And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroudand laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away (Mt 27:59-60).
Jesus breathes His final breath around 3 pm on Passover. The darkness that dominated the heavens for the prior three hours, now gives way to the ordinary afternoon sun. As the sun sets on Friday evening – the Sabbath quickly approaching – a rich man and esteemed member of the Jewish counsel named Joseph, who was a secret follower of Jesus, took the courageous initiative to request that Roman Governor Pilate grant him permission to bury Jesus’s body. Typically insurgents were left on their crosses for days after death to serve as a deterrent to those who might rebel against Rome; but in this case, Pilate likely grants permission to Joseph, because he knew that Jesus was indeed innocent. Employing the help of Nicodemus (a fellow Pharisee and leader of the Jews), Joseph then places the corpse in a tomb he had purchased for his own burial, thus honoring Jesus’s body with a resting place, while also averting defilement of the land. (Read John 19:38-42 for a more detailed account.) The burial of Jesus in Joseph’s tomb seems to be a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9 – though Jesus was numbered with the transgressors in His death, in His burial He is with the rich. The two Marys who witnessed Jesus’s death followed Joseph to the tomb where they continued to mourn by His gravesite. At last we come to the final Sabbath of the old covenant age, and Jesus will celebrate it, not surprisingly, by resting after His long day’s work.
The Heidelberg Catechism asks the question: Why was Jesus buried? The fact that Jesus would be resurrected on the third day raises this question all the more. After all, if He is going to rise anyway, why go through the entire burial ritual? The answer the Catechism gives is: To confirm the fact that he was really dead. I would say that much of the sparse detail that Matthew does report about Jesus’s burial in chapter 27 does just that – confirms that Jesus was really dead. In his report, Matthew sets all of the witnesses, both friendly and hostile, into place. The Marys, the guards, and a large boulder are all set to testify of the power that would come with the sunrise. Quietly, the final “shadow-Sabbath” will pass and give way to the most earth-shaking day in human history – the very first Lord’s Day!