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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Our Saviour Jesus received an honourable burial
Text:Mark 15:42-47 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 47
Psalm 25:3,4
Hymn 68:1-4
Hymn 68:5-8
Psalm 93

Scripture reading and text:  Mark 15:42-47
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

Each year on Good Friday, we commemorate the death of our Lord Jesus.  Then a couple of days later we remember his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Have you ever thought about the fact that we don’t commemorate his burial?  We skip from the death of Jesus straight to his resurrection, almost as if nothing happened in between.  Yes, his burial is mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed, but it doesn’t receive a separate article.  It’s in article 4 of the Creed, tied together with Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and death.  When the Heidelberg Catechism treats this subject, it does so with one of the shortest questions and answers.  “Why was he buried?”  “His burial testified that he had really died.”  There does not appear to be much there. 

And that brings me to put the question to you:  would it make a difference if the Bible said nothing about Jesus’ burial?  What if Mark skipped straight from Jesus’ death to his resurrection?  Would we be missing something?  Would the gospel be diminished?  The burial of Jesus is described in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Each of the gospels tells us of what happened between Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The Holy Spirit has ensured that we have four accounts which, when taken together, give us a detailed recounting of Christ’s burial.  Surely he has a purpose for that.  Surely he has a purpose in even giving us one account of Christ’s burial.  Nothing is in the Bible by accident.  Everything has a purpose.  This morning we’re going to consider why the Holy Spirit reveals what he does in Mark about the burial of our Saviour. 

It’s helpful to have a framework in which to understand the work of our Saviour.  There are two phases to Christ’s work.  There is his humiliation and his exaltation.  His humiliation begins when he is conceived in the womb of the Virgin.  It continues throughout his life on earth and reaches its lowest point in Christ’s suffering and death.  His exaltation begins with his resurrection, continues with his ascension, and sitting at the right hand of God.  His exaltation continues today as he intercedes for us, and someday his return to judge the living and the dead will be part of his exaltation too. 

Now where does Christ’s burial fit into that framework?  It is a consequence of his death.  Because he dies, he gets buried.  Therefore, we include it with his humiliation.  He has experienced death.  Life has left his body.  His body and soul have been ripped apart.  This is not a glorious thing, nor is it a glorious thing for the body of the incarnate Son of God to be committed to a grave.  This is humiliation for him too.  And yet, yet there are hints that this is a time of transition.  His soul is in heaven with God, which is a place of exaltation.  Not only that, but the burial he receives is not the burial of a criminal who died for his crimes on a Roman cross.  He receives an honourable burial.  So while there is humiliation in his burial, there are also hints that glory is coming.  We’ll now consider this in more detail as we look at our text and see how our Saviour Jesus received an honourable burial following his shameful death on the cross. 

We will look at: 

1.      The man who buried him,

2.      His daring request to Pilate, and

3.      His loving interment of Jesus

What we find our text happened late in the afternoon on Good Friday.  The next day was Saturday, which, of course, is the Jewish Sabbath.  No work was permitted on the Sabbath, so everything had to be prepared the day before.  This included the work of burying the dead.  In fact, the law of God said that the Jews couldn’t leave a dead body hanging on a cross any night of the week.  That was legislated in Deuteronomy 21:23.  Jesus’ body had to be taken down from the cross and somehow disposed of.  There were approximately three hours between his death and the official beginning of the Sabbath at sundown.  Jesus would have to be buried in these three hours. 

Someone stepped forward to take care of it.  That someone was Joseph of Arimathea.  Arimathea was probably another name for Ramah, the place where the prophet Samuel came from.  It was about 8 km north of Jerusalem.  Mark tells us that this Joseph of Arimathea was an important man.  He was a member of the Council or the Sanhedrin.  He was “prominent” – he was a respected man and wealthy.

