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TEXT: Luke 23:50-56
SUBJECT: Luke #91: Christ Buried
If you were writing the story of a man's life, how much space would you give to his.burial?
You might spend a good deal of time on his death, especially if there was something remarkable about it-or instructive. One of the leading men of the Early Church was Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. About the year 155, he was arrested by the Romans and put on trial for his life. Because of his age and the great respect people had for him, the Romans were not eager to execute him. Yet the law was the law and they wanted him to publicly confess "Caesar is Lord". Being a Christian, of course, means he would not do it and said so. The officer threatened him first with the lions; when they didn't scare him, he showed him the stake on which he would be burned. Now, surely, the Roman thought, the man will give in and say the magic words. But the Bishop's words were far different than he expected,
"Eighty and six years I have served Christ and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me? You can threaten the fire that burns for an hour and then is quenched, but you know not of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of eternal punishment. Bring what you will".
Not long after that, he was burned at the stake and his last words were,
"Lord God, Father of our blessed Savior, I thank you that I have been deemed worthy to receive the crown of martyrdom, and that I may die for you and your cause".
The Church has long remembered Polycarp's death-and the heroic stance he took for Christ-but nobody has said a word about his ashes and what became of them. Why not? Because it's an unimportant detail and makes no difference to his life or to the Church's faith and witness. Nobody cares what happened to his body after it was burned.
But the Church has always cared about what happened to the body of Jesus Christ after He died.
The four Gospels are not duplicates of each other. Matthew has many things John doesn't have and Mark leaves out a lot of things Luke puts in. Mark, for example, has nothing on His birth or His early life. John skips over His Sermon on the Mount. Each man's story is true, but it's his own story-and not someone else's!
Yet Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all say something about the Lord's burial. The reports are not identical, but they all say He was buried. And they wanted their readers to know it. It mattered to them; it was not a trivial detail of His life-like how tall He was or the color of His hair or how long He went to school or even what language He spoke! No, they saw real significance in His burial.
They weren't alone. In I Corinthians 15, Paul summarizes the Gospel this way:
"Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day."
All believers know the importance of His death and resurrection, but Paul puts His burial in there as well-as though it too, had to be believed in the heart and preached to the world.
The Church has taken its cue from Paul, and put this article in the Apostles' Creed, right alongside His virgin birth, His passion, His resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and so on.
"I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried."
The Apostles' Creed is only 109 words long and it leaves out a million things about our Lord. It says nothing about His character, His miracles, His teaching, and so on. Yet it says He was buried.
It's clear then, that our Lord's burial is a meaningful event-that it matters very much to His story.and to ours. But what is that meaning? Why do the writers of the Bible take such pains to make sure we know that He was buried-that His burial really happened?
We'll get to that in a few minutes, but first we have the story.
Our Lord died after six hours on the cross, at three o'clock in the afternoon. The time of His death was earlier than expected. Most men lived another three or four hours and had to be put out of their misery by the Roman soldier breaking their legs.
But this did not happen to Christ for two very good reasons. First, as the true Passover Lamb, not a bone of His would be broken (cf. Exodus 12 and Psalm 34). This means He had to die before the hangman did his hideous work.
.But also, as the Prince of Life, He had power over all life-including His own. In another place, He said, No man takes it from Me, but I lay it down. And that's what He did on the cross; He yielded His life to God as a sacrifice for our sins. When He cried, Father, into your hands I commit My spirit, He was not using a figure of speech-it was precisely what He was doing.
Pontius Pilate is surprised at the report of His early death, and so he checks it out by a man who knows what death looks like-a Centurion. Word is sent back to the Governor and His body is taken down from the cross.
JOSEPH OF ARIMATHAEA
The one who took down His body was not a man you'd think would do that kind of sickening work. He is Joseph of Arimathaea, one of the richest men in Israel and also a judge on its Supreme Court.
A good and just man, who was not consenting to their decision and deed.and was himself waiting for the Kingdom of God.
When the phone calls were made to gather the Court for a late-night trial, the secretary forgot to call Joseph and his friend, Nicodemus. Of course, they weren't really forgotten, but because they were God-fearing men with a high regard for Jesus, they were accidentally overlooked! They would have opposed the crucifixion-and with their influence and money-they would have stopped it.
What's done is done, and Joseph can't do anything about it. But he respects the Lord and thinks He is the Messiah. The least a he can do is to take care of His remains. And Joseph did just that, putting the Lord's body in his own tomb.
