Experiencing the Cross — Buried
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 22, 2010
Introduction Video: Watch the Lamb
1. We can live boldly for Jesus [John 19:38; Mark 15:42-43; Matthew 27:54]
2. We can live sacrificially for Jesus [John 19:39-40; Ephesians 5:1-2]
3. And even when we don't, God still provides [John 19:41-42; Romans 8:32]
“At his birth the star had known Christ, and had guided the wise men to the manger where He lay. The heavenly hosts had known Him, and had sung His praise over the plains of Bethlehem. The sea had known his voice, and had obeyed his command. Disease and death had recognized His authority, and had yielded to Him their prey. The sun had known Him, and at the sight of His dying anguish, had hidden its face of light. The rocks had known Him, and had shivered into fragments at His cry. Inanimate nature had known Christ, and had borne witness to His divinity. But the priests and rulers of Israel knew not the Son of God” [The Desire of Ages, 771].
At least most of them didn’t. But as we’ll see in our passage today, a couple of them did! They joined Simon of Cyrene, John the apostle, and the women that ministered to Jesus on the cross in their belief as together they watched the Lamb. And what they saw, especially during the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, blew their minds. As we talked about last time, at least 29 prophecies from the sacred pages of their Scriptures were fulfilled before their very eyes. If you weren’t here last week and didn’t get a copy of that handout I gave away, please see me afterward and I’ll be sure you get one. Or go to our website, www.toledofirstadventist.org to watch, listen, or read that message.
I don’t know about you, but over the course of the last few weeks, as we’ve delved deeper into the accounts of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, I’ve had difficulty studying these passages without fighting the tears in my eyes and that lump in my throat. I have no idea how Ray Boltz can sing about them without falling apart! “Watch the Lamb”is his 1986 story song told from the perspective of Simon of Cyrene. And it still moves me to this day. But as we conclude our series based on John 18 and 19 called Experiencing the Cross, hopefully, this ending will be our beginning to boldly live for Jesus as well. That’s one of the first things I believe Scripture is teaching us can happen.
John 19:38-42 says, “38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. 39He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
Now it’s true the Bible doesn’t say Joseph of Arimathea watched Jesus die. It just says that “later” after Jesus did, he asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. But based on what Mark says about him, I think we can safely conclude he was there. So let’s read Mark’s account as well in Mark 15:42-43. There it says, “42It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.”
Apparently, after watching the Lamb of God absorb the wrath of God and wages of our sin, Joseph of Arimathea was moved as well. So much so that the timid secretive Joseph came out of nowhere to use his apparent influence and relationship with Pilate to beg for the body of Jesus. And though Pilate took precautions, even summoning the actual centurion who witnessed the crucifixion of Christ to make sure Jesus was dead according to Mark 15:44, Pilate eventually allowed this “good” and “upright” man who Luke 23:50-51 says had not consented with the Sanhedrin’s decision to crucify Christ, to take Christ’s body down from the cross and bury it.
Which leads us to point number one: We can live boldly for Jesus! Mark 15:43 says Joseph “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.” He had been “waiting for the kingdom of God” and having probably seen the repentant thief on the cross be assured of his entry one day, the Bible describes how Joseph waited no more. When the shadow of the cross appears, Judas and Pilate shy away into the darkness. But Joseph steps into the light. John 3:19-21 says it this way: “19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
But Joseph wasn’t the only one stepping out into the light of holy boldness and belief. We can also be sure the Roman centurion did too. We know this is true because of his famous statement in Matthew 27:54: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’” How startling it must have been to Pilate to hear those words or something like them from the very soldier he sent to crucify Christ! Because Mark 15:44-45 says, “44Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.”
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. And said so multiple times [cf. John 18:38; 19:4; 19:6]. He had the chance, more than once, to release Jesus. His own wife warned him not to crucify Jesus [Matthew 27:19]. But even after divine intervention, Pilate chose to follow the crowd [cf. Exodus 23:2]. Obviously, he did not live boldly for Jesus. But this Roman centurion did. And so did Joseph of Arimathea. Which tells me that yes, we too can choose to live boldly for Jesus. Point number one.
And Nicodemus had started doing so long before Joseph. You remember how Nicodemus comes to Jesus in John 3:1-15 in the middle of the night? As a ruler with responsibilities to the people, he must know what to tell them about Jesus. And so he seeks Jesus out, privately at first, to ask him questions and listen to his answers. And this is significant I think. Because it shows us that boldly living for Jesus is not just about sharing what you know. It’s also about boldly admitting what you don’t. How many of you here think it took some serious guts and holy boldness to, as Israel’s teacher, ask Jesus some questions he didn’t understand?
After his initial answers and understanding of Jesus weren’t clear to him, do you remember his sincere follow up questions to Jesus? One of the first ones in John 3:9 is, “How can this be?” He doesn’t get it! But that doesn’t stop Nicodemus from seeking Jesus! So what you don’t know about the universe or love or God should not stop you from following what you do know about God! Or at least what God has chosen to reveal about Himself. Besides, it’s not the stuff we don’t know about God that should keep most of us up at night. It’s the stuff we do! “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother has already killed him! “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
So often the things we struggle with the most are the things that are crystal clear in Scripture. Not the things that aren’t. But that’s not what I mean by holy boldness. What I mean by holy boldness is that whatever our age, we must, like the Roman Centurion, Joseph of Arimathea and even Nicodemus, Israel’s foremost teacher of the law, we must be willing to sincerely share and honestly listen. Give and take. Teach and learn. If you’re really bold, you admit you don’t know it all. Here we’re re-introduced to a man, Nicodemus, who though he was likely advanced in years, had a young and adventurous mind. His boldness of what he didn’t know allowed him to learn—even from some peace promoting, hill billy, rookie rabbi from Galilee. And because he did, he was uniquely prepared to share when no one else had the courage to do so in John 7:50-51 which says, “50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51‘Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?’”
