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The Burial of Jesus

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 24, 2024 12:01 am

The Burial of Jesus

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 24, 2024 12:01 am

Not only did the burial of Jesus mark the end of His humiliation--it also represented the beginning of His exaltation. Preaching from the gospel of John, today R.C. Sproul explores the remarkable redemptive significance of the burial of Christ.

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What is often overlooked in this transition from humiliation to exaltation is that the exaltation does not begin at resurrection, but rather the transition from humiliation to exaltation takes place at His burial. Next Friday is Good Friday, and many Christians will take the time to consider and remember the atoning death of Christ upon the cross, and the Sunday following His glorious resurrection.

But perhaps we don't consider enough His burial. What was prophesied about it? What was taking place between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday? Hi, I'm Nathan W Bingham, and thanks for joining us for this Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind. We're approaching the end of a short sermon series from R.C. Sproul in the Gospel of John, culminating with a sermon on the resurrection of Christ next Lord's Day. Dr. Sproul did preach through the entirety of the Gospel of John, and those sermons were the groundwork for his expositional commentary in John. You can learn how you can own the hardcover edition of that commentary at

So what is the significance of the burial of Christ? Here's Dr. Sproul in John chapter 19. This morning we're going to continue our study of the gospel according to St. John as we've spent almost two years going through that gospel, and we're going to move this morning to the narrative of the burial of Jesus. And I have a note up here that says, note the clock is working just fine. Thank you, John. I have to give preachers little memos to remind them to pay attention to the clock, I think.

Alright, it's not pushed ahead by three or four minutes like it used to be, so we're all in trouble. I'll be reading this morning from chapter 19, verses 31 through 42, so at this time I'll ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God. The first portion of this text we read last week, but I want to repeat it because it has a bearing on the burial of Jesus. Therefore, because it was the preparation day that the body should 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. And then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.

And He who has seen has testified, and His testimony is true, and He knows that He is telling the truth so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, not one of His bones shall be broken. And again another Scripture says, they shall look on Him whom they have pierced. Now after this, Joseph of Arimathea, being 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, and so he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus who at first came to Jesus by night also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus and bound it in strips of linen with the spices as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 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 there they laid Jesus because of the Jews' preparation day, for the tomb was nearby. He who has ears to hear the Word of God, let them hear. Let us pray. Father, bless to our hearts and to the understanding of our minds of the significance of these events that attended the end of the earthly life of Jesus. Help us to see the full import of these things that we might glorify Thee. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

You may be seated. Just a few moments ago we affirmed our faith as Christians by reciting together the Apostles' Creed. And you will recall the words from the Apostles' Creed that went like this, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, followed by the statement, He descended into hell. Now the question I want to address this morning is why would a seemingly insignificant incident in the career of Jesus, such as the detail that He was buried upon His expiration, would become an article of faith to be included in the Apostles' Creed.

The reason I hope we will see this morning is because the Scriptures give great significance to the fact that Jesus was buried. Let me begin by saying that the normal progression by which we understand the way of Jesus' life was that in the main, the process was one that moved from humiliation to exaltation. And we realize that the nadir of His humiliation was His crucifixion on the cross that was soon followed by the amazing act of exaltation in resurrection and in ascension and in the session that is His being seated at the right hand of God. And so we see that strong contrast between exaltation, excuse me, between humiliation and exaltation. But what is often overlooked in this transition from humiliation to exaltation is that the exaltation does not begin at resurrection, but rather the transition from humiliation to exaltation takes place at His burial. Now to prepare our looking at this text, let me go back to the Old Testament for a moment to refresh your memory with a text that I read frequently during the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

A portion of Isaiah chapter 53 beginning at verse 7 reads as follows, He was oppressed and He was afflicted. This of course refers to His humiliation. Yet He opened not His mouth. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment.

And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living. For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked, now listen, but with the rich at His death. Because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. Did you catch the little transfer there?

