audio version

C.H. Spurgeon suggested that the burial of Christ was the least often preached aspect of the crucifixion. In the light of that statement, I’ll ask you “Have YOU ever heard a message on the burial of Christ?” If the only pastor you have ever had is me, then you have never heard a sermon on this subject. A related question might be – “Is a message on this subject really necessary?” Technically, I suppose it is not necessary to a person’s salvationBUT if we intend to be thorough, it is. Each of the four gospels add a detail or two to the Lord’s interment. That fact alone suggests that there is something important here. And hopefully, as we go on this morning, other aspects of Jesus’ burial will point out its significance.

Once again, I’ll start where I intend to finish. This time, I’ll ask you to define in your mind, or your heart, “the gospel.” What is the gospel – the good news of Christ – and where can we find it in God’s Word? I believe that the most succinct declaration of the gospel is in the scripture we read a few minutes ago. I Corinthians 15:1 “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of” the disciples, plus more than five hundred brethren, and last of all, by Paul. What is the gospel of Christ? “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” In it’s simplest form, the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Notice that the burial of Christ is right in middle of the gospel.

This morning let’s consider – the particulars, the prophecy, the predicament, and the provision contained in the burial of Christ.

What were the precise PARTICULARS?

Beginning with last Sunday’s evening message, we have Joseph of Arimathaea. My heart wants to say that Joseph was present at Calvary that Wednesday afternoon. But I have to admit that might not have been the case. This “disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.” I’m not sure there was enough time for Joseph to see Christ die, then run to Pilate’s palace, go through the red tape in order to enter his office, get permission and then finish with the preparations – all before nightfall. Having been a Jewish counselor, he might have already known that this was going to end quickly, so he could have met with Pilate before Jesus’ death – or as it turned out – as Christ died. When the petition was presented, Pilate was astonished that Christ had already died, so he sent to the Centurion for confirmation. Putting all this together, I have to admit to some confusion on the exact chronology in all of this.

But Pilate did give to this man his authorization to dispose of Jesus’ body. It probably didn’t matter to Pilate what happened to the remains, so the first man to ask, got the government’s permission. What do you suppose would have happened if Joseph was not involved? The disciples were mostly from Galilee and somewhat poor, so they might not have been able to do much. But what would the Jews have done if they had gotten a hold of Jesus’ remains? Whatever it was, it would not have been good. It appears to me that Joseph’s participation in the burial of Christ was important – if for no other reason than to keep the Jews at bay.

Matthew tells us “when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb,” before rolling a great stone to the door over the doorway. It is John who tells us that “there came also Nicodemus…. and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen (grave) clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” We are specifically told that Nicodemus brought with him an hundred pounds of spices. In one of my reference books it said that just like today, the Jews would often bankrupt themselves trying to outdo one another in the funeral preparations for their loved ones. The word “pound” has two meanings in our King James Bibles – either a quantity of money or a weight. John clearly tells us that this was weight, so their must have been some servants involved in all this. Whether weight or value, the expense put into the burial of the Son of God was extreme.

My books refused to advise me on the manner in which these spices and the linen were used, except to say that the linen was white and cut into strips; then the body was wrapped around and around. Perhaps the cloth was first soaked in a bath including the myrrh and aloes – that seems most logical to me. Whether or not all one hundred pounds soaked into the linen and it was all actually applied to the body, I cannot say, but that was the idea.

John also tells us “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sephulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.” The other evangelists tell us that this new tomb belonged to Joseph. The only other detail given to us is that when the preparations were concluded and night was coming on – “There was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary (the mother of Jesus), sitting over against the sepulchre” – watching “where he was laid.” It doesn’t sound like the ladies were afforded the opportunity to assist the two men and their aides. But they saw what became of the body of our Lord, and they would be back the first of next week. Luke says, “And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments,” I assume, hoping that the tomb would be opened for them to add to the embalming of their Saviour.

Why is any of this important? Perhaps this isn’t the most critical and important paragraph in the Word of God. But it does bring out one interesting thing.

This takes us back to the PROPHECY of Isaiah 53.

“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.”

I won’t belabor the point this morning, but Isaiah prophesied that the Saviour would be buried in a rich man’s tomb, and it was so. If the disciples had been burdened with the body of Christ, this prophecy would not have been fulfilled. If the Jews had been able to steal away the body of Christ, the prophecy of Isaiah would have come to naught. The sovereign God controls all things.

Matthew then describes the PREDICAMENT into which the Jews were placed.

“Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 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. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.”

