, would you mind just breaking their legs? You’ll remember that would keep the victims from being able to push themselves up to breathe, and death would come in a matter of minutes – Pilate, would you mind breaking their legs so we could go ahead and take them down from the cross? That’s so special – they didn’t want Jesus’ body hanging on the Sabbath, but they would crucify the Lord of the Sabbath.
So, Pilate gave the order – with a heavy, wooden mallet, they broke the legs of the two insurrectionists – and within moments, one of them was in Paradise. But, when they came to Jesus, they found Him already dead, so they didn’t break His legs – they just pierced His side with a spear. All that, John says, so the prophetic Scriptures would be fulfilled, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken,” and “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” Remember, God was in charge of the death of His Son.
Jesus was dead. So Joseph came to Pilate and asked the body be given to him. Pilate was surprised Jesus was already dead – they usually lasted longer. So Pilate called for the centurion – the executioner – to make sure Jesus was dead. He was, so Pilate granted the body to Jesus. Actually, the word in verse 45 is a specific word – it means corpse. You see, it had been determined, Jesus was dead. All that was left was the corpse. Now, who was this Joseph? He’s not mentioned before or after this story. By looking at the parallel accounts, we learn the following:
First, He was from Arimathea. We don’t know exactly where that was, likely Ramah where Samuel was born is a good guess, about twenty miles northwest of Jerusalem.
Matthew also tells us he was rich, and he had become a disciple of Jesus, although John tells us a secret disciple, for fear of the Jews. We don’t know when he became a follower – again, he’s not mentioned before the burial, or after. Luke tells us he was a good and righteous man, and Mark says he was looking for the kingdom of God. Finally, both Mark and Luke tell us he was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, and Luke says he had not consented to the action the Council had taken against Jesus.
This guy came to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Joseph, who had been a closet follower of Jesus, was secret no longer. He gathered up his courage, approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. That required courage for a couple of reasons:
First, you can be sure his career in the Sanhedrin was ruined. These were the guys – the religious leaders, who wanted to be rid of Jesus. The truth is, it costs something to be a follower of Christ – both then, and now. Not only was there the cost of a ruined career and reputation, there was physical cost in that he bought a new linen cloth, wrapped Jesus’ body in it, and laid Him in his own new tomb.
Tombs cut out of rock were expensive – they were for the richest people. Not only that, Joseph took a gamble because crucified criminals weren’t often buried. And if they were, no one else was allowed to be buried with them – which explains the new tomb. Back then, there would be a family burial cave – an opening with several places dup out of the wall to place bodies. Again, think mausoleum. (Shelf, decay, ossuary) By placing Jesus in his own tomb, Joseph was losing the opportunity to use it for himself or his family in the future. This was a costly act.
John also tells us Nicodemus, a famous teacher of the Jews, likely also a member of the Sanhedrin, helped Joseph prepare the body. You’ll remember, Nicodemus was the guy who came to Jesus by night in John 3 and Jesus explained the necessity of the new birth. Apparently, Nicodemus listened. He brought about 75 pounds of burial spices that were wrapped in the linen when Jesus was buried. Finally, they put Him in the tomb and rolled a stone in front of the entrance. Again, this was very common for rich tombs – there would have been a large stone to the side of the entrance in a channel cut out at the base of the rock. Roll the stone in front of the entrance, and the burial was complete.
Lots of attempts have been made to identify the actual burial site – about a thousand of these burial caves have been found around Jerusalem. A few shekels to almost any taxi driver in Jerusalem, and you can be taken to the site – any number of sites which claim to be the burial site of Christ. There are good reasons to believe the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the site, or perhaps the garden tomb, but in the end, we can’t be sure.
Which brings us to our second point and our conclusion – and to the question of the morning: What is the big deal about the burial? I mean, okay, He’s dead – can’t we just fast forward to the resurrection? The burial is a touching story – Joseph and all that, but there’s not a lot of action – kind of mundane – can’t we just move on? In fact, most people do that – they focus on the cross, briefly mention the burial, and speed ahead to Easter Sunday. But the gospel writers did not – why? There are at least three reasons that dwelling on the burial is important.
First, the burial proves Jesus was really dead. Look at the solid proofs which verify His death. The centurion – executioner – confirmed Jesus was dead. They even thrust a spear in His side to make sure. Then, Joseph and Nicodemus prepared His body for burial, which included wrapping it tightly with 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. Finally, they placed the body in a tomb, rolled a heavy stone in front of it, where Jesus was kept for three days. Through the years, people have tried to deny the reality of the resurrection – they’ve tried to suggest He wasn’t really dead, this was not resurrection but resuscitation; that His body was stolen, they came to the wrong tomb – all kinds of flimsy arguments to explain it away. The gospel accounts deal conclusively with all of them. The record is concrete – it clears it up, almost as if God expected the attacks. There can be no doubt, from any thinking, reasonable person, that Jesus was dead, and then alive.
I was recently given a book by a British archeologist entitled, The Final Days of Jesus, published in 2009. Try as I might, I couldn’t determine if he is a Christian, but he is a renowned archeologist of Bible lands – Israel. After writing the book, he gets to the last chapter before the conclusion, a chapter titled, How Moved the Stone? The last lines of the chapter read, “The reality is that there is no historical explanation for the empty tomb, other than if we adopt a theological one, i.e., the resurrection. I leave it up to the reader to make up his own mind.”
Secondly, the burial was important because it was a fulfillment of prophecy. Isaiah 53:9 says, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death,” What does that mean – “His grave was assigned with wicked men”? We know He died with wicked men – but how was His grave assigned with them? Crucified criminals were not normally buried – their graves usually consisted of being thrown into a common grave for criminals – sometimes exposed to the elements and wild animals. Sometimes, their corpses might be thrown on a refuse heap – a burning garbage dump. But Jesus, while assigned a criminal’s death – crucifixion, did not suffer a criminal’s burial. Rather, in fulfillment of Scripture, He was with a rich man in His death.
Finally, the third reason the burial is important is actually found in Matthew, where we meet a third cast of characters in this drama – behind the women and behind Joseph and Nicodemus. We read about them in Matthew 27:62-66.
62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate,
63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’
64 “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.”
65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.”
66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.
The chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate. You have to figure Pilate is getting tired of hearing about Jesus by now – he had washed his hands of the whole thing, but he keeps having to deal with Him. Imagine his concern in three days when he gets reports Jesus’ body is gone. They came to Pilate the day after the Preparation, that is, the preparation for the Sabbath, meaning they came on the Sabbath, and said, “Listen, this deceiver said He was going to rise from the dead in three days. If His disciples come and steal His body away, then the last deception, some supposed resurrection, will be worse than the first deception – His supposed messiahship. So, why don’t you give the order that the grave site be made secure.”
Pilate said, fine, go ahead. And so they took a guard, either Roman soldiers or their own temple police, and posted them outside the tomb. They even placed a seal at the entrance, meaning they probably poured hot wax over the crack so they’d be able to tell if anyone moved the stone. All that is important – they were trying to prevent a deception of a resurrection, and I would suggest, they did. There was no deceitful resurrection. By their actions, trying to prevent deception, they actually proved the reality of resurrection. They were there – there could be no other reasonable explanation except genuine resurrection.
So what’s so important about the burial? It is the link that proves conclusively the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.