Project 119: Luke 23:50-56

 |  Project 119  |  Amy Hirsch

“Faithful Witnesses”

Today is known as “Holy Saturday” on the church calendar. Luke’s text is mostly silent on this day, because it was the Jewish Sabbath (which began at Friday on sundown and ended at sundown on Saturday). In Matthew’s gospel, we are told that on Saturday, the chief priests and Pharisees appeared before Pilate and requested that soldiers be placed in front of Jesus’ tomb to secure it. Luke doesn’t mention this detail, but instead he highlights several surprising witnesses to Jesus’ burial, these faithful women from Galilee. It was customary for bodies to be anointed with spices and ointments at the time of burial, not to embalm the body but rather to help with the stench associated with decomposition. Because the Sabbath was approaching, the burial was hasty, so the women took note of where he was laid in preparation to return after the Sabbath, on Sunday, so that they might be able to care for his body.

On that Holy Saturday, the text tells us “they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56 ESV). From Jesus’ birth to his burial, Luke’s gospel reveals there were in fact Israelites who were faithful in the waiting, people who, like Simeon, Anna, Elizabeth, and Zechariah, were “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and the statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6 ESV), quietly waiting for the hope of the promised Messiah. Can you imagine the anguish these women felt as they watched their Savior be placed in a borrowed grave? Yet they determined they would quietly wait and walk in faithfulness.

Most of our lives are lived on Holy Saturday. We walk in the realization of Christ’s death, burial, and ascension, yes, and the truth that sin’s power over us has been broken through the blood of the cross; yet we still exist in a world where sin’s presence seems to taint everything. Like these women, we wait with eager longing for God to work in our lives, trusting that He is faithful, even when we can’t understand His plan. These women would experience the shock of their lives when they would return to the tomb that Sunday to learn of Christ’s resurrection. In the same way, the day will also come when we will experience that same resurrection power and be raised to life, given glorified bodies in Christ’s likeness, to live in a land where sin is no more. And on that day, we will be able to proclaim with all of the saints, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55 ESV). Until that day comes, we too are called to walk in that same quiet faithfulness that waits in hope for the Lord. 

Luke 23:50-56 (ESV):

50 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, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 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. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.