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Dead and Buried

Tom Pennington • Mark 15:40-47

  • 2013-09-22 PM
  • The Memoirs of Peter
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If I were to ask you to share what you believe are the essential parts of the gospel message, I wonder what you would say. I think for most of us, obviously, there are two parts to that message. We would talk about Jesus' death for our sins, and we would talk about the resurrection. Paul includes more than that in the basic gospel message.

I want you to turn with me as we begin tonight to 1 Corinthians chapter 15. First Corinthians 15. Both of those really are essential elements of the gospel message, but there are two others as well. First Corinthians 15, Paul says that he's going to make known to us again, he's going to refresh our memories, on the gospel which he had preached to the Corinthians by which we are saved. Verse 3: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received." It didn't originate with Paul. He received this as the core, the essential elements, of the gospel message. And here it is. Number one: "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Verse 4: "He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." Verse 5: "He appeared to [Peter, and] then to the twelve" and to a number of others. So, you have those three elements that aren't really a surprise to us: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures; and He appeared to many as an evidence of the reality of His resurrection. But Paul adds one more that at first glance is a bit of a surprise. Verse 4 begins, "and that He was buried." The reality of Jesus' burial is part of the essential gospel message. All four gospels don't record the birth of Jesus Christ, but all four gospels record His burial.

Tonight, I want us to look at Mark's record of Jesus' burial as we continue our way through Mark's gospel. Look at it with me. Mark chapter 15, and I'll begin reading in verse 40. Right after the death of Christ, Mark writes this:

There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome. When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.

When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.

Jesus' burial is absolutely essential to the gospel, because it certifies the fact of Jesus' death, and it serves as the foundational evidence for His resurrection. So, I want us to walk through this passage tonight and allow Mark to let it unfold for us.

And it begins, as we look at this passage, with the chosen witnesses of Jesus' death. Now verses 40 and 41 are often joined with the previous paragraph, the paragraph about Jesus' death. But I've included them here, because I think they fit better with this paragraph; because the women who are mentioned here are not merely an incidental detail of the crucifixion, but they become a crucial part of the rest of the story. These women become the only human witnesses of Jesus' resurrection. And they're the ones who saw Him die. And they're the ones who saw Him buried.

Look again at verse 40: "There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome"

Now Luke tells us that there was a larger crowd there than that. Luke 23, verse 49, says, "And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee were standing at a distance, seeing these things." "All His acquaintances" here in context in Luke has to be a reference to some of His male disciples in addition to the women. We aren't told who these men were. They may have included John the apostle, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Lazarus (who lived just over the hill), as well as other disciples who are not named.

But in addition to those men whoever they were, Mark names three women. And then in verse 41 he adds, "and there were many other women." While Jesus was still alive on the cross, at least some of these followers may have been standing nearby with the apostle John and with Jesus' mother. (You'll remember, they were standing at the foot of the cross during the first three hours before the darkness came, and Jesus said to John, "Behold, your mother!" and to Mary, "Behold, your son!") But now, for their own safety, and in light of what would have been appropriate for women in the first century, they are looking on from a distance. It's possible that John the apostle has already left with Mary to take her away from this horrific scene of her son's death. But three women are mentioned. I want you to note the three women, because we're going to see them again in this gospel.

First of all, Mary Magdalene. We don't know a lot about Mary, but we know for one thing where she was from. "Magdalene" refers to the fact that she was from the small fishing village of Magdala. It's on the western shore toward the Mediterranean on the Sea of Galilee. In fact, let me show you exactly where it is. If you see where we are, we're looking north across part of the Sea of Galilee, you see where Capernaum is on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. And you see here at the bottom of the screen and to the right, Magdala, under the cliffs there of Arbel. This is a shore shot of Magdala from above. What's interesting is, just starting in 2009 they've done some excavations in Magdala, and they actually discovered the synagogue that dates from the first century. It's very likely this was the synagogue in which Jesus cast the demons out of Mary Magdalene. Luke in fact tells us about her spiritual background. Luke 8:2: "Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out." This woman was terribly enslaved under the power of Satan, and Jesus rescued her. He saved her, and she became one of His devoted disciples.