Now Mark tells us that there was something special about Joseph.  He was “waiting for the kingdom of God.”  This is Mark’s way of telling us that he was a disciple of Jesus.  Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom of God.  Through the advance of the gospel, people would be brought under the reign of King Jesus.  They would submit to him, acknowledge his authority, believe his Word, and live for him.  Joseph had heard this message and he was on board with it.  The other gospels fill us in with more details of Joseph’s relationship to Jesus.  Matthew tells us that he was a disciple of Christ.  Luke says that he was a good and just man.  John writes that Joseph was a disciple but only secretly – because he was afraid of the Jews.  It’s clear that Joseph was committed to following Christ during his earthly ministry. 

But maybe you have a question here.  Maybe you’re thinking:  what about the fact that he was a member of the Sanhedrin?  Didn’t Mark say in Mark 14:64 that the whole Sanhedrin condemned Jesus as worthy of death?  And what about Mark 15:1 where the entire Sanhedrin is said to have the reached the decision to seek the death penalty for Jesus?  We use Scripture to interpret Scripture.  So we turn to the parallel in Luke 23.  Verse 51 tells us that Joseph had “not consented to their decision and action.”  Maybe he was at home in Arimathea.  Maybe the Sanhedrin didn’t invite him because they knew he was a sympathizer.  There are different possibilities to account for Joseph being both a disciple of Jesus and a member of the Sanhedrin that condemned him to death.  It’s not really a problem.

Now it would be easy for us to just focus here on Joseph and who he is and what he does.  We might then make some kind of example out of Joseph.  Our application then would be either to be like Joseph in this regard or don’t be like Joseph in that regard.  We could make him into an example of standing up against peer pressure.  Or we could make him into an example of someone holding certain convictions but being too cowardly to come out in public with them, at least not until it’s safe.  Jesus is safely dead, and then Joseph comes forward as a supporter.  But rather than look at Joseph in those ways, it’s better to try and understand what God is doing and how God is working here.

First of all, there is the fact that Joseph is a disciple.  Yes, he’s a secret disciple, but somehow he has become a follower of Jesus nonetheless.  In fact, he steps forward here while the core group of the eleven disciples are nowhere in sight.  How did Joseph become a disciple?  He heard the preaching of Jesus and the Holy Spirit worked in his heart through that.  What we find in our text is a consequence of the work of the Holy Spirit.  God worked in Joseph’s life so that he became committed to Christ. 

That prepared the way for the second thing we can note.  Through the work of the Spirit in Joseph, God was paving the way for Christ’s exaltation.  He providentially raised up Joseph for a time such as this.  God brought Joseph to Jerusalem that day so that he could do something honourable for Jesus his Lord.  So many others looked at the limp body of Jesus on the cross and saw a dead criminal, a blasphemer and false prophet.  But Joseph saw one worthy of honour, even after his death.  The honour Jesus begins to receive sets the stage for Easter Sunday and the glorious moment of Christ’s resurrection, the moment God honours him by bringing him back to life.

So we see God’s work of regeneration in Joseph and we see God’s work of providence through Joseph.  Together these things are in place to bring Christ now on the road to exaltation. 

God continues his work through Joseph as he goes to the Roman fortress in Jerusalem to put in a request with Pontius Pilate.  Mark writes that he went boldly.  He was daring.  He may not have been the boldest disciple before this, but now he’s the only one with the courage to try and do something honourable for Christ.  He goes to Pilate and asks him for the body of Jesus.

There’s a subtle detail here that should not be missed.  A few hours before this, Pilate had the final say as to whether Jesus would live or die.  He had control over his destiny.  Now Jesus is dead and Pilate still has control over him.  Now you might think, “Well, not really.  When Jesus died, he went to heaven.  Pilate no longer has control over him.”  If you’re thinking that, you really need to think again.  It’s true that when he died, Jesus’ human soul went to heaven immediately.  But his body remained here on earth.  Now the way many people think is that Jesus’ human soul is the real Jesus, and his body is just a shell.  His body is not really Jesus.  But brothers and sisters, this is not a biblical way of thinking about the relationship between body and soul.  This is actually what we call a Gnostic way of thinking. 

