Dec 31, 2017

“Preparations for a New Year” 12-31-17

Matthew 27:57-66
December 31, 2017

A few weeks ago, as we were preparing for Christmas, we looked at the role of Joseph, the husband of Mary, in accepting the words of the angel and becoming Jesus’ earthly father.
Today, as we prepare for the coming of a new year, we have an opportunity to look at the role of another Joseph in the life of Jesus, or more properly, after the death of Jesus.
He is known in the bible as Joseph of Arimathea, which seems to mean that his origins were in a village in Israel named Arimathea, but we have been unable to locate the place with certainty.
There are all sorts of legends about Joseph that come from the British strands of Christianity, especially associated with Glastonbury.  You can look all that up if you wish, but since they are legends and not stories found in the Scriptures, and since they refer to events that supposedly occurred in Joseph’s later life, we are going to limit ourselves this morning to what we know of Joseph from the Bible.
Since he was connected with Arimathea, we assume that he was not a lifelong resident of Jerusalem, but he seems to have become one.  He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the council of the Jews that met in Jerusalem and he obviously intended to be buried in Jerusalem because he had purchased a tomb just outside the city walls in a location that would soon be enclosed by new walls and would be incorporated into the city.
The Gospels tell us that Joseph was wealthy. (The legends tell us that Joseph was a merchant of metals.) And the Gospels tell us that Joseph was a disciple or follower or believer of Jesus.
He had dissented from the decision of the Sanhedrin to have Jesus put to death.
We do not read about Joseph until after the narratives about the death of Jesus.
Jesus died late in the afternoon on the day before the Passover or a Sabbath, and that posed a bit of a problem.
Roman practice in the rest of the empire was to leave the unclaimed bodies of executed people on the cross until they rotted off.  But in Israel the Old Testament laws forbade bodies being unburied. There were probably places for executed criminals to be buried (we know that the priests had used the money they had given to Judas and he had returned to them to purchase a field to bury strangers who died in Jerusalem.)
In Jesus’ case, his family or disciples could have asked for his body, but they were all from out of town, they were all Galileans, so they had no place in Jerusalem to bury Him, and the body had to be buried before sunset because the Passover started then.
So Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus so he could inter it in a new tomb he had purchased.
We do not know what his motivation was, but it is clear that he chose a strange moment to reveal his sympathies with Jesus.
The majority of his fellow council members had condemned Jesus, at the conniving of the High Priest, with whom Joseph would continue to be working as a member of the council.  It may be that he chose this moment to reveal his status as a follower of Jesus to set himself apart from their decision, and to condemn it.
Or it could be that he could not bear to see the body of his master not properly cared for.
So he asked for the body, and as far as he could tell at the time, he performed the last kind act for his master.
While he was preparing and burying the body of Jesus, some of the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee were observing him.  Matthew specifies two of them; they were Mary of Magdala, or Mary the Magdalene, and another Mary, who was probably the woman who had previously been identified as the Mother of James and Joseph.
They watched as Joseph of Arimathea closed the tomb by rolling a large disc-shaped stone in front of the opening.
They may have already been thinking that they would come back after the holiday and more properly prepare the body of Jesus.
Matthew tells us that there was another group of people who were interested in the body and tomb of Jesus.
They were the scoundrels who had arranged to have Jesus killed. They were the members of the High Priestly family and some of the Pharisees who served on the ruling council.
They went to Governor Pilate to make a strange request.  They reminded him that Jesus had made a claim that he would rise from the dead in about 3 days after his death, so they asked Pilate to secure the tomb, so as to prevent any of the followers of Jesus from stealing his body and claiming that He had risen.
This request tells us that the enemies of Jesus had more faith in His followers than they should have. The Apostles had fled and were hiding out.  They thought that any continuation of Jesus’ movement was impossible.  They were totally defeated.
But this request proves something else.  One of the charges that they had sustained against Jesus was blasphemy against the Temple.  They accused Him of saying that He would destroy the temple and rebuild it in 3 days.  The truth was that when He had spoken of rebuilding the temple in 3 days, He was speaking of His body.  And in this request, they admitted that they had really understood His meaning, so the charge of blasphemy against the temple was a lie, and they knew it.
We are not sure of Pilate’s answer, whether he granted them some soldiers to guard the tomb or instructed them to use soldiers they already had at their disposal to do it.  But Pilate did authorize them to guard the tomb.  In addition to posting a guard, they sealed the tomb with a wax seal, imprinted by the Governor’s signet ring, signifying that Pilate had ordered that the tomb remain closed.
And, as far as the actors in this story were concerned, the story of Jesus was over.  He was dead and buried, and for a few days, there were soldiers posted to the tomb to make sure his body stayed there.
They thought they were ending the story.  But in fact they were preparing for the future without knowing it.
The tomb in which Joseph placed the body of Jesus was intended to be Jesus’ eternal resting place.  But that tomb would in fact become the platform from which Jesus would leap into eternal life.  It was the fortress from which He would march against death.
The women were planning to add to the treatments for the body, to better prepare it for an eternal rest.  But unbeknownst to them, they were preparing to become the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.
The leaders of the enemies of Jesus were preparing to dissuade His followers from claiming a false resurrection.  But the reality was that their guards and the sealing of the tomb would only give credibility to the real resurrection of Jesus by the power of almighty God.
As we tonight end one year and begin another, we find ourselves in a similar situation to Joseph, and the two Mary’s,
We will be trying to honor Jesus and carry out his mission for us into a New Year, but we have no idea of what the New Year will bring.
In many ways some of the events of 2017 were surprising.  The only prediction that I would make of 2018 would be that there are more surprises coming.
So how can we prepare? By following the examples of Joseph and the Mary’s.  They sought, even in their great sense of defeat, to honor Jesus.  As long as we do what we can to bring honor to Jesus, we will in effect be preparing for what God will bring to us next year.
And I can even go a little farther in this line of thinking.  Joseph and the Mary’s sought to honor the dead body of Jesus.
We, too, have a body of Jesus that we can honor.  It is called The Church.  Not the church of buildings and meetings, but The Church that is comprised of those who believe in Jesus. If we go into this New Year planning and working to help those who believe in Jesus, working to help more people believe in Jesus, and doing things to free Christians from prisons, and oppression and persecution, we will be preparing to assist God in whatever He will bring to us in 2018, 2019, 2020 and beyond.


Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906