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The Supernatural Burial of Christ

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
March 31, 2023 4:00 am

The Supernatural Burial of Christ

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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March 31, 2023 4:00 am

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For those of you who may struggle with whether there's a divine purpose in history, whether there's a divine purpose in history, there's a divine purpose in history.

I'm John McNichol, and here now is John McArthur. Thank you for listening. But in what sense is the burial of Jesus supernatural? I suppose the burial of Jesus is not something you've considered a lot. We celebrate the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ, but the burial of Christ is as supernatural and as divinely wrought as anything else in the Incarnation. In fact, the burial of Jesus is so important that all four gospel writers talk about it and they give detail and the detail they give is related to the supernatural elements of His burial. The reality is this, that from the moment Jesus gave up His Spirit and His body was dead, He alive entered into the presence of God in paradise from which He controlled every detail of His own burial.

He not only planned His own funeral, He ran it. The divine pre-planned, prophesied and powerfully executed features of the burial of the body of Jesus provide for us some very strong evidence for some very important realities like the divine purpose of history, like the sovereignty of God in all things, like the authenticity of Scripture and the veracity of the claims of Christ. His burial brings evidence, proof of all these realities. For those of you who may struggle with whether there's a divine purpose in history, whether God is sovereign over everything, whether the Scripture is true and whether Christ is really who He claimed to be, there is enough in His burial to remove those kinds of questions.

Now mark this in general. God moves in history in two ways, directly. He moves in history in two ways directly. One is miracles. A miracle is God accomplishing His purpose by interrupting and or suspending natural law and process. He created the universe, He created the laws and the processes that sustain the universe, but rarely, extremely rarely God interrupts those processes. In the very opposite fashion, providence goes on all the time.

And that's the second thing that I want you to understand. God works in the world through providence. That is not rare, in fact there is never a millisecond in which it is not operating. Providence is another way that God works constantly in this world without interrupting the natural law, without suspending natural process, God accomplishes His purpose by taking all of the infinite number of attitudes, expressions, acts and behaviors of free human beings and spiritual beings who make choices and do things and God takes them all and weaves them perfectly into His own purpose. This is a greater miracle than a miracle and it goes on all the time. He weaves together all of the infinite behaviors of men and demons with meticulous precision to fulfill exactly His will. This is a far greater display of divine wisdom and a far greater display of divine power than a momentary interruption of the natural law. And this is constant.

This is going on all the time. It is a constant, relentless and astounding display of wisdom and power, operating every split second and taking everything that's done, everything that's said, every behavior and weaving it perfectly into His own plan so that the end is God has woven together a tapestry of redemptive history that looks at the end exactly the way it looked in the beginning when He drew the plan. Now you will see this many ways in the Scripture, nowhere better than in the burial of Jesus. God is acting here, Christ is acting here, the Holy Spirit is acting, the Trinity is active and yet behind the scenes. In the burial of Jesus, you have actions by three groups of people. You have actions by neutral soldiers, you have actions by loving saints and you have actions by hateful enemies, spiritual leaders, hateful sinners. The soldiers, the saints and the sinners are all acting.

One group is neutral, the other group is positive, the other group is negative. One really have nothing at stake, some have everything at stake because they love Him and some have everything at stake because they hate Him. But whether you are in the neutral category, or whether you are in the loving category, or whether you are in the hating category, everything that is done fits together to affect the purposes of God. The soldiers did what they did because they were given the duty to do that and it's what they always did.

The saints did what they did because their hearts motivated them to do that. The spiritual leaders, the sinners of Israel did what they did because they were driven by their ongoing hatred of Jesus Christ and wanted to prevent anything from going wrong with what they had already accomplished. But in any case, whatever the motives of the hearts that drive the behaviors, God is ordering all of it, not in a fatalistic way, but in a massive expression of wisdom and power by which the free choices of these people are woven together in a perfect tapestry for God to affect His purpose of displaying that He commands history, He is sovereign, the Scripture is true and Christ is, in fact, God. Now let's look at these three categories as we think about the burial of Christ. Before we come to Luke 23, I remind you again of what I said, this is such an important event that Matthew writes about it, Mark writes about it, Luke writes about it, and John writes about it. And to start with, for point one, providence as seen in the action of the neutral soldiers, let's go to John 19, verse 31. The Jews therefore, when you see the expression, the Jews in the gospel of John, it almost always refers to the leaders of Israel. So this would be the Sanhedrin, those who wanted Jesus dead and had effected His death on the cross.

