Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Salvation from the Grave

Lenten Worship
March-April, 2009
Mark 15:42-47

The center of the Gospel is found in the phrases of the Creed that we are considering this Lent: “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell.” Tonight our focus is on “and was buried.”

Jesus is unique. There is no one else like Him. If you compare anyone to Him you will see that there is no comparison. And yet, when it comes to being laid to rest, you can’t point to Jesus and say, “Here is one more example of His uniqueness, He wasn’t buried. He is God and therefore would not suffer the humility of being buried.” There are actually two people who weren’t buried—Enoch and Elijah.

But not Jesus. He was buried. He was laid to rest like all people who have died normally are. Thus we confess in the Apostles’ Creed that He suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. But we confess this not only because the Scriptures say He was; not only because it simply is true; we confess it because His burial, while in one sense is the same as everyone else’s, is in another sense unlike everyone else’s. It’s plain why He was buried—He died. The question is, What does it mean for us?

The normal course for humans is to be buried after they die. There are numerous accounts of the saints of the Old Testament dying and being buried. Often it will say that they were gathered to their fathers. But these passages are almost said in passing. The fact is, we spend a lot more time talking about and thinking about life than we do about burial. When a loved one has died we will visit their grave, but we spend much more time going over the memories we have of them while they were with us. It’s the same with Jesus. We don’t spend much time thinking about His burial and what Him being buried means for us.

In His case, as with everything Jesus did, it has everything to do with our salvation. Though we don’t think about it much, burial is a very important part of life. Obviously, it’s not always able to happen. If someone is incinerated in a fire or missing there’s no opportunity to be buried. But throughout the ages, burial has been a common custom for laying a person to rest. There’s a finality about that. As we hear the words spoken over the body at the burial site, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we are very aware of our own mortality. Our Lord created us from the dust and to dust we return.

Our Lord, on the other hand, was not created from the dust. Our Lord, in fact, was not created at all—He is God; begotten of the Father. Yet, He chose to humble Himself to become a man, and a mortal one at that. That’s why you have the amazing thing of the eternal God dying on the cross. And then you have the amazing thing that He is buried. It’s strange to think of God as being buried. And yet, there He is, laid to rest in a tomb.

On the one hand we see the harsh reality of death—Mark tells us plainly that Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ corpse to the tomb. On the other hand we see the honor that we give to a body. Our bodies were created, after all, by God. In the case of Jesus, His body wasn’t created, but He took on human flesh which was honored even in His death.

It wasn’t just honor, though, that brought Jesus to the tomb. It was salvation, salvation from the grave. God gives you salvation from the grave. The grave is not your final resting place. Just as God saves you from sin and hell, He saves you from the grave. You will rest in the grave but not remain there.

How He gives you salvation from the grave is by giving you salvation from His grave. After He died He continued His work for us. Even in the grave He was working salvation for you. By being laid to rest, He consecrated the grave. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” We are saddened at the graves of our loved ones. But for those who died in Christ we also may rejoice at the grave. That is because in Christ the grave does not separate us from God but unites us with Him in glory.

Jesus died, but death could not hold Him. He was buried, but the grave could not hold Him. We sang that in our office hymn: “By the vault whose dark abode, Held in vain the rising God.” Our Psalm for this evening predicts this: “For you will not abandon My soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10) Our bodies will decay in the grave, but not Jesus’ body. Paul proclaims this truth in Acts 13: “He whom God raised up did not see corruption.” The suffering had now ceased. Jesus bore the sin of the world, the guilt before God of every person, the punishment of all, in His suffering and death. Now was the rest. Now was the sanctifying of the grave, preparing the way for you to enter that sleep of death, in which your body will decay in the grave, but be raised up on the Last Day just as Christ’s was on the Third Day.

Centuries before, the prophecy of Isaiah was made of this and now had come to pass: “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.” In the grave He was now through with suffering. He had died, to be sure, but He had accomplished salvation on the cross. In the grave He was preparing the grave for us so that we may not fear it but look forward to it when our Lord deems it time to call us home.

Jesus did not fear the grave. We don’t need to fear it any more than laying down to sleep. The grave was not beneath our Lord. It pleased Him to sanctify the grave so that we may rejoice in the day our Lord calls us to eternal rest. We will enter the grave, but not remain. Our rest and joy will be in heaven. Amen.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good sermon, as always Paul.