Dealing with the Death of Jesus (Luke 23:40-24:35)

23:50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. 24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Introduction

Joseph of Arimathea131 is the Melchizedek132 of the New Testament: he is a man who appears without prior introduction and who does not appear again. He is a man whom all of the gospel writers name and of whom all speak highly. Together, the gospels inform us of his request for the body of Jesus, of his placing Jesus in a new tomb, carved out of the rock, and prepared for himself.

When we read our text with Joseph of Arimathea in mind, we surely would feel positive about him. And yet our passage also leaves me, at least, with some rather discomforting questions. There is first the rather unnerving question: “If Joseph of Arimathea had not buried Jesus, who would have done so?” I take it that the body of Jesus would have been disposed of as were the bodies of the other two men, who were crucified along with Jesus. The bodies might not even have been buried, but only cast on the proverbial dung heap of the city.133

Closely related to the first question is the second: “Where are the disciples?” I differ strongly with the conclusion of Norval Geldenhuys, who writes:

The Gospel narrative of Jesus’ passion ends on a note of exceptional beauty in the description of His burial. For in it we see how the dead body of the Savior, from the time that is was removed from the rough cross by hands of affection, was cared for by no other hands than those of His faithful followers.134

While the efforts of Joseph of Arimathea were noble, he was for all intents and purposes, a stranger. He, with the help of Nicodemus, had to hastily remove the body of Jesus from the cross, purchase the necessary materials (including 75 pounds of spices), wrap the body as well as could be done quickly, and place it in a stone tomb, sealing it with a large stone (cf. John 19:38-41). Both of these men seem to have come to the point where they looked upon Jesus at least as a prophet, sent from God, whose ministry was a part of the commencement of the kingdom of God.

But Joseph and Nicodemus were both, to a great degree, strangers to our Lord and to the disciples. They were outsiders. What these men did, they seem to have done because of their position and authority. What they did, they did apart from any involvement on the part of the disciples of our Lord or the women who had long been following along with Him. While the disciples of John the Baptist claimed the body of John and buried it (Mark 6:29), the disciples of Jesus did not do so. Instead, a stranger claimed His body and buried it, with the help of Nicodemus, and not with the help of Jesus’ disciples or even the women who accompanied Him to Jerusalem.

Here, I finally realized, is that which bothers me about this part of Luke’s gospel (and, to some degree, all of the gospels). The disciples, who have been so prominent and visible throughout the public ministry of our Lord, are almost invisible. In our text Luke describes the burial of our Lord and men’s response to it in three segments: (1) the response of Joseph of Arimathea; (2) the response of the women who accompanied Jesus; and (3) the response of two of the “disciples” of Jesus (none of whom are among the eleven). The eleven disciples, who spent much of their lives with Jesus, are hardly visible. Why? This is the “tension of our text.” Why would a relative stranger—albeit a secret admirer, and disciple, of Jesus—be the one to bury His body rather than His disciples or even the women who accompanied Him? Where are the eleven? Why are they so removed from what is taking place? What is Luke trying to tell us? That is what we will seek to learn from our study of the death of Jesus and the response of men to it.

The Structure of our Text

The text we are studying falls into three divisions, which can be summarized as follows:135

(1) Joseph’s Response to Jesus’ Death (23:50-53)

(2) The Women’s Response to Jesus’ Death (23:54–24:12)

(3) The Two Disciples’ Response to Jesus’ Death (24:13-35)

Our Approach

Our approach in this lesson will be to focus on the three responses Luke describes in our text to the death of the Lord Jesus: that of Joseph of Arimathea, that of the women who followed Jesus, and (in but a cursory fashion) that of the two “disciples” on the road to Emmaus. We will look at each individually, with a special emphasis on the two men on the road to Emmaus, and then seek to show what all of these three accounts have in common and the lessons which Luke seeks to teach us by recording them.

