And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Isaiah 53
There is not one thing in the Biblical accounts the surrounding the events of Easter which does not carry meaning upon meaning. Everything is significant and insights are truly endless because the One who created the universe wove real internal logic into the structure of His created universe. Real events have symbolic and actual meanings at the same time.
Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.
Joseph had recently had a tomb carved out of rock in preparation for his own burial. Proper burial required quick action in the context of Hebrew culture and Joseph took responsibility for the lawful burial of the dead man. He requested the corpse of Jesus and placed him in his own tomb.
He buried Jesus in his own grave. Think about that for a minute.
Jesus in death occupying Joseph’s tomb instead of Joseph. Yes, Joseph would one day die and need a tomb. But let us meditate on what the meanings could be.
When Jesus died in my place He did not take my bodily death from me. We must all suffer physical deterioration, sickness and death.
Adam was told:
“By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
When Jesus, the Son of God, chose to humble Himself and become one of us, He chose to submit to humiliation, death, and the return of His body to the earth. (Though he would never see decay: For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. Psalm 16:10)
Joseph asked the Roman authorities for the body of a well-known despised subversive, in doing so identifying himself with the criminal. He placed the body in his tomb. In death, and in life, his own identity was united with this criminal. How much more intimately could he identify himself with Jesus than by allowing him to use his tomb?
What did he expect? We do not know. He gave up his place to Christ with no thought to where his body would be entombed someday. Why did he do it? As a criminal crucified, Jesus’ burial would be accordingly humiliating. Rather than see him buried shamefully, Joseph honored him with a rich man’s tomb.
Did he suspect, or believe, that the tomb would soon be empty?
At the least he understood this one thing: Jesus died in his place. Maybe he comprehended the significance of his act; certainly the meaning was woven into the future when God created the world.
Jesus in Joseph’s grave. Jesus occupying my grave in my place. Jesus buried in your grave in your place.
What happened next in that tomb changed everything, including the meaning of tombs, the meaning of death, the meaning of life, the purpose of life, and the significance of all we do. The resurrection changed each of our relationships to Almighty God.
One of the themes which cries out in God’s Holy Word is: My life for yours. Jesus who had no faults to reconcile reconciled us to God by giving His life in our places. Another way to express My life for yours could be rendered here: My death for yours.
I am dead and buried in your place, Joseph. Soon I rise and take away death forever. Judgment is done, justice is satisfied, selflessness triumphs, love and mercy reign.
Death had to come first. What happened next was life from death, and one who was dead walked out of Joseph’s tomb alive. Having made true reconciliation between man and God possible, He rose to die no more.
The exchange of life for death equals the exchange of death for life. For Joseph, my death for yours. For all of us, my death for yours.
My life for yours, and we live together.