Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Perplexed and Amazed
You get the sense from reading about the arrest, trials, and condemnation of Jesus that the religious leaders of Israel were of one accord. In Chapter 23, verse 13 it talks about “the chief priests, the leaders, and the people” demanding Pilate find Jesus guilty and crucify Him. It feels as if they are of one accord. But as it turns out they were not. Perhaps it’s a situation where a small vocal group runs over the voices of reason and carries the day.
While the Sanhedrin as a group plotted for and carried out a plan to have Jesus murdered—not all of the Sanhedrin went along. At least two men among them not only disagreed but were actually secret disciples of the Man their group wanted to kill. After the crucifixion they even put off the secrecy and openly declared their loyalty for Him. They overcame their fear of rejection.
Similarly, some of those who witnessed the crucifixion and hid away because of the fear of arrest, let their love overcome their fear and drive them to the tomb.
50 – 54
We are introduced to Joseph of Arimathea. Luke makes a point telling us where he’s from. Arimthea is probably either Ramathaim-Zophim the birthplace of Samuel, or Ramah in Benjamin (Judah and Benjamin were basically counted as the same tribe). I kind of like the connection to Samuel, who anointed Jesus’ ancestor David as king. But where Joseph is from is not as important as what he is like.
Luke uses two words to describe his character: “good” (which speaks of the outward nature of his character—that of kindness and benefiting others) and “righteous” which speaks of inward purity. Apparently he had not let power and greed take over his life as a cancer like many of the other members of the ruling council. John 19 tells us that he was a disciple of Jesus, only secretly because it would have meant instant excommunication from his position and even potentially the loss of his life. Matthew tells us he was rich and Mark tells us that he was actually a prominent member of the Ruling Council.
Despite that, Joseph did not go along with the crowd and call for Jesus’ death. Neither was his companion, who John tells us was Nicodemus, the man who came to Jesus in John Chapter 3 and to whom Jesus said those most famous words: “for God so loved the world…” and “you must be born again.”
Though Luke does not tell us that Joseph was a disciple, he does describe him as one who was “looking forward to the kingdom of God.” Along with Simeon and Anna in Luke Chapter 2, this means they longed for the Messiah. It put them into a mental state that when Jesus came along they could recognize Him for who He is.
Joseph and Nicodemus approach Pilate. Now you’d think Pilate would have had enough of the Jews for one day, having been manipulated by the Sanhedrin to crucify an innocent Man. I wonder if Pilate might have recognized that these guys were different. Joseph asked for something very unusual. Normally a crucified person was left on the cross for days, to die of exposure, then taken down and thrown into a shallow grave. These two disciples apparently want to follow the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 which is the same place where it says that anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed. It instructs the Israelites to take them down from that tree the same day. It was also the Preparation Day—the last moments the Jews could move about until the Sabbath which started at sundown Friday. So Joseph requests the body of Jesus, which Pilate grants.
So the two of them take down the body, wrap it up in fine cloths and use about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39) to anoint the body. This was used to frankly help curb the smell of decomposition. Remember that myrrh was one of the gifts of the three magi who came to visit the young Child Jesus in Matthew Chapter 2. The myrrh there represented the sacrificial part of the Messiah’s role; the frankincense represented the priestly role, and gold the kingly role.
They carry the body to a nearby tomb, cut from a rock, where no one had ever been lain. It took a rich person to afford such a burial plot, and this harkens back to Isaiah 53:9 “They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death.” Matthew tells us that this tomb was actually Joseph’s. I’m sure when he bought it he had no idea that someone else would borrow it for a few days.
John Gill, the famous Baptist pastor who lived in the 18th century, says that Jesus was laid in another’s tomb to show that He gave His life for others. It was borrowed from a rich man to show His poverty, that Jesus had no place to lay His head, even in death, and in a tomb where no one had ever been to show that Jesus makes all things new—even bringing life out of death.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that the other leaders also approached Pilate (who, by the way, showed surprise that He was dead already) and asked that a squad of soldiers be assigned to guard the tomb in case His disciples came and stole it away, claiming that He was alive. Pilate assented and the tomb was sealed with a Roman seal—enter on pain of death.
