It has been said that there was a Mary and Joseph at the birth and death of the Lord Jesus, but at the birth Mary was prominent and Joseph looked on, whereas at His death Joseph was prominent and Mary looked on. Both Josephs were gentlemen, but we are focusing on the one from Arimathaea. Matthew tells us this man was rich (27.57) and this is surely a fulfilment of Isaiah 53.9, for there we read that "he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death" (Is 53.9). A place was prepared where the bodies of the off-scouring of the earth were unceremoniously discarded by officialdom, but the Lord Jesus was laid in a rich mans tomb. How fitting this was for the King of kings.
Matthew also tells us that Joseph went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus, so a rich man became a beggar that day and the question is, "Why?". It seems to the writer that as Joseph looked on from somewhere in the shadows he just felt that His Lord and Master had suffered enough, and he was longing for God to take Him away from the pain, the agony and the shame. We all can appreciate how he felt, for many have stood by the death bed of a loved one watching them in their pain and have simply prayed that God would end their suffering and take them home.
How different was Josephs view from that of the soldier who, moments before, had thrust his spear into the side of the dead Saviour, his estimation being He had not suffered enough. But we do know that the Lord Jesus neither suffered too much or too little, for His sufferings were divinely measured, as He Himself said to Peter, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (Jn 18.11). He also knew exactly when He had fully met the claims of righteousness and thus could cry, "It is finished" (Jn 19.30).
Mark tells us that Joseph was an honourable counsellor who waited for the Kingdom of God (15.43). I wonder how he felt as he watched the Saviour die. Perhaps, like Cleopas, he had hoped that the Lord Jesus would have redeemed Israel, but now He was dead and all his hopes were shattered. Sometimes adversity dims our hope and leaves us discouraged and sad, but let us remember that God is in control of every circumstance and He will never let us go.
Mark also tells us that when Pilate knew that Jesus was dead he gave the body to Joseph. What a precious priceless gift! All Josephs riches could never have paid for it, and yet in the purpose of God he received it as a gift. Very few would have accepted this gift for they saw no beauty in the One who had died and they had rejected Him. Solomons words spring to mind, "A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth (Prov 17.8).
Luke adds that Joseph was a good and just man, and truly he was. He could not understand why men had done what they did to his Lord. It was unfair and now, if the Jews had their way, His body would be cast into a pit with all the rest of the criminal fraternity. But Joseph had other ideas. John tells us that he was a secret disciple for fear of the Jews, yet now he openly confesses his love for the One who was regarded as an imposter. What had made this difference? It can only be the great sight that he had just witnessed: that of the wickedness of man being overcome by the mighty love of God, for no doubt he heard the suffering Saviour say, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" (Lk 23.34).
John adds to the record of Joseph but also introduces us to Nicodemus (Jn 19.38-42) and we consider their caring hands in contrast to the cruel hands that had bruised and battered, then ultimately nailed our Lord to the tree. We stand on holy ground as we ponder these two men bearing the weight of their Lord as they lower Him to the ground and, with tenderness, gently remove the nails, no doubt with tear filled eyes. Finally they embalm His precious body with very costly spices and wrap it in linen clothes. They now carry the One they love and lay Him to rest in Josephs new tomb. Matthew tells us that he had hewn it out of the rock (Mt 27.58-60) which must have taken time, energy and effort, but now he sees the fruit of his labours. Luke and John tell us that no one had ever been buried in this tomb (Lk 23.53; Jn 19.41) and it has been well said that the Lord Jesus came in by way of a new womb and left by way of a new tomb, leaving defilement in neither. This surely answers to the law of the burnt offering (Lev 6.11) which states that the ashes must be carried to a clean place. John tells us that the tomb was in a garden which seems a strange place to lay the lifeless body of the Saviour; yet how very suggestive, for His body is being sown like a seed from which new life would appear.
We now turn our attention to the women who watched everything that was done, particularly Mary Magdalene, for she was there when they buried Him and she also came on the resurrection morning. She was no doubt overcome with grief as she watched the One who had done so much for her and meant so much to her, being laid to rest. She would be glad that they could harm Him no more and He was at rest. Perhaps she told Mary His mother of the care that Joseph and Nicodemus had taken with her first born son and how tenderly they had treated Him. It would help mend her broken heart. She then returned home and together with other women and prepared spices and ointments so that, when the Passover was past, they could show their appreciation of Him.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, while it was yet dark Mary returned to this sad scene and Mark states that on the way she discussed with her friends who would roll away the stone (Mk 16.3). She knew how hard it must have been to roll it there in the first place and possibly knew that it had been sealed with the Roman seal which meant death to anyone who broke it. How amazing to find that God had already removed the problem. How true to life this is: we are all guilty of worrying about a difficulty as we seek a solution, only to find that God has removed it as only He can. In Matthews account we read that the place was rocked with an earthquake as one solitary angel descended from heaven, rolled away the stone and sat upon it in utter contempt for the power of Rome. Matthew adds that the guards were shaking with fear (28.4) and became as dead, as One who was dead became alive.
Now the mighty conqueror of Calvary bears that lovely title, "I am he that liveth, and was (became, JND) dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev 1.18). Mary and her friends were also afraid, but the angel brought them a word of comfort from the lips of the Saviour Himself: "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said" (Mt 28.6). In Johns Gospel we read that Mary ran and told Peter and John, who returned with her and saw the empty tomb and the graveclothes, but then went home again (Jn 20.1-10). Perhaps needs were pressing, but I have often wondered if they asked Mary to come home with them or was this an oversight on their part? Perhaps they did ask, but she declined. In any case Mary stood by the tomb weeping and she told the enquiring angels that the reason for her tears was that they had taken away her Lord, and she did not know where to find Him. What love she must have had for Him. She was rewarded, for He came beside her and asked, "Woman, why weepest thou" (Jn 20.15). She supposed Him to be the gardener and made a desperate plea, "Sir tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away". Then He gently spoke her name, "Mary". It is hard to imagine just how Mary would have felt when she heard the voice she knew and loved so well and as she turned to see Him. Oh that we would be characterised by the same love for the One we claim to love as she did!