The Response
of Joseph of Arimathea
(23:50-53)

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

Joseph of Arimathea is an enigma to me—someone who, like Melchizedek, appears out of nowhere, plays an important part, and then disappears. Nowhere do we find this man mentioned, before or after, in the gospel accounts, and yet every gospel includes the fact that he acquired permission to bury the body of Jesus from Pilate and buried it in his own tomb. John’s account in his gospel also tells us that Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, and that the two of them (alone) prepared Jesus’ body and buried it in the tomb (John 19:38-42).

Joseph of Arimathea was, from Arimathea, needless to say. It would seem somewhat self-evident that he lived in Jerusalem, and not in Arimathea, a place that cannot be identified with certainty. Joseph must have lived in Jerusalem (and not Arimathea), because he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the “Council” there. He also had a tomb prepared for himself in Jerusalem, the tomb in which our Lord’s body was placed. Why, then, do all the gospel writers tell us that he was from Arimathea? I believe the explanation is found in the fact that he was said to be a man who was “waiting for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51). You would not wait for the “kingdom of God” in Arimathea, but in Jerusalem, for this was to be the capital of Israel where the King would reign (cf. Zechariah 1 & 2; 8:1-8; 9:9; 14).

Joseph was also a “a good and upright man” (Luke 23:50). He was an influential man, not just a “member of the Council,” the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:50), but (according to Mark’s gospel), “a prominent member of the Council” (Mark 15:43). Any member of the Sanhedrin was a man of influence, but Joseph was a man of influence among those on the Council. Luke quickly informs us that while Joseph was on the Council he did not consent to their decision and action to put Jesus to death (23:51).

At first, this seems to be impossible. Joseph was a member of the Council, we are told. The inference of Luke’s account is clearly that the Council came to a unanimous decision that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, and that they unanimously pressed Pilate to put Him to death (Luke 22:70–23:1; Mark 15:1). I believe the decision of the Council was unanimous, but that neither Joseph nor Nicodemus were called to attend this meeting or to take part in the decision. The reason is somewhat obvious: they would not have wanted any present who might differ with their decision, and so any marginal members or those known to oppose such action would have been “overlooked” when the Council was summoned, illegally, and late that night of Jesus’ arrest. Luke simply wants to make this clear. The fact that Joseph was not a part of the decision to kill Jesus does, in my opinion, play a significant role in Joseph’s actions (and those of Nicodemus as well) the afternoon of Jesus’ crucifixion.

John’s gospel informs us that while Joseph was a “disciple of Jesus,” he was a “secret disciple, for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38). Up to this point, he had kept his “faith” a secret. While he carried considerable weight with his colleagues, he did not think his attitude toward Jesus would be popular, and so he kept quiet about it, until this day. What was it that caused this “closet disciple” to go public? What change took place?

While my answer is speculative, it does have some basis. A significant clue may be found in the fact revealed by John that Joseph had a partner who helped him bury Jesus that afternoon. His name was Nicodemus (John 19:39). While Joseph is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament, Nicodemus is. I believe the two men had much in common and that the reasons for the actions of Nicodemus were very similar to those which prompted Joseph to request the body of the Lord Jesus.

Nicodemus was also a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews (John 3:1), and likely also a member of the Council (cf. John 7:32, 48-50). He was also fascinated by Jesus and drawn to Him, but when he sought Him out, he came to Jesus by night (John 3:2). It would appear that Nicodemus and Joseph shared a fear of the Jews, as well as some kind of interest in Jesus. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the necessity of being “born again,” it puzzled him. Jesus went on to explain that a man must be spiritually reborn if he would enter into the kingdom of God, a foreign thought to this man, even though one of the prominent teachers in Israel (cf. “the teacher” in John 3:10). Nicodemus had many things to ponder when he left Jesus that night. He had to ponder what it meant to be born again. He also had to ponder what Jesus meant by saying that in order for men to have eternal life, the Son of Man would have to be “lifted up” like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14). If this Jesus were the Messiah, His way of bringing about the kingdom of God was greatly different from that taught by the Jewish leaders and teachers. Nicodemus had much to reflect upon.

