“How can we follow Jesus when He lies dead in a tomb?” must have gone through the minds of the disciples after Good Friday.
Recorded events are few and far between of that Saturday, the Sabbath in between Christ’s death and resurrection. What is recorded reveals things about the people still living and challenges us today.
Here is the record of what happened on Saturday:
- A group of women disciples prepare spices and ointments for the body of Jesus (Luke 23:54-56)
- The Chief Priests and Pharisees plot to guard the tomb of Jesus (Matt. 27:62-66)
Luke 23:54–56 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.  The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.  Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (ESV)
Matthew 27:62–66 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate  and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’  Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”  Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.”  So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (ESV)
What can we learn from these texts?
So many people in Jerusalem were affected by the death of Jesus. As Saturday dawned they were still shaken by all that He had endured. Basically, two groups of people emerge on that Saturday, just like two groups still emerge today:
The Enemies of Christ – Matthew alone records a secret meeting that occurred between the religious Pharisees and Pilate, the Roman ruler who tried Jesus as guiltless yet sent Him to the cross. The Pharisees feared not that Jesus would rise from the dead but that His disciples would steal His body from the tomb it had been placed in and so fool everyone that Jesus was alive. In their view, Jesus was only a fraud, and they would not permit more fraud in the wake of His death. Pilate told them to take their own Temple guards and set them up at the tomb. They sealed the stone around Jesus’s tomb, established guards to watch and then wiped their hands of the whole affair.
The Followers of Christ – Just as Jesus had predicted, the Shepherd was struck down dead and the sheep scattered. Yet two scenes reveal disciples who had remained in the background due to various reasons yet now seem emboldened with courage and faith.
- Joseph of Arimathea was said to be a follower of Jesus, but a “secret” disciple for fear of what the Pharisees would think (John 19:38). His life up to this point has been ruled by a mixture of fear of man and faith in Jesus. He’s been a slave to allure of image and the approval of people. Nicodemus, who accompanied Joseph, is no better. This is perhaps why he had waited until the cloak of night to approach Jesus initially (John 3). Yet in a surprising move, Joseph and Nicodemus go into the court of Pilate to request the body of Jesus, remove the body from the cross, cover and fill the body with 75 pounds of ointment then place the body into a new tomb in a beautiful garden.
- The women, identified as Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joses, followed Joseph and Nicodemus to see where the tomb was located, then went home to prepare more ointment and burial spices for the body. The gospel records them as resting on the Sabbath yet ready to go to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus.
- The cross of Jesus is the crossroads of life. You cannot view the selfless sacrifice of Jesus and walk away the same. Either you will be hardened in your heart, not wanting the public image of what your sin has done, or you will be broken, not wanting to continue as a slave to your sin and seeing in Jesus your only hope.
- There is power in the cross to transform fearful disciples into bold followers. Joseph and Nicodemus loved the approval of men, but Christ’s sacrifice showed them the emptiness of their lives. Ultimately by seeing what Jesus had done, Joseph and Nicodemus were emboldened to do the right thing, even if it led to their public shame or death. Look to the cross! Focus on what Jesus endured, and ask Him to continue transforming your life to resemble His.
- There is also grace in waiting. Waiting when life is hard and going forward seems impossible. I love the example of the two Marys. They show us that faith in God (as seen in their obedience to the Sabbath command) is doing the next right thing even when their world around them is falling apart.
- Ultimately Jesus too is resting. Six days shall we labor but the seventh is the Lord’s. Jesus all during Holy Week has worked. Now His body rests until He takes it up again on Resurrection Day.
Lord, we thank You for the power of Your cross. No time you spent on earth was wasted. The power of Your life on the lives of others shines forth even when all was dark. Please comfort hearts that are troubled today. Give grace for courage. Help us to remember your promise of resurrection!
God Rested by Andrew Peterson