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51 And, behold, the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom ; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. 54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. 55 And many women were there, beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him; 56 Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.
Here we have an account of several extraordinary and wonderful things which occurred and fell out about the time that our Saviour died. 1. The vail of the icmple rent asunder. That is, the hanging which parted the holy from the most holy place, to hide the mysteries therein, namely, the ark of the covenant and mercy-seat, from the view of the ordiuary priests. This vail was now rent from the top to the bottom, and the rending of it did import these great mysteries: 1. That now our great HighPriest was entering into the most holy place with his own blood, having made the atonement for us: Heb. ix. 12. By his own blood he entered once into the most holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 2. That the means whereby he entered into the most holy place, was by the rending of his humanity, his soul from his body, typified by rending of this vail; accordingly his body is called a vail, Heb. x. 20. Consecrated through the vail of his flesh. 3. That now by the death of Christ all those dark mysteries vailed up formerly in the most holy place, as the ark of the covenant and mercy-seat, are now unfolded and laid open, and the use of the whole ceremonial law at an end, and the Jewish temple-service ceased. 4. That now the kingdom of heaven, the most holy place, is open to all believers. Christ, our great High Priest, is entered in with his own blood,
and hath not closed the vail after him, but rent it asunder, and made and left a passage for all believers to follow him, first in their prayers, and next in their persons. See Heb. X. 19, 20. Having therefore boldness to enter ints the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, his flesh ; let us draw near with a true heart, Sec. Observe, 2. The earth quaked. As there was an universal eclipse, so likewise an universal earthquake, at our Lord's crucifixion, which did awaken many of the saints (that died before our Saviour's incarnation) out of their dead sleep. These arose both as witnesses of Christ's resurrection, and also as sharers in it. But none of them arose till Christ was risen, he being the First-fruits of them that slept. And those holy persons that arose with him, possibly attended him to heaven at his ascension. From hence we learn, That Christ was the Saviour of those who believed in him before his incarnation, as well as of those that believed in him since his incarnation; and that the former are partakers of the fruit and benefit of his death and resurrection, no less than the latter. Others conjecture, that those who rose out of their graves, were such as believed in Christ, and died before him, as old Simeon, &c. Accordingly they understand St. John v. 25. The hour is coming, and now is, that the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of man, of this resurrection here mentioned. And whereas it is said they went into the holy city, and appeared to many; it is probable they were known to them unto whom they did appear; and if so, they must have lived in the time of their knowledge. Observe next, What influence and effect the sight of those prodigious things had upon the centurion and the soldiers; it convinced them, that verily this was the Son of God. Here, we see the heathen soldiers are sooner convinced of the divinity of Christ, than the unbelieving Jewish doctors. Obstinacy and unbelief filled their minds with an invincible prejudice against Christ; so that neither the miracles done by him in his life, nor wrought at his death, could convince the high priests, that Christ was any other than an impostor and deceiver. Observe lastly, Who of Christ's friends were witnesses of his death: They arc women, who followed him from Galilee, and ministered unto him; not one of his dear disciples, except St. John, who stood by the cross with the Virgin Mary. What a shame was this for the apostles to be absent from a spectacle upon which the salvation of the whole world did depend; and what an honour was this to the female sex in general, and to these women in particular, that they had the courage to follow Christ to the cross, when all the disciples forsook him and fled; God can make women glorious professors of his truth, and arm them against the fears of sufferings, contrary to the natural timorousness of their tempers. These women wait upon Christ's cross, when apostles fly, and durst not come near it.