Nicodemus was eventually forced to make take some kind of stand when the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles created great division among the people and between the people and their leaders:

At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” “… they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?” … On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him (John 7:25-27; 30-31; 40-44).

The religious leaders, sensing that Jesus was causing them to lose control, ordered the temple guard to arrest Jesus, but they came back without Him, explaining, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). To this, the Pharisees defensively challenged, “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them” (John 7:48-49).

Did any of the Pharisees believe in Jesus as the Messiah, or at least as a prophet sent from God? No; here was a most interesting question. Nicodemus was at least thinking about it, as we can see from his interview with Jesus in John 3. And at some point in time, Joseph of Arimathea did become a secret disciple of Jesus. It was time for Nicodemus to speak up, and so he did, but not very boldly:

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee” (John 7:50-52).

I believe Nicodemus took a weak-kneed stand here, not on the identity of the person of Christ, but rather on a principle of law. Nicodemus challenged his peers on the subject of what we might call Jesus’ “constitutional rights.” Under Jewish law, the accused had the right to be heard before he was pronounced guilty. Jesus had never had a “hearing.” I would suppose the Sanhedrin felt they were responding to Nicodemus’ objections when they gave Jesus His “hearing” the night of His arrest. But the challenge of the Pharisees is perhaps the means God used to stimulate further inquiry on the part of Nicodemus into the claims of Jesus to be the Christ, Israel’s Messiah. If Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was not born in Bethlehem, as the Scriptures required (Micah 5:2), then how could He be Messiah? It is my personal opinion that Nicodemus took the challenge from his peers and inquired into the birthplace of Jesus, only to find that He was born in Bethlehem, of the lineage of David. And when he considered the early verses of Isaiah 9, a messianic prophecy, he also found that Messiah would have a ministry in Galilee as well. Thus, any serious inquiry on the part of Nicodemus would have led him to conclude that his peers were wrong to reject Jesus, and that He was, indeed, the Messiah.

I admit this is pure conjecture on my part, but we do know that both Nicodemus and Joseph became disciples of Jesus, albeit secret believers because they feared the rejection of their peers. Did these men, both of whom seem to be members of the Council, begin to talk with each other about their new faith in Jesus? Did they carefully feel each other out on this subject, finally confessing to each other that they had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah? This would explain how it was that these two men became partners in the burial of Jesus, the day of His crucifixion.

But why did they step forward now? Why did they finally come “out of the closet,” after keeping their beliefs about Jesus quiet so long? Why now, after Jesus’ death? The answer, to me, is simple: because faith required it of them in these circumstances. Up to this point, these two men had been able to keep their opinions to themselves. Nicodemus only spoke up on the principle of the law which required that the accused be given a hearing. But now the Council had acted. Up to this point, it would seem, the Council had not been able to take a united stand. But when they called a session of the Council without inviting either Nicodemus or Joseph (and Joseph was, you recall, a “prominent” member—Mark 15:43), condemning Jesus as a blasphemer, and unanimously calling upon Rome to put Him to death as a criminal … this was too much. Even though Jesus was dead (and I doubt that they expected Him to rise from the dead), they were determined to take a stand, a stand in protest to the decision of the Council of which they were a part.

For Joseph (and Nicodemus) to request the body of Jesus in order to give it a proper burial was a public statement that Jesus was not a criminal, but the Christ. Jesus would have been buried on the proverbial “boot hill” of that day, had Joseph not boldly gone before Pilate to ask for the body. Joseph will, in the severe limitations of time, give Jesus the finest burial possible, placing His body in his own tomb. I have the impression that Joseph would have done better by Jesus if time had allowed. But there was so little time to obtain permission to claim the body (which required time for Pilate to verify that Jesus had actually died, so soon—Mark 15:44-45), to take it down from the cross, to prepare it with spices, and then to place it in the tomb. The Council had to know what Joseph had done, for when they asked for a guard to be posted at the grave site, they would have had to have been told that Joseph claimed the body and buried it. They would likely have had to ask Joseph where the body was buried. Remember, the women knew this only because they followed Joseph and Nicodemus, spying out the place where Jesus lay.136 Showing respect for the body of Jesus was the only thing that Joseph (and Nicodemus) could do, at this point in time, to disassociate themselves from the actions of the Council, and to associate themselves with Jesus, His message, His ministry, and His Messiahship. They did what they could, and they did it well. The gospels commend Joseph especially (did he take the lead?), and Nicodemus by inference.

