38 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. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus[a] by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds[b] in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 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. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42)
In this passage we have two interesting characters. One Joseph of Arimathea who Brandon preached about a few weeks ago, a secret disciple of Jesus in the high ranks of the Jewish leaders, is now changed and given courage by the death of Jesus. I won’t dwell much upon this point as Brandon has already done so a few weeks ago, but this really is an important theme all throughout Scripture, that death changes things, and not only death, but death and resurrection changes things. These men who were secret disciples of Jesus are no longer afraid to show their love for him, precisely because of the effects of the death of Jesus upon them. The other here of course is Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who is important to John’s gospel. We first met Nicodemus in John chapter 3 when He came to Jesus by night to ask questions of Jesus about entering the kingdom of heaven. Here Nicodemus now is unafraid to be associated with Jesus as he provides the spices for the burial of Jesus, and a very large amount at that.
It might be easy for us to look at Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and think, “Wow guys, too little too late.” But I don’t believe that is the impression the text is giving us. Furthermore, consider your own life. Who among us has not had times of fear and immaturity as Christians and it has taken time, maturity, and further communion with Christ in order for us to get the courage to be unafraid of what others may think, say, or do.
When you think about someone’s burial, who is it that is there at the gravesite? It’s always those who were closest to the person, family and close friends. Lot’s of different people go to funerals, but at the burial site, it’s always a smaller, closer group of people. But here at the burial of Jesus, John shows us these two secret disciples are the main figures at Jesus’ burial. But I would propose to you that these are not two strangers at the burial of Jesus, but indeed these are those who are close to Jesus here at his burial in Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. I believe John is showing us that closeness to Jesus is not about how brave we have been in always declaring our commitment to Christ, rather it is about faith. It is about union with Christ. The most weak and fearful person who believes has the same union with the same Christ as a bold martyr. Christ knows one no less than He knows the other. So when Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are among the few at Jesus’ burial, Jesus is pleased and loves them, for they are His brothers.
Joseph and Nicodemus
Joseph and Nicodemus are forever remembered for what they did to honor and take care of Jesus’ body. God used these two men for what was a very important task and role. We often don’t think about that, but what Joseph and Nicodemus did in taking care of the body of Jesus was very important. When you think about it, Joseph of Arimathea was really the perfect man for the job. The Romans would’ve just thrown Jesus’ body in a mass grave with the others. And no way would Pilate give Jesus’ body to some known disciple of Jesus, and certainly the Jews would have not let that happen. But to have a wealthy, prominent, secret disciple of Jesus on the very counsel that condemned Christ to request the body, was really the perfect plan. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, in the positions that they were, were probably about the only two who could’ve got Jesus’ body to take care of it properly.
I cannot help but find such great encouragement from this fact, that even when we can’t see it, God always has just the right man for the job in the right places at the right time. It may be tempting to think that only the true Christians are nobodies in the world. But to believe that would be to disbelieve our Bibles, for all throughout the Bible, there is story after story of God placing His people in critical positions at the critical time to carry out His purposes. Certainly God still works in these ways today when He desires to do so. So it is our duty not to despise the Joseph of Arimathea when we discover them, but welcome them as a brother and be thankful to God for carrying out His work in His ways. And since God always has just the right man for the job in the right place at the right time, this means that we ought always to have hope in God and trust His providence.
Jesus was honored in His burial
I want you to notice that despite all the humiliation and suffering Jesus endured in his trial and crucifixion, He was truly honored in His burial. These were wealthy men. Jesus was placed in an unused garden tomb, and wrapped with cloth and a lot of very expensive spices.
It is good to honor one another, even to show honor in death and burial. We’ve talked about many times how burning the body in cremation is not a Christian practice, it is an ancient pagan practice. One simple principle here is that we are to show honor to one another and one way we show honor to the body is not by burning it up, but by wrapping it in these fragrances and spices.
I believe it can be an act of Christian faith to see to it, when you are responsible, that a nice burial process is done, to honor and take care of the body. These sweet smelling spices, or whatever the equivalent practice for us would be, and other such care to make sure a nice burial is had can be an act of faith and Christian victory. Even just flowers for the grave site. In doing so we are showing death to have been defeated. By flowering death, and causing the stench to be held back and by beautifying someone’s resting place we are showing that death is defeated, its effects are reversed, and one day it will be done away with forever. In doing these things we are saying, death doesn’t stink as bad, it doesn’t sting as bad. It is a great enemy, but it is one we will triumph over in the resurrection.
