John 19:38-40
The Magnetic Cross
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

When Jesus died, His prediction began to be fulfilled, “If I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32). The magnetism of the cross began immediately, and continues its magnificent drawing power.

John 19:38 (Holman) After this, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus – but secretly because of his fear of the Jews – asked Pilate that he might remove Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took His body away.

Wealthy men went to a ruler to seek out Jesus’ manger; another wealthy man went to another ruler for permission to give Jesus a grave. Our Lord’s humiliation was absolute. He retained not even the right to have control over His own corpse.

The Bible discusses Joseph of Arimathea only in connection with his role in the burial of Jesus. He is generally remembered with fond regard. His actions at Jesus’ death required much courage.

Showing any interest at all in Jesus opened Joseph to the possibility of repercussions from his peers. The religious leaders had threatened excommunication for all who spoke well of Jesus.

Joseph could have also suffered at the hand of Pilate. Selfish governors charged exorbitant fees for a body’s retrieval. Some supplicants had even been known to lose their lives in asking for the bodies of treasonous criminals.

Retrieving a crucified body invited insults and abuse from Roman soldiers. The gesture was precarious, but Joseph refused to let any concerns deter him. As a result, his name is highly esteemed.

A poor Joseph put Jesus in a manger; a wealthy Joseph put Jesus in a tomb. Both are still honored.

John 19:39a Nicodemus (who had previously come to Him at night) also came, . . .

Joseph’s new-found courage was duplicated by his fellow member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus. Like many of Earth’s best citizens, Jesus was appreciated more after He died.

Neither Joseph nor Nicodemus spoke in defense of Jesus at His trial. Their silence surely grieved Jesus, and embarrassed them, but be that as it may, life goes on. We cannot reverse time and undo wrong. We can in the present only repent of the past, and look to the future, seeking power to do better.

Christ’s death stirred the two men’s consciences. This often happens to people who have neglected a true friend that has died. Guilt prompts many exorbitantly expensive funerals. One flower in life is better than a wreath in death.

Interestingly, this event brought these two secret believers out of hiding, but sent the Apostles into hiding. As Joseph and Nicodemus came forward together, the disciples scattered and fled, paralyzed with fear.

Two men who had been silent suddenly spoke. Ten men who had openly followed Jesus suddenly disappeared. The crucifixion invigorated both groups, and stung them to action.

We all struggle against the fear of ridicule. It can be almost as stifling as the fear of death itself. People overly sensitive to peer approval find ridicule as painful as ancient forms of physical torture.

We often depend too much on other people’s good opinions of us. This makes us overly sensitive to their scorn. However, ridicule has no power in itself. It breaks no bones, and is effective only to the extent we allow it to be.

John 19:39b . . .bringing a mixture of about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes.

Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of spices to anoint the body of Jesus. Spices retarded corruption, and perfumed the tomb, but rarely was this much used.

Sixty pounds of spices were used at the funeral of Rabbi Gamaliel. In the funeral procession of Herod the Great, his body was followed by 500 people bearing sweet spices. When King Asa died, he was placed in a bed of sweet-smelling spices (2 Chronicles 16:14).

John was impressed with not only the huge bulk of the offering. He also noted the ingredients themselves. Each compound was expensive.

Aloes had to be imported to Israel from the Island of Socrota, at the lower end of the Red Sea, near the horn of Africa. It was a powder ground from the fragrant pulp of aloe leaves.

Myrrh was extracted from a gum taken from trees grown in Arabia. Sap oozed out, soon solidified, and was ground to powder.

John wanted us to know, on this day, love spared not. It refused to calculate, and brought expensive spices in huge quantities.

John 19:40 Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the aromatic spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

The Jews used a simple method of embalming, unlike the Egyptians, whose elaborate customs involved mutilating the body. Jews placed the corpse on a large sheet. According to Matthew 27:59, a large shroud was used for Jesus.

The limbs of the body were wrapped with smaller cloths and aromatic spices. Our present text refers to this procedure. The spices were placed within each fold of the small cloths as they were wrapped around the body’s limbs.

The body was literally covered with alternating layers of spices and small cloths. The thought of dead bodies becoming offensively odious was painful. Thus, loved ones used spices to keep stench to a minimum.

It was especially appropriate that sweet-smelling spices were used on Jesus. His death is still a lovely perfume in our memories.

More importantly, His death was a sweet-smelling savor unto God. It has removed from God’s nostrils the stench of our sin.

After the limbs had been wrapped with smaller cloths, the large sheet was wrapped around the whole body. Thus the whole body was wrapped in layered grave-clothes.

Jesus wore grave-clothes to make it easier for us to anticipate wearing them. He turned our grave-clothes into wedding clothes.

Joseph and Nicodemus were used by God the Father to give His Son a royal burial. The Galilean disciples could have never done this. God made sure His Son, who died a criminal’s death, received a king’s burial.

Jesus deserved an honorable burial, one that rightly pictured His kingship. Glory would soon be coming His way, and the resurrection deserved proper preparatory decorum.

Without Joseph and Nicodemus, Jesus’ body might have been taken to Gehenna, a valley south and southwest of Jerusalem. This was the city’s garbage dump, where refuse was always being burned.

Gehenna was the repository for unclaimed bodies of convicted criminals. The Roman attitude was, “The crows to the crosses.” They had no respect for dead criminals.

God did not want His Son’s body placed in the valley which represented Hell itself. Jesus had already borne our Hell on His cross. Once He said, “It is finished,” His suffering and our redemption were complete.