Tuesday, July 18, 2017
July 9, 2017, Second Reformed Church
Does it matter that Jesus was buried?
We say Jesus was “crucified, dead, and buried” in The Apostle’s Creed. Do we really need to confess that Jesus was “buried”? Does it really add anything to our saying that He is dead?
Last week we saw that Jesus hangs on the cross for about three hours that first Good Friday and then He dies. Jesus dies because of the blood He has lost during His torture and crucifixion. Jesus dies because His heart ruptures and the red and the clear fluids mix – proving that Jesus is dead – that His heart muscle is destroyed – seen and sworn to by the Apostle John as the soldier pierces Jesus’ side and blood and water pours out. Jesus dies for the sake of the salvation of His people – in order to complete His work and make us right with God. Jesus lives to be able to credit our accounts with His righteous keeping of the Law, and He dies, taking on our sin, taking on the curse of the Law, which includes death for our sin, under the Wrath of God. Everyone knows He is dead.
Isn’t saying “buried” unnecessary?
As we turn to our text, we see two disciples take Jesus’ body secretly.
“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.”
One of the men is Joseph of Arimathea. Arimathea was a town about twenty miles northwest of Jerusalem. The other Gospel writers tell us a little more about him:
“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57, ESV).
“Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Luke 23:50-52, ESV).
Joseph is a rich man, who sits on the Sanhedrin – the Jewish high counsel, who votes against seeking Jesus’ death, and who believes in Jesus as the Savior. And – at this point – he is afraid to publically ask for Jesus’ body for how the others on the Sanhedrin might react.
The second man is Nicodemus, who we met in chapter three.
In his interchange with Jesus, we see that Nicodemus is also a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus recognizes him as the teacher of Israel – he is the greatest scholar of the day in Judaism. He is also wealthy – as we can tell by the amount of embalming ingredients he brings, and he, at this point, believes in Jesus savingly, but remains afraid of how the others on the Sanhedrin will react to his belief.
Mark tells us that it takes courage for these men to ask for Jesus’ body and to bury Him (cf. Mark 15:43).
But why did they bury Him?
Out of love? Out of respect and honor? Out of fear of what people might do with or to His body?
Second, they began to embalm Jesus’ body.
“So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”
We can say they began to embalm Jesus, because on Sunday – the first day of the week – we read, “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1, ESV).
When we think of embalming, we often think of Egyptian embalming in which the organs are removed, or modern embalming, where the blood is removed. In Jewish embalming, there is no cutting of the flesh – the body is tightly wound from head to food in linen coated with myrrh and aloe – two healing spices. Myrrh was also one of the ingredients of the incense acceptable to God and one of the gifts given to the baby Jesus.
The fact that Nicodemus brings seventy-five pounds of the spice shows his wealth, his devotion, and his love of Jesus. An average person would have been embalmed with about ten percent of that – seven or eight pounds
Even though we say the women go to finish the embalming on Sunday, Joseph and Nicodemus did the lion’s share of the embalming on Friday. They couldn’t finish because sunset was coming – the Sabbath was upon them – so they had to finish what they could quickly.
Third, they bury Jesus in a garden tomb.
“Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”
There is a tomb, very close to the place of crucifixion. It is in a garden, and it has not been used – no one else is in it. It is. in fact, the tomb that Joseph of Arimetheea had purchased for himself, as we read:
“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. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:59-61, ESV).
This was to fulfill the prophecy:
“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” (Isaiah 53:9, ESV).
So, Joseph and Nicodemus lay Jesus in the grave purchased for Joseph, which was near the place where Jesus was crucified, in a garden, and the women were there and witnessed this as well. Joseph and Nicodemus readied Jesus’ body as best they could before the Sabbath came, and the women planned to return on Sunday to finish anointing Jesus’ body.
Joseph rolled the rock down and across the tomb – which is cut out of the rock – so it was sealed – and very difficult to get open again.
But that’s not it, is it?
We remember what Matthew records:
“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise.”’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘”He has risen from the dead,”’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.’” Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:62-66, ESV).
On the Sabbath, the chief priests and Pharisees get concerned and pestering Pilate: they remember that Jesus said He would rise from the dead on the third day, and they believe that Jesus’ disciples are going to steal His body and tell people He rose from the dead – and then the whole world will be throw into superstition and lie. So, they ask that Pilate seal and guard the tomb through Sunday.
The stone that covered the tomb, which could have weighed as much as two tons, based on the ones found in Israel, was set in place – into a gulley, making it even harder to move.
Wax was then poured over the area of the stone that met the tomb and Pilates’ signet ring was placed in the wax, making it a federal crime to break the seal and open the tomb, and a guard was set to make sure that the disciples do not steal Jesus’ body and pretend that He has risen.
How many is in a Roman guard? It varies. Certainly not less than four. More likely forty to sixty, given the number of disciples Jesus has. Perhaps, even more.
