As we join this narrative of Luke’s Gospel in 23:50 Jesus is dead! This is not what was meant to happen. Jesus was supposed to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the one that Israel had been longing for. But now, he was dead…
Even though Jesus is dead we are introduced to a new character – Joseph of Arimathea – and from Luke’s description of him (vv. 50-51), and his actions concerning Jesus body (vv. 52-53), it appears that this man was a disciple. Jesus is dead but a disciple is on the scene. Joseph was a good and just man. This language sparks memories of how Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna are all described in Luke 1 & 2. And so, Jesus has pious figures involved in both his birth and death.
Joseph then approaches Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. Note that this also confirms that Jesus was dead, as Pilate would not have allowed Joseph to take Jesus body if he was not dead. This is also another sign of Joseph pious character as this action appears to be fulfilling the law found in Deuteronomy:
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God has given you for an inheritance. (vv. 21:22-23)
So, this disciple, Joseph, has taken Jesus body – what does he do with it? Well he buries it (v. 53). It is imperative to note here that he is buried, his disciples (whether the eleven, or others) did not expect a resurrection! This man was dead. Nevertheless, Jesus was buried with honour – in an unused tomb. This was unusual as tombs were very expensive and so were often reused.
Joseph is not the only one who wishes to bury Jesus, not expecting a resurrection. We read of the women who were disciples, following keenly wanting to know where he was buried (vv. 55-56). They were also faithful and pious, just like Joseph, obeying Old Testament law by observing the Sabbath. And, once again, they did not expect a resurrection. They had prepared spices and fragrant oils to anoint the body.
So, had this glorious message come to an end? These disciples certainly seemed to think so… They felt it was the end. While we know this isn’t the end of the story, there is at least one lesson we can learn from this section of Scripture.
Luke has a desire to show how God’s plan, how God acts, in human history. Here it is in action, God at work in human history. God was working, and that work impacted real people, in real time, in a real place. And so as we look around our world today, as we look at ourselves and our families, we see that God is working. He is involved in this world; his plan is continuing to unfold in human history, impacting real people, in real places. This throws up a question though – the problem is God does not always seem to work in a way we would expect. Think of Joseph and the women, they were devastated at the fact they had to bury this dead Jesus. This was not how they envisioned God’s plan being unfolded. It is the same for us; we don’t always understand how God works! Therefore, we must not only learn that God has a plan and is working it out, but that very often we don’t understand why it must be worked out in a particular fashion.
Can we resolve to do two things with this lesson?
First, can we resolve to endure those things we don’t understand – the family difficulties, financial pressures, obnoxious neighbours, death, rampant sin, damaged church etc. God has a plan and is working it out, even if we don’t understand it. Let us endure the difficulties that we face with the knowledge God is at work.
Second, can we resolve to open our eyes when we find ourselves experiencing things we don’t understand – looking beyond the superficial manifestation of these difficulties and see if we can comprehend a greater purpose in it all?