…And Was Buried (Matthew 27:55-66)
No tomb is secure enough to hold Jesus Christ
55 And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.57 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.62 On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, 63 saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.
Jesus has been murdered on the cross. Now, in our passage today, He is taken into the grave. But this is a grave that will not contain Him. This is a grave that will not hold Him back. This grave is a second womb, for His second birth. And this second birth is one that remakes the entire world and the entire human race.
Women looking on from afar (v. 55-56)
After Jesus dies, the first person to honor Him is the Roman centurion in charge of executing Him. The next we see are the women who attended to Jesus and the disciples as they came down from Galilee. There are more than three, but we are told who three of them are. The first is Mary Magdalene. Popular imagination believes Mary Magdalene was a repentant prostitute, but there is zero biblical warrant for this idea. None whatsoever. The idea was popularized long ago when a pope incorrectly conflated Mary with the sinful woman who poured oil on Jesus’ feet in Luke’s gospel. Despite the fact that there is no evidence she was a prostitute, many Christian leaders continue to slander this godly woman because they like the story. The truth is, Mary Magdalene was a normal boring faithful follower of Jesus. This does tell us something about testimony inflation, however. We love when people “share their testimony” and it goes something like “I was in a street gang, shooting up black tar heroin, robbing liquor stores and stealing cars, and then one day I was handed a tract and became a Christian.” Those stories get a lot of attention. The story “I was born in a Christian home, raised to be a Christian, and by the grace of God remain a Christian to this day” doesn’t get any attention. But which testimony would you want for your children? The Mary Magdalene of popular imagination or the Mary Magdalene as she was in scripture? When someone’s life is radically transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is glorious! And we should praise God for it, but we should not praise Him any less for the faithful lives of ordinary, boring saints.
The second woman mentioned is Mary, the mother of James and Joseph. Who exactly is this Mary? When the people of Galilee are astounded by the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 13, what do they say about Him? “Is His mother not Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph (and Simon and Judas)?” Now, this sure seems like Matthew is cryptically telegraphing to us that this Mary is the very same Mary as the beginning of the gospel. If that is the case, it also seems to reveal that Mary had other children, and did not permanently remain a virgin.
The final woman is not even given a name. We are simply told that she is the mother of Zebedee’s sons. And who are they? These are Jesus’ disciples, James and John. This is not her first appearance in the gospel either. Earlier, she had a request for Jesus as He was on His way to Jerusalem. Do you remember what that request was? It was that when Jesus comes into His kingdom, she wanted her sons to sit on His right and on His left. She thought that Jesus was going to conquer Jerusalem, then wage a jihad against the world, and was asking for her sons to have the honor of being his top lieutenants. She did not understand what she was asking Him, did she? He was going to His death on the cross and being on His right and left, was instead a position given to two robbers. Instead of her two sons attending to Jesus at His death, however, who is here? Their mother, who made the original request.
Jesus is placed in a Virgin Tomb (v. 57-61)
The next person we meet honoring Jesus at His death is a member of the very Sanhedrin that found Him guilty, a rich man from the same city as the prophet Samuel (Arimathea is Ramathaim). Joseph is secretly a disciple of Jesus. He goes to Pilate and asks for the body. Rather than throwing it in a garbage heap outside the city, Pilate allows Joseph to take it. After receiving Jesus’s body, Joseph had wrapped it in clean linen and set Jesus in a newly-hewn tomb, with both Marys present. Why does Matthew give us these exact details? To start with, the fact that it is a newly-hewn tomb means another dead body had not ever been laid there. Dead bodies make things unclean. Jesus’ body is dead and He is placed in a virgin tomb. And He is wrapped in clean linen, exactly like the priestly garments worn in the temple. And there Jesus is laid, a virgin tomb, attended to by two Marys and a Joseph. Jesus’s burial is a manger scene in reverse: A virgin tomb, a new holy of holies, where Jesus will be born unto resurrection life.
Guarding Jesus’ Tomb (v. 62-66)
Matthew next phrases something in a strange way, “the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation” is what day exactly? The Sabbath. And what do the chief priests and Pharisees do that day? Well, it is the Sabbath Day of Passover Week, they should be in the temple worshiping. But where are they instead, they are gathered together (there’s that word for Synagogue, again!) before Pilate. And what do they say? “Lord, (the NKJV tragically only says sir) we remember that when that deceiver was still alive said He was going to rise after three days.” Here, the chief priests and Pharisees are synagogued before their lord, Pilate. Matthew is making it clear who the chief priests and Pharisees really serve, and it is not Yahweh. They have just murdered His Son, and now want to make sure that He stays dead. And Pilate, as usual, acquiesces to their demand. “Just go ahead (and get out of my hair).” So they set a guard, put a seal on the tomb so that if anyone breaks into it, they will know.
That last verse (v. 66) might be the most ironic verse in the Bible.
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