57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: 58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 51) And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. 61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
Here we have an account given of our Lord's funeral and interment in the grave: such a funeral as never was since graves were first digged. Concerning which we have these particulars observable: Observe, 1. The preparatives that were made for our Lord's funeral; namely, the begging and perfuming of his dead body; his body could not be buried, till by begging it was obtained of Pilate; the dead bodies of malefactors being in the power and disposal of the judge. Pilate grants it, and to manifest their dear affection to their dead Lord, they wrapt the body in fine linen with spices to perfume it . But what need of odours for that body which could not sec corruption? Though his holy body did not want them, yet the affections of his friends could not withhold them. Observe, 2. The bearers that carried his body to the grave, or the persons concerned in solemnizing his funeral: Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, two rich men, and two secret disciples. (1) They were rich men, senators, honourable counsellors; and so that prophecy was fulfilled, Isa. liii. 9. He made his grave
with the wicked, and with the rich, in his death. (2.) They were good men, as well as rich men; disciples, though secretly, for fear of the Jews. Grace doth not always make a public and open show where it is. As there is much secret riches in the bowels of the earth which no eye ever saw, so there may be grace in theheart of a christian, which the world takes no notice of. We never heard any news of Joseph of Arimathea till now; yet was he eminently rich, wise, and good: a worthy, though a close disciple. Much grace may be where little is seen. Some gracious persons cannot put forward and discover themselves like others, and yet such weak christians perhaps, when a trial comes, shall stand their ground, when stronger run away.—We read of none of the apostles at Christ's funeral; fear had chased them away, though they professed a readiness to die with Christ: but Joseph and Nicodemus appear boldly for him. Let it be a caution to strong christians, neither to glory in themselves, nor to glory over the weak. If God desert the strong, and assist the weak, the feeble shall be as David and the strong as tow. Observe, 3. The mourners that followed the hearse; namely, the women that followed him out of Galilee, and particularly the two Maries: a very poor train of mourners, a few sorrowful women. Others are attended to their graves by their relations and friends; but Christ's disciples were all scattered, and afraid to own him either dying or dead. Our blessed Lord affected no pomp or gallantry in his life, and it was no way suitable either to the end or manner of his death. Humiliation was designed in his death, and his burial was the lowest degree of his humiliation. Observe, 4. The grave or sepulchre in which they buried him; it was in a garden. As by the sin of the first Adam wc were driven out of the garden of pleasure, the earthly paradise; so by the sufferings of the second Adam, who lay buried in a garden, we may hope for an entrance into the heavenly paradise. It was in a sepulchre hewn out of a rock; that so his enemies might have no occasion to cavil, and say, that his disciples stole him away by secret holes, or unseen passages under ground. And it was in a new sepulchre, in which never any man was laid, lest his adversaries should say, it was some other that was risen, or that he rose from the dead by touching some other corpse. Observe, 5. The manner of our Lord's funeral ; hastily, openly, decently celebrated. It was done in haste, by reason of the straits of time, the preparation for the passover caused them to be very expeditious; the sabbath was approaching, and they lay all business aside to prepare for that. Learn hence, How much it is our duty to despatch our worldly business as early as we can towards the end of the week, that we may be the better prepared to sanctify the Lord's day, if we live to enjoy it. We ought to remember that day before it comes, and to sanctify it when it is come. Again, our Lord was buried openly, as well as hastily ; all persons had liberty to be spectators, that none might object there was any fraud or deceit used in or about his burial. He was also interred decently, his body wrapt in fine linen, and perfumed with odours, according to the Jewish custom, which used not to unbowel, but embalm their dead. Observe, 6. The reason why our Lord was buried, seeing he was to rise again in as short a time as other men lie by the walls; and had his dead body remained a thousand years unburied, it could have seen no corruption, having never been tainted with sin. Sin is the cause of the body's corruption, it is sin that makes our bodies stink worse than carrion when they are dead. A funeral then was not necessary for Christ's body upon the same accounts that it is necessary for ours. But, 1. He was buried to declare the certainty of his death, and the reality of his resurrection; and for this reason did God's providence order it, that he should be embalmed, to cut off all pretensions. For in this kind of embalming, his mouth, his ears, and his nostrils, were all filled with spices and odours, so that there could be no latent principle of life in him; being thus buried then, declares him to be certainly dead. 2. He was buried to fulfil the types and prophecies that went before concerning him. Jonas's being three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, was a type of Christ's being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth; and the prophet, Isa. liii. 9. had declared the manner of his funeral long before he was bom. He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. Pointing by that expression at this tomb of Joseph's, who was a rich man ; and the scriptures cannot be broken. 3. He was buried to complete his humiliation; They have brought mc to the dust
