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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Dead and Buried with Christ
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-07-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 16:1,4,5                                                                             

Hy 1

Reading – John 19:28-42; Romans 6:1-14

Ps 69:1,6,10

Sermon – Lord’s Day 16

Hy 68:1,2,3,8

Hy 16:1,3,4

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


Brothers and sisters in Christ, one of the things we expect from our Catechism students is memorization. They have to know one of the Lord’s Days, each week again. This may not be their favourite activity. And it’s true that some of the Lord’s Days are hard to memorize: a few are terribly long, while some include big words and deal with concepts that are a bit abstract.

But everyone likes Question & Answer 41! No student has trouble memorizing it. For here the Catechism is very brief. What’s more, the Catechism rhymes—which makes it even easier. For in its lesson on Christ’s humiliation, the Catechism asks, “Why was He buried?” And the answer: “His burial testified that He had really died.” Short, sweet, and very memorizable!

Behind this easy memory work is a Biblical truth that needs our attention. But does this short answer really say enough? And if you think about it, the answer might even seem obvious: of course Jesus died and then was buried—that is what tends to happen, after all! So what is the value in discussing this routine event?

As Christians we talk often about the cross of Jesus, and also the resurrection of Jesus. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are two pinnacles of the Christian year. But what about what came between? What about that small word in the Apostles’ Creed, “[Christ] was crucified, dead and buried…” This is the focus of our sermon this afternoon,

We believe that Jesus was buried. This burial testifies to:

  1. the certainty of his death
  2. the certainty of our deliverance

 

1) the certainty of his death: In Lord’s day 16, we’re dealing with the very last events of Christ’s life on earth. After all the turmoil of Good Friday—the shouting crowds, the journey to Golgotha, three hours of darkness, an earthquake, tombs breaking open, and seven words from the cross—after all that, the day ends rather quietly and solemnly: with a funeral.

What is the meaning of this, asks the Catechism? And the answer it gives, while brief, points us in the right direction: “His burial testified…” Underline that word “testified.” The Catechism doesn’t just say, “His burial showed…” or “His burial indicated…” No, it testified!

When we hear that word, we’re meant to think of a courtroom and legal proceedings. From reading the news, or maybe from watching “law and order”-type shows on TV, we know that witnesses or police officers or DNA experts will often be called upon to “testify” in court. They will state for the judge and jury various facts that will shed some light on the case.

This is what the burial of Christ does. Simply by its reality as an historical event, it testifies to something. Thus Answer 41 has been called an apologetic answer—not in the sense that it apologizes for something done wrong, but in the sense of making a defense of the truth. It wants to defend something that has been doubted, something alleged to be false.

So what reality is under attack? It’s the truth that Christ died. We have already said that Jesus’ death is one of the turning points in the history of salvation. As Q&A 40 says, “Because of the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God.” In no other way—it’s that important! Without Christ’s death, there’s no hope for the world, no redemption for sinners, and we’re stuck in our guilt forever.

In view of its tremendous importance, it’s not surprising that Satan and other enemies of God have tried to throw a cloud of doubt over Christ’s death. Because if they can get rid of this truth, what is left for believers?

And so the suggestion is made sometimes that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. He merely passed out, lost consciousness, but then He revived a few days later. You hear scary stories about this once in a while, that someone was presumed to be dead, was even placed in a morgue, but then woke up, and started banging on the door to be let out.

The same kind of story gets told about Jesus. He was gravely wounded, for sure. But the disciples, and the women, and the Romans, and Joseph and Nicodemus were all mistaken when they concluded that Jesus had finally passed away. He had merely blacked out, fainted, due to the great loss of blood. Then, a few days later, Jesus regained his strength, and was able to walk out into the Sunday morning air.

But really, that’s not plausible. There is little question that Jesus was hammered hard in those final two days of his life: beaten, then flogged, then crucified. Just on its own, a Roman flogging was sometimes enough to kill a man! What’s more, the slow suffocation of being hung from a cross was well-designed for killing.

And think of the blood and water that came gushing from Jesus’ side when He was stabbed by the soldier. We read about this in John 19:34. This was a sure sign that He was dead. Commentators say that this flow of water and blood could only mean that his heart had been punctured through. Jesus was dead—there could be no doubt about it!

This is why John wants us to take note of this moment. He even pauses and puts his eyewitness account into formal language, to make it official. He says, “He who has seen [this] has testified, and his testimony is true” (John 19:35). “There should be no doubt about it” John says, “I was there. I know that Jesus died, because I saw the blood and the water.”

Jesus was dead, which is why He was also buried. His burial confirmed what had happened. It testifies to the certainty of his death. But it also does more, for it speaks of the character of his death. For our Saviour, this was one more act of humiliation, another dishonour.

Now, we may not think of burial that way, for we’re used to the idea of funerals. In a sense, it’s a common event—there doesn’t seem to be anything humiliating about a corpse being placed in the ground. If you look around a cemetery, you see that people have been getting buried for a long time.