Everything is negative. Everything calls attention to humiliation until this seemingly minor detail is mentioned by Isaiah that He makes His bed with the rich in His death because He had done no evil thing. And so the circumstances of the burial of Jesus depart from the normal mode of burial of executed prisoners in the Roman system, and a remarkable change takes place between His death and His burial. Again, the tradition the Jews had was that if they had a relative who was executed by the Roman government, they had the privilege of requesting possession of their relative's body that their relative may be buried outside of the city of Jerusalem so as not to defile the sacred places, but at least to have a proper burial and not to be thrown unceremoniously on the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem that daily and through day and night never ceasing burned the garbage from the city.

And that burning dump was called Gehenna and became the chief metaphor for hell itself where the flames of divine wrath never go out. So the fire that burned the garbage of the city of Jerusalem was constantly going, and executed criminals were sometimes deposited into that fire. Now, Jesus was spared that fate. Even worse, when somebody was executed by crucifixion for the crime of sedition, the normal dispatch of the body was this, that after the criminal was crucified and expired, his body remained affixed to the cross, often for days until the vultures finished it off.

And so one could have expected Jesus who was crucified for sedition to have met that faith, but that the Holy One should not see corruption as we read in the book of Acts. All of this was set aside when a man of significant status and significant wealth, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a believer in Christ and probably a member of the Sanhedrin, came secretly to Pilate, even though he was not a relative of Jesus, and intervened requesting the authority to take care of the body of Christ in an appropriate manner. And Pilate, perhaps to infuriate the Jews all the more, or perhaps out of a sense of guilt we don't know, gave his okay for Joseph of Arimathea to dispose of the body of Jesus. So he came, we read, and he took the body of Jesus, and Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.

Now what was the purpose of these fragrances? The Jewish people did not embalm their dead like the Egyptians did, but they did wrap them in a shroud of linen, and they would cover the linen with these precious ointments and fragrances in the burial process for the simple purpose of disguising the stench of putrefaction. And so they anointed the bodies in this manner, and in this case an extraordinary amount of precious ointment was being supplied now by Joseph and by Nicodemus to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. They bound Jesus' body in strips of linen with the spices as the custom of the Jews is to bury. And 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 there they laid Jesus because of the Jewish preparation day, for the tomb was nearby.

They had to hasten the act of burial so as not to defile the land during the celebration of the Passover. And obviously, as we've learned from the other gospels, that this tomb that is used was close to the execution site, and it was owned by Joseph of Arimathea. So this wealthy man, at great risk to himself in terms of the Jewish authorities, led the effort to have the body of Christ properly buried as a sign of respect and as the transition to his exaltation. Now, the theological question that we look at here raises all kinds of problems, as we saw in the sequence in the Apostles' Creed that I read just a few moments ago, when I mentioned that after the Creed says he's crucified dead and buried, the very next line in the Creed says he descended into hell. And that raises a host of theological issues because in the first instance we're wondering what was going on with Jesus between the moment of his death and burial and his resurrection.

Where was he? We know where his body was. His body was in the tomb. But where was his soul? There are many in the history of the church who believed that in the interim between death and resurrection, Jesus in his soulish state visited hell.

And there were different reasons given for that. One theory was that in order to pay fully for our sins, he had to experience some time in hell in order to do that. And so the theory is he went to hell to continue his atoning work of satisfaction. Others, such as the Roman Catholic Church, say that he went to this local place that descends this odd inferno, a local descent into hell, in order to release the captives who had been held in limbo from Old Testament days, the limbo of the fathers, as it were. And so here Jesus goes to hell not to punish or to be punished, but to continue his work of redemption to set the captives in hell free from their condition. And the text that is most frequently cited to support this theory is found in 1 Peter chapter 3, verse 18.

Let me read it for you quickly. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, and so on. So here Peter makes reference to Jesus having a mission to the spirits in prison.

This is understood by many commentators to mean that the spirits in prison were the Old Testament saints who were still being held waiting for the day of rescue and so on, and that the spirits refer to their dead people, and the prison obviously refers to hell. So from that we get the idea that there was a local descent into hell. Now let me say first of all that the phrase in the Apostles' Creed, he descended into hell, does not appear in the earliest versions that we have of the Apostles' Creed.

