We are here attending the funeral of our Lord Jesus, a solemn, mournful funeral. O that we may by grace be planted in the likeness of it! Observe,
I. How the body of Christ was begged. It was, as the dead bodies of malefactors are, at the disposal of the government. Those that hurried him to the cross, designed that he should make his grave with the wicked; but God designed he should make it with the rich (Isa. 53:9), and so he did. We are here told,
1. When the body of Christ was begged, in order to its being buried, and why such haste was made with the funeral; The even was come, and it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Mark 15:42. The Jews were more strict in the observation of the sabbath than of any other feast; and therefore, though this day was itself a feast-day, yet they observed it more religiously as the eve of the sabbath; when they prepared their houses and tables for the splendid and joyful solemnizing of the sabbath day. Note, The day before the sabbath should be a day of preparation for the sabbath, not of our houses and tables, but of our hearts, which, as much as possible, should be freed from the cares and business of the world, and fixed, and put in frame for the service and enjoyment of God. Such work is to be done, and such advantages are to be gained on the sabbath day, that it is requisite we should get ready for it a day before; nay, the whole week should be divided between the improvement of the foregoing sabbath and the preparation for the following sabbath.
2. Who was it that begged the body, and took care for the decent interment of it; it was Joseph of Arimathea, who is here called an honourable counsellor (Mark 15:43), a person of character and distinction, and in an office of public trust; some think in the state, and that he was one of Pilate’s privy council; his post rather seems to have been in the church, he was one of the great Sanhedrim of the Jews, or one of the high priest’s council. He was euschemon bouleutes—a counsellor that conducted himself in his place as did become him. Those are truly honourable, and those only, in place of power and trust, who make conscience of their duty, and whose deportment is agreeable to their preferment. But here is a more shining character put upon him; he was one that waited for the kingdom of God, the kingdom of grace on earth, and of glory in heaven, the kingdom of the Messiah. Note, Those who wait for the kingdom of God, and hope for an interest in the privileges of it, must show it by their forwardness to own Christ’s cause and interest, even then when it seems to be crushed and run down. Observe, Even among the honourable counsellors there were some, there was one at least, that waited for the kingdom of God, whose faith will condemn the unbelief of all the rest. This man God raised up for this necessary service, when none of Christ’s disciples could, or durst, undertake it, having neither purse, nor interest, nor courage, for it. Joseph went in boldly to Pilate; though he knew how much it would affront the chief priests, who had loaded him with so much reproach, to see any honour done him, yet he put on courage; perhaps at first he was a little afraid, but tolmesas—taking heart on it, he determined to show this respect to the remains of the Lord Jesus, let the worst come to the worst.
3. What a surprise it was to Pilate, to hear that he was dead (Pilate, perhaps, expecting that he would have saved himself, and come down from the cross), especially that he was already dead, that one who seemed to have more than ordinary vigour, should so soon yield to death. Every circumstance of Christ’s dying was marvellous; for from first to last his name was called Wonderful. Pilate doubted (so some understand it) whether he was yet dead or no, fearing lest he should be imposed upon, and the body should be taken down alive, and recovered, whereas the sentence was, as with us, to hang till the body be dead. He therefore called the centurion, his own officer, and asked him whether he had been any while dead (Mark 15:44), whether it was so long since they perceived any sign of life in him, any breath or motion, that they might conclude he was dead past recall. The centurion could assure him of this, for he had particularly observed how he gave up the ghost, Mark 15:39. There was a special providence in it, that Pilate should be so strict in examining this, that there might be no pretence to say that he was buried alive, and so to take away the truth of his resurrection; and so fully was this determined, that the objection was never started. Thus the truth of Christ gains confirmation, sometimes, even from its enemies.
II. How the body of Christ was buried. Pilate gave Joseph leave to take down the body, and do what he pleased with it. It was a wonder the chief priests were not too quick for him, and had not first begged the body of Pilate, to expose it and drag it about the streets, but that remainder of their wrath did God restrain, and gave that invaluable prize to Joseph, who knew how to value it; and the hearts of the priests were so influenced, that they did not oppose it. Sit divus, modo non sit vivus—We care not for his being adored, provided he be not revived.
1. Joseph bought fine linen to wrap the body in, though in such a case old linen that had been worn might have been thought sufficient. In paying respects to Christ it becomes us to be generous, and to serve him with the best that can be got, not with that which can be got at the best hand.
2. He took down the body, mangled and macerated as it was, and wrapt it in the linen as a treasure of great worth. Our Lord Jesus hath commanded himself to be delivered to us sacramentally in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper, which we should receive in such a manner as may best express our love to him who loved us and died for us.
3. He laid it in a sepulchre of his own, in a private place. We sometimes find it spoken of in the story of the kings of Judah, as a slur upon the memory of the wicked kings, that they were not buried in the sepulchres of the kings; our Lord Jesus, though he did no evil but much good, and to him was given the throne of his father David, yet was buried in the graves of the common people, for it was not in this world, but in the other, that his rest was glorious. The sepulchre belonged to Joseph. Abraham when he had no other possession in the land of Canaan, yet had a burying-place, but Christ had not so much as that. This sepulchre was hewn out of a rock, for Christ died to make the grave a refuge and shelter to the saints, and being hewn out of a rock, it is a strong refuge. O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave! Christ himself is a hiding place to his people, that is, as the shadow of a great rock.
4. He rolled a stone to the door of the sepulchre, for so the manner of the Jews was to bury. When Daniel was put into the lion’s den, a stone was laid to the mouth of it to keep him in, as here to the door of Christ’s sepulchre, but neither of them could keep off the angels’ visits to the prisoners.
5. Some of the good women attended the funeral, and beheld where he was laid, that they might come after the sabbath to anoint the dead body, because they had not time to do it now. When Moses, the mediator and lawgiver of the Jewish church, was buried, care was taken that no man should know of his sepulchre (Deut. 34:6), because the respect of the people towards his person were to die with him; but when our great Mediator and Lawgiver was buried, special notice was taken of his sepulchre, because he was to rise again: and the care taken of his body, bespeaks the care which he himself will take concerning his body the church. Even when it seems to be a dead body, and as a valley full of dry bones, it shall be preserved in order to a resurrection; as shall also the dead bodies of the saints, with whose dust there is a covenant in force which shall not be forgotten. Our mediations on Christ’s burial should lead us to think of our own, and should help to make the grave familiar to us, and so to render that bed easy which we must shortly make in the darkness. Frequent thoughts of it would not only take off the dread and terror of it, but quicken us, since the graves are always ready for us, to get ready for the graves, Job 17:1.