Is something clicking?
Jesus is dead. The Romans know Jesus is dead. The Jews know Jesus is dead. Jesus’ disciples know Jesus is dead.
Why should we care that He was buried?
Because there was an expectation that Jesus’ disciples would steal Jesus’ body and fake His resurrection. So the tomb was sealed with a massive stone, the governor’s seal, and guarded around the clock by Roman guards.
Jesus was buried so He would be in a guarded and watched tomb until the Resurrection, so it would be absolutely impossible for any honest person to say that Jesus did not physically rise form the dead.
Though they tried:
“While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day” (Matthew 28:11-15, ESV).
Jesus was buried in a tomb and it is unreasonable to believe that His body was stolen, given the way the tomb was sealed and the watch over Him. But that was all the Jews could come up with – they paid the soldiers to lie – “Well, we all fell asleep. And Jesus’ disciples came and rolled the two-ton rock up and away from the door, breaking the governor’s seal, and they were so quite that not one of us woke up. And then they stole the body, and now they are pretending that Jesus physically rose from the dead.”
Some scholars today say, “Oh, well, they were upset and they went to the wrong tomb, which is why it was empty, Jesus was in another tomb.”
Don’t you think Joseph would have said something if they didn’t go back to his high-priced garden tomb, right by where Jesus was crucified, but to some other empty tomb that had been sealed by the governor’s seal and guarded by Roman soldiers – it doesn’t make sense!
Jesus was buried, sealed in, and guarded – and we confess that, because it leaves us with no other conclusion than Jesus actually did, physically rise from the dead!
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we are humbled at Your Wisdom in the plan of our salvation, and we give You thanks for sending Your Son to live, to die, and to be buried, so we are assured of our salvation. And it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Thursday, July 06, 2017
July 2, 2017, Second Reformed Church
You may be familiar with the saying, “there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes.”
We are considering death this morning, because it is certain – unless Jesus returns before we die. But, for the most part, we can be sure that the bodies we are in will die someday. Our bodies age, decay, and fall apart. We get ill. We get in accidents. Unless Jesus intervenes, each of us will die – somehow – someday.
That is just the way it is. Humans die. It has been that way from the beginning and it will always be. Right?
Well, maybe not. Why do we die? Were we created to die?
After God created the first human, Adam, we read, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17, ESV).
What is God saying?
God could be telling Adam that if he eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he will die – whereas, if he doesn’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he will never die.
Or, God could be saying, if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, your punishment will be death.
How can we tell which is the accurate understanding?
Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“ (Romans 5:12, ESV).
Paul says, before Adam’s sin, there was no sin in the world. And the penalty for sin is death. Therefore, there was no death in the world before Adam’s sin.
So, God’s warning to Adam is not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in sinning, he will bring sin and death into the world.
And, since Adam is humanity’s representative, we are all born sinners, and we sin, and we merit death. So, we die because Adam sinned and we sin.
Without sin, there is no death.
At this point in our text, Jesus is dead. Sovereignly and willingly He chose to live a perfect live under God’s Law and give up His life – die – for the sins of the people God gave Him. We talked about how this transfer occurs – Jesus’ Righteousness – His perfect keeping of the Law is transferred to our accounts – and the accounts of everyone who will ever believe – and our sin is transferred to Jesus to be fully punished in Jesus as He hangs as a curse on the cross.
And we see, the chief priests want Jesus to die quickly.
“Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”
John sets the scene – it is the day of preparation for the Sabbath. The Sabbath is Saturday, so the day of preparation is Friday – the day Jesus died. And the chief priests know that Law of God says, “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23, ESV).
The chief priests do not want the land to be defiled, so these men – including Jesus – must die quickly, so they can be taken down from the crosses.
People who were crucified could last for days, pushing up on the nails in agony to breathe and then hanging down again.
So the chief priests went to Pilate to ask that the men’s legs be broken, so they would be unable to push up on the nails, but would rather suffocate in a short time. This was not an act of mercy on the part of the chief priests – no – they were only concerned that they might break the Sabbath Law and the law regarding hanging. They were not concerned that they put an innocent man to death.
Although the crucified were usually left to hang for as long as it took them to die, the Roman government did make exceptions for the religions in the area. So, the guards take their sledgehammers and shatter the legs of the first man, and then they shatter the legs of the second man, but when they came to Jesus, He is already dead – for a number of reasons – including the severe torture He had endured at the hands of the Romans prior to crucifixion.
Second, the soldiers make sure Jesus is dead.
“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”
It is of utmost importance to the Jews and the Romans to make sure that Jesus is totally, completely, truly dead. There are the resurrection claims yet to come, but for now, the Jews want to make sure that Jesus is not going to threaten their wealth and power, and Pilate wants to make sure Jesus doesn’t threaten his wealth and power. They have to make sure there is no possibility that Jesus had fainted – or something else – so He might be revived and come back to haunt them – so to speak.
So one of the soldiers takes his spear and thrusts it up through Jesus’ side – and there are many fanciful stories about whom this soldier was, but all we are told in the Bible is that he was one of the soldiers. And when he thrust the spear up through Jesus’ side, blood and water poured out.
What does this mean?
Again, there are a number of fanciful conjectures, but what we find in medical science is that when the heart undergoes an immense strain – such as bearing the full Wrath of God for all of the sins of everyone who will ever believe – after being horrifically tortured – the heart muscle may rupture. When the heart muscle ruptures, the red clotting factor and the lipid serum mix together – so, when the body is punctured – say with a spear – the mixture that comes out looks like blood and water – and it is proof that the heart muscle is destroyed (Henriksen, 437). Thus proving, Jesus is quite dead.
And then John ben Zebedee, the author of the Gospel, who stands at the foot of cross and sees these things takes a vow that what he is saying it true – he is an eyewitness – what he is saying is the truth. And the reason he is reporting this to his readers is so they will believe that Jesus really, truly died.
Why is John so passionate to have his readers know that Jesus really, physically died?
The problem is one of the earliest heresies against Christianity called, “Docetism.” The Docetists said, among other things, that Jesus did not die – Jesus did not have a physical body – what they all saw was an illusion – or some would go on to say that they crucified a look-alike, not Jesus.
As wonderful as that is for us to know, does it matter for today? Does it matter that the medical evidence based on the records and observations of eyewitnesses show that Jesus was most assuredly dead?
It actually does matter for today, because there is a religion that continues the teaching of the Docetists: Islam. Muslims teach in Surah 4, verses 157-158: “and their saying : we killed Christ Jesus, son of Mary, The messenger of Allah - but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it was made to appear to them so; and those who disagree concerning it are full of doubts; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; For surely they killed him not; but Allah took him up unto Himself; and Allah is ever mighty, wise” [https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=A0LEV72u6ldZZkYAGfwnnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByMjB0aG5zBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--?qid=20090531100634AAoXScZ]
Muslims teach that Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, was never crucified. Allah took Jesus to himself, and if someone was crucified, it was an imposter, or they saw an illusion, but Jesus was never dead.
Here is the problem: if Jesus did not die on the cross, then He did not bear God’s Wrath for our sin, we have not been forgiven for our sin, and we will have to bear God’s Wrath on the last day – we are not and shall not be saved.
Yet again, John answers – third, Jesus fulfills prophecy about His death.
“For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.’”
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover meal.
God commands, “It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones” (Exodus 12:46, ESV).
And so, Jesus fulfills this piece of the Passover meal by not having any of His bones broken – as He fulfills and takes the place of the Passover lamb.
As Paul writes, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7, ESV).
The whole deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ deliverance of His people from slavery to Satan – and so Jesus fulfills the whole of the history, including the offering of the Passover lamb, whose bones must not be broken.
In the book of Zechariah, God speaks to Israel about her coming salvation:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.
“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 12:10-13:1, ESV).
Notice, God is speaking, and He is God Who says that the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will look at God Whom they have pierced.
Reading this in English, and in its placement in John’s Gospel, we would say, “Aha, Jesus is God, and Jesus was pierced in His ankles and wrists and side!” And there are texts that speak of Jesus’ flesh being pierced – as in crucifixion, but this is not one of them.
The problem is that the word God uses in Zechariah does not mean pieced in the sense of a nail or a spear going through the flesh – it means more literally, “heart-broken.” God is saying that the house of David and Jerusalem will look upon God Whose heart they have broken.
But before we say, “Well, John quoted the wrong prophecy then.”
Notice, isn’t this literally what happened? Jesus’ physical heart broke under the strain of all His suffering and especially under the Wrath of God that He endured for us.
So, we have Scripture, eyewitness testimony, and medical interpretation that Jesus did, indeed, die on the cross. So what?
In our Heidelberg Catechism we read:
“Q. Why did Christ have to suffer death?
“A. Because God’s justice and truth require it: nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God.” (Q&A 40).
And Paul writes:
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,” (Romans 8:3, ESV).
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8, ESV).
And the author of Hebrews writes:
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9, ESV).
The point of all of this is that Jesus really, physically, died a real human death. If He did not, we are not saved. Jesus had to suffer for all of our sin, which includes the penalty of physical death. If He did not, there is no salvation.
So, as we talk with Muslims and others who insist Jesus did not physically die, let us make it clear to them, that if Jesus did not die – if He was just a phantom, or there was some sort of mix-up, or if His death was made up, then there is no salvation.
But if He did, as the evidence and the eyewitness testimony support, then rejoice, for He had paid the debt for all of the sins of everyone who ever believes, and He is mighty to save.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son and for His willingness to even die a horrific physical death to save us. Help us to understand why this was necessary and be able to tell others who claim Jesus never died. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.