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TEXT: Matthew 27:57-61
SUBJECT: Matthew #102: Wait on the Lord
Because God does not play dice, I cannot believe that today's New Testament Lesson 'just happens' to fall on the day before we bury our beloved pastor's father, Mr. Warren Leonard, Sr. Providence has connected the two, and given us an insight into both funerals that we might not have seen had they been separated by a longer period of time.
What's the passage about? One famous preacher sees it as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53, thus indentifying Jesus as the Suffering Servant of the Lord, the One who would bear-
The iniquity of us all.
The famous preacher is right, of course: our Lord's burial does fulfill that prophecy, but this is not the main thing Matthew wants us to 'get out of' the story.
Others read it as a moral lesson. Joseph of Arimathea did not become a disciple of Christ on that day, he became a public disciple! Like Nicodemus and others, he was scared of what people would think of him, and so, he kept his faith in Christ far more private that it should have been. Most of us have followed the first part of his example better than the second. Like Joseph, we are secret disciples; we don't deny the Lord in public, but neither do we confess Him, not in 'mixed company' we don't. We call our silence 'good manners' and 'waiting for the right moment', but I have to wonder if, on the Day of Judgment, Jesus might call it something less flattering, something like-
Being ashamed of Me in this crooked generation.
If you're like Joseph-and me!-you need to learn this lesson: a secret a disciple is a contradiction in terms! Jesus gave us a light, and in the song I learned in the cradle, we're to-
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
This is also in our passage. But, again, it's not quite what Matthew wants us to take away from it.
What does he want us to learn from our Lord's burial? He wants us to learn patience! He wants us to learn the lesson our whole life is designed to teach us, especially the hard parts--
Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen
Wait, I say, on the Lord.
This is what the disciples had to do from three o'clock Friday afternoon to sun up the next Sunday morning. They had to wait, wait in terrible pain and disappointment and perplexity, for God to make good on His Promise! But it is not only they who had to wait on God, but so did their Lord: Even Jesus, the Perfect Disciple of God, had to wait patiently for the Lord to act.
Our Lord's last waiting on God is typically overlooked by preachers and the ones we preach to. The reason is not hard to find: theologians call it an over realized eschatology. In other words, we miss it because we think our final salvation consists of our spirits flying up to Heaven when we die. The spirits of just men made perfect most certainly do this, but.
Our Final Salvation occurs, not when our purified souls leave our polluted bodies, but when the two re-unite in conformity to Christ, according to His human nature. This is what we're waiting for at the moment--and what Jesus was waiting for when His sacred remains were laid in a rich man's tomb.
I believe this is Matthew's message for a variety of reasons, but chiefly because of what he leaves out of the story. Luke tells us what happened to the Lord's Spirit when He died. In 24:43, he says to the penitent thief-
Verily I say to you: this day you shall be with me in paradise.
A bit later, He tells us what that Paradise is, v.46-
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Luke, then, is at great pains to assure us that our Lord's spirit or soul was not swallowed up by the grave; that it remained alive and well and now unimaginably happy in the Presence of His Father. What Luke says about Jesus (and the thief as well), Paul generalizes to all Christians-
To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.which is far better.
We call this the Intermediate State, and how dear that doctrine is to people who have lost believing loved ones! Like our unbelieving neighbors, we sorrow over death, but-
Not as those who have no hope.
This is an extremely precious article of faith to us.but Matthew doesn't even nod in that direction. He doesn't say one word about 'where Jesus went when He died'.
.because he wants us to think about-not the glory of that world-but the patient waiting called for in this world.
The waiting began some time in the late afternoon, which v.57 calls-
(This was a Jewish way of describing any time after 3:00 PM). What time it was, exactly, Matthew doesn't say, but given Pilate's surprise at how soon Jesus had died, it must have been quite early.
In any event, He died sooner than the others-not because He was a weaker man than they-but because He chose the time of His death; once His suffering was sufficient to redeem the world, Jesus-
Yielded up His spirit.
(or as John said, No man took His life; He laid it down of Himself).
There must have been dozens of witnesses to His death, but only a handful were 'on His side', a few women, and-Matthew adds-
A rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph.
(Mark and Luke tell us that he was not only a rich man, but also a member of the Ruling Council who had had no part in the Lord's late-night and fake trial).
When he saw the Lord was dead, Joseph quit being a secret disciple, and became what he should have been all along: A true disciple, a man who'd rather die with Jesus than to live on without Him. Make no mistake about it: doing what he did was dangerous; the men who had killed the Lord were in no mood to tolerate His followers! Joseph, therefore, risked his life to care for the dead body of His beloved Master.
You have to wonder why. I'd like to think he had 'connected the dots' between Jesus and Isaiah 53, which prophesied the manner of His burial, but.since nobody else did (with the possible exception of Mary of Bethany), I cannot believe that was his motive.
I'd also like to think Joseph identified Jesus with the King of Psalm 16, whose body would not see corruption, because it would soon be raised. This, however, is also far-fetched.
The reason Joseph took the Lord's body and buried it in the magnificent tomb he had carved out for himself and his family is simply because, he respected Jesus-'revered' Him, is the better word. God created our bodies, and no body should be treated like garbage! Never mind the sanitary (or even the legal) issues; it is a matter of respect for God and His image borne by every human being-man, woman, child, baby.
For all its inadequacy, the Law created a culture of life, unlike the culture of death we have and celebrate and pay for with our tax dollars!
