Daytime readings for Holy Saturday — along with posts on Easter foods and traditions — can be found here.

This is one of the two Gospel choices (emphases in bold mine):

John 19:38-42

19:38 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.

19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

19:41 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.

19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

I have chosen this as 2021’s Lenten readings and Holy Week’s have come from John’s Gospel.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur tells us of burial customs for people who had been crucified:

Now what would happen normally to a crucified individual? The Romans would simply let them be eaten by birds or thrown like roadkill on the side of a road somewhere, as continuing the example of not violating Rome. They might even end up in the dump. They might even end up dead bodies thrown in Gehenna where the fire never ceased and the garbage of Jerusalem was burned. But the Romans did not bury criminals. The Jews did bury them; that was typically a Jewish thing to do. But I don’t know that they had any particular plans to bury Jesus whom they viewed as a blasphemer.

The emergence of Joseph of Arimathea in wishing to bury the body of Jesus (verses 38, 41) was a fulfilment of prophecy. MacArthur says:

Now there is a prophecy back in Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53:9. Speaking of Jesus, Isaiah writes, “His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, but He was with a rich man in His death.” His grave was assigned to be with wicked men. Sure, He was going to be thrown wherever criminals were thrown. But He was with a rich man in His death …

“After these things Joseph of Arimathea,” – that’s the town – “being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews.” So here is a man who is a secret disciple. He was afraid to entertain any public confession of faith about Christ even though he believed. If you go back into chapter 12 you remember it says, “There were many of the rulers who believed in Him, but they didn’t acknowledge it for fear of the Jews. They were more concerned about what men thought than what God thought.” So here is this secret believer.

MacArthur tells us more about him and what compelled him to reveal his belief:

Now we know a lot about him because he’s mentioned in the other gospels. He is rich. Matthew 27:57, he is very rich. He is a good man. He is a member of the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death – no doubt he didn’t vote that. He has been a coward, afraid to acknowledge himself when Jesus was ministering and alive. Somehow, in some dramatic way, by divine work on his heart, the coward becomes almost heroic in bravery; and as soon as Jesus has died – which means he must have been around – he sets aside all that fear and all that dread and all that cowardice, and he goes to Pilate and has to reveal that he is a disciple of Jesus, and he asks that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission after checking to make sure He was dead; and he came and took away His body. So now instead of Jesus, Isaiah 53:9 says, having a grave with the wicked, He’s going to be with a rich man in His death.

It says in Mark 15:43 that Joseph gathered up courage. No doubt power of the Lord came on him. He fulfills prophecy, because Jesus had said in Matthew 12:40 that He would be in the grave three days and rise. He has to be in the grave on Friday. Joseph appears to do that.

Jesus, dead, had moved Joseph in ways that Joseph wouldn’t be moved when Jesus was alive. Jesus, dead physically, brought Joseph to an open confession and moved him into the plan in a critical way; and he was the right guy, because he was a believer; and he was the right guy, because he had a tomb that had never been used, it wasn’t occupied; and he was the right guy, because the tomb that he had was right next to where Jesus was crucified, which meant they could get Him in there Friday.

Nicodemus is similarly moved to help bury Jesus by bringing a very heavy load of myrrh and aloes weighing 100 pounds (verse 39).

Nicodemus first approached the living Jesus at night in John 3. That passage was read a few weeks ago on the Fourth Sunday of Lent — Laetare Sunday (Year B) in March 2021.

Nicodemus was a religious ruler, a Pharisee: very learned in Scripture and Mosaic law. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish hierarchy.

He went to see Jesus at night either because he was too busy to meet him during the day, or, more likely, because he did not want to incur the wrath of the Sanhedrin.