Joseph is a man, unlike the disciples, who showed courage at the occasion of Jesus’ death, and who showed his love for the Savior by showing respect for His body. He is, it seems to me, recorded for all of history to regard highly, not unlike the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. How fondly we read of him and of his labor of love over the body of Jesus. Did he become one of those who trusted in Jesus as the Christ? Was he a vocal member of the early church? We are not told. But he is a striking contrast to the absence of the eleven. Where were they? Why did they not ask for Jesus’ body?

The Response of the Women
(23:54–24:12)

54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. 24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

From Luke’s words it would seem that the group of those who stood at a distance, viewing the events of Calvary, included not only many of those women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, but also the disciples (including the eleven) as well:

But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things (Luke 23:49, emphasis mine).

Some of these same women, who followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb where Jesus was buried (23:55), refused to leave the body of Jesus. They were especially taking note of the location of the tomb and of the way the body was positioned in it (verse 55). They could hardly have failed to see that the body was prepared for burial, with the use of 75 pounds of spices (John 19:39). But this does not seem to have been good enough. They would do a better, more meticulous, job of preparing the body of Jesus after the Sabbath. They went home, bought the necessary spices (Mark 16:1), prepared them for when they would return (Luke 23:56), but then waited for the Sabbath to pass, according to the commandment. They knew that the large stone would pose a problem and that somehow it would have to be moved (Mark 16:3).

The women were not hindered by the difficulties posed by their task.137 It would seem that they could not be stopped. One can almost see these women, fatigued by the burden of the spices they carried, perhaps sweaty and out of breath. What a shock, in the dim light of the morning (cf. Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1), to see that the stone, about which they had worried, was already moved. Entering the tomb, they found that the body was gone! At that moment of amazement, two angels appeared in very bright clothing, bright as lightening, Luke tells us. (This could have served to illuminate the inside of the tomb, evidencing that the body was gone, and also revealing the orderly way in which the grave clothes were arranged (cf. John 20:6-7).

The sight of the angels was almost too much. The women fell with their faces to the ground. The angels, however, gently rebuked the women for coming to the grave, expecting to find the “Living One” among the dead (verse 5). The angels explained that Jesus’ absence was because He had risen from the dead, and they also reminded the women that this was exactly as Jesus Himself had told them, while He was alive and with them, back in Galilee (verses 6-7). The women then remembered that Jesus had told them these words.

It is my conviction that Joseph acted as he did based upon his personal search of the Scriptures from which he concluded that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. I believe these women were rebuked for not believing Jesus’ words. Later, the two men on the road to Emmaus will be rebuked for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). It is my opinion that the men had greater access to the texts of the Old Testament Scriptures than did the women. Thus, the two men were rebuked for not searching the Scriptures, while the women were rebuked for not believing Jesus. The women were, however, a step ahead of the men in this regard (as I see it): they did not have so much trouble believing that Jesus would be rejected and put to death as they did that He would rise again. The two men had to be shown from the Scriptures that the Messiah “must” “suffer these things and then enter his glory” (Luke 24:26). The women needed only to be reminded that Jesus would rise again, and thus were rebuked for looking for Jesus among the dead.

It seems likely that Mary, the sister of Lazarus, would have been among those returning to the tomb. If so, she was the one who, only a few days before, had anointed Jesus, in His words, “for the day of My burial” (John 12:7). I doubt that the ointment lasted that long. Rather, I believe Jesus was indicating that she understood, while others did not, that He was soon to die. Thus, her act of devotion was one of the few things she could do at the time to show her love and affection for Him, knowing that the time of His death was near.