The Gnostics appeared in the period shortly after the apostles.  The Gnostics taught that the real thing is the spirit, and the body is just a package for that.  They went so far as to say that spirit is good, and body is bad.  Spiritual things are good, and material things are evil.  Unfortunately, many Christians have this gnostic way of thinking about the human body.  But look in your Bible.  God created the human body and he created it good.  Look in your Bible again.  God created human beings with body and a soul together – they were designed to remain together.  Death rips these apart.  Death separates the human soul from the human body.  But both remain human, both are part of the individual person.  After you have died, your body is still you, just as much as your soul is.  They are separate because of death, but they belong together.  And at the resurrection on the last day, they will come together again, they will be back the way they’re supposed to be. 

Now our Saviour Jesus was and is a true human being in every respect, yet without sin.  When he died, his body and soul were torn apart by death.  His soul went to heaven, but the body of Jesus remained on earth.  You can and should say that it was Jesus hanging limp on the cross late that afternoon.  It was not merely some shell of Jesus, but Jesus himself – his human body that had been separated from his human soul.

So we can say that in a real way Pilate continues to have power over Jesus, even after his death.  Pilate has the say over what happens to Jesus’ body.  Jesus is not his own, but belongs to Pilate, at least in body.  This is significant.  This shows how his humiliation continues here.  Joseph can’t just go to Golgotha and take Jesus off the cross.  He needs permission from the one who has authority over Jesus.  Being dead is not the same thing as being exalted, not for Jesus.  He is in an intermediate state.

Jesus went through what all of us will go through.  His suffering was over, his soul was in heaven, but things were not the way they were supposed to be, not yet.  When we die as believers in Christ, our souls will immediately go to heaven too.  But we will not spend eternity as souls without bodies.  That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  Death is not the same thing as the resurrection.  Death remains an enemy.  It tears apart body and soul.  It tears apart relationships.  Death still involves humiliation and grief, even for Christians.  In the light of God’s Word we should keep a sober view of death.  Yet, because Christ humiliated himself, because he went through the curse of death and all that it entails, because he belonged to Pontius Pilate, we belong to him, we belong to Christ.  Our bodies too, belong to Jesus, even as they rest quietly in the grave.  So while we keep a sober view of death, we can also deal with death with hope and joy in our Saviour.  Death may break us apart for a time, but because of Jesus death does not have the final word.  Death may be an enemy and it may hurt us in this age, but it is a vanquished enemy whose days are numbered.  We still mourn in the face of death, and there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, it’s called for – but we don’t mourn as worldly people might.  We don’t mourn without hope.  We have a hope in Jesus, the hope of life everlasting. 

So there’s something significant in the fact that Joseph has to go to Pilate to ask permission to take Jesus down from the cross.  When he does that, Pilate is taken aback.  Normally people who were crucified would linger for some days on the cross.  But Jesus died quickly and Pilate confirmed this by asking the centurion.  The centurion affirmed it and Pilate gave Joseph the permission he was looking for.

Then Joseph had to act quickly.  The day was quickly ending.  Remember the Sabbath officially began at sundown.  So he had to run out and buy some linen cloth.  This linen would be used to wrap the body of Jesus – the wrapping would also be laced with spices to control the smell of decomposition.  Now when some of you hear about this cloth, I know where your thoughts are going to go.  You might be thinking about the Shroud of Turin.  For those who don’t know, the Shroud of Turin is one of the most famous relics of the Roman Catholic Church.  This cloth has an image burned into it of a man who appears to have been crucified.  Many claim that this was the linen cloth that Joseph bought and buried Jesus in.  There are two things to be said in response.  First, the Shroud of Turin has been around for a few centuries.  John Calvin knew about it and he wrote about it.  Calvin thought that the Shroud was a hoax, and he thought that based on what Scripture says in John 19 and 20.  John says that Jesus was wrapped in strips of linen, not a single shroud.  Moreover, John tells us that Jesus had a separate cloth wrapped around his head.  So, Calvin concluded, either John is a liar or the believers in the Shroud are liars.  Second, Calvin believed that the Shroud was, in fact, a human invention.  And even besides what the Bible says, there is plenty of evidence today to support that.  There are good explanations out there of how it was possible for skilled medieval forgers to create this relic.  Loved ones, we should not be led astray or get distracted by these sorts of pious hoaxes.  Scripture tells us everything we need to know about the death and burial of our Saviour.  We don’t need to fall back on Roman Catholic relics to confirm or support Scripture.  God’s Word is sufficient.  We’re just called to believe God’s Word.  This is what the first Christians did.  They didn’t trust in the cloth Jesus was buried in, they trusted in him and in his Word.  This is what we need to do too.