It is not to be a demeaning statement of Jewish people as such, but the Jews John uses to represent these hateful spiritual leaders. The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, that means the day of preparation for the Passover. The Passover always falls on Nisan 14, this week Nisan 14 happened to be on a Saturday which put it on a Sabbath. So because you have a Passover and a Passover is on a Sabbath, it becomes a high day. It becomes an elevated Passover. And so because it was a day of preparation so that the body should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, for that Sabbath was a high day, they asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.

Now these fastidious, neurotically hypocritical Jews who lead the parade here are amazing study in the difficulties of being a legalist and the difficulties of being a hypocrite. They're so concerned that they not defile the high Sabbath day, the Passover Sabbath day by having dead bodies or even living crucified bodies hanging in the sky. They don't want those bodies up there, dead or alive.

They want them down because they believe it will be a defilement for their celebration. And so they come to Pilate which breaches their own scruples, to say the least, because earlier in John 18 it says in the end of John 18 that when the Jews met with Pilate, Pilate came out to them because they wouldn't go in the Praetorium because that would be to defile themselves. So they made Pilate come out because that was a Gentile place. But here, and this is the very day of preparation for the Passover, they engage in some kind of a conversation with Pilate and it doesn't say that they made Pilate come out to them.

We might assume that the issue was important enough to them that they would break one law of defilement in order to superficially keep another law of defilement. But nonetheless, they go to Pilate. Now remember, Jesus gave up His life. Death is a surprise, except in the case of Jesus. It says at the end of verse 30, He gave up His Spirit. He had been on the cross only six hours. He had been put on the cross at nine and He had given up His life at three in the afternoon.

The normal time was two to three days. The two thieves were still alive cause they were not in control of their own death the way Jesus was. All three, according to the Jews, would have desecrated the High Sabbath Passover day if left on the cross dead or alive. The bodies need to come down.

They need to be dead, they need to be down or they'll pollute and defile our land. They probably attached this to Deuteronomy 21, 22 and 23 which talks about execution and taking bodies down and disposing of them appropriately. They wanted those bodies dead and down before Sabbath began and it began about six o'clock when the sun went down. They don't mind murdering the Son of God who has been declared to be innocent seven times, but they will scrupulously avoid some kind of traditional ceremonial defilement while at the same time defiling themselves by even asking to be protected from that defilement. And they're very familiar with crucifixion, as many as 30,000 Jews have been crucified at that time of history in the land of Israel, we are told.

So they were very familiar with it and bodies lingered for two or three days. However, if you wanted somebody to die very, very rapidly in mere minutes, there was a means to do that. Verse 31, they asked Pilate that their legs might be broken. This involved, according to historians, taking a huge iron mallet and smashing both legs, splintering with crushing blows, a gruesome, gruesome act which made death almost immediate partly because of additional shock to the shock of crucifixion, partly because of additional blood loss to the blood loss of crucifixion, but mostly because of asphyxiation because the only way a crucified person could survive would be to push up with legs and pull up with the arms aiding the legs, pushing to be able to catch breath and once they could no longer push up, their lungs would be crushed and they would be unable to breathe.

This would bring death immediately. They don't want Jesus on that cross, they want Him dead and down. It serves their purposes, not to defile their Sabbath. What they didn't know was He was dead and God wanted Him dead and down also. And they were simply the means of effecting the purposes of God.

They for all the wrong reasons. Well, Pilate who has been utterly intimidated by the Jews, gives them permission. Verse 32, the soldiers therefore came, broke the legs of the first man and of the other man who was crucified with Him because they were still alive, as crucified victims normally would be. But coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they didn't break His legs. Now the soldiers are experts at death. They know a dead body when they see one. This is what they do. This is their profession. They're executioners.

They kill people. They know dead people when they see them. He is truly dead.

