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Matthew 27:57-66

Jesus is buried: Some people take action; others wait and watch.

Tom Faletti

May 17, 2024

Photo caption: Gustave Doré (1832-1883). The Burial of Christ. Woodcut. This illustration is in the public domain due to copyright expiration.  It was reproduced from The Doré Bible Illustrations, Dover, 1974, and made available online by Felix Just, S.J. (see http://catholic-resources.org/Art/Dore.htm) at https://catholic-resources.org/Dore/John19f.jpg, and its use is authorized by him.  The illustration was originally published as one of 241 wood engravings created by Doré in La Grande Bible de Tours, issued in 1866.


Matthew 27:57-61 Jesus is laid in a tomb, under watchful eyes

 

In verse 57, what does Matthew tell us about Joseph of Arimathea?

He is rich, from Arimathea, and a disciple of Jesus.

 

Mark adds that he is a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council that had condemned Jesus (Mark 15:43), and Luke adds that Joseph had not agreed to the council’s actions.

 

Scholars aren’t sure where Arimathea was.  The early Christian historian Eusebius, writing nearly 300 years after the time of Jesus, identified it as the Old Testament town of Ramathaim or Ramah where Samuel the prophet was born (1 Sam. 1:1; 2:11), approximately 5 miles north of Jerusalem.

 

What does Joseph do?

 

Jewish Law required that criminals be buried on the same day they were executed (Deut. 21:22-23), and it would have been particularly unseemly to leave Jesus’s body to scavenging dogs on the Sabbath.  Joseph steps in, in place of the family members who ordinarily would have acted.

 

What does Matthew want us to understand about (1) the way Jesus’s body was handled, and (2) the status of the tomb he was buried in?

 

Joseph’s action would have called attention to himself with Pilate and also might have deepened the wedge between him and other members of the Sanhedrin.  How is Joseph an example of courage?

 

How might we imitate Joseph in situations we might face in our own lives?  Where might this kind of courage be needed?

 

Who is watching as Joseph buries Jesus?

 

The “other Mary” was the mother of James and Joseph – see verse 56.  John 19:25 suggests she is the sister of Jesus’s mother Mary and the wife of Clopas.  Some scholars sort out the family somewhat differently and think that Clopas ws the brother of Jesus’s (adopted) father Joseph, which would make this “other Mary” the sister-in-law of Jesus’s mother.  Either way, the women of the family are steadfast to the end.

 

Why do you think these women continue to follow the action, to the bitter end?

 

Their commitment to God no matter what bad things happen, reminds me of Job’s comment, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15, KJV).  It is as though they are saying: “Though He may die, still we will be there for Him.”

 

How is their example a witness to us?

 

 

Matthew 27:62-66 Setting a guard to avoid a hoax

 

Who goes to Pilate?

 

What is their concern?

 

The Pharisees were last referenced in Matthew 23:29.  All of the drama since then has involved the chief priests and elders – the political and religious leadership – not the rank-and-file Pharisees who are so concerned about fervently living out every detail of their understanding of the Law.  Why do you think the Pharisees are involved again now?  Why do they care whether people make up stories about a dead Jesus?

 

The day of Preparation was the day before the Sabbath.  Matthew says they went to Pilate on the day after the day of Preparation.  If we understand the timing he is suggesting, it means they went to Pilate on the Sabbath, which would be a significant violation of the Sabbath required by the Law and show how concerned they were about Jesus even after his death.

 

What do they specifically ask Pilate for?

 

Notice that Pilate does not offer a simple “Yes.”  His answer in verse 65 is literally, “You have a guard.”  (Some translations say, “Take a guard,” but that is an interpretation, not the literal words in the Greek.)  Pilate’s unclear answer has led to two different interpretations:

 

  • Interpretation #1: Pilate agreed to their request and made Roman soldiers available.  There is a problem with this interpretation: If the guard was a Roman guard, it is hard to believe the soldiers would have gone to the Jewish leaders after the resurrection (see Matthew 28:11) and joined in a hoax that, if found out, would have caused them to be executed for dereliction of duty.

  • Interpretation #2: Pilate indirectly rejected their request by reminding them that they have their own soldiers – the Temple guard, who helped arrest Jesus – and is telling them to set up their own guard if they are concerned.  There is a problem with this interpretation: If it was Jewish guards, why would they have been concerned about Pilate hearing about their failure at the tomb (Matthew 28:14)?  A possible answer is that when a person has failed a task, they don’t want anyone in power knowing about it, even if they aren’t directly under that person’s authority; and in this case it might be even more troubling since Pilate, in effect, commissioned them to do the task.  On balance, Interpretation #2 seems more likely, but it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of our faith who the guards were.

