When you think of seeing God’s hand at work in one’s life, we tend to always think of God working through miraculous/ostentatious activity, right? I’m thinking of an example like a sick person being instantly healed against all odds, someone surviving a horrible traffic accident without a scratch, etc. If we were being honest, we don’t tend to think of God’s hand in the common. You know, the regular things of life that happen all the time: eating a sandwich, going to work, etc. Yet, as Christians we understand (hypothetically) that God is sovereign; he rules over all creation including events both magnificent and microscopic. Allow me to say that another way: God is in charge of all the common and miraculous occurrences in every life; he orchestrates both the miraculous and the common equally. Although miraculous events are (by definition) hard to miss, I’d suggest that we often miss God’s providential orchestration of our lives to bring us to just the right place, at just the right time, with just the right thoughts in our head.
We see this in Jesus’ burial as recorded in Matthew 27:57-60. The text reads:
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.
Joseph of Arimathea was a very wealthy disciple of Jesus who owned a tomb. When Jesus was dead, Joseph got the body and laid it in the tomb. Amazing, right?
Well, not at first glance.
People get buried, thousands of times a day, every day. That’s nothing new, not impressive, right? Besides, in the ancient near east, people regularly bought tombs. There were rich people in the ancient near east, just as there have been in every era of every nation in history, and Jesus had more than a few disciples who followed him around (his general followers, not the 12), so it’s certainly not surprising that at least one of them as a man of some financial means.
But, upon closer inspection of the text, there appear to be a series of strange coincidences.
– For example, isn’t it strange that a rich Jewish man, who would have had regard for the Sanhedrin (they were the ruling council, after all), went to Pilate and asked for the body of the man that the Sanhedrin had condemned as a heretic and an enemy of God? Certainly Joseph of Arimathea would have known that word would get around town regarding just who had funded the burial of Jesus (you know…the one who the Sanhedrin had condemned as a workman of the Devil?). I’m guessing that this is exactly the reason he went to Pilate at night.
– Isn’t it strange that a rich Jewish man, a man who had a whole lot of other things to do, all of a sudden was willing to ceremonially defile himself and carry a dead body across town on the day of preparation for the sabbath? Surely that didn’t happen regularly…
– Isn’t it strange that when all Jesus’ disciples had left him, this rich Jewish man (who was likely well known due to the status afforded him by his money) all of a sudden found the courage to take Jesus’ corpse and bury him? Why weren’t the disciples helping?
– Isn’t it strange that this rich man lived in Arimathea (of all places), and already had a tomb within walking distance of Jerusalem?
– Isn’t it strange that this specific rich man could somehow get an audience with Pilate on such short notice? (that’s a man of significant influence…)
– Isn’t it strange that this rich man (the one who was supposed to end up in the tomb) ended up placing Jesus (the one man alive who didn’t deserve to be in any tomb) in his tomb? (I’m thinking of the poetic irony here, along the lines of 2 Cor. 5:21)
– And isn’t it strange that this was all predicted several hundred years before?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth. – Is. 53:9
Think for a second.
Think of all the trillions of decisions, deals and choices that had to be made from the time of Isaiah to the time of Joseph of Arimathea in order for Joseph to have all the necessary components in place for him to get the body of Christ and bury it. Stop for a moment and contemplate just all that would be involved to bring your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchild to a specific place in history, with a specific attitude towards something, and with the specific resources needed for a highly specific task?
Let that simmer.
I mean, we’re talking about some completely absurd version of The Truman Show, except that the show is several centuries long, none of the actors know they’re involved in the show, and the end goal is to orchestrate events to lead to someone (who isn’t the star) doing something bizarre (like buying a large watercolor painting of Gavin MacLeod).
How exactly would you plan that?
Where would you even begin?
What kind of resources would you need to make that happen?
Consider how much easier it would have been for God if Joseph would have simply found a satchel of money on the side of the road, bought a tomb, and buried Jesus all in the space of 48 hours? Instead, God orchestrated trillions of decisions in the lives of thousands of people over centuries to simply show off exactly how extensively he holds the reigns of the universe.
God put every one of the trillions of pieces into its perfectly fitted place, at exactly the right time, to make a small series of events occur at exactly the right time.
What numbs my mind is in recognizing that he doesn’t just do that with specific events; he does that with history in general.
Fulfilled prophecy just reveals a handful of dots for us (while leaving the other innumerable dots veiled) so that we can connect a few dots and get a glimpse of the fact that he does it.
I’ll ask you again.