So we have two high-ranking men of the religious establishment, both secret and now open believers, burying the body of Jesus according to Jewish custom (verse 40).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Hereby they showed the value they had for his person and doctrine, and that it was not lessened by the reproach of the cross. Those that had been so industrious to profane his crown, and lay his honour in the dust, might already see that they had imagined a vain thing for, as God had done him honour in his sufferings, so did men too, even great men. They showed not only the charitable respect of committing his body to the earth, but the honourable respect shown to great men. This they might do, and yet believe and look for his resurrection nay, this they might do in the belief and expectation of it. Since God designed honour for this body, they would put honour upon it.

MacArthur is less sure that they — or anyone else — anticipated the Resurrection:

Would you please remember that these are not disciples plotting a resurrection or they wouldn’t have used a hundred-pound weight on Him. They weren’t planning to steal His body. Certainly the other disciples weren’t; they aren’t even there.

Although John does not mention it in his account, the other Gospels tell us that women also helped the two men prepare our Lord’s body for burial.

The new tomb was located near the place where Jesus was crucified (verse 41). MacArthur says we can be sure it belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, because:

Matthew 27:60 says that tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea.

Henry points out the significance of the gardens in our Lord’s life and death as well as in the Bible:

That in a sepulchre in a garden Christ’s body was laid. In the garden of Eden death and the grave first received their power, and now in a garden they are conquered, disarmed, and triumphed over. In a garden Christ began his passion, and from a garden he would rise, and begin his exaltation. Christ fell to the ground as a corn of wheat (John 12:24), and therefore was sown in a garden among the seeds, for his dew is as the dew of herbs, Isaiah 26:19. He is the fountain of gardens, Song of Song of Solomon 4:15.

Because it was Friday, the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath — and at that particular time for the Passover Sabbath — that tomb was chosen to expedite matters for religious reasons (verse 42).

Henry elaborates:

1. Observe here the deference which the Jews paid to the sabbath, and to the day of preparation. Before the passover-sabbath they had a solemn day of preparation. This day had been ill kept by the chief priests, who called themselves the church, but was well kept by the disciples of Christ, who were branded as dangerous to the church and it is often so. (1.) They would not put off the funeral till the sabbath day, because the sabbath is to be a day of holy rest and joy, with which the business and sorrow of a funeral do not well agree. (2.) They would not drive it too late on the day of preparation for the sabbath. What is to be done the evening before the sabbath should be so contrived that it may neither intrench upon sabbath time, nor indispose us for sabbath work.

2. Observe the convenience they took of an adjoining sepulchre the sepulchre they made use of was nigh at hand. Perhaps, if they had had time, they would have carried him to Bethany, and buried him among his friends there. And I am sure he had more right to have been buried in the chief of the sepulchres of the sons of David than any of the kings of Judah had but it was so ordered that he should be laid in a sepulchre nigh at hand, (1.) Because he was to lie there but awhile, as in an inn, and therefore he took the first that offered itself. (2.) Because this was a new sepulchre. Those that prepared it little thought who should handsel it but the wisdom of God has reaches infinitely beyond ours, and he makes what use he pleases of us and all we have. (3.) We are hereby taught not to be over-curious in the place of our burial. Where the tree falls, why should it not lie? For Christ was buried in the sepulchre that was next at hand …

In closing, some will wonder about the three-day period from death to resurrection. MacArthur clarifies this for us:

Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, Friday, since the tomb was nearby they laid Jesus there. So He was in the grave on Friday, that’s Day One. He was in the grave on Saturday, that’s Day Two. He was in the grave on Sunday until the morning, that’s three days.

Any part of a day to a Jew constituted that day. Prophecy was fulfilled. He had power over His dying. He had power over the treatment of His body after He was dead. He had power over His burial to fulfill prophecy. Truly this is the Son of God.

Passiontide and Lent end on the evening of Holy Saturday. Catholic churches hold a lengthy Easter Vigil service at that time with several Bible readings, including the Gospel (Mark 16:1-8) wherein Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (not Herod’s step-daughter) are shocked to find the stone rolled back and the tomb empty.