“Why does Luke pay so much attention to Jesus’ burial?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Luke wants you to admire Joseph of Arimathea. He was ‘a good and righteous man’ (Luke 23:50). That meant he was faithful to God’s covenant and experienced its blessings. Like some others in this Gospel, he was ‘looking’– waiting expectantly– for God’s kingdom to come.

He was also a member of the Sanhedrin but had not consented to its condemnation of Jesus (perhaps its leaders had avoided summoning to the crisis meeting anyone whose loyalties they suspected). Matthew and John tell us explicitly what Luke only implies: he was also a rich man (he already owned a tomb in Jerusalem); and he was a secret disciple who, until this point, had lacked the courage to confess it (Matthew 27:57; John 19:38).

The Sanhedrin was a very select group of well-connected men. Word of mouth travelled fast in Jerusalem. Joseph must soon have learned what had happened. Jesus was dead.

It was now or never for Joseph. He stepped out of the shadows, went directly to Pilate and asked for the body. This was not without risk, or cost. If Pilate granted his request, and Joseph personally handled Jesus’ body, he would be rendering himself ritually unclean.

But he knew that otherwise Jesus’ body would probably be thrown into a common grave where the bones of many criminals already lay– perhaps right there at The Skull (was this the derivation of the name?). Some things are far more important than ritual purity.

Pilate was probably relieved. Now he could relax and forget about the problem of Jesus. Little did he know… But for Joseph there must have been three hours of feverish activity. It was already past three o’clock and the Jewish Sabbath began at six o clock– not a lot of time to get to Pilate for permission, get back to The Skull, arrange helpers, and carry Jesus’ body to the family tomb.

Why does Luke pay so much attention to Jesus’ burial? For several reasons. The first is that he removes any doubt about the reality of Jesus’ death. The Roman soldiers had made sure of that. Joseph had himself handled the body, and others had helped him prepare it for burial and carry it to the tomb.

The second is that Luke makes clear that there was no confusion about the location of Jesus’ burial place. Joseph’s tomb was new, and a variety of witnesses knew where it was.

Then, thirdly, Luke adds that the women went to prepare spices and ointments to return after the Sabbath to anoint the body. In other words, nobody– despite what Jesus had taught them– was expecting Jesus’ resurrection.

But before we come to that resurrection, we should take another look at Joseph. Of all the Gospel-writers, Luke was most like a historian in his method. But historians can also be poets and theologians. And there is something poetically theological about the way he frames his whole Gospel.

His story of Jesus life begins with him being cared for by a man named Joseph, who places him in a borrowed resting place, in which no baby had ever been laid. It ends with Jesus being cared for again by a man named Joseph, who lays him in another borrowed resting place, where no man had ever been laid.

The story has come full circle; another Joseph has received Christ into his heart and life. At the turning point of Luke’s Gospel, near the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had said that discipleship meant following one who had ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58). Now Joseph had come out into the open as a disciple, whatever it might cost. So he gave up to Jesus the place where he had planned to lay his own head.

At the cross, Jesus had given up what was His for the sake of Joseph. Now Joseph was giving up what was his for the sake of Jesus. That is what it means to be a disciple.”

—Sinclair B. Ferguson, To Seek and to Save: Daily Reflections on the Road to the Cross (Epsom, England: Good Book Company, 2020), 142-144.

“This first” by Martin Luther

“In holy and divine matters one must first hear rather than see, first believe rather than understand, first be grasped rather than grasp, first be captured rather than capture, first learn rather than teach, first be a disciple rather than a teacher and master of his own.

We have an ear so that we may submit to others, and eyes that we may take care of others. Therefore, whoever in the church wants to become an eye and a leader and master of others, let him become an ear and a disciple first.

This first.”

–Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 11: First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126 (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 11; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 11: 245–246.

“Follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of His hand” by Jonathan Edwards

“In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on His hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of His righteousness.”

–Jonathan Edwards, Letters and Personal Writings (ed. George S. Claghorn and Harry S. Stout; vol. 16; The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1998), 16: 90–91. Edwards wrote this advice to Deborah Hatheway, an eighteen-year-old new convert to Christ who was without a pastor, in a letter of counsel on June 3, 1741.

“Become a disciple first” by Martin Luther

“In holy and divine matters one must first hear rather than see, first believe rather than understand, first be grasped rather than grasp, first be captured rather than capture, first learn rather than teach, first be a disciple rather than a teacher and master of his own.

We have an ear so that we may submit to others, and eyes that we may take care of others. Therefore, whoever in the church wants to become an eye and a leader and master of others, let him become an ear and a disciple first. This first.

The one who has not been tempted, what kind of things does he know? One who has not had experience, what kind of things does he know?

One who does not from experience know what temptations are like, will transmit not things that are known, but either things that are heard or seen, or, what is more dangerous, his own thoughts.

Therefore let him who wants to be sure and wants to counsel others faithfully first have some experience himself, first carry the cross himself and lead the way by his example, and so he will be made certain that he can also be of service to others.”

–Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 11: First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 245-246. Luther is commenting on Psalm 94:8.

“The repentance that Christ requires” by J.I. Packer

“The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limits to the claims which He may make on their lives. Our Lord knew– who better?– how costly His followers would find it to maintain this refusal, and let Him have His way with them all the time, and therefore He wished them to face out and think through the implications of discipleship before committing themselves.

He did not desire to make disciples under false pretenses. He had no interest in gathering vast crowds of professed adherents who would melt away as soon as they found out what following Him actually demanded of them. In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to responded to the message of free forgiveness.

In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness, in one sense, will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick. And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims tat Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation. Such is the evangelistic message that we are sent to make known.”

–J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1961/2008), 81.

“The life of the disciple is not for the timid” by Kris Lundgaard

“The life of the disciple is not for the timid. Most would rather give in to sin than go through the painful work of picking up a cross and nailing their flesh to it.”

–Kris Lundgaard, The Enemy Within (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), 31.

“Practice what you preach” by John Calvin

“Now the main thing in a preacher should be that he may speak, not with his mouth merely, but by his life, and procure authority for his doctrine by rectitude of life. Paul, accordingly, procures authority for his exhortation on this ground, that he had, by his life no less than by his mouth, been a leader and a master of virtues.”

–John Calvin, commenting on Philippians 4:9 in Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 122.