The Burial of Christ
The truth of Christ’s burial is an essential part of the gospel, and is the vital connecting link between His death and resurrection. In the inspired description of the gospel there are three important elements, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He Was Buried; and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). While it is necessary to lay much stress on the first and the last of these facts; nevertheless, that which comes in between must never be omitted.
Through the typical teaching of the Old Testament, we learn that Christ’s death and burial are inseparably linked together, “And if a man… be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree,” (Deut. 21:22-23). When Christ Himself spoke of being lifted up, He referred to the manner of His death, crucifixion. This involved being held up to view as one worthy of death, and of the divine curse. According to the statement of the New Testament, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” (Gal. 3:13). Christ as the Son of Man, in taking the sinner’s place and being lifted up was publicly seen in the place of sin and the curse, and in view of the above passage in Deuteronomy was considered a defilement to the land. It was undoubtedly with this same Scripture in mind that the Jews saw to it that the bodies did not remain on the cross over night. Hence we see the necessity of Christ’s burial. In this connection the Spirit of God unfolds to us a most beautiful portrait of the Son of God in various aspects of His person and work.
The Glories Of Christ:
THE GLORY OF HIS PASSION: In this we see the fullest measure of the love that brought Him down from the highest throne in glory, not only to the shameful cross, but lower still, to the grave. How well the poet has expressed it,
“Son of God, ‘twas love that led Thee
Die our ruined souls to save
‘Twas our sins vast load that laid thee
Lord of Life within the grave.”
THE GLORY OF HIS PREEMINENCE: The Saviour was buried in, “A new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid,” (John 19:41). It was a virgin tomb, and as another has aptly said, “He who at His birth came into the world by way of the virgin womb, left it by way of the virgin tomb.” He, when He needed a colt, demanded the one upon which never man sat; even so, when He finished the work of redemption He rested in a new tomb.
THE GLORY OF HIS PURITY: Wicked men would have cast Him into the potter’s field for burial, but God ordained it otherwise. He who was separate from sinners in life must likewise be in burial. Christ died between two sinners as wicked hands nailed Him to the tree, but now that His atoning work is finished, He is taken down by clean hands, wound in clean linen, and laid in a clean tomb. His perfect nazariteship was thus preserved right to the end.
THE GLORY OF HIS PERMANENCE: It was a rock-hewn tomb, this grave. He, who was the Eternal Rock of Ages, died as the smitten Rock, and was buried in the hewn rock. He did not lie in the ground for He could not see corruption. Christ is the Everlasting One, more enduring than the rock in which His body was laid.
THE GLORY OF HIS POWER: Forth from the stone sealed tomb came the Mighty Victor, bursting the bars of death and defying not only the power of the Roman government, but the powers of darkness as well.
The Discipleship Of Joseph
Let us now consider the vessel chosen by God to perform the holy task of burying His Son. What an excellent lesson we have here in true discipleship.
HE WAS A CONVERTED MAN: Though not recorded there must have been an occasion when Joseph came for the first time in contact with Christ, and learned something of His matchless love and worth, for we read of, “Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple,” (Matt. 27:57). We also read that Joseph waited for the Kingdom of God. This reveals him a man of character. Luke further records, “He was a good man;” therefore, he was a consistent man. He was “just” and “honourable.” His life justified his profession and proved that he was fit for his noble service.
HE WAS A COURAGEOUS MAN: It is stated in Luke 23, “The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them.” Whether he absented himself when the vote was taken to condemn Christ, or whether he dissented in person, we are not sure. Nevertheless, he was a man true to his convictions and willing to lose his place and prestige for Christ.
HE WAS A CONSECRATED MAN: Love in all its unselfishness is manifested here. Joseph was willing to give his own new tomb, thus expressing by action the same sentiment we do by words,
“Naught that I have mine own I’ll call,
I’ll hold it for the giver.”
The Grave And The Garden
John adds a most interesting touch in his account of the burial of Christ. He tells us that the sepulchre was in a garden. What a striking contrast! On the one hand we think of the gloom of the grave as associated with death, darkness, and despair; while on the other hand, we see the glory of the garden symbolizing resurrection life and beauty. How aptly Christ fits into this picture! The night of death fell upon Him, followed by the darkness of the tomb; but the bright morning came and He left the grave with its gloom and came forth into the garden of resurrection glory.
Our own spiritual experience has been quite similar. Before conversion we found ourselves in the grave of darkness, bondage, and death. In receiving Christ as Saviour, we heard His call, “come forth”, and we passed from death (the grave) into life (the garden).
This similarity is seen in the experiences which follow our conversion. In the death of Christ we learn that not only our sins were put away and buried in the sea of God’s forgetfulness, but that in the purpose of God we ourselves died with Him. If we want our lives to be as a garden, experimentally we must begin with the grave, identification with Christ in death, burial, and then in resurrection as symbolized in baptism in Romans chapter 6, for in the same chapter the garden of the heart is described, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life.”
There is still another angle from which we might consider this similarity. Along the Christian pathway, circumstances often arise that send us plunging into darkness, in spirit we find ourselves in the grave of despair and disappointment with no apparent ray of light. Often in the sorrow of bereavement it almost seems as if we are lying in the grave with our loved ones, but the Saviour who drew near to Mary as she wept beside the tomb and turned her sorrow into joy, is the same today. He lives to dry the tears of His own and pour into the sorrowing heart the balm of Gilead. The realization of His presence and the comfort of His words may turn our grave into a garden yielding the peaceable fruits of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).
Finally, let us catch a glimpse of the wonderful prospect that is ours as we contemplate the blessed hope of Christ’s coming.
“Death and darkness and the tomb
Pain us only ‘till He come.”
Soon the darkness and despair of the tomb will be over. When He comes the grave of each Christian will be emptied and the triumphant song will be, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” As long as we are here there will be graves, but there will be none in heaven. All that the grave speaks of, sorrow, sin, and death, will be done away, and instead we shall dwell forever in the sunshine of His presence, in the fair garden of His eternal paradise.