of death, says David, a type of Christ. This was the lowest step he could possibly descend in his abased state; lower he could not be laid, and so low his blessed head must be laid, else he had not been humbled to the lowest . 4. He went into the grave that he might conquer death in its own territories and dominions. Christ's victory over the grave causes his saints to triumph, and sing, O grave, where is thy destruction! Our blessed Lord has perfumed the bed of the grave by his own lying in it: so that a pillow of down is not so soft to a believer's head, as a pillow of dust. Observe lastly, of what use the doctrine of our Lord's burial may be unto us. 1. For instruction -, here we see the amazing depths of our Lord's humiliation. From what, to what, his love brought him; even from the bosom of his Father, to the bosom of a grave. Now the depth of his humiliation shows us the fulness and sufficiency of his satisfaction as well as the heinousness of our transgression. 2. For consolation against the fears of death and the grave. The grave received Christ, but could not retain him. Death swallowed him up, as the fish did Jonas, but quickly vomited him up again; so shall it fare with Christ mystical, as it did with Christ personal: the grave could not long keep him, it shall not for ever keep us: as his body rested in hope, so shall ours also; and though they see corruption, which he did not, yet shall they not always lie under the power of corruption. In a word, Christ's lying in the grave has changed and altered the nature of the grave; it was a prison before, a bed of rest now; a loathsome grave before, a perfumed bed now. He whose head is in heaven, need not fear to put his foot into the grave. Awake and sins, thou that dweUest in the dust, for the enmity of the grave is slain by Christ . 3. For imitation; let us study and endeavour to be buried with Christ, in respect of our sins: I mean, Rom. vi. 4. buried with him into death. Our sins should be as a dead body, in several respects. Are dead bodies removed far from the society of men? So should our sins be removed far from us. Do dead bodies in the grave spend and consume away by little and little? So should our sins daily. Will dead bodies grow every day more and more loathsome to others? So should our sins be to ourselves. Do dead bodies wax out of memory, and are quite forgotten? So should our sins, in respect of any delight that we take in remembering of them. We should always remember our sins to our humiliation; but never think or speak of them with the least delight or satisfaction; for this, in God's account, is a new commission of them, and lays us under an additional guilt.
62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, 63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. 65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. 66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
This last paragraph of the chapter acquaints us with the endeavours that the murderers of Christ used to prevent his foretold resurrection: they ask and obtain of Pilate, that his sepulchre may he strongly guarded till the third day was past and over, when probably they intended to have exposed his dead body to the view of the people; and accordingly & three-fold guard is set about the grave; the stone, the seal, and the watch; concluding that Christ was safe enough either from rising or stealing; the stone making the grave sure, the seal making the stone sure, and the watch or band of soldiers making all sure. The stone being sealed with the public seal, no person might meddle with it upon pain of death. Where note, 1. The wonderful wisdom, the overruling power and providence, of God; by this excessive care and extraordinary diligence, the high priests hoped to prevent our Saviour's resurrection, but the truth and belief of it was hereby confirmed to all the world. How much evidence had Christ's resurrection wanted, if the high priests and elders had not been thus maliciously industrious to prevent his rising! Learn, 2. That the endeavours used to
obstruct our Lord's resurrection, have rendered it more certain and undoubted: had not all this care and caution been used by his enemies, the grounds of our faith bad not been so strong, so evident, and so clear. It was very happy that the Jews were thus jealous ana suspicious, thus careful and distrustful; for otherwise the world had never received so full and perfect an evidence of Christ's resurrection as now, whereon all our comfort and salvation doth depend. Verily their solicitous care to suppress our Redeemer's resurrection has rendered it more conspicuous, and freed it from all suspicion of forgery. CHAP, xxvin.
This last chapter of St. Mattltew contains the history of our Saviour's resurrection, and trives us an account of what he did on earth between the time of his triumphant resurrection and his glorious ascension.
