[B21] The Savior Dead and Buried

We must not fail to hold fast to the truth that Christ’s death was a real death. It was not merely the semblance of death, from which He afterwards revived; much less was it a feigned death. The faith of the Church, based on the unmistakable teaching of God’s Word, is that Christ really died for our sins. All four of the evangelists say, “He gave up the ghost,” that is, His spirit, or life, departed from His body. When the soldiers went out to hurry the death of those crucified by breaking their limbs, they found Jesus dead already. But one of the soldiers, from a wanton spirit, not knowing that he was thereby fulfilling Scripture prophecy, thrust a spear into the Savior’s side. This in itself would probably have caused death, but the mingled blood and water which flowed from the ghastly wound was evidence that death had already taken place. Yes, the God-man really died for us, as He had truly lived for us.

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21. The Savior Dead And Buried

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs; but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced. And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand. — John 19:30—42.

[The sufferings and death]{.smallcaps} of our Savior, as an historical fact, and as an article of faith, is a part of the Gospel record with which well versed Christians are familiar. The story of His birth makes its strong, many-sided appeal to all, in a way especially to the young. But especially in those portions of the Church where the great doctrines of sin and atonement are properly emphasized; and where the Lenten season is observed, the passion history, the story of Gethsemane, the betrayal, the palaces of judgment, the weary, cross-laden way, and finally the cross-crowned hill of death, are events just as vividly imaged in the minds of well informed, thinking Christians as is the manger. And it should not be otherwise. The manger, and the cross and grave are the two ends of the journey the God-man had to take to make salvation possible for the children of men.

Last Sunday we concluded our consideration of the subject of Christ’s suffering as the necessary completion of the price He had to pay in order effectually to redeem us. There are still some profitable lessons we may learn by studying this scene from a somewhat different angle of vision. Not forgetful of the fact that the cross represents the crowning, concluding part of the price of our redemption, we will give special attention today to some thoughts suggested by the two words of the Creed — “dead and buried.”

The Prince of Life Dead Upon the Cross

As we look back through the intervening centuries, and behold, with strangely moved hearts, and eyes not far removed from tears, that mutilated body, that marred visage, hanging limp in the embrace of death, one of our first thoughts should be, this is the measure of God’s love for us. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his for his friends” (John 15:13). “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). And of Jesus it is said, “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). Yes, to the end we are contemplating today, to the death of violence and shame on the cruel cross.

And the incomprehensible height and breadth of the love to which the cross is the mutely eloquent witness is enhanced manyfold when we remember that the agony of those last hours, ensuing in death, was not an experience forced on Jesus by a series of unavoidable circumstances. It was love’s willingly assumed sacrifice. “The Son of man came … to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). The Son of God chose to be born of the Virgin; He chose to be our substitute, to fulfill all righteousness for us; the Son of God chose to suffer and die for us. Read again the wonderful good shepherd chapter (John 10), and notice the recurrence of such expressions as these:

“The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep,”

“I lay down my life for the sheep,”

“No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of myself.”

There was no necessity from without laid on Christ. There is no power outside of Christ capable of coercing Him to do anything against His own will. Jesus died on the cross because He chose to do so. And He chose to die for men because He loved them, and this was the only way to save them.

In order fully to appreciate the lights and shadows of the cross, we must remember that He who hung on the cross was not merely an unusually good friend, who was paying the price for espousing his friend’s cause against powerful enemies. No, the one dead on the cross is the veritable Son of God. Is it not blasphemous to combine the concepts represented by the words God and death in one subject? No, this is God’s own truth. It was the God-man who hung dead on the cross. God, as God, did not die, cannot die. But the personal union between the Divine and human in Jesus Christ did not cease when He died. The Divine nature was truly united with the soul which took its flight from the mortal body on the cross. And the Divine nature was truly united with the poor, mutilated body which hung on the cross. Were this not true there could be no atonement. In view of these truths we say, because the Scriptures say, that the Son of God died for us. We are awed by the thought. We are awed by the thought that God would do so much for us. What are we, poor, sin-defiled creatures, that Thou, oh Son of God shouldst stoop so far to help us? We are awed by the thought of the responsibility this act of Christ places upon us. We are awed by its incomprehensibility. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”

We must not fail to hold fast to the truth that Christ’s death was a real death. It was not merely the semblance of death, from which He afterwards revived; much less was it a feigned death. The faith of the Church, based on the unmistakable teaching of God’s Word, is that Christ really died for our sins. All four of the evangelists say, “He gave up the ghost,” that is, His spirit, or life, departed from His body. When the soldiers went out to hurry the death of those crucified by breaking their limbs, they found Jesus dead already. But one of the soldiers, from a wanton spirit, not knowing that he was thereby fulfilling Scripture prophecy, thrust a spear into the Savior’s side. This in itself would probably have caused death, but the mingled blood and water which flowed from the ghastly wound was evidence that death had already taken place. Yes, the God-man really died for us, as He had truly lived for us.

The Savior of the world was really dead. He who was the author of life hung lifeless on the accursed tree, amid those who, for destroying life, were, as a people, to be destroyed. Those eyes which had looked out so lovingly on a world of sorrow, and shed so many tears of sympathy, were closed in the last earthly sleep of the mortal body. Those lips from which had flown such streams of quickening, healing wisdom were silent, blanched and set. The hands which had dispensed so many blessings were cold as the nails by which they were pierced. The feet which knew so much weariness in the service of love and mercy no longer sought freedom from the transfixing iron. Thus did men repay the love of God. Thus was the old loveless earth given its highest example of love. And thus was love given a new birth in the earth.