Matthew sees this event as a fulfillment of prophecy and as another proof that Jesus is the Messiah. Isaiah 53 tells the story of a just man suffering and dying in the place of the guilty. He is despised and rejected of men.stricken, smitten, wounded, chastised and striped with a whip. But, instead of being buried in the cemetery for criminals, he is put into a rich man's tomb. Because he had done no violence and no deceit was found in his mouth.
This is important to the overall teaching of the Bible, but Luke takes no notice of it. He's after something else.
He says nothing about Joseph's wealth, but about his integrity and position. Joseph is a good man and a respected judge in Israel. The crooked judges said He was guilty, but the honest judge said He was innocent.
Like many other things in the chapter, this is Luke's subtle way of justifying the Lord Jesus and proving that God has overturned the false verdict!
Joseph took the Lord to his tomb sometime in the late afternoon. Had it been some other day, he would have spiced the body and left it in hope of the resurrection. But it is a Sabbath's eve. And Sabbath began at sunset the day before. Being a law-abiding man, Joseph leaves the work unfinished and goes home to rest as God commanded His people to do on the Sabbath.
Joseph had help in his unhappy work. Some of the Lord's lady friends are there to assist him. But they, too, are God fearing Jews and so they also have to go home to observe the Sabbath.
Luke adds the telling detail,
They observed the tomb and how His body was laid.
There will no doubt where the body has been laid. The tomb belongs to Joseph-and he knows where it is. The women also take careful note of its location. Because they're coming back soon to lay it to rest until the end of time.
That's the story of our Lord's burial.
What does it mean?
I told you what Matthew's angle on it was: he used it to show his Jewish readers that the Man from Galilee is the Christ-the prophet, priest, and king they had been looking for for centuries.
But Luke says nothing about this. His Gospel was written to a Roman official of some kind, a man who wasn't steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, and probably wouldn't get the reference the Jews would.
Following the Apostles' Creed-alas!-some have taken His burial to mean He descended into hell. That while His body was in a shallow grave, His soul was in the deepest grave of all. But, even though I very much admire the Apostles' Creed, I can't follow it here.
.No verse in the Bible says the Lord descended into hell and some verses say He didn't. That, in fact, when He died He went straight into His Father's hands and to Paradise-assuredly this day.
Luke's meaning is pretty basic. The burial of our Lord means: He was truly, really, literally dead.
In the 19th Century, a German scholar said the Lord didn't really die on the cross, but only swooned on it, and in the cool of the tomb, he came to and got out alive.
His view is not merely wrong, but it's stupid. Could a man survive a crucifixion? He might. But could he do it without medical attention? Wouldn't a man with five puncture wounds bleed to death before he woke up from his swoon? And even if he did stop the bleeding, how could a man so weakened by the loss of blood, and no food or water, roll a stone away that three or four healthy women couldn't move? The man's theory is nothing but wish fulfillment. He wishes the Lord didn't rise from the dead and makes up a story to fit his desires. And calls it scholarship. And other scholars take him seriously.
I very much believe in scholarship, but stupid is stupid, even when it's adorned with a long list of doctorates!
The Bible teaches-and all reason affirms-that the Man 500 people saw alive over the next six weeks was also the Man who was as dead as dead can be.
The Lord's burial explains His resurrection. He did not wake up from a faint or come out of a coma. He rose from the dead! The Apostles said so, the Church has always believed it, and the Man who knows best told us what happened:
I am He who lives-and was dead-and am alive forevermore.
The Lord's burial means He sympathizes with you. We've all said, "I know how you feel", but often we don't. You've lost a mother, and your friend has lost a son. You both know sorrow and loss, but the pains are not quite the same. Losing a son is different than losing a mother, and so on.
There are places in life where not even the tenderest love can follow. No living man knows what it is to die! And though we can cry our eyes out and say sweet things to the dying, we don't know what they're suffering! Because we haven't died and are nor not buried. But Christ has experienced both. Thus, He can go where your parents, your kids, and your husband or wife can't go. He can go with you to the grave. And does.
He has been tempted in all points as we have. Your Savior knows what you're going through because He has gone through it Himself. Sympathy.
The Lord's burial also means the grave has lost its power over us. Death is your worst enemy and the grave is its fortress. Many have been taken there and none ever came out alive. Until Christ. He broke into the grave and then broke out of it-and took His people with Him! In this way, Paul and David said, He led captivity captive.
The Lord has fought death and won. And, in Him, you have the same victory over the grave. The grave is not a grave for believers, but only a bed. Our bodies down for a good long nap and when the Trumpet sounds, we wake up to meet the Lord. And be with Him forever: in soul and body.
The burial of our Lord is part of the Gospel because it is Good News from heaven. Very good news, indeed!
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