A Tomb for a Gift?

April 19, 2009

When our daughter, Deborah, was preparing to depart for Odessa in Ukraine last year she had to sign a form telling how she wished to have her remains disposed of if anything happened to her while she was overseas. Pretty heavy stuff for a twenty-one year old. But practical.
What do you do with your body if you are far from home when you die? When we were living in Australia I remember telling Angela that is anything happened to me to have my body cremated and to bring it home in the video camera case to avoid shipping charges. Video cameras were much larger then.
We don’t like to talk about things like that. When I was pastoring in Truro I had a great idea, we made “funeral information” forms available. It covered all the things that would need to be taken care of when a person died. Did they want to be buried or cremated, did they have a preference for who performed the service, what songs were to be sung, favourite scripture passages. I thought it was a great idea, we would keep them on file in the office and when they were needed it would save the family a lot of grief. We handed out 150 and got 4 back. It’s almost as if by talking about it we will make it happen but it’s going to happen whether you fill out the silly form or not.
Last week was Easter and we focused on the death of Christ and on his resurrection, and we often talk about Jesus being laid in the tomb and then the tomb being found empty, but have you ever stopped and thought about the tomb that Jesus was laid in.
Funeral arrangements are never easy but they are more difficult when the death is sudden and unexpected. I wonder at what point it dawned on Mary that something was going to have to be done with the body of her son when he was taken down from the cross. Remember Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem but his home was in Nazareth which was over a hundred kilometres away in a time when there were no trains or plains or hearses for that matter to move the body from point “a” to point “b”
We’ve all seen photos of the sculpture by Michelangelo with Mary holding the body of her son, there was a similar scene in the Passion of the Christ. I wonder what was going through her mind at that point? If she was wondering what was going to happen to her son when she let go?
Actually the scriptures tell us that by that time there was already a solution and as often happen that solution was provided by an individual who made a conscious decision to help. We read the account earlier but to refresh your memory. Matthew 27:57-58 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him.
We don’t know a lot about this man called Joseph. We know from this account that he was from the town of Arimathea, which was a suburb North West of Jerusalem. We know that he was wealthy, and from reading Mark 15:43 . . ,Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. We know that he was part of the Sanhedrin and he that was Kingdom minded. Luke tells us in Luke 23:50-51 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. And from John 19:38 we discover Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. And from that tradition and legend has added some details.
Tradition tells us that Joseph was Mary’s uncle was a tin merchant. Because of his business legend says that had travelled to the mining community of Cornwall England which was renowned for its tin. As a matter of fact some legends even say that he took his Great Nephew Jesus to Cornwall when he was still a child. And that’s why William Blake’s poem says: And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
Legend continues to say that because of that connection and history that Joseph was later recruited by the apostles to take the gospel to England and that on the journey he took the cup that Jesus had used at the last supper, which of course began the legend of the Holy Grail. But all of that is just legend. But what is it that we actually learn from this story?
1) It Involved a Need. Actually Joseph saw two needs in this story. The first was a spiritual need. You will recall from the accounts we read that although Joseph was a believer he was not a Christ Follower in the public sense. In his heart and in his head he knew and accepted the claims of Jesus but nobody else knew about his decision. The scriptures said he was a secret disciple which I would kind of think is an oxymoron. Being a disciple means being a follower and I would think at some point you would have to make a public declaration. As Joshua was leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land he issued them with this challenge. Joshua 24:15 “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
Story is told about a small town that had an awesome fisherman, during fishing season he always caught piles of fish, even when they weren’t biting for anyone else he would arrive back in town with all kinds of fish. Well the game warden got curious about how he was doing it so one day he invited himself along to go fishing with Buddy. Well they got in the middle of the lake and the fellow opens up the tackle box, pulls out a stick of dynamite lights it and tosses it into the water, boom. Fish float to the surface and the warden freaks out, starts screaming about the law and how big the fine would be and even possible jail time. Well, buddy looks at the warden, reaches back into the tackle box pulls out another stick of dynamite lights it and hands it to the warden and says: “you gonna talk or you gonna fish?”
Well there comes a time that we have to make a decision when it comes to following Jesus and it shouldn’t be put off, Jesus was pretty clear when he said Matthew 10:32-33 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.

