Reading: “And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.” John 19:38
And with their eyes fixed on the crucified Christ, a small group of dazed, orphaned, and blinded children crept towards Him whom they had loved, “to pay Him their last respects.” That is the way it is often put, and that is exactly the way it was meant here. To pay respect—the last respect. The friends came together in God’s name for the burial.
The scene was opened by a certain Joseph of Arimathea. It is a mark of the Gospels that figures held in reserve all of a sudden make their appearance. When this happens, people may say: Well, here is a new actor in the drama. But God says: I reserved him a long time for this hour; and subordinate actors must remain in the dark a long time, for Christ alone is the dramatis persona [main character].
Christian, don’t miss this detail of the burial of Christ—this is not a family matter, but a church matter. A certain Joseph buried Him in the cemetery of the church, and hence the family does not take the leading part in it. Christ had already indicated to his mother that his death was not a family crisis when He said, “Woman, behold thy Son” and pointed her to John. Now Joseph, in the providence of God approaches Pilate before the sun’s setting in order to get permission to bury Jesus. The man privileged with His burial is simply identified as a disciple of Jesus—not a family member, not a representative of the Jews, nor a Roman soldier, but a disciple of Jesus.
Whoever you are, or wherever you are in this world know that Christ did not die for a particular family; He was not buried for a single nation or people group—he died and was buried for the “whole world” (1 John 2:2) and He will redeem His church “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
“The purpose of our holy and righteous God was to save His church, but their sin could not go unpunished. It was, therefore, necessary that the punishment for that sin be transferred from those who deserved it but could not bear it, to one who did not deserve it but was able to bear it.”—John Owen
Adapted from Klass Schilder, Christ Crucified, 553.