30 Mar 10 Thoughts for Holy Week, from Matthew 27
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.
Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.
1. The Crucifixion was the end no one saw coming
No matter how much Jesus Himself talked about it, it still came as a shock to His followers. Can you imagine the turn in events, from the Triumphal Entry a few days before, with crowds shouting and miracles happening, to this?
2. The Resurrection was the beginning no one imagined
You’ll notice that none of His followers were there at the tomb (except the Marys—we’ll come back to them). Sure, they had to go home on the Sabbath, but there was no one there on Sunday morning to “welcome Jesus back to life”! Why not? The least likely people on earth to be able to believe in the Resurrection were the Jewish people. Yes, they believed in a generalized Resurrection at the end of history, but one man rising in the middle of history? Blasphemy.
3. Familiarity with Jesus is not the same as following Him
Again, Jesus had predicted His own Resurrection. Where were His people? Why weren’t they following Him no matter what? Because times looked tough. His followers were familiar with his words, but courage to follow Him and believe His word? That’s a different matter, and it is for us as well. Familiarity is not the same as following.
4. “Farness” from Jesus isn’t always as far as you think
Who confesses Jesus as the Son of God just moments before this passage? A battle hardened, brutal centurion—when He saw how Jesus lived his last few moments, that was enough for Him. Sometimes the people that appear the least likely to believe are just a moment away from having an Encounter with Jesus—don’t judge your friend, co-worker, or neighbor on how close they “seem” to Jesus.
5. God’s plan isn’t easy to see
A cursory glance through church history reveals that Christians have been notoriously bad at interpreting what God is doing in and through the circumstances of their day. And by notoriously bad, I mean, like, embarrassingly bad. We should be beyond careful and deeply humble when we approach making a declaration about what “the times” are all about.
Many well-meaning Christian people have taken one verse from the Old Testament in 1 Chronicles 12 (about the Men of Issachar who understood the times, and knew what Israel should do) and applied that to their own perspective (because, after all, they had “the mind of Christ”), and voila! That made them the experts of the day—almost always with disastrous results, diametrically opposed to what other well-meaning Christians of the day were saying.
God’s plan is rarely, if ever, easy to see, and the Psalms and Proverbs acknowledge this repeatedly. My encouragement to us is to follow the lead of the majority of verses in the Bible which acknowledge the difficult complexity of trying to figure out what an omnipotent being is doing RIGHT NOW. The disciples couldn’t figure it out in their day—I’m not sure we would have done much better. Let’s be humble when looking and speaking about the news.
6. Sometimes enemies of Jesus have a better grasp of what He says than His own people do
Look at the Pharisees’ reaction here: they at least are moved to some kind of action by Jesus’ prediction of Resurrection. Misguided though it was, their response shows they at least understood the power of the person of Jesus. We should listen to our critics on occasion—they may show us a truer response to the person of Jesus than we would like to admit.
7. It’s never too late to identify with Jesus
Look at this man who sort of “comes out of nowhere” here: Joseph of Arimathea. He somehow possessed the political clout to be able to go directly to Pilate and ask for the body of a failed revolutionary. Because of his courage in a single moment, we remember him for forever. It’s not too late for you to follow Jesus courageously. As with Joseph, Good Friday can be your day.
8. Crushed expectations are the hardest thing to bear in life
What do the Pharisees call Jesus? “That deceiver”. Twice they refer to him as someone who deceives. Yes, they were likely referring to what they believed to be Jesus’ ability to pull the Jewish people toward Himself, but on the whole, I believe they spoke for the people at this point as well. Where were his followers? Absent. Gone. Those men on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel sum it up well, “We had hoped He would redeem Israel”. We had hoped. Past tense. Crushed expectations, disappointment towards what you believed God was supposed to be up to in your life is bitterly difficult to process—and yet, apparently, walking through a season of that is the path of true disciples. As it’s been said, “don’t doubt in the dark what God showed you in the light.”
9. Love for Jesus will take you to places you never imagined
Look at these two Marys here. They followed Jesus all the way to a strange place—a rich man’s tomb. What looks like foolish obedience and blind loyalty to Jesus in the moment will be seen as courageous devotion and loving sacrifice in the long run. Let’s not be afraid, even when we don’t understand.
10. The plans of humans cannot stop the plans of God
What do the Romans do? Try to stop God’s plans with a rock.
They place a large stone over the mouth of the tomb, and post some soldiers there. As if.
“What God has promised He is also able to perform.”
Mediate on the glorious, incomparable, mind-blowing, centuries-in-the-making, inscrutable and infinitely redemptive plan of the God of the Universe—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Much love to you this Holy Week.
I’ll see you Friday night (7 pm Good Friday service) and Sunday morning (8:30, 9:50, 11:10 or 12:30).