At some point a few of the Pharisees pointed out Jesus’ resurrection prophesy. It would have been devastating to their corrupted faith to somehow further loose the body of Christ. They would have been delighted to have the remains completely in their control. But now that the traitor Joseph was involved, they had to take other steps. Why didn’t Jews didn’t take their own means to secure Joseph’s tomb? Why did they involve the Romans? Was this a legal requirement, or was there something else? Perhaps it was simply to make things more official. I might be mistaken, but it appears to me that the guards at the tomb were some of their own men, not Romans.

“You may not know, sir, but that lunatic, deceiver from Galilee prophesied his own resurrection. He specifically said that it would take place three days after his burial. We ask that you order security over that sepulchre so that there might not be any fraud involved.” Do I detect some sarcasm in Pilate’s answer or is it just my imagination – “Make it as sure as ye can.” How dead is a dead body? How inert? How immobile? Pilate probably had very little interest in what happened to the body of this Jesus of Nazareth. He probably put no stock whatsoever in what Christ had earlier said about His body. But he granted his permission, and there were guards placed in front of that tomb, and some sort of seal of disapproval was placed across the stone door. Then for about 72 hours there was a rotating system of guards guaranteeing that no one stole the body. But inadvertently what the Jews actually guaranteed was the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. To that we will return in Matthew 28.

This brings me to the subject of PROPITIATION.

As the Lord Jesus died, He said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” and “He yielded up His spirit.” As is said at a great many funerals, “This is only the body; the person who resided here is gone.” So where were the spirit and soul of Christ during the 72 hours that His body was in the tomb?

For a clear answer to that question, you are going to need someone a lot smarter and more spiritual than me. We have a couple of scriptures, but they are so complex that even the great scholars are divided on what precisely they mean. There is Acts 2:27 which takes us back into Old Testament prophecy. “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” In his sermon, Peter quotes Psalm 16:10 as an explanation for the RESURRECTION. Remember that the word “hades” can be translated “grave,” and refers to “the place of the dead.” Does this have anything to say about Christ between His death and His resurrection? If so, we are still left with the question, where was the soul of Christ during this time?

An even more confusing statement is made in I Peter. 3:18-20. Verse 18 is one of the most precious in the Bible – “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” But then we read, “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” Many scholars say that the “prison” is hades or sheol, and Jesus preached there before His ascension. This may be the case, but if so what did He preach – and to whom? Judging from what Jesus tells us in Luke 16, it appears that “hades” was made up of two compartments. There is “hell” as we ordinarily think of it. And then there is something called “Abraham’s bosom” which seems to be the abode of the righteous. And there is a great gulf between them. “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores … And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” Christ may have gone to hades to declare that the redemption of the believer was complete, and then to take the righteous souls who were there, back with Him to Heaven. Then, just as Abraham could speak from one side of hades to the other, Christ may have declared to the wicked that they had no hope whatsoever. Personally, I think that this is what took place.

Another scripture touching on this subject might be Ephesians 4:7-10 “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)” When did Christ descend into the lower parts of the earth? I assume that it was during this time. Then at some point, He ascended to Heaven, taking the souls of the previously redeemed with Him.

Can I be dogmatic about these things? I wish that I could. But I am SURE that at some point, Christ presented His sacrificial blood to God the Father. In a sense, as the High Priest of the order of Melchizadek, Christ sprinkled the blood of the Atonement on the Mercy Seat in Glory. It seems to me that the best time to accomplish that was immediately after the sacrifice had been made. While the body of Christ was in the tomb, or as it was being prepared for burial, the spirit of Christ, which He had commended to the Father, went into Heaven, securing the salvation of God’s elect.

And this brings us back to where we began – the great PROVISION.

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

How important is this gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ? As Paul suggests in I Corinthians 15:1 it is in this that we stand before the holy God. Sinners like us will never be permitted into Heaven without the sacrificial death of Christ – the shed blood of the Lord Jesus. And as Paul tells us at the beginning of the Book of Romans, it is the RESURRECTION of Christ which proves Him to be the Son of God with power to represent us before God. Christ was delivered for our offences, and raised for our justification” – without the resurrection of Christ, we’d forever be in doubt about the acceptance of the sancrifice. Romans 10:9 – “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” I Peter 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

It may seem like a foolish statement, but it was the burial of Christ, which provided the arguments and proof of Jesus’ resurrection. The burial of Christ was a necessary part of your salvation. Praise the Lord that He has given us some of the details of this important event.

Are you absolutely sure that you are a child of God by faith in resurrected Christ Jesus our Lord?