But it was more than simply a spiritual need that Joseph saw there was a practical need as well and that was what to do with Jesus’ body. Three things could have happened. 1) The Romans were notorious for simply leaving the body of executed criminals on the cross as an example for others. Birds of prey would feed upon them and eventually they would decay and fall off the cross to be picked at by animals. Some scholars even thought the reason Golgotha was called the Place of the Skull had nothing to do with the shape of the hill and everything to do with the skeletal remains left lying about. 2) That didn’t apply if the person who was executed was Jewish. We read in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone has committed a crime worthy of death and is executed and hung on a tree, the body must not remain hanging from the tree overnight. You must bury the body that same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God. In this way, you will prevent the defilement of the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession. The Jewish authorities felt that applied as well to those crucified and so the bodies had to be taken down before sunset. That is why the thieves on either side of Jesus had their legs broken, to speed up their deaths. But it was already determined that Jesus was already dead. But if there was nobody to claim the body than it was simply disposed of in the garbage dump. 3) A relative or family member could claim the body.
So from a practical point of view something had to be done for Jesus burial, his body wasn’t just going to buy itself.
Being a Christ follower doesn’t just involve a spiritual need it also involves a practical need. From the very beginning of Christianity believers have gathered together in local churches and those churches have had needs that were met through those who followed Christ. It’s not up to the world to meet the needs or the church, or the government and the early church didn’t do it through fund raising and bean suppers and bingo.
In the case of Cornerstone we have a mortgage, power and heat bills, maintenance, snow plowing and salary costs. And as the church grows some of those costs will increase. We now have more children at Cornerstone than we had total attendance three and a half years ago and in order to effectively minister to those children and their families this year we need to add a part-time children’s director position to our staff. And that will only happen as folks step up to meet that need.
And that brings us to the second point. 2) It Involved a Decision. Joseph filled the first need by publicly declaring himself a disciple of Christ. Have you publicly declared your allegiance to Christ?
Part of doing that is when you choose to obey his command and be baptized as a believer. The purpose of baptism was not to get wet it was to make a public declaration of a personal decision to follow Christ. And understand there is no example given in the New Testament of people waiting for a period of time after becoming a Christ follower to be baptized.
Matthew 27:57-58 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. I don’t know how many people were there that day who could have done something, but Joseph didn’t wait for them to do something he did it. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus body. He didn’t hope that someone else would do it, he didn’t assume one of the apostles or Jesus family would take care of it, he did what had to be done.
In too many cases “Everyone thought someone would do it and in the end no one ending up doing it.”
There is no magic pot that we dip into at Cornerstone to meet the financial needs that we have as a congregation. If we are going to minister to this community, if we are going to provide a place for you and your family to worship, if we are going to be able to continue to teach your children and be there for weddings and funerals, than those needs will have to be met by those who call Cornerstone their church home.
And we do it a little differently than most churches do it, we allow you to determine what type of church you want to have. Next week we will ask each of you to make a commitment as to what you will give on a weekly basis for the next church year. We do it by giving each of you a commitment card to fill our and return, and my personal promise to you is that I won’t embarrass you or put you in an awkward situation.
But the bottom line is that my pay cheque, the mortgage payment, which by the way is $8,000.00 a month, the heat, the lights and everything else right down to the toilet paper is paid for by people who love Jesus and love Cornerstone.
And every person who is connected with this church will have to decide how much they are willing to invest in what we do. Because you will spend your money somewhere. And you will choose what investments you make, and Jesus said it would be litmus test of who we are, in Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. And you will make a decision about Cornerstone when you fill the card out and make a commitment. And you will make a decision about Cornerstone if you choose to not fill the card out and make a commitment
3) It involved a Sacrifice Understand that this wasn’t some nebulous theoretical decision that Joseph made. When he publically identified himself with Jesus it wasn’t the popular thing to do, those who had followed Jesus for three years were hiding in the shadow and for good reason. Jesus had been crucified for being a traitor to the Roman Empire and to his religion. And Joseph was basically saying “I’m with him”.
When you take a stand today to seriously follow Jesus, not just call yourself a Christian because you aren’t a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew, than there will be consequences. You will have to make decisions that may not be popular with your friends or your family; you may have to make choices that are at odds with your employment. I don’t know the price that you will be called to pay but there will be a price.
But it wasn’t just a personal cost that Joseph had to pay, there was also a practical cost.
Matthew 27:59-60 Joseph took the (Jesus’) body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left.
So you understand that this wasn’t just a loan this was a gift. It wasn’t like giving someone a book to read and then getting it back, or letting someone use your car for the afternoon. When Joseph put Jesus body in the tomb he no longer had the tomb. He was going to have to go out and buy himself another tomb. Don’t know what the tomb had cost, but it had cost something and people weren’t lining up offering their tomb.
Ultimately if Cornerstone is your church home and you want all the benefits that come from having a church home it will cost you something. Or at least it should cost you something. Otherwise you are parking on someone else’s quarter. It would be like going to McDonalds and picking up a tray of food that someone else had paid for and eating it.
Now sometimes we get the impression that God wants it all and He doesn’t care what happens to us or our families. That isn’t the plan, God doesn’t ask for 100% of our finances or 90 or 50 or 40 or 25. In the scriptures it speaks of God’s people returning 1/10 of our income to God. Note I said returning because the assumption is that all that we have comes from God. And so we have scriptures like Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!
God doesn’t want us to lose our homes, he isn’t interested in us not feeding our children or defaulting on our taxes, that’s what the 90 % is for. And tithing isn’t something that kicks in when you are an adult. We have children and teens at Cornerstone who tithe their babysitting money and their allowance and it is easier to be obedient with a lot when you have already been obedient with a little.
J.D. Rockefeller Sr. One of the richest men in the world in his day said “If I had not tithed the first dollar I made I would not have tithed the first million dollars I made. Tell your readers to train the children to tithe, and they will grow up to be faithful stewards of the lord.”
I came across a neat saying that kind of sums up this point, You should give according to your income, lest God make your income according to your giving. So here’s a question, could you live on 10 times what you give to the church each week? What type of house would you live in? What type of car would you drive, what would you eat?