Whatever else he said in defense of Jesus isn’t recorded. But what is makes it clear that Nicodemus spoke out in the Sanhedrin, in front of his hostile colleagues, on behalf of Christ. And that’s why I’m convinced we can live boldly for Jesus. Sharing and listening. Giving and taking. Teaching and learning. This is point number one. But to do that, we must be willing to live sacrificially as well and this is point number two.
John 19:39-40 says, “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” Apparently, while Joseph of Arimathea was begging Pilate for Jesus’ body, Nicodemus went to the mall [just joking, but perhaps it was the Via Dolorosa] to buy some burial clothes and spices. And from the sounds of it, he must have hit a sale! Because he bought way more than enough! Seventy-five pounds! This is no small alabaster jar of perfume. There was no earthly king that got buried and embalmed as well as this. No expense was spared.
But to limit his sacrifice to the area of finances would be a big mistake. Because what Joseph and Nicodemus were risking wasn’t monetary. They were risking their reputations. They were burying a convicted traitor like a king. Can you imagine the respect they lost that day? With their own hands, they removed Jesus’ body from the cross. With their own hands, they prepared his body for burial. With their own hands, Matthew 27:59 says they placed Jesus in Joseph’s new tomb that he had cut out of the rock for himself one day. But instead, this dignified place of resting, fit for a king, was sacrificially given to Jesus, the King of Kings.
Even when everyone else doesn’t, for whatever reason, we can live sacrificially for Jesus. Not just with our money. But even more importantly, with the hands we have and the lives we live, we can show love and live grace. We can even extend forgiveness before anyone else knows they need to ask for it [cf. Luke 6:37]. Because we have been forgiven by God before we ever ask him for it. Imagine this scene from a recent courtroom trial in South Africa.
“She is a black woman. Elderly. Seventy plus. Frail. Facing her across the court are several police officers. One, Mr.Van der Broek, has just been tried and found guilty of participating in the murders of her son and her husband two decades before. He had taken her only child, shot him at point blank range, and then tossed his body onto a bonfire, while he and his fellow officers partied nearby.”
“Several years later, Van der Broek and his cohorts had returned to take away her husband as well. For many months she knew nothing of his whereabouts. Then, almost two years after her husband’s disappearance, the hate-filled Van der Broek came back to fetch the woman herself. In the courtroom, she relived each moment—being taken to a place beside a river, where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, lying a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his swollen lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, “Father, forgive them...”
“Now she stands in the courtroom and listens to Van der Broek’s confession. A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her. ‘So, what do you want now? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your loved ones?’ ‘I want three things,’ the old woman says calmly. ‘I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned. I want to gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.’ She pauses.
“‘My husband and my son were my only family. I want, therefore, for Mr. Van der Broek to become my adopted son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me, so that I can pour out on him whatever love I have remaining within me for the rest of my years.’”
“‘And finally,’ she says, tears welling in her eyes, ‘I want Mr. Van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, now, I would kindly ask someone to lead me across the courtroom so that I can embrace Mr. Van der Broek, and by that let him know that he is truly forgiven.’”
“Two court officials arise and, one on each side, gently guide her toward Broek. As she nears him, Broek faints. As he slips to the floor, time seems suspended. All movement stops. Then from the visitors—her friends, family, neighbors—victims all of decades of oppression and injustice, a sound. Soft. Sweet. They have begun to sing: ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me...” [Author unknown, circulated on the internet].
This is not some ancient teaching from the distant past. This is reality today. Who are you withholding forgiveness from? Point number two: We can live sacrificially for Jesus. Yes, we can give our treasure to the King of Kings for the work of his kingdom on this earth. We can care more about Jesus than our reputations. We can offer others the works of our hands, free of charge, without restraint. And finally, we can choose not to withhold that which God has not withheld from us—His amazing grace and forgiveness. And if we do so, it will blow people’s minds. Ephesians 5:1-2 says it this way: “ 1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
But here’s the craziest part: even when we don't, God still provides! This is point number three. And how I wish to close. John 19:41-42 says, “41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
According to Genesis 3:22 and Romans 5:17, we fell defeated in a garden. But according to John 19:41, Jesus was buried victorious in a garden! The disciples were nowhere to be found. And even if they were, they had no influence, boldness, or resources to bury Jesus. But all is not lost! All is never lost! College kids don’t have to go to Europe to find God. Because God is not lost. We are. We’re the ones who have shied away. God hasn’t. He has been here all the time! Great is His faithfulness [cf. Lamentations 3:22-23]!
And even when we don’t live boldly and sacrificially for Jesus, God still provides. Romans 8:32 says, “32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Isn’t that amazing good news? Because Jesus really has paid it all, we can live boldly and sacrificially for Him. May God help us do so this week.