The second woman is called "Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses." All we know about this women is that she was the mother of two men, who were apparently well known in the early church. Their names were James the Less—probably a reference to his height, possibly a reference to his age—and Joses. Some have suggested that these were Jesus' brothers, because both of these names are listed as Jesus' brothers in Mark chapter 6. I think that's highly unlikely. Because that would mean Mary, this Mary, was His mother, and this would be a very strange way to list the mother of Jesus. I think it's highly unlikely. This is simply a woman who had two boys whose names were common in the first century, and Jesus had two brothers who were named the same thing.

The third woman is simply called "Salome." Now when we look at Matthew's account, Matthew lists the women this way in Matthew 27:56: "Among them [were] Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee." Since this is the same context as the passage we're studying in Mark, and since Matthew identifies two of the women in exactly the same way Mark does, it's highly likely that the third woman, who is unnamed here in Matthew's gospel, is Salome. That means that she was the wife of Zebedee, the mother of Jesus' disciples James and John. And we learn from John's letter that she was the sister of Mary, Jesus' mother, and therefore Jesus' aunt.

Now, who were these women? Well, in Mark chapter 15, verse 41, Mark identifies them. Notice what he says: "When [Jesus] was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him." These women were from Galilee. And the two verbs that follow, "follow" and "minister," are in the Greek language in a tense that implies this was their regular habit, this was their regular practice. First of all, "they used to follow Him." In other words, these were faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly, they'd been saved during His great Galilean ministry. But it also says (notice in verse 41), "they used to . . . minister to Him." The Greek word for "minister" is the word from which we get the English word "deacon." In this context it refers to caring for His practical needs, to making sure He and the disciples were fed. In fact, we're told something about these women in Luke. Turn to Luke chapter 8. Luke chapter 8 and verse 1:

Soon afterwards, [Jesus] began going around from one city and village to another [there in Galilee], proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who [He had] healed of evil spirits and [various] sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward [or the manager of Herod's household], and Susanna, and many others [Notice this] who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

Although Jesus ministered to the poor, it is also clear that many of the wealthy and influential became His followers, and they used their means to support His ministry. They invested in both working to provide for the disciples' needs, as well as giving out of their means to fund Jesus' disciples and their ministry: making sure they were fed, making sure their needs were met.

Now notice verse 41 goes on to say, "And there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem." In addition to the three women mentioned by name in verse 40, there were many others. We know the name of only one more, because Luke tells us in Luke 24:10 there was a woman there named Joanna, who was present at the resurrection on Sunday morning. All of these women came along with Jesus and the disciples to the Passover in Jerusalem in order to continue to care for their needs.

Now what's the point of introducing these women here, right after the death of Jesus Christ? It's because in God's providence, these women will become the eyewitnesses of the central events of the gospel. Here in verses 40 and 41, what have they just witnessed? The death of Jesus Christ. You meet them again down in verse 47. Two of them witnessed the burial of Jesus Christ. And then chapter 16, verse 1 begins with three of them, again, along with, according to the other gospel, Joanna, who are the chosen ones by God to be the witnesses to the resurrection.

Now again, this is one of those occasions where it's hard for us to fully appreciate what God did here because of the culture in which we live. But in that culture, this would have been shocking. Because in the first century, in the cultural context of Israel in that time, women were looked down upon. The Jewish rabbis said, "Sooner let the words of the Law be burned than delivered to women." In the morning prayer of all Jewish men, they thank God for not making them pagans, slaves, or women. Two hundred years after this gospel was written, the pagan Celsus still was ridiculing Christians about "the gossip of the women about the empty tomb." But God completely ignored the first century cultural ideas, and He chose these women to be the primary witnesses to the events at the heart of the gospel. And by the way, look wherever you want in our world or in human history and you will see that wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ is advanced, you will find that women are lifted up; and wherever you find that Christianity is absent, ultimately, women in some way will be devalued. These women were divinely chosen by God to witness the great events in human history.

Now, let's move on from these unlikely witnesses to, secondly, the unlikely man behind Jesus' burial. The unlikely man behind Jesus' burial. Look at verse 42: "When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath." Stop there for a moment. "When evening had come." Based on the Hebrew text of Exodus 12:6, the Jews believed there were two evenings: the first evening was from the time of the afternoon sacrifice at 3 p.m. and lasted until about 6 p.m. or sunset; the second evening, in their thinking, was from sunset until it went completely dark. Clearly, these events have to unfold sometime between Jesus' death, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and sunset, which would be referring to the first evening.

Now, Mark tells us specifically on which day Jesus died and was buried. Notice verse 42: "It was the preparation day." That is, the day to prepare for the Sabbath. Since the Jews weren't allowed to work on the Sabbath, on the seventh day, they spent the day before, Friday, preparing. In fact, to this very day, the Greek word that is used for "Friday" is exactly the same Greek word that is used in the Greek text here for the preparation day. It's the normal Greek word for "Friday." But just in case his Roman readers don't know what the preparation day is, notice Mark explains: "That is, the day before the Sabbath." So, Jesus died on Friday. By the way, there are other biblical arguments for that as well. I know there are folks who want to say it was, "No, it was Wednesday, or it was Thursday." I think the data is pretty conclusive, and throughout Church history has been embraced as Friday. And these events that we're reading about here unfolded between 3 p.m. and sunset on that same day.

Now, Joseph's plan for the burial of Christ has to fit within a period of no more than three hours, and probably two hours or so, once permission is secured. He wants to bury Jesus. Now, in other places of the empire, the Roman Empire, it was common practice for the bodies of crucified men to be either left on the cross to decompose, or they would be removed from the cross and their bodies left littering the ground for scavengers to eat; because crucifixion was intentionally humiliation, and the humiliation didn't end with the person's death. They were denied an honorable burial.

But Judea was a special situation, because according to Jewish law, corpses could not remain unburied at nightfall. Here's what Deuteronomy had said, Deuteronomy 21:22:

If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is cursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord [your] God gives you as an inheritance.

Because of this very clear Jewish law, the Romans acquiesced and allowed for burial. In fact, the Mishnah speaks of special burial places outside the city that were designated as sort of common graves for executed criminals. Even Josephus, the Jewish historian, affirms that in Judea, although it was the exception to everywhere else, even crucified men were buried.

But Jesus' corpse here on Friday afternoon represents a larger problem, because the next day was not just any day, it was the Sabbath day. And it wasn't just any Sabbath day, but it was a high Sabbath, a special Sabbath, the Sabbath following the Passover and initiating the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And so, in light of that, as soon as it appeared that Jesus was dead, the Jewish leaders came to Pilate with a request. Turn over to John 19, John 19, verse 31. Right after Jesus says,

"It is finished!" And [He] bowed His head and gave up His spirit. Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation [again, Friday, preparing for the Sabbath], so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a [special Sabbath]), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.

Again, we've talked about the process of crucifixion. But just to remind you, the death of crucifixion was by suffocation, a slow process of suffocation. Eventually, the person who was crucified would lose the energy necessary to pull himself up and gain the air that he needed in his lungs. When they wanted to hasten the death, they came with a lead bar or an iron mallet and struck the bones of the legs, breaking the bones, which then would keep them from being able to push up and get the air that they needed. And they would simply hang by their arms until there was no air to breath in their lungs, and they would suffocate, but the process would unfold much quicker.

Now go back to Mark. Once the victims of crucifixion were dead, it was possible for family members or close friends to ask for the corpse in order to give the person a proper burial. Who in this case is going to ask? Think about this with me for a moment. Jesus' siblings, first of all, they don't believe in Him. Also, there's no record that they were in Jerusalem for this feast. Mary is certainly in no condition or no position to ask. Most of the apostles were in hiding for their lives. John may have already left with Mary for her protection. So, a man that we've never met until this moment steps forward. Look at verse 43: "Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God."

This man is described in a number of interesting ways in the gospels. Let me just give you what the gospels say about this man. This is only time we meet him. First of all, we know he's of Arimathea. Arimathea was simply the ancient village of Ramah, the hometown of Samuel. It was about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. That's where he was from. But since he has a new tomb in Jerusalem, it appears that this man and his family have now become permanent residents of Jerusalem. Matthew tells us in Matthew 27 that he was "a rich man." He was, Mark says, "a prominent member of the Council." In other words, he was one of the 70 men who served on the ruling body of Israel, the Sanhedrin. And he wasn't just any member. Notice he was "a prominent member," an influential member. The word implies both influence and power. Fourthly, we're told by Luke in Luke 23 that he was "a good and righteous man ([who] had not consented to their plan and action)." Either Joseph didn't attend the Jewish trials of Jesus, he either didn't attend the Jewish trials, or he abstained when it came time to vote. He dissented or abstained. The gospels go on to tell us that he "was waiting for the kingdom of God." In other words, he was living in hope of the coming and the kingdom of the Messiah. But he wasn't waiting for a Messiah in the future. We learn from Matthew's Gospel in Matthew 27:57, "[He] himself had also become a disciple of Jesus."

But John puts it this way: "Being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews." So here is a wealthy, powerful, influential member of the ruling body, the congress, if you will, of the land, and he has come to believe in Jesus. But he's doing so secretly because of fear. What was he afraid of? Well, John 12:42 says, "[Even many] of the rulers believed in [Jesus], but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue." And that wasn't just not having a synagogue to go to, that affected their entire lives. That affected their business and their family and every aspect of life. And so, he was desperately afraid that he would be put out of the synagogue, his life would be wrecked, his influence spoiled, his wealth perhaps in some way affected as well. He was afraid.

This was the man who, notice in verse 43, "Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; [I love this.] and he gathered up courage and went [into] Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus." Think about that for a moment. Before this moment he had not announced his allegiance to Jesus Christ because of what it would cost him with his peers. And even now, you know that he knows word about his request for Jesus' body is going to get back to the rest of the members of the Council. In addition, there was another huge risk for Joseph in doing this. As I mentioned, the bodies of executed criminals could be, and often were, granted to their families and even close friends. But, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, there was an exception. Under Roman law it was forbidden for someone who had been crucified for high treason to be given an honorable burial. It was against Roman law to do so. So, Joseph's request was truly amazing. It was a daring confession to the entire world. It was a confession to his peers in the Sanhedrin. It was a confession to the Roman prefect Pilate that he was aligned with, he was follower of, he was a disciple of, Jesus Christ, a man who had just been executed for treason.

Now obviously something made this man, who until this point has been fearful, throw caution to the wind. What motivated Joseph? What would possibly have driven him to do this? There's nothing to indicate that he believed or anticipated the resurrection. Maybe because he was a good and righteous man, he resented the injustice that had been done to Jesus, and he was going to make sure that Jesus at least got a decent burial. Maybe he feared that if he didn't do something, Jesus' body was, as it likely would have been, dumped with the other two criminals into a common criminal's grave. It could have been those things. But I think it's more likely a combination of his own conscience combined with watching the suffering of our Lord, hearing His words on the cross, experiencing the miracles of Calvary. And (half chuckle) at the moment when it made complete sense to keep your mouth shut, he speaks up. D. Edmond Hiebert writes, "It took great courage when the cause of Jesus seemed to be hopelessly lost." I don't know that I can explain the human motive, but I can explain the divine motive. You see, it wasn't just Joseph acting here, God is at work. Jesus had to be buried in a place and in a way that would make the reality of the resurrection completely unassailable, and this was the way. So, Joseph went into the Praetorium, and he asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, knowing that both actions, going into the Praetorium and touching a dead body, would render him ceremonially unclean. He asked.

Now that brings us to the third part of this drama, and that is the legal certification of Jesus' death. Notice verse 44: "Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead." When Joseph shows up at the Praetorium asking for Jesus' body, Pilate is surprised, surprised that Jesus was dead so soon, because even with the legs broken, victims could still survive for a short time. At this point Pilate's assuming that, like the other two, Jesus' legs have been broken, and he's surprised that He's died so soon. And so, Pilate calls for the centurion. We don't know if the centurion had already returned to the Praetorium, or if he was still on duty on site at the place of crucifixion, but regardless, once he arrived, Pilate asked if Jesus was in fact already dead. Verse 45, notice how it says, "And ascertaining this from the centurion." Verse 45 makes it clear that Pilate received the legal certification from the centurion that Jesus was truly dead.

Now the centurion was no stranger to death. Undoubtedly, he had supervised other crucifixions. And in this case, Mark tells us that he had stood right in front of the cross and watched Jesus die, and, of course as we learned (I believe), put his trust and confidence in Christ. Still, how could he have known for sure that Jesus had died? Well, John was an eyewitness, and he tells us. I want you to look at John chapter 19 again. John 19, verse 32. So, at the order of Pilate in response to the Jewish leaders, "The soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with [Jesus]; but coming to Jesus, . . . they saw that He was already dead." So, they witnessed His death. They had seen Him die. They knew in fact that now as they looked at Him and inspected Him that He was dead, and "they did not break His legs." "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out." Now, we've all seen those Renaissance paintings of Jesus with the soldier standing there just pricking Him in the side with the little point of the spear, a little bit of blood pouring out. That wasn't the point at all. What was the point of this? It was to ensure that Jesus was legally dead. He knew He was dead. He'd seen Him die. He saw Him surrender up His spirit. But he had to ensure that in fact this person, whose death he was responsible for, had died. And so, the soldier standing next and before Christ takes the spear and he rams it up under the rib cage, up into the heart and into the chest cavity, puncturing the heart. This was not a little prick, this was a massive blow up inside the chest cavity piercing the heart, and out comes the evidence of His death.

And he who has seen [John says in verse 35] has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he's telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, "Not a bone of Him shall be broken." And again another Scripture says, "They shall look on Him whom they pierced."

How did the centurion know Jesus was dead? Because one of the soldiers had absolutely ensured it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Here's an interesting fact about crucifixion. The Romans crucified thousands upon thousands of victims. There is not one historical record of someone surviving Roman crucifixion. And Jesus was no exception. He was certifiably dead. So, the centurion certifies that to Pilate, and on the threat of capital punishment to himself, he testifies that Jesus had in fact died.

Now in response to that, you have the official granting of Jesus' corpse. Verse 45: "And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph." Once Pilate received the certification of death, he grants Jesus', and the word here used is, "corpse." It's not the normal word for body: His corpse. Jesus was dead, certifiably so. And the word for "granted" refers not to just giving somebody something, but it's a word which refers to a formal, official permission from someone in authority. It took that from Pilate, because according, as I said, to Tacitus, people who were sentenced to death forfeited their property and were forbidden burial, and especially those who were accused of high treason. And so, Pilate grants the body of Jesus to Joseph, probably because Pilate knew without question that Jesus was completely innocent of the charges of treason. Remember? He had publicly declared it to be so a number of times. So, Pilate grants Jesus' corpse to Joseph. The time was probably around 4 p.m.

That brings us to verse 46 and the hurried burial of Jesus' body. Mark writes: "Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, [and] wrapped Him in the linen cloth." Now, Joseph doesn't have very long. He has at the most three hours before sunset, and so he needs, and has, help. As a member of the Sanhedrin, wealthy enough to have a private tomb just outside the city walls, Joseph would have had a large number of servants. Undoubtedly, they were involved in this process. In addition to that, he has a plan. Apparently on the way from the Praetorium to the site of the crucifixion, Joseph purchased, not the normal, cotton cloth strips that were used for burial, but fine linen cloth. With help, Joseph took Jesus' body down from the cross.

Now around this time Joseph is joined by someone else. Turn again back to John chapter 19. Verse 38 says that Joseph came and took away Jesus' body. And then we read in verse 39, "Nicodemus, who had first come to [Jesus] by night." One of the most famous stories from the life of Jesus, the man Nicodemus in John 3, this man, "who had first come to [Jesus] by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight." Joseph and Nicodemus had apparently talked about this and had created this plan. They split the duties. Joseph provided the tomb and the linen. Nicodemus brought "a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight." That's about 72 pounds for us. And then these two men—think about this for a moment. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both wealthy, influential members of the Jewish high court, who had been secretly followers of Jesus Christ, they now come out publicly, and they very quickly prepare the body of Jesus for burial.