Burial is normal. It’s normal for your average person, made of flesh and blood. It’s normal for fallen sinners, living (and dying) in a broken world. But for Jesus, this was a final disgrace. We’ve seen in previous Lord’s Days that by his conception and birth, the Son of God became a person just like us. Then He walked the earth among sinners for some 33 years. So now He’ll also share in the deeply human experience of being put in grave clothes, carried to the tomb by others, laid down and locked in.

We know, of course, that a dead body has no feeling or understanding. By the end of Good Friday, Christ’s spirit had gone to be with his Father in heaven. And yet we also know that the body is not just a body. Our body isn’t just a fleshly container for the soul, ready to be recycled when the soul departs. What happens to the body is important!

And so for Christ, what happened to his body was also important. What happened to his body said something: it was part of the deep humbling He already endured. The Son of God had taken on our ordinary human flesh, had clothed himself with mortality, and so He had died. And then at the end, his cold body had to be cleaned up, and dressed in simple robes, and laid gently in the ground like any other corpse.

John tells us how this burial happened, that a secret disciple of Jesus came forward and asked Pilate if he could take the body. Joseph of Arimathea wanted to honour Jesus with a decent burial. And so he, together with the Pharisee Nicodemus (remember him from John 3?), prepared Christ for the grave. They had about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, and they bound the body with the spices in strips of linen. Then they laid Jesus in a new tomb.

In Christ’s burial, we see God’s perfect sovereignty. He is still in charge and busy working out his plan. For Jesus to be buried was an act of humbling—but even this moment is not without a gleam of honour. The bodies of most crucified criminals were thrown into a common grave outside Jerusalem, deposited without any ceremony or care. Yet Jesus receives a burial that is fit for a king: there’s a hundred pounds of spices, a new tomb, even a tomb situated in a garden. In this way, God reminds everyone about whose body this was: this was still his Son, Jesus, the Saviour of the world, the King of kings.

Compare his burial to the events which happened years before, at Christ’s birth. He was born of a woman, arrived in a small village, laid in a manger among the animals. It was all very humbling. Yet at the same, you couldn’t forget that this child was still someone very special, even divine: for at his lowly birth, choirs of angels sing, the stars in the heavens move, wise men come from afar, and shepherds worship.

Also in the burial of Christ, we see these hints of glory. Yes, being buried meant Jesus was dead. But being buried didn’t mean it was the last of Him! As David had prophesied in Psalm 16, the LORD would not let his Holy One see corruption (v 10). For the time being, He was numbered among the dead, but death had no hold on him.

 

2) the certainty of our deliverance: Christ’s burial testified to his death, but is that all? What else did it do? Let’s think of two passages from the Old Testament. The first is Genesis 3:19. Adam and Eve have just rebelled against the LORD, and He’s speaking about the sweeping consequences of sin. God says, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

The LORD says that the punishment for our sin is death, and the destination for the dead is the grave! There the body will decompose and break down. Death reminds us that because of sin, we are merely food for the worms. And God says this is not a natural course of events—it’s one more consequence of our rebellion. Man’s relationship to the earth, which had been to rule over it, is reversed. Instead of submitting, the earth resists him, and then it swallows him.

So when we see Jesus being buried, we’re brought back to God’s justice and truth. This is what God said would happen to sinners—returning to the earth. And so it did. As the perfect substitute for sinners, Christ died, and his body was placed in the grave.

We’re not surprised then, to find that there’s an Old Testament prophecy about Christ needing to be buried. Almost every other moment of his humiliation was prophesied, and this was too! That’s our second text, Isaiah 53:8-9, which says, “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—with the rich at His death.” Isaiah said that the Saviour would be given a grave, as any other sinful person would be.

As an aside, we may wonder about how Isaiah says they made Christ’s grave “with the wicked.” It hardly seems that Joseph of Arimathea was a wicked man. After all, he gave up his own tomb for the Lord! In fact, Luke’s Gospel tells us that Joseph was a righteous man.

The point is not where exactly Jesus was buried—but simply the fact that He was buried. For sinners die and are buried. Rebellious people go through the disgrace of decay. A tomb was never the right destination for someone like Christ. But so it happened. He died, and He was buried, to take our full punishment. Christ went the distance for us—even to the grave! “They made his grave with the wicked.”

And so Christ’s burial is more than a minor detail. It’s an essential part of the gospel. Listen to how it is part of Paul’s overview of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day.” Jesus died for sins, but don’t forget the burial. It’s inseparable from his death, inseparable from his resurrection. These are the facts by which we know our salvation is true, and all our sins forgiven.

Even Christ drew attention to the fact that his burial was necessary, a couple years before. In Matthew 12 He said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (v 40). Jesus would descend right to the heart of the earth, in order to redeem us for God!

And his burial has many benefits for us. We’ve been saying that it means our penalty has been carried in full. There is no humbling that Christ did not endure, no part of the price that He did not pay! Jesus did it all on our behalf, even letting his blessed body be nailed to the cross, even letting his blessed body be laid in the tomb.

