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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:1-8
SUBJECT: Of First Importance #2: Christ was Buried
What matters the most to you?
Most people would say their families mean the most to them; others would say it's their work; some might say their country; and still others, their church. Should these things matter to you? Yes they should. The mattered keenly to the Apostle Paul, and even more to Jesus. Family, work, country and church ought to be way up there on your list of things that matter most.
But not at the top. First place belongs to the Gospel. This is what Paul says in our text, particularly in v.3-
For I delivered to you as of first importance.
What was of first importance to him? He tells us in v.1, it is the Gospel, and in vv.3ff. he tells us what the Gospel is. What is the Gospel?
The Gospel is not 'keep the Law', though you ought to do that and if anyone ever tried to, it was Paul. The Gospel is not 'love your family', though you ought to do that do, and Paul loved his. The Gospel is not 'serve your country', though he did that too, and at great personal cost. Nor is the Gospel 'work hard at your job', though Paul labored day and night in his.
In a word, the Gospel is not about what we ought to do for God, but what God has done for us in Christ. What has He done?
Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, He was buried, and on the third day, He rose again according to the Scripture.
This is what mattered most to Paul, and ought to matter most to you. You see, apart from the Gospel the best things in life die. Love and beauty, truth, goodness, laughter, everything returns to the dust from which it was taken. Including you and me.
The Gospel raises the dead. First, the dead Jesus; then the dead in Christ; and finally, every good thing rises and shines with the brightness of incorruption and immortality! My beloved CS Lewis was right-
Nothing good is ever lost.
Because death is not the end; the last word belongs to the Living God and that means it belongs to Life! Which is the Bible's word for Resurrection.
Resurrection is a wonderful beyond all description except for one thing: to get to it, you've got to die. You can't rise from the dead unless you are dead.
This brings us to the second point in Paul's summary of the Gospel. The Gospel begins with Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture. It ends with On the third day, He rose again. But in between these world shaking events is a quiet and less noticeable one-
He was buried.
That He was buried needs no proof. Except for the years 66-73 AD, everyone in Israel who could be buried was buried. In addition to domestic piety and public health concerns, dead bodies had to be buried quickly because human or animal corpses made the land religiously unclean. Whenever possible, Jews buried their dead the day they died; the only exception was when they died on the Sabbath; when-forbidden to work-the burial was put off till first thing the next morning.
This takes us to the burial of our Lord Jesus. He died at 3:00 in the afternoon during the Passover week around 30 AD. His body was taken down from the cross and given to a rich and powerful man named Joseph of Arimathea. He was a good brother, though a bit on the timid side. John calls him-
A disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.
Joseph had just bought a family tomb in a garden setting near the cross, and, thankfully, nobody had died since he had gotten it, so it was empty. Joseph planned to lay the Lord there, but he needed help. He called on Nicodemus-a friend and fellow senator-to meet him there with the required burial clothes and spices.
With a sharp eye for detail, John says exactly what he brought: linen clothes and a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing 100 Roman pounds which is about 75 pounds to us. The dear men went to work on their Savior, but they didn't quite finish the job. Sabbath was coming and they had to be home for that. Off they went that afternoon, knowing Mary Magdalene and other ladies would pick up the work at dawn the next day.
Had the enemies of Jesus known their Bibles better, they would denied His place of burial; they wouldn't have let Jesus-
Make His grave with the rich.
Because this echoes the prophecy of Isaiah 53 and suggests the Man they called 'a criminal', was in fact, 'the Servant of the Lord'.
But they didn't deny His place of burial because they couldn't. Credible witnesses had seen Him placed in Joseph's family crypt. Joseph and Nicodemus were among the most respected men in Israel, and had the Rulers said they made up the story, they'd have been laughed out of court. The fact of His burial and the place could not be gainsaid. And the Rulers didn't even try. Later they claimed His disciples had stolen His body from Joseph's tomb-but they didn't say they had stolen it from some other tomb.
THE WILL OF MEN AND THE WILL OF GOD
Convicted criminals were not given honored burials. Not even their brothers or fathers or sons would allow them a place in the family plot. This is doubly true of men who died on a cross. The Law said cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree, and no devout Jew would want a cursed body laid next to his own. Still, they had to be disposed of, and there's a place for it-
Akeldama, the field of blood.
This was a long, open pit, like the kind you've seen on those appalling Holocaust documentaries. Dead donkeys were thrown in there along with other unclean things: Gentiles, criminals, suicides, and-had the Rulers had their way-the Son of God. They had a grave waiting for Him, a grave that would have added insult to injury, and might have convinced everyone that He really was what they said was-
Stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
As the Son of Man, Jesus was smarter than the wild beasts that tore His sacred body to pieces. And, knowing what they'd do to His body if He died at the expected time, He laid down His life in God's good time and not theirs.
Joseph, seeing He died hours before He was expected to, hurried to Pilate's office and-once His death was verified-got the Man he loved down from the cross and gave Him the kind of burial He deserved.
This was God's way of hinting at the Resurrection, of overturning the Courts' verdict. Israel and Rome said He was a criminal, but His grave says He is a King!
And not only His grave. Myrrh was rubbed into His body, and that imported and costly spice rings a bell in your mind if you remember the Christmas story. Many years before, the Magi had carried it with them from the East to honor-
He who is born king of the Jews.
And now the royal spice crops up again in the story. Add to this kingly hint what He was dressed in: linen-a clean linen shroud Matthew says. This is what a priest wore in his office when he approached God and presented the gifts specified in the Law. John is, therefore, suggesting that Jesus, who had a legal claim to the throne, was also a priest, but not an ordinary priest like His relative Zacharias, but a Priest-
After the order of Melchizadek.
A priest, without beginning of days or end of life! A priest that lives on to ever make intercession for God's People. It also suggests that His death was more than a miscarriage of justice; Jesus is no martyr, He is a sacrifice! He is-
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
We don't know what Joseph and Nicodemus were thinking at the time. I suspect they were moved by nothing more than a respect for Jesus and an outraged sense of decency. How can a Teacher sent from God be tossed into a ditch like a stinking, filthy pig?
But if they didn't know what they were doing, God was leading them to do what they did. A secret Providence was at work, fulfilling the Sacred Scriptures. Scholars differ on how to translate and understand Isaiah 53:9, but this is what I think it means-
They intended to make His grave with the wicked,
But it was made with the rich
Because He had done no violence,
Neither was any deceit in His mouth.
The Rulers wanted to humiliate Him to death and beyond. But God said, 'Enough is enough!' Jesus suffered enough on the cross to save us from our sins, and now-even before the Resurrection-His suffering and shame are over and done with!
ADAM AND JESUS
When Adam sinned, he was driven out of a Garden. But Jesus never sinned, and He was placed in a Garden. When Adam died, his body rotted away into the dust. But our Lord's body did not rot. Applying Psalm 16 to Him, Peter said-
It was not possible that God's Holy One could see corruption.
If a Garden is what Adam lost for himself and for his descendants, a Garden is what Jesus gained for Himself and His people. If the First Adam bequeathed death to us, the Second Adam gives us Life, the same Life He had in the tomb and out of it!
WHAT THE BURIAL MEANS
What does the burial of Jesus mean? The Heidelberg Catechism says it means He was really dead. That's true of course, but the Gospels prove that in many other ways, John, in particular by drawing attention to the blood and water that gushed out of His body when the spear was stuck into it.
What the burial means is this: God has ruled in His favor! Jewish and Roman courts condemned Jesus to die, but the rich man's grave says, He is not guilty, God has acquitted Him of all charges! And not only Him, but all who believe in Christ.
This is the doctrine of justification, the truth that lies at the heart of the Gospel. It doesn't say, 'God has gotten soft in His old age and let us off, even though we're guilty'. No, it doesn't say that. It says, God has judged Jesus guilty for us, and, when that was done on the cross, God's final verdict for Him-and us-is 'not guilty'-
There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
Not now. Not ever. God could no more overturn His verdict on us than He could on Jesus. Therefore, we are justified-not 'may be' if we never mess up again and do all the right things from now on-but we are justified, acquitted and found righteous in Christ.
This is what the burial means: Jesus is in the right with God And what it means to us: In Him, we're in the right with God.
This has to be grasped by faith. Sight tells me I'm no good, that I'm a dirty hypocrite at best, and sometimes I don't even pretend to be a good man. But faith tells me that's all true, but Jesus has carried my sins to the cross and now, I'm as acceptable to God as He is.
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