These women who came to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus may have sensed—far more than the men—that Jesus was to die. This would not have come on them as a shock. They would have known this from Jesus’ own words. But what He had also said, which they may not have grasped, was that He would not only die, but rise from the dead. It is for their failure to believe this that the angels gently rebuked the women. Like Joseph before them, however, these women did what they could to honor Jesus in His death.

The women quickly returned home, leaving, I suspect, the spices behind, to inform the men of what they had learned. The eleven were there (wherever that may have been), as were the rest (24:9). They did not believe the women, however. Can’t you just see the men shaking their heads and saying, at least to themselves, “These poor hysterical women. They just can’t face up to the facts. Jesus is dead and gone.” It was, to them, just an irrational refusal to accept things as they were.

Peter, however, seemed at least to believe that the tomb was empty. He had to look for himself. And so he ran to the tomb (we know from John’s gospel that John also accompanied him—John 20:2-10). Peter saw the evidence—the strips of linen lying by themselves, and it left him puzzled, but not believing. It was, to him, an unsolved mystery, but not yet a resurrection. John, it seems, was convinced and believed it was a resurrection, at least in his heart (John 20:8-9). These things only added to the grief and misery of the disciples, who now did not even have a body or a grave by which to remember Jesus.

Peter is mentioned, but only very briefly, in this text. Perhaps he was the spokesman of the group. He was, to some degree, still their leader. Peter’s actions portray the eleven at their best, and that was not very much to talk about. It is this very brief appearance of Peter, yet without any faith, which is so puzzling. Where are the apostles138 in all of this?

It is the absence of the disciples which stands in contrast not only to the actions of Joseph, but now to that of these women as well. Preparing the body of Jesus does not seem to have been “women’s work,” from the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus seem to have done this work themselves. Lugging that load of spices was “a man’s job,” or it should have been (I would guess this to be at least a 75 pound load, based on that which Nicodemus brought.—John 19:40). But the apostles were not there. It could not have been that the apostles were ignorant of what the women planned and purposed to do. They had purchased and prepared the spices earlier but were forced to wait until the day after the Sabbath to go out to the tomb. The smell of those spices would have had to permeate the place. The women may very well have asked the apostles to go out to the burial place of Jesus with them, at least to help remove the stone, which they knew to be a problem (Mark 16:3). They went out early in the morning, leaving while it was still dark. Surely this was not a very safe thing to do. Should the men not have at least accompanied the women for safety’s sake? The apostles are visibly absent. In the account of the two men on the road to Emmaus, again Luke turns to someone other than the eleven. This is no accident.

Conclusion

While it may seem strange, perhaps it should be pointed out that our text may have something to say to us about burials. In my younger days, I used to say that when I died my body could be placed in a pine box (or better yet, a particle board box) and planted in the “back 40.” That may be well and good for me. After all, I would be “absent from the body and present with the Lord.” But the reality of life is that we do show our love for another by the care we evidence in disposing of their body. In years gone by there were a lot of accusations made about the funeral directors and the high cost of dying. I do not in any way wish to advocate extravagance in funerals, but I do wish to point out that the love and admiration of Joseph, Nicodemus, and the women for Jesus was shown by their care for His body when He died. Let us be careful not to despise that which God created, and the person whom we have loved in life, by showing a disregard for the body at the time of death. There is a need for balance here.

This, however, is surely not the lesson which Luke has for us to learn here. I believe Luke is commending the faith of Joseph and the women, as reflected by their concern for our Lord’s body and burial, at a time when this was a most unpopular, and even dangerous, thing to do. Faith in Christ requires an identification with Christ, which includes an identification with Him in His death. That is precisely what Joseph and these women did—they identified themselves with Jesus in His death. And, in the process, they clearly set themselves apart from those who determined that Jesus was worthy of death. They, in their actions, stood with Jesus, and they stood apart from the Jewish religious leaders.

