Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed His last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split... Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for Him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:50-51;55-56, NIV)
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity... After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed His body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where He was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:31; 38-42, NRSV)
On the Sabbath, they all rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. (Luke 23:56-24:1, NRSV)
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The day after Jesus’ crucifixion is one of those interesting, yet unrecorded days in biblical history. If you look at the Gospels, they each give about one verse to what was going on in the world of the Jews: they were “resting.” Whether it was due to traditional obligation or genuine obedience, the majority of people took this day off because of the Sabbath law.
Saturday was one of complete silence. There seems to be no movement; no advancement; no hope. But what screams out for our full attention are the teachable truths found in the moments before the Sabbath began.
You see, Good Friday - though being the day of Jesus’ death - is also known in Jewish tradition as the “Day of Preparation.” This was important because it was the last day for the Jews to collect their needed supplies before taking the next day off.
Think of the day before a big ice/snow storm. Everyone is running around town, stocking up their pantries, and buying what needs to be bought. Rightly so, people are focused on only one thing: prepping for the next day.
So even though Jesus just died, the Jewish tradition demanded for the world to keep moving. This is why the Jews wanted to rush the removal of Jesus’ body. They had things to do and people to see...and they definitely did not want His body on display during the Lord’s Day.
But all while everyone - even the Lord’s disciples - carried on with their “needed” prep, two very unexpected people were boldly making other preparations.
“Unexpected” in that they were once closet believers. Yet in all four of the gospels (which is a huge deal), the authors make sure to give credit to Joseph and Nicodemus for their care of Jesus’ body.
We know Nicodemus from his secret (and interesting) conversation with Jesus in John 3. But all that we know about Joseph is that he was a timid and fearful follower of Jesus who cared more about remaining safe from the Jew‘s disapproval than being a bold disciple.
But here, both their silence and their fear seem to vanish.
We see Joseph approaching Pilate to boldly ask for Jesus’ body. Being a man of stature and influence, he was able to quickly receive this request. But think about this: If it wasn’t for Joseph, the Lord’s body would have been treated like that of a murderer - just thrown into a pile of corpses.
But instead, Joseph is seen delicately removing Jesus from His cross, cleaning off His bloody body, prepping it for burial, and carrying Him to a nearby tomb - a tomb that Matthew states is Joseph’s own property.
He takes his day of preparation and boldly focuses it on his Lord. But he is not alone. Nicodemus also decides to make his adoration for Jesus known by bringing expensive spices to aide in the burial process.
And together, they wrap the body in linen clothes, according to Jewish tradition. This is such a beautiful - yet messy - picture. Here are two random men, doing the difficult work that would normally take many skilled hands. But no one else was present to help.
Yet it was because of their preparations - and bold obedience - that the Lord’s body was also ready for the day of rest. The silence of Saturday - though seemingly despairing - was given a ray of hope because of the complete change in heart that these men expressed.
So then, what was it that changed in the lives of these two? What brought them into such boldness? What enabled them to overcome their fears? Their doubts? Their selfish concerns?
Honestly, I think that it is found in what Matthew records: “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom...” (27:50-51).
At the exact moment of His death - at the assumed “triumph” of evil - something severe happens: the veil in the temple was torn.
For years, the old covenant reigned.
In this system, a priest would go beyond the veil to make the sacrifice in the presence of the Lord (the ark of the covenant). Before Christ’s death, no one but a priest could do this job.
The separation of God and man was visibly seen when looking at the veil: man as fallen and God as perfect. But in an instance, Christ - being the ultimate priest and sacrifice - died, and the dividing wall was torn.
This means that before Jesus’ resurrection ever took place, there were already hints of His victory. His sacrifice took the separating and isolating power of sin and destroyed it.
Where sin intimidates mankind, shames them in isolation, and binds them with fear, Jesus’ work on the cross began an ultimate reversal. And we see this new freedom already at work in two men who were once known by their fear and isolation.
Jesus’ death gave them courage and boldness - not of themselves - but because sin (and sin’s effects) were torn. Before glory was ever vividly displayed in the resurrection, Jesus was already working gloriously in the unseen.
Saturday teaches us that peace was already at work even though “victory” was not yet fully expressed. It reminds us that even in the silence, God is powerfully at work. And it calls us to live with this same level of boldness and obedience despite our inability to see what victory will soon come.
We all find ourselves in days like Saturday. Where life seems mundane and Jesus seems far. Where failure feels defining and hope appears obsolete. It is in these moments that we must realize that the separating power of sin has been demolished; that Jesus has already given us hints of what will soon become reality. He has already given us a foretaste of glory.
Sunday will come; victory will soon be experienced.
Daily Prayer: Lord, thank you for Saturday. Thank you for the reminder that regardless of what I feel and what the world around me expresses - You are here. Thank you for already being at work; for giving me glimpses of Your glory. I pray that I can live with boldness today. Give me eyes to see what preparation You are calling me to make. And with courage, I step forward. Amen.
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Greg, Declare Glory