When the Lord Jesus came into this world as an infant, there were also miraculous signs that accompanied His birth. Luke 2 tells us of the angel who suddenly appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. After the angel made the announcement of the Savior’s birth, a whole multitude of angels appeared in the sky singing, “Glory to God in the highest . . . “. Then there was a star that pointed the way for the Magi from the East to find Jesus.
Jesus’ death was also followed by some amazing events. Matthew 27 tells us that immediately after Jesus said “It is finished!”, the earth shook and the rocks were split apart. Also tombs opened up and bodies of the saints were raised and entered the holy city of Jerusalem. When the centurion who was guarding Jesus saw these things happening, he said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”. The Lord Jesus revealed His deity to a few people both at His birth and at His death.
I. REMOVAL FROM THE CROSS (verses 31-37)
As we read in verse 31, the Jewish leaders asked Pilate that the legs of those crucified should be broken so that they would soon die, and then could be taken off their crosses before the Passover Sabbath began. Breaking their legs would result in a quick death because the crucified person would no longer be able to lift himself up to exhale, and would soon died from asphyxiation.
Pilate granted their request, and the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, but they didn’t break Jesus’ legs because they could see that He was already dead. So in verse 34 it says that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear”. The middle of the spear’s head was a hand-breadth wide. Out of Jesus’ side flowed blood and water. It’s believed that the sword pierced the membrane surrounded the heart, and the serum with clots of blood in it was proof that Jesus had already died.
These events fulfilled two Old Testament prophesies. The first was the instructions for cooking and eating the Passover lamb. Exodus, chapter 12, says that as you eat the lamb, you are not to break any bone of it. This command not to break any of the bones of the Passover lamb is repeated in Numbers 9:12 as they celebrate this feast day each year. Secondly, the piercing of Jesus’ side fulfills the prophesy in Zechariah 12:10, which is quoted here in verse 37: “They shall look on Him whom they pierced”.
II. THE BURIAL (verses 38-42)
The Romans had made an exception by taking Jesus and the two thieves down from the cross. Normally the Romans left those who were crucified on their crosses until their flesh was eaten by birds of prey. Guards kept watch over the bodies in order to keep friends and family members from taking them away. But Pilate made an exception in this case.
Up until now, Joseph of Arimathea had been a secret believer for fear of the Jews. Now, in verse 38, he boldly comes forward to claim the Lord’s body for burial. Why did Pilate hand over the body of Jesus to Joseph? Joseph wasn’t even related to Jesus, and that was against Roman law. Perhaps it was because Pilate was convinced that Jesus wasn’t guilty.
In verse 39 Nicodemus joins Joseph, bringing with him a hundred pounds of spices. Why so great an amount of spices to prepare one man’s body for burial? That’s’ enough spices for a king’s burial! That’s exactly what they wanted to do for Jesus – give Him a king’s burial! The spices were probably in a powdered form, or a paste. They put some of the spices directly on Jesus’ body, wound strips of linen cloth around His body from His feet to His shoulders, and put more spices between each layer of cloth.
Verse 41 says that “in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb.” Matthew 27 tells us that it was Joseph’s new tomb, which he had hewn in a rock. This hill called “Golgotha”, on the edge of town, was considered a God-forsaken place. No expensive tombs were constructed by the Jews in this area. Most wealthy Jews had burial places on the property where they lived. It’s very possible that when Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death, Joseph of Arimathea hurriedly bought that piece of land in the garden and hired a crew of laborers to cut that tomb in the rock so that Jesus could be buried there. There wasn’t time to take the body of Jesus very far because it was almost time to prepare for the Passover meal. Matthew 27 tells us that they rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb after they put Jesus inside, and the chief priests and Pharisees put a guard there. They didn’t believe Jesus’ prophesy that He would rise from the dead in three days, but they wanted to make sure no one could steal the body and start a rumor that Jesus rose from the dead.
As you’ve read this sermon, have the events surrounding the death and burial of Christ made any impression on you? The centurion who observed these events was amazed and afraid, and his attitude toward Jesus Christ changed.
ILLUSTRATION: One day two non-Christians were riding along on a railroad train discussing Christ’s wonderful life. One of them said, “I think and interesting romance could be written about Him”. The other man replied, “Yes, and you are just the man to do it, setting forth the correct views of His life and character. I advise you to tear down the idea of His divine nature, and paint Him and He was – just a man living among men.” The recommendation was acted upon and the novel was written. The man who made the suggestion was Colonel Ingersoll, and the author was General Lew Wallace. The book was entitled “Ben Hur”. I imagine that many of you have read the book or seen the movie.
In the process of writing that book, Wallace learned some amazing truths. The more he studied Jesus’ life and character, the more he become convinced that Jesus was more than just a great teacher. Like the centurion in Matthew’s Gospel, he became persuaded that “Truly, this was the Son of God”! I pray that you might also reach that conclusion, act upon it, and enjoy the privileges of being a “child of God”.