A Royal Burial (Christ is King)
Notice as well that this is a royal burial for Christ the King. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. I believe that John is trying to hint at the Kingship of Christ, with these spices that Christ’s body was anointed with. That has been one of John’s themes throughout the trial and suffering of Christ – the authority and Kingship of Christ. Now how do these myrrh and aloe spices hint at this theme of royalty? We just sang it last Lord’s Day. Psalm 45, a Psalm that is a wedding song for the king and his bride. Psalm 45:8 says, “…your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia…” This is a royal mixture. I can’t help but think even of the myrrh and other spices that were brought to the Christ child by the wise men. You will also find in the Old Testament in the burial of several of the Kings of Israel or Judah that they had many spices as well.
His Grave was a Sweet Savor
But what’s more is that in the myrrh, aloes, and spices that Jesus was clothed with in His death we are shown that the death of Jesus has a sweet savor. Though He was humiliated and suffered such great pain, His death is not a stench. It is not foul. Rather it has a sweet smell to the nostrils. His death has a sweet savor in several different ways.
First, the death of Jesus is a pleasing aroma to the Father. His death was a pleasing aroma in that He was the sacrificial lamb that was slain upon the altar for the sins of His people. As Christ took on the sins of all His people, He was slaughtered to make atonement as our sacrifice, and the smell of this sacrifice rose to God in heaven, who was greatly pleased with the work of His Son to atone for our sins. It was not a sacrifice which left the Father wanting for more. It did not leave Him unsatisfied with the atonement made. No, this sacrifice was the final and full sacrifice for sins, totally pleasing, totally justice and wrath-satisfying for all time, making propitiation for our sins. The death of Jesus was pleasing to the Father. It satisfied all that was necessary and required for our redemption.
Since the death of Jesus was a pleasing aroma to the Father, this means then, secondly, that the death of Jesus is also a sweet savor to Believers. How can the death of our Lord have a sweet savor? How can it in any way be a sweet scent to us? It is only for those who believe, who have tasted the sweetness of their redemption in Christ. It is in knowing that the death of Christ was for you. It is in knowing that He died for me. For those who have tasted the rotten bitterness of sin, and have felt the stench of guilt before God, and have experienced the foul condition of being at enmity with God, there is nothing more sweet and pleasing and precious than the sweet savor of the death of Christ for you. The death of Jesus means forgiveness of sins, eradication of guilt, and peace with God. How sweet the death of Christ smells to those who have smelt the sulfur of hell and have been snatched from such destruction and brought to God in Christ. The death of Jesus is a sweet savor to believers.
But what’s more is that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, as believers, we now have communion with God through our union with Christ, and one of the things we experience in that is that we are actually a sweet savor to Christ. Not only is the death of Christ a sweet savor to the believer, but we are now a sweet savor to Christ. In Song of Songs 4:9-15 the King is describing His love for His bride, the analogy being Christ and His bride. He describes it like this, “…how much better…is the fragrance of your oils than any spice…the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon…Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices—a garden fountain, a well of living water…”
Dear believer, you need to know that Jesus takes great delight in you. You are a pleasing aroma to Him. Not because of your own righteousness or goodness, but simply because He is overflowing with love for His bride. He delights in you not because you clean yourself up, but because He is overflowing with all the riches of the spices of grace which He lavishes upon you, washing you in the water of the Word. You know, as Nicodemus brought these spices to anoint the body of Christ, it is inevitable that Nicodemus began to smell pretty good as well. Thus we see Christ delighting also in the believer.
Here we see as well, not as a basis of our standing before God, but in terms of communion with God, the more near and frequent we come to Christ in worship and fellowship, the more the richness of His fragrance wears off on us. We begin to smell like we have just lavished 75 pounds of spices upon His body. Thus we become a blessing and pleasing aroma to others.
What’s more is that these spices poured upon the body of Jesus shows us that with Jesus, death is no longer a stench. Though we still die at the present time and our bodies decay, death is not final. It no longer has that everlasting stench of finality. With Jesus, the decay is reversed. Jesus died and instead of a stench, He makes death smell good because He rose from the dead. Herein lies a good theological basis for placing flowers at a gravestone. It’s a very Christian thing to do. Flowers smell good and that’s what we’re saying about death with Jesus. When Christians die, we’re not going to a place that Jesus hasn’t gone before us, and He freshened it up a bit for us.
And even our death, as Christians, is a delight to God. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of His Saints.”
Death is indeed a great enemy. It is not a good thing. We ought to remember that it is an enemy. And it is good and right and proper to have a time of mourning when loved ones die. We don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking Christians ought not to mourn at death. There is a time for everything including a time of mourning that we ought to experience as we work through death. But we mourn, not as those who do not have hope, but as Christians who have hope. We know death is an enemy, but we also know that with Jesus, the stench has been removed. It smells like resurrection in there. And that’s a sweet smell.
