Tag Archives: tomb

To Sleep and Awake

Meditations on the Psalms

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. (Psalm 3:5 ESV)

In the midst of a battle, a life and death struggle, the Psalmist knows of rest in the One He trust. He is under attack, facing death. His enemies taunt Him, saying God will not save Him, or cannot save Him. In His agony He cries out to God, who answers Him with rest.

When the Psalmist, who is Jesus speaking through King David, says “I lay down and slept”what does He mean? To lay down means just that, to be placed in a physically prone position. Sleptmay just be to sleep, as in taking a rest at night, to store up for the next day. Yet, the word is also a euphemism for death (see Psalm 13:3). When Moses was told he would die, God said “behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers” (Deuteronomy 31:16 ESV). Both Jesus and Paul refer to sleep as death (see John 11:11-14). “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (sleep)” (1 Corinthians 11:30 ESV).

Jesus did not swoon while on the cross. When He was laid in the tomb, He was not unconscious or resting in a coma. The physical trauma inflicted upon Him by the Roman soldiers ended His life. He died. Too many people who knew death saw Him dead and handled His dead body.

Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15:43-46 ESV)

Jesus did not stay dead. He spoke to His disciples beforehand about His death and about His resurrection. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised”(Luke 9:22 ESV; see also Luke 18:34, see Mark 8:31, 9:32, 10:33-34, 16:21, Luke 24:7). Jesus’ death and resurrection did not surprise Him and should not have surprised His disciples.

After laying down to sleep, after dying, the Psalmist says I woke again, which means to rouse from sleep, to abruptly awaken, but is also a euphemism for the resurrection. Job uses the word woke, or awake, to show once death has taken hold there is no rousing from it. “As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep”(Job 14:11-12 ESV). Daniel prophecies that those who sleep will awake (woke)to judgment. “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”(Daniel 12:2 ESV).

Jesus’ resurrection is foundational to faith for the Christian. It is reasonable, intellectually stimulating and sound, supported by substantial evidence, and shows the love of God for His people. For Jesus, the resurrection was accomplished from eternity. Nothing could hinder the Son of God from completing that which He decided from before the sin of Adam and before the creation of the world.

We need to understand God sustained Him throughout His earthly ministry and passion. The word sustained means to support, put, uphold, lean upon, brace oneself, refresh, revive. God kept Him for Himself and nothing the Deceiver would do, nothing the world could do, no temptation or torture would remove Him from God. Jesus knew intimately throughout His physical life, during the process of dying and in the tomb, that God sustained Him.

Here is the rub. That which God has done for His Son He will do for those who are in His Son, who are identified with Him because of His work. Faith is the conduit though which God delivers to the Christian that which the Christian needs to live for God in an ungodly world. The object of faith must be God and His Son. We rest in Him.

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A Secured Tomb

Jesus’ murder is complete. Caiaphas, the chief priest, and those who participated in the decision to have the Romans execute an innocent man have spent the night thinking about what had just occurred. It was Passover, the holiest Sabbath of the year. There verbal intent to Pilate was to celebrate Passover without the spectacle of dying people hanging on crosses outside of Jerusalem to offend God.

Passover originated when God brought His people out of Egypt. It is a day of remembrance. He wanted those who are His to concentrate on what He had done freeing His people from the slavery of the Egyptian nation. His last plague, the plague which broke the grip of Pharaoh on the people he enslaved, was the sudden death of all first born in the entire nation from the lowest slave to the highest official including his own first born son. Israel was exempted from the death of the first born in their homes when they spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts before eating their meal while waiting expectantly to be freed. All of Israel was commanded by God to remember His deliverance every year.

Were these people remembering what God had done for them so long ago as God commanded? Had they prepared themselves to celebrate the historical event which solidified Israel as a nation with their own land? Were they even thinking about God?

Apparently, they were more concerned about what they had just done than in anything God had done. They were consumed in their thinking and feeling and actions in making sure Jesus stayed dead. Not that they thought Jesus would become not dead but that his disciples would make it look like he was resurrected. Remembering Jesus words, they paid attention only as far as it suited their emotional need to keep control of the people, they went back to Pilate with a request. They did not rest on the Sabbath as commanded by God but instead went and presented themselves to the executioner, a Greek, the Roman Governor on the day of the Passover. “The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate” [Matthew 27:62 ESV]. Whether they entered Pilate’s residence like they had done the day before or sent in a messenger to speak with him is unknown. What we do know is they gathered together and went to him as a group.

Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first. [Matthew 27:63-64 ESV]

They remember Jesus saying he would be resurrected which means they knew he would have to first die. Thinking Jesus’ disciples capable of engineering a lie of outrageous proportions they asked Pilate to secure the tomb for at least a few days. Did his disciples have a plan, could they even think of such a plan, where they would steal a corpse and then claim the corpse was still alive, or had never died, or was raised from death? Devious thinkers believe everyone as devious as they. There was no concept of what Jesus’ disciples were thinking or feeling. Jesus’ disciples followed a man the Chief priest and his followers considered an imposter making them as much like their teacher as they thought their teacher had been. Jesus was a fraud in their minds and hearts. His disciples were also frauds and capable of defrauding everyone in their lust for control. Jesus was deluded. So were his disciples. Perhaps if they had listened to all of the words of Jesus their thinking would have been different? But now that Jesus was dead they wanted his influence to die with him.

Pilate didn’t care about them or the man he executed, let alone anyone associated with them or Jesus. He gives them permission to do what they think necessary for whatever reason. Jesus was dead. He was not coming back to life. What anyone did with a dead body was no concern of his. His response shows his lack of caring. “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can” [Matthew 27:65 ESV]. Use your own guards. You’re not taking any of my men for such a silly request. Keep the corpse in the tomb. Don’t let anyone steal a dead body.

Caiaphas and those with him had obviously been thinking about what they could do. They had a plan to thwart the supposed preparation of the disciples to deceive everyone. They would lock the tomb with wax and a seal and post a group of armed men around it to keep anyone from opening the tomb. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” [Matthew 27:66 ESV]. By sealing the tomb they would know if anyone broke the seal and could declare to the world the evidence of intent. By posting the guard they could keep anyone, even a mob, from approaching the tomb for any reason.

Jesus was dead. People saw him die. Jesus was buried, placed in a tomb by men from their own ranks. A huge stone was rolled in front of the tomb which would take many men to move. A seal was placed on the tomb. A guard was placed around the tomb to make sure the corpse in the tomb was not removed. How much more could be done?

Jesus was resurrected. What God does no one can stop.

Joseph’s Tomb

Accompanied by Nichodemus they wrapped the body with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews” [John 19:39-40 ESV] Jesus was accorded by these two members of the council a burial of an innocent man. Jesus’ entire body was covered in the spices and then wrapped tightly, the spices acting like an aromatic glue to reduce the odor of death and keep the body from falling apart. Rigor mortis had not yet begun so Jesus’ body was easily placed in a shape which would be fit in the place designed for a body in the tomb. After several years it was also the custom to open the tomb and collect the bones into a sarcophagus, or box large enough to hold the bones.

Here is a possible, even likely, image of the corpse. People were smaller 2,000 years ago than they are today. Jesus probably was not tall and may have weighed around 120 pounds. No one knows for sure. This is conjecture. Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus body after applying half his weight in spices and then bound it tightly with cloth. His body was imprisoned in a shroud. Next it would be imprisoned in a tomb. He was dead and not going anywhere.

Tombs in this area were cut into the sides of the mountains and hills, done so for those who were especially wealthy. Jewish culture demanded a body be buried immediately, or a soon as possible after death. Those crucified with Jesus, the executed criminals who deserved death, were taken down and thrown on the trash heap and eaten by scavenger animals. Jesus was buried according to current (for that time) Jewish custom. They put Jesus “in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock” [Matthew 27:60 ESV]. This tomb belonged to Joseph and where “no one had ever yet been laid” [Luke 23:53 ESV]. Then, they rolled a huge stone in front of the entrance to the tomb. This stone was cut in a circle, weighed probably several thousand pounds, and set in a groove so it could be rolled into place and not easily moved once in place. “And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” [Matthew 27:60 ESV].

There is no doubt about Jesus’ death. They buried a dead body. He may have been able to raise others from death but now he was dead there was no expectation he could any longer do anything. It was fast approaching evening, which is the beginning of the Passover Sabbath, and they needed to be done with their morbid task. Joseph’s tomb was nearby and convenient. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” [John 19:41-42 ESV]. Those women who loved Jesus watched as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body and placed it in the tomb. They saw where the tomb was and how Jesus body was placed in the tomb. “The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid” [Luke 23:55 ESV]. As the Sabbath began they went to where they were staying and continued gathering spices with which they could further anoint Jesus body. They would not do this the next day but the day after. “Then they returned (to where they were staying during the Passover) and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” [Luke 23:56 ESV]. How they intended to open the tomb and accomplish their intended desire is not addressed in the documents. Perhaps they were relying on some of the disciples to roll the stone away so they could continue to lavish on his body more of the expensive spices they gathered.