55 – 56
Luke refers to these women in verse 49 as having stood by and watched the crucifixion. Apparently they never left Jesus’ side. We’ll see some of their names in a moment. Joseph and Nicodemus were apparently in a hurry so probably didn’t do a complete job with the burial ritual, so the women go away and prepare more spices, planning to come back later and finish the job, then rest as the sun sets.
What an awful Sabbath that would have been. I don’t think any of them anticipated Jesus’ resurrection. He’d told them on numerous occasions that He would rise after three days, but the grief and fear of the event overwhelmed their pre-frontal cortex and put them in a limbic state, unable to think clearly.
Luke tells us that “very early” Sunday morning, the women set back out for the tomb. John tells us it was so early that it was still dark. As they approached they asked themselves who would roll away the stone across the tomb so they could anoint the body. Much to their surprise the stone was already out of the way as the result of an earthquake caused by an angel who rolled the stone uphill and was sitting on it (Matthew 28). The soldiers lay on the ground like dead men.
They went in but found no Jesus there. Luke tells us they were “perplexed” which means to be at a loss mentally. Their first thought was not that He’d been resurrected but that His body had been stolen (John 20). Suddenly two angels appear before them. As with most people who encounter an angel, the women are so frightened they bow down on the ground. Normally in cases like this the angels would say “don’t be afraid.” I think maybe they were so excited to deliver the best news ever spoken to humananity that they sort of skipped that part.
“Why look for the living among the dead” they say. The grave couldn’t hold Jesus, He is alive. “He has been resurrected” they say—which in the Greek tense tells us that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Then they let the women know that none of this should have been a surprise. Jesus had said as much before (Luke 9:22, 44; 13:3; 17:25; 18:32-33; 22:37). Like a light bulb going off in their heads—they remembered.
9 – 12
This is likely the list, then, of those women who went to the tomb. They rush back to tell Peter and the boys, but the words “seemed like nonsense.” The Greek words is akin to what we’d call a “tall tale.” Like with the women, I think grief and fear made their thinking brains go offline. It just didn’t compute.
However, Peter and John (John’s gospel tells us) figured they’d better check it out. They have a bit of a footrace to the tomb – John records that he beat the older Peter but stopped at the entrance to the tomb. Peter went in and saw only the burial clothes, but no Jesus. Now it was his turn to be amazed.
Luke really distills down the Resurrection Sunday account. We don’t get Mary’s meeting with Jesus and the detail of what happened when John and Peter went into the tomb—they were amazed but still skeptical.
As we conclude I think it would be instructive to look at what the cross event, and the resurrection of Jesus does to the various players here, as a way of exploring how we react to it as well. Let’s look at in terms of some things we need to do in response:
- We need to look to something or someone greater. Joseph was one who looked for the coming of the God’s kingdom. He knew there was something greater than this life and that there is a God in charge. It put him in a frame of mind to latch onto Jesus. What state is your mind in? Have you let the human-centric culture influence you so much that you can’t even conceive of God or a Messiah? Open your mind and let Jesus work on you. “Come let us reason together” the Lord says. The resurrection may be amazing, but it is reasonable.
- We need to come out. Nicodemus and Joseph loved Jesus. They were committed to Him. Yet they did not publically acknowledge that fact. That is, until the crucifixion. Their hearts were curious and open and expecting God’s Messiah (that’s why Nicodemus came to Jesus after all in John 3). Sometimes we come to a point where we need to fish or cut bait. We need to decide am I in or out? If you are at that point, or perhaps have hidden away your relationship, take a lesson from Joseph.
- We need to look in the right place. Notice the women had come to the place of the dead looking for a dead Messiah. The angels asked them: “why are you looking for the living among the dead?” Jesus isn’t a long dead wise man who said some good things and performed miracles. He is alive and living and active. The question is for us: are you ready to deal with Him as a Person very much alive in our world?
- We need to let curiosity and perplexity give way to belief. Give credit to Peter and John. The other nine hunkered down (actually probably 8. Thomas was hiding somewhere else). How do we respond to what many would consider a “tall tale” about the resurrection of Jesus? Come to the empty tomb; be amazed; then as John records: “entered the tomb, saw, and believed.” (John 20:8). The empty tomb and cast aside grave cloths really do matter. We must give up our disbelief and really let the event soak in.