Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on May 14, 2017
Open your Bibles to John 19:38. For the last two weeks we have unpacked the the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We first spoke of the physical realities of the cross, and then last week, we spoke more deeply on the spiritual realities of the cross. However, none of that matters if the resurrection is a farce.
Th Apostle Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If there is no bodily resurrection then the joke is on us, and we are a pathetic pitiful bunch of people here this morning. However, if the resurrection is in fact true, then everything changes.
Tim Keller, co-founder of the Gospel Coalition and Pastor at Redeemer Church IN New York said, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” With that, let us read our text, pray that God would cause us to see, and cause us to believe, and then look at the Book.
Was Jesus Really Dead?
Verse 38 begins with the phrase, “After these things.” What things? The death of Jesus. At this point of the story, Jesus is as dead as dead can be. He had been beaten, flogged to near death, and then nailed to a cross by experts in crucifixion. He hung there for hours until he gave his Spirit to the Father. After this, the Roman guards broke the legs of the other two criminals that were crucified with Jesus, but when he got to Jesus he discovered that he was already dead. However, just to make sure, a spear was rammed into his side, and this was no gentle poke. It wasn't like a eight year old boy pocking a dead rabbit with a stick. This was a Roman guard ensuring that Jesus was really dead. The spear went so far into his side, angling upwards that the spear most likely went under Jesus ribs and punctured the fluid that had collected around Jesus heart. This was due to the extreme torture that Jesus would have experienced. This condition is called, pericardial effusion. And this is most likely why blood and water came out when Jesus was pierced. So was Jesus dead, absolutely. It is not feasible that any man could live through a flogging, a crucifixion, and having a spear rammed into your side eight inches puncturing your heart. It was the Roman executioner's duty to ensure no one got down from that cross alive.
Some people like to argue that Jesus merely swooned, or past out, and later woke up in the grave and let himself out. That is ridiculous on multiple levels. Jesus was verifiably dead.
Buried Among the Rich
After the death of Jesus we are then introduced to a unlikely cast of characters that God used to unfold the story of the resurrection. The first person I want us to look at is Joseph of Arimathea. We are told in John 19:38 that he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews.
Many of you will say, what kind of disciple is that, a secret one. Well, to be honest, all the disciples at this point were secret disciples. If you recall what Jesus said in John 16:32, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.” This was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” and it was fulfilled in the Garden of Gethsemane. Also, don’t forget about Peter, who just a few hours prior to this, was asked three times if he was a disciple of Jesus, and each time, like a scared kitten denied his King. Therefore, secret disciples at the end of Jesus ministry were not in short supply.
A couple of other things we know about Joseph of Arimathea due to the other gospels is that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and that he did not vote for Jesus’ death. We are also told that he was a good and righteous man, was rich, and that he was looking for the Kingdom.
Along with Joseph of Arimathea we also see his partner, Nicodemus, in verse 39. Unlike Joseph of Arimathea, this is not the first time we have seen Nicodemus in the Gospel of John. This is actually the third time his name is mentioned. He made his initial appearance in John 3 when he came to Jesus by night, which we are reminded of in verse 39 of our text this morning. If you recall, Nicodemus was called by Jesus in John 3 THE teacher of Israel, implying he was the educational elite. Later in John 7, we see Nicodemus with the chief priests and the Pharisees defending Jesus and requesting Jesus be given a fair trial before being condemned.
Of all people to take down the body of Christ, these two were unlikely candidates. They were not Jesus' biological relatives, they were not Jesus inner circle, they were not one of the twelve, no one even knew that they followed Jesus at al. They were secret disciples who were a part of the Sanhedrin. But what is interesting is that for Scripture to be fulfilled, it had to be them.
Isaiah 53:9 prophecies about the crucified Christ, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death.” It was Jesus’ destiny to be buried in a rich man's tomb and this would not have occurred without Joseph and Nicodemus.
Why? If you recall, the Jews had charged Jesus with inciting people to rebel against Ceasar. Normally for particular crime their bodies would not be allowed to be taken down, but instead the body would be left there for the vultures to eat, and as a sign to the people not to mess with Rome. Also, even if Rome allowed the body to be removed, it was common for the crucified to be placed in a common grave, not an independent, rich man's garden, tomb right outside of Jerusalem in a rich man's tomb.
So for Christ to be buried at all would have been unusual, and for Christ not to be buried in a common grave, would also be unusual. Therefore, for Christ to be buried in a rich man tomb would be next to impossible. But nonetheless, it happened. Why? Because of this secret apostle, Joseph of Arimathea. Only someone like Joseph would be able to secure an audience with Pilate; only someone like Joseph would be able to deal with the pressures of the Jewish leadership; only someone like Joseph would have access to a freshly cut, never before used tomb in a nearby garden outside of Jerusalem. Was this merely a coincidence? Absolutely not! Joseph was God’s means to achieving God’s end. God had placed Joseph exactly where God wanted him. Joseph was an ordained means for an ordained end. God was working through Joseph to set the stage for the greatest show on earth. Joseph used his position of authority and his wealth for the glory of Christ.
I would be failing as a Pastor if I didn’t at this time pose the question, are you using your position of influence and the means that God has given for the glory of Christ?” Or is the only thing you share in common with Joseph is that you are also a secret disciple? Are you living as an instrument in the hands of God? If not, then you are missing God’s calling upon your life, and your life is lacking the purpose it was designed for, and the joy that your crave.