It doesn't appear until the middle of the third century. So the very phrase itself is textually suspect, not to mention theologically suspect. Calvin, for example, believed that Jesus did descend into hell, and that Christians ought to include this in the recitation of the Apostles' Creed, but they ought to change the order in which it is affirmed. We should say he suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, descended into hell, dead and buried, because Jesus' experience of hell took place when he was on the cross.

That's what the atonement was all about, that he would receive the full measure of punishment for sin, and there it would be the suffering of the wrath of God, such as is located in hell. Now the other question has to do again with the relationship of the divine nature and the human nature. This is why theology is systematic. It touches on all of these little things, and we know that in the incarnation Jesus has two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. And we know, I hope that we know, that on the cross the divine nature did not die, and the divine nature did not suffer, because the divine nature is immutable. And God didn't stop being God on the cross. The God-man dies.

The God-man suffers, but he suffers in his human nature on the cross. And God doesn't die, and God isn't dead for three days, because if God is dead for three days, that would be the end of Pontius Pilate, of Caiaphas, of the tomb, of the corpse, of Jerusalem, of Israel, and of the whole universe. If God dies for two seconds, everything else goes. So we can't think that God, you know, dies at any point here. But then what was the relationship between the divine nature and the human nature in that three days?

Let me see if I can help you with that. First thing is the divine nature is now perfectly united on the one hand to a human corpse. Just as the divine nature had been united with the living human being, with the healthy body during the life of Jesus, now in this interim time the union of the incarnation still exists, but the divine nature is united to the dead body of Jesus, but also to the living soul of Christ. And where was that? Well, we know where it was. It was in heaven. How do we know that?

Two reasons. One, he told the thief on the cross who made a profession of faith in Jesus, today you will be with me in paradise. Now it's theoretically possible that Jesus died, made a quick trip to hell, and then still that same day went up to heaven.

But that's really torturing the text, I think, to come to that conclusion. Now others argue this way, that since there's no punctuation in that text, we could say this, that what Jesus said to the thief on the cross is, I say to you today, comma. That is, the today refers not to when Jesus is going to be with the man in paradise, but Jesus is referring the historic moment when he's making this promise.

I'm telling you today that sometime in the distant future you and I are going to get together in paradise. Now if the Son of God in his dying moment, gasping for breath, wants to add unnecessary verbiage to his discussion to the thing, I don't think he would be that foolish. He's very clear what Jesus was saying. He was making the promise to this man this very day, you will be with me, and it's not going to be in hell. It's going to be in paradise. And we also know that at the end of his experience on the cross, he commended his spirit to the care of the Father.

So we have every reason to believe that at the moment Jesus died, the divine nature remained united to his soul, which was in heaven, and to his body, which was in the tomb, which body and soul were reunited at the moment of resurrection. Alright, but what do we do with this text here in 1 Peter? Well, somebody came up to me after class today and said, You know, we don't hear teachers very often say, I don't know, but we heard you say it today. You heard it more than once.

You're going to hear it again. What is 1 Peter? What's he talking about here? The final analysis, I don't know. If you get ten commentaries on this portion of 1 Peter, chances are you'll get ten different renditions of it.

But let's look at it closely, and I can tell you maybe what it means, but not for sure. It says, Christ suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit. Now, if we apply the basic principle of biblical interpretation, seeing how phrases are used everywhere else in the New Testament, we see that this phrase, made alive in the Spirit, in all probability, almost certainly refers to his resurrection.

So he suffers. He dies in the body. He's made alive by the Spirit.

By whom? That is, by the same Spirit. Also, he went and preached to the spirits in prison.