We look back on the 19th Century and wonder how in the world decent, good, even Christian people, could approve of slavery! On the Day of Judgment, that generation will rise up in judgment on us for long supporting abortion-and more recently-euthanasia.
Joseph claimed the Lord's body because he respected human life, especially that Life who was and is-
The Light of the World.
THE PROPHECY AND THE APOLOGETIC
I suppose anyone could have taken the Lord's body and given Him a decent burial, but the fact that it was a rich man who did it is significant. Crucified bodies, you see, were sent to the Potter's Field, along with other human vermin, such as Gentiles and traitors-like Judas Iscariot.
This is where the Ruling Council expected the Lord's body to end up. Until one of their own members confounded their expectation! By burying the remains in (a) his own, i.e., a rich and respectable man's tomb, and (b) a new tomb, that had no other bodies in it.
By placing the Lord's body in a rich and devout man's tomb, Joseph was unwittingly fulfilling Isaiah 53:9, which contrasts His shameful death with His honored burial. The servant of the Lord would die under the wrath of God and the scorn of men, but then.contrary to what you'd think would follow, He'd-
Make His grave with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was deceit found in His mouth.
Presumably, all Joseph thought he was doing was honoring a man who deserved the honor. But, in fact, He was identifying Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, by whose-
Stripes we are healed.
The other thing he was doing (and also without knowing it) was providing an apologetic for the Resurrection. Had Joseph's family crypt been full of dead bodies, all the enemies of Jesus would have had to do to falsify His resurrection, was to fetch a dead body out of that tomb and say, 'See? Here he is: not risen from the dead'. Had they done this, there would be no Church in the world and the name of Jesus would be unknown to history.
But people knew where Joseph had laid His body, and when they looked for it later, it wasn't there! Because, as the angel said a couple of days later-
He is not here, He is risen, as He said. Come see the place where the Lord was laid.
How do we know Joseph really put the Lord's body there? Because there were a couple of eyewitnesses, the two Marys, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who is probably the Lord's own mother. When a man dies, his next of kin is called to the morgue to identify the body. This Mary may well have been just that, Jesus' next-of-kin, but if she's another Mary, then certainly our dear Magdalene knew Him well and bore witness to the fact that He was laid in Joseph's otherwise empty tomb. John confirms this by saying its where she went the moment the Sabbath Laws permitted it.
The testimony is credible, in part, because women (at the time) were not allowed to testify in court. Had Matthew been making up the story, he'd have never chosen the two Marys to confirm it, but God did choose them, and Matthew, like Howard Cosell, simply-
Told it like it was.
If the traditional dates are right, Jesus lay in that tomb for something like fifty hours. Time, you know, is not always experienced in the same way. An hour in a dental chair seems way longer than a Weekend in Paris. You know why: you'd like more time in Paris, and less (or no) time at the dentist's! When things are bad, time drags! It takes patience to endure it.
The time between our Lord's Crucifixion and His Resurrection must have seemed like an eternity to His disciples! For they had pinned their every hope to Him, and now, He was dead, and so were their hopes.
Men, who knew the Lord well and sincerely believed in Him, could not conceive of His Resurrection! Like every devout Jew, they believed the dead would rise, but only at the end of history. And so, the people who hoped He would redeem Israel now, were shattered by His failure to live long enough to do it. This failure certainly undermined their faith in Christ, and must have made them wonder about God Himself. Maybe this whole 'Salvation Thing' is a pious mistake, or, more likely, a religious racket! Maybe there is no God at all; or maybe there is, but He's cruel or negligent, powerless or unreliable; or maybe the Gentiles have it right: there are many gods and we mustn't put all our eggs in one basket! Propitiate them all! Serve God and Mammon, just in case. In short, live by sight and not by faith.
These were their temptations, and the temptations must get the better of them (and us) unless they and we are willing to.wait on the Lord. To wait through the dark hours when Jesus is dead and shows no sign of coming back to life.or of being the Beloved Son God said He was. Or the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Or the Savior of the world. Or any of the other things people thought He was.while He was alive!
Perhaps you don't wonder about such things, at least not in church. But, honestly, aren't there some things you do wonder about? Some Divine promises you say you believe, but don't really? Like the one about all thing working together for our good?
At our best, we're all this way: confessing the goodness and power and love of God with our mouths, but denying them in our hearts. Especially when He's not doing right now what you want Him to do.
When He's not saving your marriage; when He's not healing your best friend; when He's not retrieving your prodigal son; when He's not mending your broken heart or assuring you of your salvation or delivering you from your temptations or all the other things He said He would do. But hasn't done.
This is what Holy Saturday is about: it's about waiting for God to keep His promises, waiting as long as it takes, and waiting with patience.
Why should you wait? Because the Word of God always comes to pass! It seldom comes to pass on your timetable or mine. But come to pass, it does. We know it does because the most unlikely promise of all was kept much, much later than anyone thought it would be. The promise was made the very day Adam and Eve sinned. But it was not kept that day, or for many days thereafter. Or years, decades, centuries, even millennia. How long must the fallen world wait for the fall to be undone? As long as God wants it to. And then, in the fullness of time-God's time--the Man crucified in weakness, was raised in power. And, united to Him by faith, we too will be raised to a glory, a happiness, and a holiness no one can describe outside of Heaven.
There's truth in the old saying, 'Don't just stand there, do something!' But the deeper truth lies in the older saying-
Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord!
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