Having bought the linen then, Joseph made his way to Golgotha and the cross of Christ.  To take Jesus down from the cross and bring him to the tomb would have required help.  Joseph couldn’t have done it on his own.  John’s gospel tells us that he had Nicodemus helping him.  The two of them could have done this together.  They took down Jesus body and then wrapped it in linen, along with the customary spices.  And then they placed his body in a tomb cut out of rock. 

This is an honourable burial for someone who had been crucified.  Normally a criminal who’d been crucified would only receive the bare minimum burial.  It would be the equivalent of a thin pine box in an unmarked grave today.  But not Jesus.  Though he’s from out of town, Joseph owns a tomb just outside of Jerusalem.  Wealthy people often wanted to be buried near the holy city and so they bought up land for tombs in the vicinity.  That’s what Joseph had done too.  He had this tomb and no one had been buried in it before.  We learn that from Luke.  Jesus is not thrown into a shallow grave in haste to follow the letter of the law.  Instead, he has someone who cares about him take his body and lovingly put it in a place of honour. 

This further fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…”  The Messiah was destined to be given a criminal’s burial.  That’s what you would have expected for one crucified.  But then the rich man Joseph steps forward and gives him something different.  Jesus receives what he deserves – an honourable place of resting.  His body is placed in a tomb, on a shelf.  He is placed in a tomb, where there is a door.  A door for others to come in and pay their respects.  A door for others to enter and show their love by anointing his body – like say the two Marys who watch and see where his body placed.  The door is there for Roman guards to be placed so that no one comes and steals his body.  But the door is there also for him to exit when the time of resurrection comes.  There is a place for the strips of linen to be neatly placed alongside the napkin over his face.  Everything is arranged here by the hand of God so that our Saviour can soon begin the new phase of his ministry, his exaltation.

For three days our Saviour remained quietly in this tomb.  For three days, he remained under the power of death, in this final phase of his humiliation.  He was working out his victory over death in his resurrection.  Three days under death, and then an eternity with victory over death.  That is a victory in which we share.  Christ experienced the fullness of death, not just a taste, but the full measure, and he did that for us, out of his love for us. 

Brothers and sisters we can take comfort from the fact that our Saviour has been on both sides of death.  What I mean first is that he has experienced the death of loved ones.  Scripture tells us of how he reacted to the death of Lazarus:  Jesus wept.  He’s been on that side.  He knows how death tears apart.  But he’s also experienced death first-hand.  He has gone through it, a terrible, violent death.  His body and soul were separated for a time.  He died and was buried, just as we will be, unless he comes back first.  You have a Saviour who was fully immersed in the experience of what it is to be a human being in this age.  You have a sympathetic and compassionate high priest in Jesus, someone who has not only been through all this, but loves you.  Brothers and sisters, his burial is an important part of what the gospel promises about him.  Look to him again in faith.  And when death knocks at your door, remember Jesus.  When someone you love is taken away, remember Jesus.  Remember that you have a Saviour who died and was buried so that those who believe in him can live.   When your own death approaches, remember Jesus.  Remember that you have a Saviour who died and was buried, so that your soul can leave this world with hope and joy.  By his death and honourable burial, know that your body will enjoy a quiet and blessed rest in the grave until the day of resurrection.  AMEN.


Our Lord God in heaven,

Death is often unpleasant for us to think about and talk about.  We thank you that our Saviour Jesus experienced death and everything it involves, including burial of his body.  We praise that you he was humiliated in all his suffering so that we have the promise of being exalted with him.  Please help us to continue to look to him in faith, trusting in all his work for us.  And we pray that when we face death, we would be able to keep our eyes focussed on our Saviour, knowing that he has conquered this enemy for us.  Please give us grace to do that with your Holy Spirit. 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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