In the very hour of His death God did not leave His Son without loving witness of His approval and vindication. The conflict of emotions which burned in the breasts of men at this time led to the proclamation that Jesus the crucified was King, at least king of the Jews. The veiled sun, the rending earthquake, the parting of the heavy curtain in the temple, the coming forth of some of the dead, were all events bearing witness to the extraordinary character and import of the person and death of Jesus Christ. The purpose of these phenomena was realized in the minds and hearts of such men as the centurion, who exclaimed:

“Certainly this was a righteous man, truly this was the Son of God.”

The primary, the never-to-be-forgotten, lesson of Christ’s death we have already considered. It made possible our salvation. But there are also some practical lessons for the everyday life which we should not fail to learn. Christ died for our sins that we also might die unto them. Seeing what a terrible thing sin is as was shown in its effects on the holy Jesus, when He became our substitute, we should come to hate it, and, by His gracious help, forsake it. And to this end there is no motive power comparable to that of the indwelling Christ, the Christ who died for us, and arose again. “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15).

The Lord of Glory in the Grave

If the enemies of Jesus, the Jewish leaders, had been allowed to have their way His dead body would have received little consideration. It would probably have been unceremoniously cast into some secluded ravine so as not to pollute their holy day. Had the Roman custom prevailed, Jesus and His companions in suffering and death would have been allowed, in all probability, to hang on the cross indefinitely. The Jewish custom was different. Their law prescribed that a corpse should be buried. They were especially careful about this in the vicinity of Jerusalem. And more particularly still at the season of the Passover. To look on a dead person in those days was especially polluting. This explains the solicitude of the Jewish authorities to have the death of Christ, and those crucified with Him, hurried; so that their bodies might be removed from the cross.

The two malefactors were probably quickly buried near the place of execution, or unceremoniously hurried away to some secluded ravine where it would require but little labor to hide them from view. This, in all likelihood, would have been the fate of Jesus also had not God raised up unexpected friends to fulfill what had been written of Him of old, that He should make His grave with the rich and great.

It was a humane Roman custom to give the bodies of those executed to their friends, if they had any, and they were willing or desirous of performing the last rites for the dead. Such a claimant, an unexpected one, appeared for the body of Jesus. It was Joseph of Arimathaea, a man of whose history we know nothing with certainty. He was possibly a member of the Sanhedrin, and, we are told, a secret disciple of Jesus. A secret disciple! How the conscience of Joseph must have chided him in this hour, how guilty he must have felt, for having acted so cowardly toward Jesus while He was living. For it seems that Joseph’s attachment for Him was no ordinary one. But pride of position, or something of the kind, had kept him back from open confession. Just as many today, for somewhat similar reasons, will not publicly own Jesus as their Savior. But now in the hour of testing, when all others failed, Joseph comes boldly to Pilate, and begs for the body of Jesus. The request was readily granted. And, in company with another secret disciple, whom we have met early in the Gospel record, Nicodemus, he reverently takes down the body of Jesus from the cross, and gives it not only a decent, but, we may say, a royal burial.

In a garden, apparently not far removed from the place of execution, Joseph had prepared a rock-hewn grave for himself. It was the desire of all devout Israelites to be buried, if possible, within the precincts of the holy city — Jerusalem. To this new-made grave Joseph and Nicodemus, at last grown courageous, bear the body of their beloved Master. With loving, but hurried, hands, for the Sabbath was drawing near, they prepared the body for burial. Joseph, besides furnishing the tomb, supplied the new linen for enswathing the body, while Nicodemus, as his offering of affection, brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pounds weight.” This was used for purposes of embalming. And soon these aged counselors of Israel, wealthy, aristocratic, reserved, fearful, clasped hands about the cold silent form of Jesus, as they bore Him to the new tomb in Joseph’s garden.

Jesus was honored by men in His death as He had seldom been honored in life; as is so often the case with others. And yet His going down into the grave was the last and lowliest step in the life of humble, loving service given to the children of men. We understand that the redemption was completed when, on the cross, Jesus cried, “It is finished.” But this last step of the immortal Savior, resting His mortal body in the grave, He submitted to, not only as a proof of the reality of His death; but also that in His own life no experience might be lacking of all that which comes to his brethren of mankind.

It was characteristic of the piety of a former age to seek seclusion among the tombs, and to mortify the pride of the flesh by reflections of a nature such as the surroundings were calculated to inspire. Another conception of religion, a much more cheerful one is now prevalent. But every person given to reflection must think sometimes of the end toward which, with tireless, never-resting feet, he is hastening. And every person, with any depth of affection, and constancy of attachment, must think, at times, of the last earthly resting place of that which is mortal of his loved ones who have gone on before. What can be so helpful, what can throw such light on the subject, or give such unfailing comfort, as the lessons taught by the grave of Him who said,

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

Jesus hallowed also the grave. It is because He rested there that death has lost its sting, and the grave its victory. Jesus has proven, by word and act, that for our loved ones, as for ourselves, the grave is but the temporary resting place of the weary and worn-out body. It can no more permanently claim us than it could so claim Jesus Himself. To all of us, his brethren, He says, “Because I live ye shall live also.”

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

To request a printable copy [PDF] send an email to: editor@lutheranlibrary.org with the title of this post.

Luther's Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles' Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0

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