But there is even more benefit to speak of, and the Catechism draws this out. It’s not in Answer 41, but in Answer 43: “Through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with him.” When Christ died, it was more than just his own life that ended, it was our life that ended. This is the Bible’s beautiful teaching about being united to Christ by faith. By faith we’re joined with Jesus on the cross, so that our sin has been crucified! It was our death, it was our suffering—which means that we can be forgiven.

This has a huge consequence for how we live today. When we believe in Christ, it’s as if we were there, buried in the grave with Christ, punished for sin. Our old self, our old nature—that whole wicked way of thinking and speaking and doing—our old self is finished. As far as God is concerned, our sin has put into the ground and finished. As Paul says in Romans 6: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death” (v 4).

Beloved, this is the good news about how God looks at us: united to Christ, and partakers in all the benefits of his atoning work. When the Father looks at his Son, God sees us! When the Father looks at us, He sees Christ! You are alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:11). That’s our present status—our new identity.

But don’t miss the calling that remains for us. For instance, the Holy Spirit says to believers, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (Rom 6:12). And again, “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness” (Rom 6:13). If all your sin has been crucified with Christ, then leave it dead! Don’t revive your sin and pull it out of the grave.

Crucifying and burying our old nature means that we deliberately break with any of the wickedness that remains in our life. Think about the idea of burying. When you bury a loved one at the cemetery, and you see all the dirt being thrown in over the coffin, you don’t even think about the possibility of digging them up again one day. They are dead and buried, until the day of Christ’s return. Until then, they need to stay in the ground.

To bury our sins with Christ means that we’re finished with them. We put them away, and never dig them up again. Sin is meant to stay dead. We don’t want to exhume our old nature, with all its smell and filth and rottenness! We want to be done with sin forever.

Yet this is just what we do sometimes: we dig up past sins. It’s like we go to the cemetery with our shovel and start digging. Maybe we hold onto a memory of a past sin, because we still get some enjoyment out of it. We replay it in our minds, we revisit it in our thoughts. But this is dangerous, beloved. It’s going to be much harder to physically resist a sin that you’ve been mentally rehearsing.

Or maybe we don’t even put our sin completely away. We leave it where it can be easily uncovered when we’re bored, or angry. Maybe we keep up the connections with the people that helped to lead us into sin. Or we go back to the places where the sin is, like where there’s a lot of drinking or evil behaviour. Or maybe we keep alive our habit of sin by giving it attention now an again. Then we haven’t buried our sin with Christ, but we’ve actually taken the rotten corpse and put it on the shelf in our living room or our bedroom.

Beloved, this shows the importance of really putting our sin to death. Jesus speaks about taking radical steps against our sin: gouging out the eye, cutting off the hand. Let us be very honest with ourselves and with God about what it is that leads us into sin. Let us be very honest about the weakness we have for this or that temptation. For sometimes we think that we’ve beaten an old sin, when suddenly it resurfaces and we’re right back into it.

This struggle reveals our great need to depend fully on the strength of Christ. We simply cannot fight sin without having a living relationship with the Lord Jesus. Only in his power, only with his wisdom, and only when we are motivated by his grace will we be able to endure! Trust in him, and remember this truth: through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with him. If we have repented from sin, then we must not go back. Bury sin with Christ, keep it buried, and go on to better things.

For that’s the other side of it. Being a child of God is more than just staying away from evil, but also actively doing good. The Catechism explains: We must crucify our old nature, “so that… we may offer ourselves to [God] as a sacrifice of thankfulness” (Q&A 43). With Christ we have been buried, and now we’ve been raised up, “to walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).

That’s the glorious new life we get to lead. We don’t stumble in the darkness, we walk in the light. We don’t hang around cemeteries, but we get to enjoy the presence of Christ in his Spirit, and we live in hope.

For that’s something else the burial of Christ does: it points forward. Scripture says that putting a body in the ground is like the planting of a seed. For like a seed, a body is planted in hope, with the expectation of what is going to be.

So for Christ’s burial. He didn’t stay in the grave, but He was raised in victory. And that has great meaning for us as well. The Catechism asks, “Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?” For death still is terrible, an ugly reminder of brokenness. It’s become normal to us, yet death is not the way it ought to be.

From God’s point of view, how unnatural a funeral remains: the body of a loved one being placed into the ground, covered over, then slowly disappearing. That time will come for all of us. If Christ doesn’t return before long, we too will be buried. But in that there is no fear. For the Catechism answers, “Our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life” (Q&A 42). By his burial, Jesus has sanctified our graves! They’re no longer graves to us, but resting places for our bodies, until that day we are raised to life.

This is the good news of Jesus’ burial. It means the price for our sin has been paid. It means the power of our sin has been broken. And it means we have the hope of everlasting life. So let us gladly confess the gospel that Jesus our Saviour was buried. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it means so much.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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