 

In verse 66, what do the Jewish leaders and the guard do?

 

What do you think they expect will happen next?

 

 

Barclay remarks on the irony of Pilate’s last statement, regarding the plan to guard the tomb: “make it as secure as you can” (Matthew 27:65, NRSV).  Barclay says, “It is as if Pilate all unconsciously said, ‘Keep Christ in the tomb –  if you can.’”  He adds: “They had not realized one thing – that there was not a tomb in the world which could imprison the Risen Christ” (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, pp. 414).

 

Every opponent of God would like to, in effect, keep Christ in his tomb.  Why is that so important?

If Jesus is risen, then he is still alive and active in the world today and must be confronted or accounted for; and many people would rather not have to explain what they are doing or not doing with regard to a man who said he was the Son of God and has come back to life – which no mere human could do.

 

Are there ways that leaders in our societies do things that look like they are trying to keep Christ in his place rather than giving him free reign to work in our churches and communities? Explain.

 

Are there ways that people in our churches do things that feel like they are trying to keep Christ in his place rather than giving him free reign to do his resurrection work in our churches and communities? Explain.

 

What are some ways that we might unconsciously try to keep Christ in the “tomb” in our own lives rather than allowing the Risen Christ to have free reign?

 

 

We have been exploring what happened to Jesus on Good Friday.  The next passage describes what happens on Easter Sunday morning, the morning of Jesus’s glorious Resurrection.  But there is a day in between – Holy Saturday.

 

Take a minute to contemplate Holy Saturday – that day of waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Is there value in those days of waiting, between when we first experience pain and loss and when God helps us move to a new resurrection that rises above the pain and loss?  What is the value of those days of waiting, between the dark and the dawn?

 

How do times of waiting for God help build our character so that we become more like Jesus?

 

How can we wait for God effectively? 

 

A footnote for the scholarly minded (feel free to skip):

This story of the guard is only in Matthew’s Gospel, not in the other synoptic Gospels, even though other parts of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels draw significantly from Mark.  This bothers some scholars, leading some to suggest that it is merely apologetics (material developed to defend the faith against attacks) or is based in legend.  One response is that perhaps Mark and Luke did not consider this story important to their audiences.  Matthew’s community was a mix of Jewish and Gentile Christians, and, after Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jewish Christians were frequently challenged by Jewish leaders and even faced expulsion from synagogues.  Those Jewish Christians would have valued this story as they tried to defend their faith against people who claimed that Jesus’s resurrection was just a stolen-body hoax.  It would have been much less important to Luke’s and Mark’s largely Gentile audiences, who may not have been dealing so directly with that argument.

 

We do not need to have this story to know that Jesus rose from the dead.  We have abundant evidence in the 4 Gospels, in subsequent books of the New Testament, and in the lives of believers for 2,000 years.  But even today, people who do not want to believe in Jesus like to suggest that perhaps his followers stole his body; so perhaps the story still has special relevance for us today.

 

 

Take a step back and consider this:

 

The Jewish leaders of Jesus’s time were living in a world of “what-ifs”: What if the people are being fooled by Jesus and it was the devil who sent a wonder-worker named Jesus to turn people away from their historic Jewish faith?  What if Jesus’s radically different preaching causes the people to get so riled up that the Romans come down hard on us?  What if the disciples of Jesus went and stole the body?  What if?  What if?  What if?

 

“What if” is not always a bad question.  Sometimes it keeps us out of trouble or helps us anticipate a problem that we can solve or deflect if we think ahead.  But sometimes, “What if” becomes an excuse to avoid confronting the uncomfortable.

 

How do you know when your “what-ifs” are reasonable and when your “what-ifs” are masking your own unjustified resistance to the truth?

 

Is there something that maybe God has been nudging you to do, but you are so caught up in “What ifs” that you can’t get yourself to do it?  If so, what might Jesus say to you to encourage you to respond to God’s nudges?  Talk to him about it.

 

 

Bibliography

Click here for the bibliography.

Copyright © 2024, Tom Faletti (Faith Explored, www.faithexplored.com). This material may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration, for nonprofit use, provided such reproductions are not sold and include this copyright notice or a similar acknowledgement that includes a reference to Faith Explored and www.faithexplored.com. See www.faithexplored.com for more materials like this.

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