Sabbath has Unlikely Heroes After the Crucifixion and Burial

Passion Week: Ten Days that Changed the World, Day NINE (Matthew. 27:57-66; Luke 23:47-56; John 19:31-42): As Friday came to a close and the Sabbath began, the Gospels report that two somewhat surprising figures step forward to make arrangements for Jesus’ body. “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night“. (John 19:38-39, NIV)

Unlikely Heroes

The appearance of these men is very surprising, even though we know both of them had been involved with Jesus before. As Pharisees or members of the council, they took great risks to bury Jesus. They identified themselves with him on this Sabbath Eve when there was seemingly nothing to gain and everything to lose. They faced ostracism and persecution for taking this action, but their love for Jesus was so strong they did it anyway.

sabbath heroes

A Good Question

I’d love to know what their stories were after this, what risks they took to go get Jesus’ body, and how it affected them the rest of their lives… (Won’t it be cool to ask them?) And their actions make me question something… How many of us follow Jesus just because we love him, rather than for what he can do for us? I know that’s hard to separate, but it’s a question worth asking yourself on Easter. We can read about the Apostles in Acts, but there was unheralded heroism among so many followers of Jesus in those early days that it will be fascinating to hear their stories.

A Very Tough Day for Some

Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) was a quiet day, when Israelites did not work or move around much. This Sabbath began with Jesus dead and in the grave. Judas has committed suicide. The disciples are scattered and afraid. Peter in particular must have spent this day completely broken over how he let Jesus down. (John tells us how Peter “wept bitterly”.) The boldest disciple failed to identify with Jesus when it counted most, and I imagine that he spent the day utterly distraught over what he had done and hadn’t done…

You and I have had broken days or moments like that…Just remember that it’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming! (If you haven’t heard Tony Campolo’s great sermon “Sunday’s Coming!” do yourself a favor and listen to it sometime.)

As you reflect on Good Friday and the cross, there are many things to consider. Sin is a deadly business. So was paying for it. You’ve seen images of the cross. The crucifixion day has been vividly portrayed in songs, films and books that provide context and emotional connection to how Christ suffered and died and what his death accomplished. Simply put, he paid for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine, and offered himself as a voluntary sacrifice. I believe if there were an easier way, God the Father would surely have provided it. Since it was the ONLY way, God the Son carried out his mission.

A Personal Sacrifice With a Cosmic Result

As Paul said, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17, NIV).

Caiaphas was obviously not in agreement with nor aware of the true outcome of Christ’s mission. But he was inadvertently spot on when he advocated getting rid of Jesus so that the Romans would not punish Israel for insurrection. “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50, NIV) One man indeed died so that all could live, just not the way Caiaphas intended.

The day between the cross and Easter is the pivotal day in human history. It offers a chance to reflect on the pivotal statement in all of human history, which came from the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. You remember him, the man who showed up to take Jesus’ body for burial? When he visited Jesus, Jesus told him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If that sentence is true, then ALL OTHER SENTENCES pale in comparison. Easter Sunday is the exclamation point on that sentence. What do YOU believe about the cross?


A Little Word About Easter

It’s not about fertility, or lilies in the Spring;
It’s not about the things that bloom or little birds that sing.
It isn’t Easter baskets, filled with Peeps and Easter treats,
Like chocolate bunny rabbits or a bunch of egg-shaped sweets.
Easter is much more than children scrambling on a search–
It’s even more than Easter Sunday worshipping at church.
Easter means that one man sinned, and through that sin we fell,
Unable to redeem ourselves or save ourselves from hell,
Until on Easter Jesus conquered death, and time, and space,
And took my punishment for sin: He died and took my place.

He bore the scourging and the cross, and Satan’s mocking laugh,
And saw his mission to the end. And died on our behalf.
Easter saw him conquer sin and death–the scourge of men,
And lift us to the heavens with Him when He rose again!
So while you hunt for Easter eggs, just please remember this:
Jesus died and rose again. That’s what Easter is.

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Saturday before Good Friday: Ten Days that Changed History

We began a long look at the Passion Week starting yesterday, so our “week” is actually ten days, starting BEFORE Palm Sunday… Here are some observations about the Saturday before Good Friday, which would have been eight days before Easter. It is a quiet Saturday, a sabbath, so there is no mention of any activity until we read John’s account  of Supper at Bethany:

Eyewitness Account

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.” (John 12:1-2, NIV).

A short time before this day, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, which prompted Caiaphas (the High Priest) and his council to begin plotting Jesus’ death. They were concerned that this young rabbi’s followers would get out of hand, and bring Roman judgment down upon them all. John, who apparently had connections with the Jewish council, reported this in John 11:49-50: “Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”


Guess Who’s Reclining for Dinner

After a quiet Sabbath day in Bethany on Saturday, there were several notable exchanges at dinner. The guests reclined around a low table, as was the custom, leaning on one elbow. (This accurate depiction of places at mealtime means that all of the Italian Last Supper depictions are wrong, of course!) After the close of Sabbath they were actually reclining around a low circular or perhaps square table, starting with the Leader or Guest of honor at the head of the table, ending with the youngest.

(That’s why in the Last Supper, in John 13:22-25, John describes himself as the one leaning against Jesus’ breast. As the youngest disciple, he completed the circle, and had the closest position to Jesus at formal meals).

Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, and Judas, the group’s treasurer, objected to the waste of money (because, John said, Judas was a thief who used his position as keeper of the bag to steal funds).

There is one other detail. Mark 14 and Matthew 26 record a very similar event, but scholars debate about these two accounts. Was it two events, or Gospel confusion and presentation about one event? I believe them to be two separate incidents that shared some common elements. (Since John identifies Mary as the anointing party, and Matthew and Mark do not name the woman, I think it’s two events–not just confusion within the Gospel accounts. It would have been very unusual for Matthew and Mark not to name someone as well-known to the group as Mary…)

No Accident

Jesus pointed out that this anointing was appropriate because it signified his upcoming burial. He also said “you will not always have me with you”, knowing that his death was imminent. (He told them frankly about his death in John 12:23, Matt.16:21 and 20:17, but it didn’t register with them at the time). One of the MOST IMPORTANT aspects of the crucifixion is that it was NOT AN ACCIDENT. Jesus knew it was coming, and he was preparing his followers to deal with it. His disciples later recalled that he told them about his mission, but they were so swept up in the moment that they missed his point entirely.

A Quiet Saturday Evening

This Saturday evening, however, even as a crowd of curiosity seekers hovered outside the house, the disciples remained blissfully unaware of Jesus’s true intentions. But He knew what was coming. It is always important to remember that he made these plans of his own volition, not as a victim. Zebedee’s wife asked if her sons James and John could have important positions when Jesus came into his kingdom. He used this request as a teaching moment about servant leadership. Jesus reminded them again that he came to give his life as a ransom for many. He stated this explicitly to them three times in Mark, but apparently they didn’t grasp his mission until later. (Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33-34)

This was a bittersweet moment for Jesus. Disciples were speculating, perhaps, about their positions in the new kingdom when he overthrew the Romans. I’m sure there was some concern about the Sanhedrin’s opposition, but they would have assumed it was nothing the Master couldn’t handle. So much that we know now, they didn’t know then. He was with his closest friends, the night before Hosannas would ring on the road to Jerusalem, and yet he was being anointed for his impending death. It is a calm before the storm.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here:
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here:
For the Kindle Edition, go here: