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The Burial of Jesus

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
July 4, 2021 12:01 am

The Burial of Jesus

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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July 4, 2021 12:01 am

After the death of Jesus, a man named Joseph of Arimathea came to bury the body of Christ. Today, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of the gospel of Mark to acknowledge how the dignity of Jesus' burial was a fulfillment of prophecy.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind… A few weeks ago when we looked at the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, I raised the question at the beginning of why in the selection of the brief information that was included originally in the Apostles' Creed, why would any space be taken up to refer to Pontius Pilate? Why not Caiaphas? Why not Herod?

Why not somebody else? And so we looked at the significance of Pilate's inclusion in the Apostles' Creed. Well, there are two other questions that come down to us through church history about the contents of the Apostles' Creed. The question that we hear more than any other question is the reference in the creed of the descent into hell. That descent into hell does not occur in the earliest manuscripts of the Apostles' Creed and seems to have been added later, and it has provoked no small amount of controversy that there are many churches today when they recite the Apostles' Creed don't include that phrase, he descended into hell. When John Calvin was asked about the propriety of using that statement, he descended into hell, Calvin embraced the phrase but wanted to change the order of the creed. He said what the creed should say, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, descended into hell, dead and buried, because Christ's descent into hell was what He experienced on the cross, not something after His death.

But that's for another day. The other item that raises some question is the inclusion in the creed of the brief reference to the burial of Jesus, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. It's almost redundant. When people die in antiquity, particularly Jewish people, what follows death is burial. Some speculate that that word buried in the Apostles' Creed is there so that people will understand that Jesus was really dead and that His resurrection was not a resuscitation of somebody who was merely comatose, but that He actually was dead enough to be buried. And to be dead enough to be buried is simply to be dead.

That's all the enough deadness you have to have in order to qualify for burial. Personally, I doubt if that's the reason why it's included in the creed. I think it's included in the creed for another reason, a profoundly important theological reason which I trust as we look at the text today we'll be able to examine. Let's go back now to Mark 2, Mark's Gospel to chapter 15. I'm going to go back a little bit, back to verse 40 from last week where we read this addendum to the account of Jesus' death on the cross that there were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less, and of Joses and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. I go back to that because these, partly some of these women figure again in the burial and resurrection narrative. And the first thing that we notice is that these women followed Jesus and were witnesses of His crucifixion from afar.

Now I've already talked about the idea that we cannot really be loyal followers of Jesus from a distance, but at least they hung around. The male disciples fled for their lives while these women who had been in the entourage of Jesus during His earthly ministry at least stayed close enough to be observers of His death. And they are named here Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less, and of Joses and Salome.

Now those three women who are named have some significance to them. Mary Magdalene, Mary from Magdala, has the unfortunate tradition surrounding her which has not one shred of evidence biblically that she was a prostitute. There's no basis for that whatsoever except that she was one from whom Jesus cast out demons. But to assume that her demonic possession resulted in some kind of harlotry is a gratuitous leap that can't be found in the text. Even more gratuitous is the blasphemous idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene or had some kind of love affair with her, the Da Vinci Code notwithstanding.

That's the stuff of fiction and of pseudographical literature with not one ounce of biblical evidence to it. All we know from the Scriptures about Mary Magdalene is that she was a faithful disciple of Christ, was there at the cross, and was the first to see Him in His resurrection. The other Mary that is mentioned is more mysterious because we're not sure what Mary it is. She's identified as Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses. Now the Scripture indicates that Jesus had among other siblings a brother named James and a brother named Joses, and so many believe that this Mary that is identified here is Mary the mother of Jesus. And Salome who is mentioned is the wife of Zebedee, the mother of the sons of thunder, the disciples James and John. So these people here who are mentioned are intimately acquainted with the earthly ministry of Jesus. And we are told that they were following Him and ministering Him while He was in Galilee. Now let's turn to verse 42. Now an evening had come because it was the preparation day, that is the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God.

Let me just stop there. The time of this visit of Joseph of Arimathea to Pontius Pilate was on the late afternoon of the day of crucifixion, and the Sabbath day begins at sundown on Friday. And so presumably it was before sundown that Joseph of Arimathea came to Pilate seeking permission to have the body of Jesus released into his care and to be buried.

Now again, this had to be done in haste because we know that Jesus expired at three o'clock in the afternoon on Friday, and so there wasn't a lot of time in the meantime for His body to be removed from the cross and then to be given a proper burial. In the meantime also Joseph had to secure permission to take the body of Jesus from Pontius Pilate. And we are told here in this text that Joseph was a prominent council member. Now the only council that this can refer to in terms of Jewish prominence would have been the Sanhedrin, that very council of the Jews that had turned Jesus over to Pilate and had sought His execution. That indicates that not everybody who was on the council of Jewish leadership was opposed to Jesus and that Jesus had at least this ally and presumably also Nicodemus in that august body of leaders of the Jews.

And we are told also that Joseph was himself waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God that would again further identify him as a believer in Jesus. And so we are told that coming and taking courage went to Pilate and asked for the body. It required courage to go to the man who had ordered the execution of Jesus as a criminal to ask permission for the body because for Pilate to release the body into the care of Joseph of Arimathea would involve a significant departure from the customs surrounding Roman crucifixion. Usually when the Roman prisoners were crucified, the disposition of their bodies was in one of two ways. One of the things that the Romans did with executed criminals on the cross as what we would call an instrument of terror to keep a subjugated population under control by injecting fear into them was to leave the dead victims of execution on the cross for a significant period of time till the bodies began to decay and decompose as a warning to anyone else who was thinking of being involved in insurrection, for example.

And so it was a rather ghastly and grim thing to do. Now even then when those bodies were finally removed from the cross, they were deposited in the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, the Jewish name for which is Gehenna, and garbage in those days was disposed of by incineration. When Jesus speaks of the punishment of hell, He uses as one of His chief metaphors that location of Gehenna outside of Jerusalem where the fires never go out. And the reason why the fires never go out is that a constant supply of garbage and refuse was deposited into that dump on a regular basis, at least a weekly basis. And Jesus speaks of hell as the place where the worm never dies.

And the reason there is that the worm is a parasite that lives off the host, but again if the worms that are there in the dump begin to get hungry, they only have to wait a short time for their next meal. And so those awful images are appropriate as Jesus used them to describe hell. Now again, to have one's body thrown unceremoniously onto the garbage dump was not an indication of respect or by any means an indication of glory. So the only difference between the two methods of disposal is that sometimes the Romans would take the bodies down as soon as the executed criminals died and immediately threw them in the garbage pile. Others hung on the cross for a while and then later were sent to the fires of the garbage dump of Gehenna.

In either case, in both cases, the ultimate destination of the bodies of executed criminals happened to be this dreadful garbage dump where the bodies, along with the rest of the garbage, were incinerated. That did not happen to Jesus. And that it didn't happen to Jesus is of tremendous theological significance.

Again, which I'll look at in just a moment. In the meantime, let's look at the narrative as it stands. We are told that Joseph acted hastily and with courage. He came to Pilate and he said, please can I have the body?

I want to give him a proper burial. And Pilate was immediately concerned about the state of this corpse. He marveled that Jesus was already dead, and so he summoned the centurion. The centurion is the one who said, truly this was the Son of God. And he asked the centurion, is he dead?

Is he really dead? And the centurion affirmed that he was. And he asked him if he'd been dead for some time. And so when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. So then Joseph bought fine linen, took him down, wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Now, we see now in this narrative that after Pilate grants the request of Joseph of Arimathea, Joseph takes great pains to give Jesus a proper burial. He wraps the body of Jesus in sheets and in fine linen and then puts Jesus in this magnificent burial site, this tomb. And the one thing he was not able to do, because he didn't have the time to do it before sunset, was to anoint the body properly with spices. We remember, as we will see later, that the women came to the tomb on Sunday morning for the purpose of which to anoint the body.

Usually the body was anointed before it was entombed, but in this case there was no time for it. Now why do I say there's significance to this? Well, I've mentioned to you before that the life of Jesus follows a basic progression that moves from humiliation to exaltation, and that we see throughout the life of Jesus increasing hostility, increasing suffering imposed upon Him until that suffering reaches its crescendo in the crucifixion, what is called the grand passion. Now, the question that we ask theologically is, when do we find the turning point from humiliation to exaltation? And usually when people look at the biblical narrative, they say, oh, well that's easy. Jesus' exaltation begins on Sunday morning with His resurrection from the dead.

No. That may be the zenith of His exaltation in the New Testament, but it's not the beginning. The beginning, the point of transition from suffering to exaltation is found in the burial. Why? Two reasons.

Well, one reason with a couple of points of emphasis. The first and primary point here is that this fulfills the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament. If we look for a moment at Isaiah 53 that you hear me read frequently when we examine this text during the Lord's Supper, we read in Isaiah 53, let me begin at verse 7, He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as the sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and judgment, and who will declare His generation?

This is all humiliation. He was cut off from the land of the living, and for the transgressions of My people He was stricken, and they made His grave with the wicked, that is, the people that were crucified with Him. Then here's the critical word, but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. You see that in that prophetic utterance of Isaiah centuries before Jesus, Isaiah sees the point of transition from the suffering servant's humiliation to His vindication is the fact that He is buried with the rich because He was innocent.

You see that? And that is fulfilled to the letter in the circumstances surrounding the burial of Jesus. Another aspect of that can be found in the book of Acts, in the second chapter of the book of Acts. When Peter gives his magnificent sermon on the day of Pentecost, he quotes from the Old Testament from the psalm of David where he said, "'I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore, my heart rejoiced that my tongue was glad. My flesh also will rest in hope, for you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption.'"

Corruption. And Peter on that occasion said David was not talking about himself. David's tomb is with us to this day. When David died, his body underwent the natural process of corruption, but not the body of Christ. He would not suffer His Holy One to have a bone in His body broken. You say, well, wait a minute. They put the spear in His side.

That's true. But the body of Jesus substantially remained intact even in crucifixion, again fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah, whose body not only was not thrown on the garbage heap, not only not subjected to corruption, but was honored with the dignity of a sacred burial according to Jewish tradition. One last thing about the burial of Jesus, quickly. We're told that when He was laid to rest, that He laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. The customary form of burial among the Jews was not placing the bodies of people in coffins and digging a hole in the ground and putting them in the ground. For the most part, the Jewish burial consisted of being placed in caves that were hollowed out from the porous rock that was easy to do, and they put shelves up on those caves, family tombs, and the bodies were then placed in the caves. Now, eighty percent of the caves of the Jews who buried people therein had at their entrance a square stone, and that square stone was placed there to protect the tombs from grave robbers.

In the case of wealthy people, such as Joseph of Arimathea, the tombs would have a circular rock placed in a rut in front of the tomb, which could be with great effort, but nevertheless could be rolled aside. And that's the kind of tomb in which Jesus was buried. Many of you have been to Israel. You've been to Jerusalem. You've been to the Garden Tomb. The odds that the Garden Tomb is the tomb in which Jesus was laid to rest are astronomically against it. But the good thing about the Garden Tomb that the tourists visit in Jerusalem is that that's exactly the kind of tomb that Jesus would have been buried in following this. He made His grave with the rich because God would not allow His Holy One to suffer corruption, even in His burial. Honor and exaltation are given to our Lord. That's amazing, isn't it?

Jesus' burial is yet another fulfilled prophecy and only deepens our understanding of God's sovereignty. We've just heard a remarkable message by Dr. R.C. Sproul today, and you're listening to Renewing Your Mind.

Thank you for being with us on this Lord's Day. I hope you'll take advantage of our resource offer today. It will provide you with the opportunity to continue your study as you hear Dr. Sproul preach from Mark's Gospel. When you contact us with a donation of any amount, we will provide a digital download of Dr. Sproul's commentary on Mark. You can go online to request it at We want to be a resource you can turn to when you need biblical answers, so we encourage you to download the free Ligonier app to your phone or tablet, and there you'll have a virtual library of study help right in the palm of your hand. Articles, videos, and much more are ready for you to explore. You'll find it in your favorite app store. Just search for Ligonier. That's L-I-G-O-N-I-E-R. After Jesus' burial, the event that changed history took place. Join us again next Sunday for Dr. Sproul's message titled, The Resurrection, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-24 23:27:36 / 2023-09-24 23:35:21 / 8

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