Buried in a Virgin Tomb
Notice something else in our Scripture. John 19:41, “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 I can’t help but point out to you, the palace where he was crucified there was a garden. So Jesus was crucified on a tree at a place with garden. Trees and gardens are pretty important in the Bible. It was Adam who died at a tree in a garden. He died not by giving Himself on a tree, but by taking from the tree. Adam took for himself from a tree in a garden and died. Jesus, the Last Adam, gave up Himself on a tree, at a garden, and that death reversed the first death and has brought life to men.
But notice that in this garden was a tomb and this garden tomb was a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Now this is really important for at least a couple reasons. This is one of those details we could easily miss, or read right on by and not think much of, but we’re not going to do that here.
So the first reason it is significant and important that Jesus was laid in a new tomb which no one else had been laid in is because that means that when He resurrects from the dead, there will be no question as to who it was that came out of that tomb. Since He was the only one in that tomb, then when the body is gone, there is only one person that it could be who resurrected and left that tomb: the Lord Jesus. This wasn’t something that Joseph of Arimathea was thinking about; the text tells us they picked this place for it was close to where Jesus was crucified and they had to hurry before sun down. But this is clearly something that God providentially ordained as we once again see John showing us that God is the one in charge through all the decisions of men during the trial, suffering, death, and burial of His Son, God is the one in charge.
The second important reason that Jesus was placed in a new tomb where no one else had been laid is this: it shows forth His resurrection. Here’s what I mean: Colossians 1 calls Jesus the “firstborn from the dead.” No one had been put into that grave or come out of it yet. And what God does is He makes life where there is none. That’s why Jesus was also born of a virgin. I find this amazing: Jesus was born from a virgin womb, and He was also the firstborn from a virgin tomb. Jesus came into this world, in the flesh, from a virgin womb. And when He died, He was laid in a virgin tomb, that He might then rise again from a virgin womb. Jesus made the tomb into a womb. He made the tomb into a womb that brought forth life.
And in this Jesus shows us how He resurrects us and gives us life and new birth spiritually. He does so, with our aid. He gives life without the help and assistance of any other. Not His power, but also a little bit of our willpower. No, when Jesus gives a man spiritual life from the dead, He does so by His own power. He brings life out of nothing and resurrection out of death. This is how the world works. God speaks and creates, out of nothing, there is something. And when that something dies, God then takes death, and out of death makes resurrection. Life, death, and resurrection is how the world turns.
Buried in a Garden
So as we saw in our text, Jesus was laid in a tomb in a garden. Jesus was buried in a garden. Now, we have made some connections with the first Adam and Jesus the Last Adam being in a garden, and we will come back to that and make more in a short time when we get to the part where Jesus rises from the dead in a garden. But for today, notice here, that Jesus is buried in a garden.
Now let me ask you a question. What do you bury in a garden? What do you put in the ground in a garden? In a garden, you bury seeds. You put seeds in the ground in a garden. That’s what gardens are for. But a garden is not a place where you put something in the ground that you expect to stay there in the ground. The whole point of putting seeds in the ground in a garden is to see them come back up out again, and when they come back up to come back up glorified – with blooming and fruitfulness and a resurrected beauty.
John has already clued us in to this a while back. If you remember John 12:34, Jesus said this, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection. He is saying, He has to die, but it’s a good thing, because when He dies, He dies like a seed going into the ground – it will come back up out again and will be fruitful.
Jesus is the seed planted in a garden. And He comes back up bearing fruit. This means that even though Jesus was the only one laid in His tomb, He was buried by Himself, He isn’t the only one that comes back up – a whole host of nations greater than anyone can count come roaring out of the grave with Him.
With Jesus, death is like planting a seed in a garden. This means we do not have to be afraid of death. Not only physical death, but all throughout our lives as Christians we die thousands of little deaths. We die to ourselves, to our sins, to various wants and desires. Many times God puts things to death in us. But even these kinds of deaths aren’t always easy. Sometimes we are sitting there clutching on to something in our lives, maybe a sin, maybe some dream we have, and God is telling us to put it in the ground. Bury it. Kill it. Put it to death. And when we do that and we clutch what we should bury, it is often because we are forgetting that fruit will come from it. We are forgetting that resurrection comes from death. We are forgetting that with Jesus death is like planting seeds. Things in our lives that Christ puts to death, He does so like a gardener, burying seeds in the ground, knowing that something better will come from it.
I don’t know what it is in your life. Maybe something, some desire or want, doesn’t even have to be necessarily a bad one, but you’re clutching on to, idolizing it, but you just need to trust Christ and put it in the ground. Maybe it’s something in your life, some idea of something that you think will be the thing that will finally make you content and happy and satisfied if you just had it. I don’t know what it may be for you. But you can put it in the ground. Trust that what Christ brings forth for you instead is better.