You say, why are you making an issue out of that? Because one of the oldest of all heresies that denies the resurrection is the idea that Jesus never really was dead. He went into a semi-coma, they took Him into the tomb and lying in the tomb and the coolness of the tomb and with the aromatic spices all around His body, He was revived and came out of His coma and walked out. And if the only testimony that He was dead was say the testimony of John, which is given in verse 35, He who had seen as born witness and His witness is true and He knows He's telling the truth so that you also may believe, John referring to himself. If all we had was the testimony of John, then critics might say, well after all, John is a biased witness, we can't really trust him. But here is the testimony of some indifferent neutral soldiers who just killed people for a living and they know a dead person when they see one, they've got nothing at stake in this issue. He is dead and they know He's dead. And because He's dead, they do not break His legs. As one final act, sealing that He is dead, verse 34, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, ran a spear into His side and immediately there came out blood and water. This is obviously an indication that He was dead.

Blood gushing out of His side, along with lymphatic fluid that's contained in the pericardium around the heart, could indicate that His heart burst, that literally by His own will He burst His own heart and it came gushing out His side. This would be consistent with Psalm 69 and verse 20. In that Psalm 69 there are references to the cross, to Jesus being thirsty and being given vinegar to drink. And then it says in verse 20, reproach has broken my heart.

And maybe the heartbreaking was not simply an emotional kind of heartbreaking, but an actual rupturing of the heart. And so He is truly dead. Why is this important? John says, I was there, I saw it, I bore witness, I'm telling the truth that you may believe.

And why did this happen? Verse 36, these things came to pass that the Scripture might be fulfilled, not a bone of Him shall be broken. Psalm 34, 20...Psalm 34, 20, hundreds and hundreds of years before in describing the death of Messiah, it was stated that not a bone of Him shall be broken. This was necessary, dear friends, because in Exodus 12, 46 it says that a Passover lamb cannot have a broken bone. The Passover lamb was a lamb without blemish and without spot and without a broken bone. And the prophecy was that when Messiah comes and offers the ultimate sacrifice, not a bone of Him will be broken. And here it is fulfilled.

And that's not all. Verse 37, John writes, and again another Scripture says, they shall look on Him whom they...what?...pierced. Zechariah 12, 10, Zechariah said, some day the Jews will look on Him whom they have pierced.

Zechariah 12, 10. The action of the soldiers on the body of Christ were under divine control to authenticate the promises of Scripture and therefore validate the claims of Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of those promises, also to affirm His death which then affirms the reality of His resurrection. He can't rise from the dead unless He's dead. We know He's dead and prophecy is fulfilled even at His death.

The hypocritical Jews, the Roman governor Pilate who is so intimidated, the soldiers move with a measure of freedom, doing whatever they want to do, and yet the will of God is done. So Jesus controlled not only His own death, but the handling of His own body as its hanging on the cross. I guess in the words of Peter, He was put to death in the flesh but alive in the Spirit.

His body was hanging there but He was alive and controlling everything. So the action of these indifferent soldiers, God providentially uses to fulfill Scripture showing the veracity of Scripture and the authenticity of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Scripture and also validating the resurrection by affirming that He was, in fact, dead by indifferent witnesses. Now that sets us up to go back to Luke 23 and verse 15. We now come to the actual removal of the body from the cross.

The fluid is gushed out of His side, He is still hanging there. When the Jewish leaders went to Pilate and asked that this be done, as I just read you, Pilate sent the soldiers to do it. They used that method called crucifracture, or crucifragium, they didn't do it to Jesus. Pilate doesn't know that yet when somebody else comes to visit Him. Verse 50, Behold a man named Joseph who was a member of the council, a good and righteous man.

He had not consented to their plan in action, a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews who was waiting for the Kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Now we see a loving saint, not just indifferent neutral soldiers, but a loving saint and providence works through him. What motivated this man?

He had a lot at stake...a lot at stake. He's a member of the council. He's a member of the Sanhedrin.

He's one of 70, the most elite people in the nation, plus the high priest, a total of 71, who belongs to the Supreme Court of Israel. We don't know whether he's a priest or a lay person, it was made up of both. But all of a sudden, he comes out of nowhere.

We never meet him anywhere else before or after. And yet he's so important that Matthew identifies him, Mark identifies him, Luke identifies him, and John identifies him. It's an amazing thing, a man named Joseph, a member of the council. This is his only appearance in Scripture and it is a marvelous appearance and there's enough detail given to us to tell us that this man...this man is good in the right sense and righteous in the true sense.

His story is brief, but his story is wonderful. It is a story of salvation. It is an unexpected, somewhat shocking testimony of faith in Christ set against the rejection of the whole nation and set against the hostility of the rest of the council, at least one out of the 71 believed in Jesus. He's like the thief on the cross in the fact that he is saved. But he's unlike them, the thief is an outcast, the centurion is a Gentile outcast, but he's on the inside.

