This is the message to be celebrated on this day: the joy of knowing that the power of the grave has been defeated by the Lord of Life.
Not often much attention is paid to the biblical insistence that after He died, our Lord Jesus Christ was buried ( 1 Corinthians 15:4). It may seem a minor detail, and yet this fact is important for a full understanding of the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, as well as Paul in his epistles, mention the burial of Christ as an integral part of their explanation of the way of salvation in Christ.
At the outset, we cannot simply assume as normal the historical fact that Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb. Apparently, the bodies of criminals executed in Jerusalem by the Romans were commonly thrown into the city dump called Gehenna, or the valley of Hinnom. This was the actual physical space where the rubbish of the place was incinerated.
In Luke’s gospel we are told that: “Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23:50-53). It is noteworthy that this determined act of Joseph of Arimathea with regard to the body of Jesus had already been prophesied by Isaiah centuries earlier: “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 (Isaiah 53:9). For the stone cave in which our Lord was laid to rest was a luxury available to very few. It was the tomb of a wealthy man.
Jesus’ body was laid in a very unique tomb, a tomb that had not been used before, was new, and was in a rock (Matthew 27:60). Moreover, as John says, the Lord’s body was wrapped in linen and spices (John 19:40). The apostles Peter and Paul also see the fulfilment of yet another Old Testament prophecy in the placing of the body in such a particular place. It is the prophecy in Psalm 16 by King David: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption”(v. 10).
Peter quotes these words in his message on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:31). So does Paul in Acts 13:35-37. What is suggestive of both apostolic messages is the contrast they draw between the tomb in which King David was buried in Jerusalem and that of Christ. In one we have the image of the corruption that affected even David. Christ saw no corruption, Christ’s tomb is empty.
But the significance of the burial of Jesus’ body also lies in the meaning of this event in itself. On the one hand, it indicates the final evidence of his death, the certification of his death if you like. The dead are buried, not the dying. But, in addition, the burial of Jesus is a kind of descent to earth, and in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ it is an integral part of his state of humiliation. Jesus willingly submitted to the demands of God’s law with regard to those who transgress it, as we all are (Galatians 4:4).
This means that he took responsibility for our sins, taking upon himself the just punishment they deserved, which is none other than death (Romans 6:23). As Paul says: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Therefore, Jesus died and was buried. His burial shows the extent to which He identified with us, for it alludes to the condemnatory sentence on sin which implied a return to the earth from which man was taken (Genesis 3:17). We have here an immense demonstration of His great love with which He loved us, even to the point of suffering this incalculable ignominy so that He could thus be our Saviour. His death and burial show what our sins deserve.
But, at the same time, His death and burial corroborate the full payment of our sins. They convey to us that the debt for our guilt has been cancelled by his death on the cross. For his burial points to the burial of sin, as the prophet Micah says: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (7:18-19).
And this has glorious and eternal consequences for all of us who place our hope of salvation exclusively in the Lord Jesus Christ, for, as our Spanish Reformer Constantino de la Fuente puts it: “By the death of Jesus Christ our death is conquered, and by his burial our burial is conquered. His death swallows and consumes our death. His grave swallows up and consumes our grave. Our death has lost its power to reign over us, our grave has lost its power to hold us in it - it does not receive us as its own, but as deposited”.
Christ’s burial, then, takes away the fear of our burial, since his is the guarantee that ours is not our final destiny. Christ’s death and burial are, in reality, the death and burial of death and burial itself! This is what the prophet Hosea already taught: “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes” (Hosea 13.14). This is yet another prophecy that anticipated, centuries in advance, the concrete results of the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation.
Likewise, we must look upon the burial of Christ, if we may say so, as the preparation for His resurrection. That it is the place from which our Lord Jesus Christ would rise from the dead. From it He would rise victorious since the grave could not hold Him. And that resurrection is the evidence that the debt for our sins has been paid by his death on the cross. As this well-known hymn states:
Christ the grave overcame
And with great power he rose again
From tomb and death
Christ is conqueror
He lives forever our Saviour
Glory be to God! Glory be to God!
The Lord is risen
This is how Paul puts it, “He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 4.25-5.1). In view of the fact of the physical and bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and as believers we can conclude with the apostle to the Gentiles: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15.55-57).
Can you say this? Have you lost your fear of death and the grave? Only trust in the Christ who has conquered death, and could not be held by the grave, can dispel the fear of facing your death and burial.
This is the message we are to celebrate on this day: the joy of knowing that the power of the grave has been defeated by the Lord of Life. Do you have that faith in Him?
José Moreno, evangelical pastor in Alcázar de San Juan (Spain) and chair of the Theology Group of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance.