This was a day of silence and Sabbath. There was, perhaps, a sense of numbness in the hearts and souls of all who witnessed what had happened just hours before. Jesus was dead, and in the tomb. The One whom they had placed their hope in was now gone.
Prior to the setting sun, which would mark the beginning of Sabbath, they took the body of Jesus, prepared Him for burial, and laid Him in the tomb. Scripture records that only a few were there to lay Jesus’s body in the grave: Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus who owned the garden tomb, in which no one had ever been placed; Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin Council who became a follower of Jesus; perhaps a few women from Galilee who had followed; Mary Magdalene; and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
But now, on the Saturday between a hellacious Friday and a hopeful Sunday, all activity had ceased except for the temple soldiers who guarded the tomb. No doubt, to pass the time, they recalled the events that happened at a furious pace not even a day earlier–the plotting; the arrest and trials; the vicious beating; and a Roman crucifixion. They had seen other executions before, but none like this.
Maybe they talked about Jesus, and how He died. There were no insults that came from his lips, only words of forgiveness, and even hope to a criminal who was justly receiving his due punishment. He was like a lamb led to slaughter, silent before its shearers. Being Jewish, I wonder if the writings of Isaiah 51 came to mind as the soldiers sat there, guarding the tomb, on the Sabbath of all days.
It could be that they spoke callously, or maybe with an ounce of compassion (again, this was no ordinary execution, and this was no ordinary man), about the lamenting cries of His followers, grief-stricken and helpless in the midst of a hostile people.
Or maybe they spoke of all that they witnessed and heard at the time of His death, and all that took place once Jesus breathed His last breath. The darkness that overwhelmed the earth from noon until 3pm. The earthquake that rocked the city of Jerusalem, a geological event that would symbolize Golgotha as the epicenter of a moment, shaking and shaping all eternity. Tombs were opened, and the bodies that once occupied them, roamed the streets of Jerusalem, appearing to many (Matthew 27:52-53). “Hey, isn’t that Benjamin, the guy who died 30 years ago, knocking on Caiaphas’s door?”
And then there was the tearing of the veil in the temple, separating the Most Holy place from the rest of the temple. It tore from top to bottom, God ripping the curtain, and making the gracious statement that the price had now been paid for the sins of the world. The way had been made, through the sacrifice of Jesus, for all who turn from sin and turn to Christ to be in relationship with God.
Only a fool would see these events as coincidence. I wonder though, if the soldiers were fools that day, or if they saw something divine, and Someone divine at work.
I wonder as well, what you might be thinking on this Saturday. Maybe you’re in between hell and hope. I’m not talking about being quarantined, or even unemployed, furloughed, laid off, or sick due to Covid-19; those are certainly moments of heartache and distress. What I am speaking of is the hell of being hopeless; your soul empty; your life existing, not living; your sins overwhelming; your need of rescue beyond your own ability; your eternity uncertain, yet certain. And in all this, knowing in the core of your being this is true.
But what was offered the Saturday almost 2,000 years ago, is the hope of what the following Sunday brought . . . an empty tomb, and a risen Savior. And that hope then, is our hope now.
He’s the One who gives hope to the hopeless, both now and for eternity. He’s the One who fills your empty soul with His Spirit. He’s the One who breathes life into your existing. He is the One who offers complete forgiveness of sin. He’s the One who rescues you from what you could not rescue yourself from; He’s the One who secures your eternity, with all the delight and wonder that comes with forever being with Him. And in the core of your being, your soul longs for this, and by faith can trust that it is true.
I sincerely pray that you find and experience the resurrection hope that comes through Jesus Christ, the One who endured Hell to give us Hope.