Saving faith requires this. Those who would be saved from their sins must stand apart from a world that has rejected Jesus, and stand with Him who was rejected and put to death. Saving faith does not ignore nor reject Jesus because He died, rejected by men, but it identifies with Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, because He died in our place. Joseph, Nicodemus, and the women are a picture of what faith requires by those who would be saved. Faith is expressed by an identification with the Jesus who died on the cross of Calvary. No wonder there is no focus on the eleven at this point, whose faith may not have failed, but whose faith surely is not praiseworthy at this point in time.

This text serves to remind us that the eleven disciples were surely not the most “spiritual” disciples who followed Jesus. Joseph, Nicodemus, and these women are far more in tune with God’s purposes here than were the eleven, who were either cowering or wallowing in self-pity, while these others occupied themselves with their expressions of love and devotion for Jesus. Nowhere are we told that Jesus chose these men because they were more spiritual, more committed, or more promising than others. Jesus chose them to do a task, and that task they would accomplish by His power. But being chosen as one of the eleven apostles was no proof of greater piety. Our text surely informs us of this.

It does remind us that even when those who are chosen to lead fail to do so, God always has someone in the wings. Joseph was a man whom the disciples would never have considered a prospect for discipleship. He was a prominent member of the Council which, as a group, rejected Jesus. He was a man of influence and apparent wealth. And yet he was the one whom God had prepared so that the body of Jesus would be honored in death. God always has a person in place, but this is often not the person we would have expected to be God’s choice.

Finally, this passage points us to the crucial role of the Scriptures. I believe it was due to the challenge of their peers that Nicodemus and Joseph did “search the Scriptures,” and thus found that Jesus was who He claimed to be—Israel’s Messiah. The very things which brought despair to the disciples were the things, when viewed through the prophecies of the Old Testament, that proved Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. All too often, we view our circumstances through the dimmed vision of our own understanding, our own aspirations and ambition, just as the disciples viewed Jesus’ death in this way—as the end of their dreams for power and position. But, in fact and in light of God’s Word, the events surrounding Jesus’ rejection and death were those which God had ordained in order for men to be saved and for the kingdom to be established. If we fail anywhere, we do so as the disciples did—we view our circumstances through our own eyes, rather than through the Scriptures. And when we do so, we withdraw to ourselves, we wallow in self-pity and disappointment, and we fail to show the love and devotion to Christ which He alone deserves. May we not despair as did the “apostles,” but like Joseph, Nicodemus, and these women, evidence our love and devotion to Christ.


131 “Arimathea was Joseph’s native town, but at that time he was an inhabitant of Jerusalem (otherwise he would not have been a member of the Sanhedrin and would probably also not have possessed a tomb near the city). Arimathea is regarded by some as identical with Ramah (Ramathaim-Sophim), the birthplace of Samuel. This is, however, not certain.” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951 [photolithoprinted], p. 620, fn. 1.

132 Melchizedek was the “king of Salem,” who appeared in Genesis 14, after Abraham defeated the kings who took Lot captive and to whom Abraham paid a tithe. The priesthood “after the order of Melchizedek” is referred to in Psalm 110:4 and is spoken of as fulfilled in Christ in Hebrews 5-7.

133 I have no doubt that the body of Jesus would have been quickly removed and given a “proper burial,” but only after it had been abandoned by the Roman authorities.

134 Norval Geldenhuys, p. 618.

135 It would be possible to add a fourth section: “Peter’s Response to the Death of Jesus—Luke 24:12,” but his role here is so much less than the rest that I have chosen to merge him with the women’s section, which is far more emphatic.

136 In our cemeteries, we would know the burial place by the fresh earth that would be mounded up. But this was a cave-like tomb, hewn from the rock. Once the rock was rolled in front of the tomb, no one would have known whether this was a recent burial site or not.

137 I’m not sure that they even knew all of the difficulties. Did they know, for example that a guard had been posted at the grave, which would most likely have prohibited entrance into the tomb? The request for such security came after Jesus’ burial (Matthew 27:62-66).

138 It is noteworthy that even in this “low” state of despair, the eleven disciples are referred to as the “apostles” (cf. 24:10).

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