Now here's the first question. If he's made alive by the same Spirit that he goes and preaches to the lost spirits in prison, this is mentioned, by the way, after the mention of the resurrection. Now that may or may not be significant. We've got an order here, death, resurrection, then this visit to the spirits in prison. So if we're insisting that it follows the sequence in which it's mentioned, you would have to say that this visit to the spirits in prison took place, not between death and resurrection, but after the resurrection.

On the other hand, the fact that these things are mentioned in a particular order does not necessitate a temporal sequence. We have to be careful that we don't read a temporal sequence here because Peter doesn't say after he was raised by the Spirit, then he went. He just simply said that the same Spirit that raised him from the dead is the Spirit by which he ministered to the spirits in prison. Now the assumption that so many bring to this text is A, the spirits refer to dead people, and B, the prison refers to hell.

And that could be what Peter has in mind here. On the other hand, Spirit, the term Spirit, is used in biblical language many times for living people. When God created us and gave us the breath of life, man became a living Ruach, or spirit, and Adam wasn't a ghost. He was a living person.

We use the same speech patterns in our own vocabulary. If you say, how many people were in church this Thursday night at St. Andrews, and I said there wasn't a soul there. I don't mean that there weren't any ghosts there. I mean that there weren't any people there.

We use that form of language, and so does the Bible. So the fact that it was a reference to spirits does not necessarily mean departed spirits. It may mean that, but it doesn't have to mean that. Well, what about the prison? Well, surely that image refers to hell because elsewhere in the Bible, hell is described figuratively in terms of a prison where people can't get out of until they've paid the last farthing. So it's perfectly appropriate to think that it may be that the prison that Peter has in mind here is the prison of hell, but not necessarily. Because on the other hand, the condition in which Israel found herself during the period of Jesus' incarnation was a position of being in bondage to sin. And at the heart of the vocation given to the Messiah, who was to be anointed by the Holy Ghost to fulfill the mission of the Messiah, to preach deliverance to the captives and set at liberty those who were being held captive. So Peter may just simply be trying to remind his people that the same power by which Jesus carried on His earthly ministry of releasing the captives from the prison house of sin is the same power that was used to raise Him from the dead. Then it goes on to make these obscure references to Noah, and I don't know what that has to do with it and what that means.

And so I just give that for you this morning for your consideration. But again to recount what we see here is that God, by seeing His Son buried with the rich, would not allow the humiliation to continue one more second than was necessary for Him to pay our debt. And when Jesus said to Telestai, it is finished, that was the end of the humiliation, so that His body was treated tenderly, given a full honorable burial, being buried in a cave or a tomb that had never been used before. This is like getting military honors at Arlington National Cemetery rather than being thrown into the garbage heap outside of Jerusalem or being left to the vultures as so much carrying. No, our Lord was exalted in the manner of His burial, which was simply a hint of what was to come, of what we covered in adult class this morning, of that which demonstrated the absolute total impossibility of the resurrection. And that which was absolutely impossible about the resurrection was that it wouldn't happen, because what the Scriptures say is that it was impossible for death to hold Him. So in reality, as honoring as the linen and the precious spices and ointments were to Jesus, they were absolutely unnecessary, a waste of good fragrance and of good linen, save for the expression of love and honor that they gave.

And aren't we glad that death could not hold Him and that He would be gloriously resurrected, as we'll see next Sunday? Thanks for joining us for Renewing Your Mind. You just heard a sermon from R.C. Sproul that was preached to the congregation of St. Andrew's Chapel in Sanford, Florida. Dr. Sproul preached through many books of the Bible, and it was a blessing for my family to sit under his preaching ministry for several years, and those insightful and gospel-rich sermons became his expositional commentary series. If you'd like to add his commentary on John to your collection, you can request the hardcover edition for a donation of any amount at Walk through this beloved gospel at your own pace, or use it to help a new Christian or a non-Christian friend become acquainted with the ministry and life-giving teaching of Jesus. This offer ends at midnight, so respond today at Next Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, and you'll hear a sermon from R.C. Sproul on that monumental event in redemptive history. So join us then here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-24 02:36:26 / 2024-03-24 02:46:32 / 10

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