This is a soul rescued from the elite leaders of Israel. This is one of the few noble and the few mighty and the few prominent that are saved. The lone dissenter, a good and righteous man, Luke says, good in the right sense of spiritual goodness and righteous dikaios, same word used in verse 47 of Christ, certainly this man was righteous. Jesus was righteous and Joseph was righteous. Jesus was righteous by nature and Joseph was righteous by grace, right? But it was the same righteousness. If you're righteous, you have the same righteousness as God does, as Christ does. That's what Paul says in Philippians chapter 3 that he had a righteousness not of his own, but the righteousness of God imputed to him through faith in Jesus Christ. So Joseph is as righteous as Jesus is righteous, only in Joseph's case it's a gift of grace. In Jesus' case, it's part of his essential nature, both righteous, one by nature, one by grace.

There were a few like this in Israel. There were these people in the midst of this apostate nation who were good and righteous, devout, obedient people looking for the Kingdom, looking therefore for the King, looking for redemption, looking therefore for the Redeemer. These were the true believers. These were the remnant. And folks, just as a footnote at this point, I tell you this, redemptive history moves through the history of the remnant believers. The rest of the people in this world are incidental. Redemptive history moves only through the redeemed and the redeemed are always that remnant. This is the flow of God's purpose continuing through this generation. And even though Israel was apostate, there were those people who believed there was a remnant.

And the remnant is always the continuity in redemptive history. And somehow Joseph of Arimathea was part of that. And he had come to affirm his faith in Christ.

How do you know that? Just because it says he was good and righteous, because Matthew says he was a disciple of Jesus Christ, a disciple of Jesus Christ. That's John MacArthur with today's lesson. John has been teaching the Bible verse by verse for decades here on Grace To You.

His current study is titled, The Empty Tomb. Now John, you made a point today that God was providentially controlling the details of the Eastern narrative, including the decisions of the soldiers and the religious leaders who crucified Jesus. So with that being the case, John, I can imagine a lot of folks wanting to know if God is sovereign, how can those who put Jesus to death be held responsible for their actions?

Well, the simple answer to that question is they are responsible because God says they're responsible. The scripture says that. In fact, Peter rose up on the Day of Pentecost and said, by the determinant counsel and foreknowledge of God, you crucified the Son of God, the Lord of glory. And he held them responsible. And that's repeated in the early preaching of the apostles. They held the people who crucified Jesus responsible for what they did. Judas betrayed Christ. Christ said of him, he is a devil. And when Judas hanged himself and the rope broke and he was smashed on the rocks below, Jesus said he went to his own place.

He got what he deserved. The same is true in the Christian experience. I as a Christian am under the sovereign control of God in my life and yet I'm responsible for what I do and don't do. That's why there's so many commands in scripture for me to obey. Backing up, even a non-believer is held responsible for rejecting Christ. Jesus said it this way, you will die in your sins and where I go you cannot come.

Why? Because you believe not on me. We have responsibility for everything we do, for believing and obeying, for not believing and disobeying.

We will be held accountable for that. That's what sin is. And yet, God uses all those contingencies to affect his will perfectly. Amen, and thank you, John. Friend, to help you understand how salvation can be a work of God alone while at the same time you are responsible to believe in Christ, John has a message called Twin Truths, God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. It helps clear up this apparent salvation paradox.

You can download your free copy today. Our website address,, again that's where you'll find the sermon I just mentioned titled Twin Truths, God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. And I would also recommend a special Q&A on this topic titled Answering Big Questions About the Sovereignty of God. That sermon and the Q&A and thousands of other resources that together cover virtually any biblical topic are all available free of charge at our website, And now turning the corner a bit, let me remind you of the impact you can have when you support this ministry financially.

Every day this broadcast is heard on radio stations from California to Spain to Malaysia. These are places you may never travel to, but by supporting Grace To You, you help reach people there with life-changing biblical truth. If you'd like to partner with us, call 800-55-GRACE or just go online to Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace To You staff, I'm Phil Johnson. Keep in mind, Grace To You television airs this Sunday on DirecTV channel 378 or check your local listings, and be here next week when John continues his in-depth look at history's greatest turning point, the resurrection. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-03 23:33:41 / 2023-04-03 23:43:49 / 10

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