Chapter 40.1 No Greater Love
Early Friday of Passion Week after 12 am to end of Passover Sabbath
at 6 pm (Saturday night), Jerusalem A.D. 30
Colors of His Love, composite digital image by L. Lovett, September 2007
Colors of His Love, composite digital image by L. Lovett, September 2007
(CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

Burial of Jesus

It was about 4 pm Friday afternoon, just two hours before the start of Passover Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea, now an open believer, gathered his courage and asked Pilate for permission to take the Lord’s body down. This was a brave action, for he might have been put in prison for it.

The governor couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for Cornelius, “Can you confirm that the King of the Jews is dead?”

“Yes sir, I saw the soldier thrust the lance into his side and I saw the evidence myself,” the centurion replied, but he kept silent about the transformation that had taken place in his soul.

Pilate immediately issued an order to release the body of Christ to Joseph. Meanwhile, Nicodemus had gathered about seventy-five pounds of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes and waited for his friend to return.

The sun was low in the sky and only about an hour remained before the Sabbath. Cornelius walked back with Joseph and told him about his newfound faith under the cross. Then he asked, “Do you think Jesus will forgive me for what I have done to him?”

Joseph assured him, “Remember his words, ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’ He’s already forgiven you, Cornelius, and so do we. Somehow this was all part of God’s plan and perhaps one day we will understand it.”

When they reached Golgotha, the centurion showed the order to the guards. Christ’s cross was lowered and laid on the ground. Gently, Cornelius drew out the cruel nails and removed his ropes.

Joseph and Nicodemus, together with Christ’s closest followers, wrapped the sacred body in a clean linen cloth. The centurion watched them carry it away to a nearby garden, where Joseph’s own tomb had been carved out of the rock. He sensed this wasn’t the end—but a new beginning of something greater, but he didn’t know what.

Since it was getting late, Christ’s faithful ones could not perform the full Eastern ritual of the embalming until the Sabbath (Saturday) was over, and the coming of the third day (Sunday), so they prepared for a hasty burial. As was Jewish custom, they washed the beloved body, tore the linen cloth into strips, and bound him between layers of cloth and spices. Jesus’ head was wrapped separately in a napkin. Then they laid his body gently on the slab of rock within the tomb, as though sleeping on a bed. It was all time would permit until they could perform the full ritual after the Sabbath.

One thing remained. The men rolled a great stone across the entrance, and leaned a smaller stone against it for support. On the next day, even though it was the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities would affix the seal so that the slightest disturbance would become apparent.

Before leaving, John took one last look at the tomb and thought about what the Lord said earlier at the Last Supper, “There is no greater love than this, that someone should lay down his life for his friends.” He had spoken truly. How much he loved them!

They must return to the city and wait. Mary of Nazareth, now the apostle’s mother, was almost too tired to walk. John put his arm around her so she wouldn’t stumble as they walked through the quiet streets to the upper room. He comforted her, “Remember what Jesus told us many times, ‘After three days I will rise again.’” There was hope in their hearts that kept them from weeping too much, and they knew Peter was anxiously waiting to hear about all that had happened.

Mary Magdalene and Mary Clopas stayed behind, sitting nearby watching and waiting. Then they, too, left the quiet garden and went to the upper room to rest through the Sabbath.

Roman Guards Keep Watch

There was more plotting by those who crucified him. Next morning on Passover Sabbath (Saturday), the leading priests and Pharisees also remembered what Jesus had said about rising again on the third day; and the torn Temple veil and accompanying phenomena at his crucifixion suggested a slim possibility of a miracle. All together, these circumstances made them very uneasy. Sanhedrin spies who had remained at the cross knew where Christ was buried, and they determined to make it absolutely certain his body stayed in the tomb.

Caiaphas and other leaders once again marched up to Pilate’s residence with yet another request. At this critical stage, they were polite, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will be raised from the dead.’ So we request that you give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he came back to life. If that happens, the final deception will be worse than the first.”

Pilate thought to himself, “What? Guard a dead man’s tomb? Will I ever satisfy these people?” He thought it over and arranged for Roman soldiers to guard the tomb, hoping this would be the end of it.

Turning to Caiaphas he spoke with sarcasm, “Take guards with you and go secure the grave as best you can.”

When the high priest and other leaders reached the tomb with the soldiers, Caiaphas put the official seal of the Jewish authorities on the stone in front of it, with both parties as witnesses. After thoroughly inspecting the sealed entrance, the Jewish leaders left, satisfied no one could disturb the grave from the outside.

The soldiers kept watch throughout the rest of the Sabbath day and the long still night of early Sunday morning. It was the holiest of nights—except for that first night when the Savior was born.

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