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A Roman Soldier thrusts his spear into our Saviour's
Side: Joseph of Arimathea comes to Pilate, and beg's
of him the Body of Jesus. By the law of Moses, it was expressly forbidden that the bodies of those who were hanged should remain all night on the tree. In conformity to this law, and because the Sabbath was at hand, the Jews begged the governor that the legs of the three persons crucified might be broken to hasten their death. To this request Pilate readily consented; and accordingly gave the necessary orders to the soldiers to put it in execution: but on perceiving that Jesus was already dead, the soldiers did not give themselves the trouble of breaking his legs, as they had done those of the two malefactors that were crucified with him. One of them, however, either out of wantonness or cruelty, thrust a spear into his side, and out of the wound flowed blood and water. Some suppose that the spear reached his heart; but however that be, it is certain, from the water which issued from the wound, that he pierced the pericardium ; and consequently must have killed him, had he not before been deprived of life.
It was of the greatest importance to mankind that this wound was given, for it abundantly demonstrated the truth of our Saviour's death, and consequently prevented all objections that the enemies to our holy faith would otherwise have raised against it. The evangelist adds, that the legs of our great Redeemer were not broken, but his side pierced, that two particular prophecies might be fulfilled: A bone of him shall not be broken; and they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and be convinced of the horrid impiety of the deed, as many of them afterwards were, on the preaching of Peter.
There was a person amongst the disciples of the blessed JESUS, called Joseph of Arimathea; he was equally remarkable for his birth, fortune, and office. This man, who was not to be intimidated by the malice of his countrymen, went boldly to Pilate, and begged the body of his great Master : he had indeed nothing to fear from the Roman governor, who, during the whole course of our Saviour's trial had shewn the greatest inclination to release him; but he had reason to apprehend, that this action might draw upon him the malice of the rulers of the Jews, who had taken such great pains to get their Messiah crucified. The great. regard, however, he had for the remains of his Master, made him despise the malice of the Jews, being persuaded that Omnipotence would defend him, and cover his enemies with shame and confusion: and he well knew, that if no friend procured a grant of the body, it would be ignominiously cast out amongst the executed malcfactors, and perhaps be exposed to many indignities.
The governor was at first surprised at the request of Joseph, thinking it highly improbable that he should be dead in so short a time. He had indeed given orders for the soldiers to break the legs of the crucified persons; but he knew it was not uncommon for them to live many hours after that operation was performed: for though the pain it left must be exquisite in the last degree, yet as the vital parts remained untouched, life would continue some time in the miserable body. Pi. late, therefore, called the centurion to know the truth of what Joseph had told him; and being convinced, from the answer of that officer, that Jesus had been dead some time, he readily granted the request,
Having obtained his desire, this worthy councellor repaired to mount Calvary; and being assisted by Nicodemus, took the body down from the cross. The latter was formerly so cautious in visiting Jesus, that he came to him by night; but in paying the last duties
to his Master, he used no art to conceal his design: he shewed a courage far superior to that of any of the apostles; not only assisting Joseph in taking down the body of Jesus from the cross, but bringing with him a quantity of spices necessary in the burial of his Saviour. Accordingly, they wrapt the body, with the spices, in fine linen, and laid it in a new sepulchre which Joseph had hewn out of a rock for himself. This sepulchre was situated in a garden near mount Calvary; but being not entirely finished when they deposited in it the body of the blessed Jesus, they fastened the entrance by rolling a very large stone upon it.
What a wonderful spectacle was now exhibited in this memorable sepulchre ! He who clothes himself with light, as with a garment, and walks upon the wings of the wind, was pleased to wear the habiliments of mortality, and dwell amongst the prostrate dead! Who can repeat the wondrous truth too often! Who can dwell upon the enchanting theme too long! He who sits enthroned in glory, and diffuses bliss amongst all the heavenly host, was once a pale and bloody corpse, and pressed the floor of this little sepulchre ! Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, 0 earth!
· In that solemn hour how great was thy triumph, () death? never did thy gloomy realms contain such a prisoner before.---Prisoner did I say ? No, he was more than conqueror. He arose far inore mightily than Sampson from a transient slumber; broke down the gates, and demolished the strong holds of those dark dominions. And this, O mortals, is your consolation and security! Jesus has trod the dreadful path, and smoothed it for your passage. Jesus, sleeping in the chambers of the tomb, has brightened the dismal mansion, and left an inviting odour in those beds of dust. The dying Jesus is your sure protection, your unquestionable
passport through the territories of the grave. Believe in him with all your hearts, and love and obey him, and you will find him the high way to Sion: he will transmit you safe to paradise. Believe in him, and you shall be no losers, but unspeakable gainers by your dissolution. For hear what the oracle of heaven says on this important point : Whoso believeth in me, shall never die. Death shall no longer be inflicted as a punishment, but rather vouchsafed as a blessing. Their exit is the end of their frailty, and their entrance upon perfection: their last groan is the prelude to life, immortality, and joy.
The women of Galilee, who had watched their dear Redeemer in his last moments, and accompanied his body to the sepulchre, observing that the funeral rites were performed in a hurry, agreed among themselves as soon as the sabbath was passed, to return to the sepulchre, and embalm the body of their great Saviour, by anointing and swathing him in the manner then common amongst the Jews. Accordingly, they returned to the city, and purchased the spices necessary for that purpose ; Nicodemus having furnished only a mixture of myrrh and aloes for the above end.
The chief priests and Pharisees, during these transactions, remembering that Jesus had more than once predicted his own resurrection, came to the governor, and informed him of it; begging at the same time, that a guard might be placed at the sepulchre, lest his disciples should carry away the body, and affirm that he was risen from the dead. This happened a little before it was dark in the evening, called by the Evangelist the next day, because the Jews began their day at sunset. This request being thought reasonable by Pi. late, he gave them leave to take as many soldiers as they pleased out of the cohort, which at the feast came from the castle Antonia, and kept guard in the porticoes of the temple. That they were not Jewish but Roman soldiers whom the priests employed to watch the sepulchre, is evident from their asking them of the governor : besides, when the soldiers returned with the news of our Saviour's resurrection, the priests de
sired them to report that his disciples had stolen him away while they slept; and to encourage them to tell that falsehood boldly, promised that if their neglect of duty came to the governor's ears, proper methods should be used to pacify him, and deliver them from any punishment: a promise which there was no need of making to servants under their own immediate command.
Now the priests having thus obtained a guard of Roman soldiers, men, long accustomed to military duties, and therefore most proper for watching the body, set out with them to the sepulchre; and to prevent these guards from combining with the disciples in carrying on any fraud, placed them at their post, and scaled the stone which was rolled to the door of the sepulchre. Thus, whilst the priests cautiously proposed to pre. vent the resurrection of our great Redeemer from being palmed upon the world, and doubtless intended, after the third day was past, to shew his body publicly as 'an impostor, they placed the truth of this stupenduous miracle beyond all doubt, by furnishing a number of unexceptionable witnesses to it whose testimony they themselves could not refuse or gainsay, and therefore attempted to stifle it.