JN the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
The Lord of life was buried upon the Friday, in the evening of that day on which he was crucified; and his holy body rested in the silent grave the next day, and a part of the morning of the day following. Thus he arose again the third day, neither sooner nor later; not sooner, lest the truth of his death should have been questioned, that he did not die at all; and not later, lest the faith of his disciples should have failed. And accordingly, when the sabbath was past, and it dawned towards the first day of the week, in the morning very early, before day, Mary Magdalene, and other devout women, go to visit the sepulchre, intending with their spices and odours farther to embalm our Lord's body. But observe, Although the hearts of these good women did burn with an ardent love and zeal to their crucified Lord, yet the commanded duties of the sabbath are not omitted by them: they stay till the sabbath is ended, and then early in the morning they go with odours in their hands to perfume his sacred corpse; fearing neither the darkness of the night, nor the presence of the watchmen; how great a tribute of respect and honour is due and payable to these women for their magnanimity and courage! They followed Christ, when his disciples left him; they accompanied him to his cross, and followed his hearse to the grave, when none of his disciples durst appear. Learn hence, That courage is the special and peculiar gift of God; and where God gives courage, it is not in man to make afraid.
2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
Observe here, 1. With what pomp and triumph dolh our Lord arise. The earth that quaked before at his crucifixion, quakes now again at his resurrection: it quaked then at the dissolution, now at the re-union, of his human nature, to tell the world that the God of nature then suffered, and now conquered. Observe, 2. How an angel is employed in Christ's resurrection; he rolls away the stone. But could not Christ have risen then without the angel's help? Yes sure; he that raised himself, surely could have removed the stone ; but God thinks fit to send an officer from heaven to open the prison door of the grave; and by setting our Surety at liberty, proclaims our debt to the divine justice fully satisfied. Besides, it was fit that the angels, who had been witnesses of our Saviour's passion, should also be witnesses of his resurrection. Observe, 3. How unable the keepers of the grave were to bear the sight and presence of the angel; They shook for fear, and became as dead men. Angels being pure and perfect spirit?, man is not able to bear the sight of an angel, no, not in human shape, without terror and affrightment; and if the sight of an angel be so dreadful, what is the sight of God himself?
5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6 He is not here; for lie is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord jay. 7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
Observe here, 1. Our Lord's resurrection asserted and declared, He is risen. God
never intended that the Darling of his soul should be lost in an obscure sepulchre. He is not here, says the angel, that is, in the grave, where you laid him, where you left him. Death hath lost its Prey, and the grave hath lost her Guest. Observe, 2. It is not said, he is not here, for he is raised, but, He is risen. The word imports the active power of Christ, or the self-quickening principle by which Christ raised himself from the dead. Acts i. 3. He showed himself alive after his passion. Learn hence, That it was the divine nature or Godhead of Christ, which raised his human nature from death to life. Others were raised from the grave by Christ's power, he raised himself by his own power. Observe, 3. The testimony or witness given to our Lord's resurrection; that of an angel: The angel said, He is not here, but risen. But why is an angel the first publisher of our Lord's resurrection? Surely the dignity of our Lord's person, and the excellency of his resurrection, required that it should be first published by an angel, and accordingly it is worthy our observation, how very serviceable and officious the holy angels were in attending upon our Saviour in the days of his flesh; an angel foretells his conception to the blessed Virgin; an angel proclaims his hirth to the shepherds; an angel succours him in his temptation in the wilderness; an angel comforts him in his agony in the garden ; and at his resurrection an angel rolls away the stone from the sepulchre, and brings the first tidings of it lo the women. In his ascension the angsU bore him company to heaven: and when he comes again to judgment, he shall be revealed from heaven u-ith his mighty angels. Observe, 4. The persons to whom our Lord' s resurrection was first made known, to women, to the two Maries. But why to the women - God will make choice of weak means for producing great effects, knowing that the weakness of the instrument redounds to the greater honour of the agent. In the whole dispensation of the gospel, Almighty God intermixes divine power with human weakness. Thus the conception of Christ was by the power of the Holy Ghost; but his mother, a poor woman, a carpenter's spouse; so the crucifixion of Christ was in much meanness and outward baseness, being crucified between two thieves: but the powers of heaven and earth trembling, the rocks rending, and the graves opening, showed a mixture of divine power. God will honour