The Uncredible Witness
The next person I want to draw you attention to is Mary Magdalene, another unlikely character. I want to begin by apologizing to Mary. From this very pulpit I misspoke about Mary, and was thankfully called out on it by Jes Lehman. At one time, a year or so ago, I stated that Mary Magdalen was a prostitute. There is no Biblical evidence of Mary being a prostitute.
What we do know of Mary Magdalene is that, according to Luke 8:2, at one time seven demons lived inside of her. Sometime during Jesus' ministry he cast those seven demons out of Mary and she had been following him ever sense. How she lived her life during that demonic possession, we do not know. Some people were unable to speak, had seizures, committed evil acts, had the ability to divine, miraculous strength, lived naked, lived in cemeteries, had depression, a desire to kill, and a desire to hurt themselves. Did Mary have this symptoms? We do not know, but make no mistake seven was not the usual amount. This would have been higher than normal, hence why we are told she had seven. Most likely, many of us have never met someone as bad a Mary. But once again, she was chosen by God to play a pretty significant role in the resurrection.
It is interesting, many times at work I use the phrase, you can't pick you victim. What I mean by that is the crime happens to good people and bad people, and both of them deserve justice. When it happens to someone with a checkered past, it makes my job more difficult. God has the ability to choose anyone to reveal the resurrection to and who does he pick? A women, who could not legally testify in court during Jesus' day, with a checkered past. This is yet another piece of evidence that this story was not made up. So with that let's look at the story.
The Linen Clothes
If you read all four of the Gospels, you will see several different accounts of the same event. Why are they different? Because this is reality. People see, remember, and testify to different facts of the circumstances. Once again, I see this every day in my day job as an attorney. Witnesses see the exact same event, but tell me different aspects of the event. In fact, if there story is too similar, it is a sure give away that they colluded prior to making a statement, and their credibility is suspect. That is not the case for the resurrection. If Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wanted to get together and make up a story about the resurrection, you sure can't see it in the Gospels.
We are told that after the death of Jesus, as Joseph was securing the body, Nicodemus was securing the spices. The spices included myrrh and aloes. Myrrh was a fragrant spice, and was used by the Jews to cover up the smell of the decaying body. We are told that the weight of this was about 75 lbs. These spices would have been laid upon linen cloths, and the cloths would have been wrapped around the body of Jesus. These clothes would have bound him. The word in the Greek for bound is deō, which means to bind tie, to fasten. The same word is used in Mathew 12:29 when it says, “Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.”
So do not picture these cloths gently laid upon Jesus, but wrapped tightly around his body, as if he is bound like Hudini, with no possibility of escape. For an example of this, we need only look at the raising of Lazarus in John 11. John 11:44, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Lazarus could not unbind himself, someone else had to do it for him.
Now after they bound Jesus with these ceremonial spices and cloths, they placed him in the tomb. We are not told in John, but we are in Matthew that a great stone was rolled in front of the entrance. Not just a stone, but a great stone. One large enough that multiple women would not have the strength to move. We are also told this stone was then sealed, and then guards were stationed outside. To say that this grave was secure would be an understatement.
Upon Mary's arrival, John tells us that the giant stone, that we know was sealed, and had guards protecting it had been rolled away. John chooses to leaves out the details of how, and goes directly to Mary leaving to go and tell Simon Peter and the other disciple. This other disciple is most likely the Apostle John. It is interesting, what Mary says when speaks to Peter and John. Look at verse 2, ““They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Mary at this point, does not believe in the resurrection. It is not something that even pops into her head. She defaults to the belief that the Jews or the Romans stole the body of Jesus. Under this testimony of Mary, Peter and John take off running to the Garden.
The Crime Scene
John gets to the crime scene first, and what does he see? Look at verse 5, “And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus'[a]head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
John was just like Mary, John hadn't yet wrapped his head around the resurrection. It wasn't like Jesus hadn't foretold this. Jesus explicitly and repeatedly told his disciples that he would die and come back to life. When Jesus said these things, it must have gone in one ear and out the other, for none of the disciples believed it. At least not until John saw the linen cloths and the face cloth folded. Why would this be the evidence that John needed to push him over the edge?
Because there were only three options, 1) Jesus was not dead and he somehow Houdinied himself out of the tomb being bound after being flogged, crucified, and stabbed. 2) Someone stole the body, or 3) Jesus was resurrected, just like he said. Option 1 is a nonstarter. It is just not going to happen. Option 2, no longer makes sense, for if someone stole the body, they would not leave the linen clothes, and then fold the face cloth. Therefore, we are left with option 3, Jesus was alive.
At first glance, this seems too miraculous to be true, but is it? As we said, Jesus had predicted that he would die, and he did. He also predicted he would rise on the third day, and now his body is missing. Coincidence? Perhaps, but what about what else John say? Look at verse 9, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” What Scripture is John thinking about that must be fulfilled? A good guess is Psalm 16:9-10 written 1000 years before Christ, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.“ Is this verse talking about Jesus? Paul sure thought so in Acts 13:35 when he quoted it while preaching at Antioch.
Old Testament prophecy, Jesus' own prediction, empty tomb, no body, linen clothes, folded face covering. For John, this was proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the Lord had Risen. But that is not it, there is more, but we have to get to that next week, God willing.