John tells us that they followed the traditional Jewish burial customs. What did that mean? Well, the first thing it meant was washing the body. Mark doesn't mention, nor do any of the gospel writers, that they washed the body. But this was such an important part of normal Jewish burial rituals that, according to even the Jewish Mishnah, you could even do it on the Sabbath. So, it was almost certainly done. Then they may have put a linen shirt, some sort of a linen body cloth, over Jesus body, as was sometimes done. We're not told. But then we are told what they did from that point. They took the linen cloth strips, and with those 72 pounds of gummy, aromatic spices, they began to wrap the body of Jesus with the linen. And in between the layers, they placed those 72 pounds of aromatic spices in order to dampen down the smell of decay as the body began to rot. And then they took Jesus' body, and they placed it in a nearby tomb. John 19, verse 41, if you're still there, look at it. It says, "Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid."

Now, just to remind you of where all of this is unfolding, here is a scale model of Jerusalem in Jesus' time looking from the south. And you can see that to the right is the Mount of Olives. Here's the Temple Mount. And here is the upper city where Caiaphas lived in the palace of Herod, where Jesus was tried before Pilate. In this area near the Fortress Antonia is where the crucifixion likely occurred. Here is that same scale model of Jerusalem looking now from the west. And you can see that I've marked out—here is the city wall, there's Herod's Palace. The city wall ran here in that period of time, and just outside of that city wall is where Jesus was likely crucified and buried. They were both nearby. Here's a closeup of what that would have been.

Now, go back to Mark and look at Mark chapter 15, verse 46 again. After they had prepared Jesus' body, they "laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out [of] the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb." Now when you put the details together, Scripture tells us a lot about where Jesus was buried. We know that it was near the place where He was crucified, according to John—very near. We know that sunset was coming, so that was important. We know that it was located in a garden. We know that it was a cave dug out of the soft limestone in that area. It wasn't a naturally occurring cave, it was a man-made cave dug in the limestone. We know that it was the personal tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, according to Matthew's Gospel. And we also know, according to two gospels, that it had never been used. Think about that for a moment. In God's providence it was the perfect resting place for our Lord, because it had never seen decay. We even know today, basically, where the tomb was located. It was almost certainly located where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher stands today.

This site has an ancient tradition. Here is, sadly, what the Catholic church has done to that site. You can see, down to the lower right, rock that still exists, and here to the left as well. But they have obscured everything else. There's the closeup of that rock. This is the Edicule that's built in the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and beneath it is almost certainly the original site of the tomb of Christ. Now, why do I say this was almost certainly the site? Well, it has an ancient tradition, as I said. It was in AD 135 that the Roman emperor, Hadrian, built a pagan temple over this site in order to desecrate it. That temple stood in Jerusalem until Helena, Constantine's mother, had it destroyed and built the church on that site to commemorate the place of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. It's also interesting that inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there are other first century tombs. They've discovered this entire area was an abandoned rock quarry which was used as a cemetery in the first century. The rock jutted up, the part that had been cleared away, quarried for rock, left a hill, a rise, of maybe up to 40 feet they believe. But it's hard to see what it would have looked like in that time, even though that may be the genuine site. This, although not the genuine site, gives you a little more of what it looked like in the first century.

Now notice verse 46. Once Joseph and Nicodemus place Jesus' wrapped body into the tomb, it was sealed with a very large, very heavy, circular stone. Typically, the elaborate disk-shaped stone was about a yard in diameter. It's like a millstone. And the groove in which the stone rolled sloped toward the door so that the tomb could be easily sealed. This is at least how most of the ones they've discovered that had these rolling stones are built. But to roll the stone away from the entrance required the strength of several men, because you were rolling it uphill in a sense. The reason for this stone was to seal out both animals and grave robbers. So, they bury the body of Jesus.

There's one other part of this that's very important, and that is, the unlikely witnesses of Jesus' burial. Look at verse 47: "Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid." Two of the women who had witnessed His crucifixion, who had witnessed His death, now are also witness to His burial. Since Salome was likely Mary's sister, she probably went with John and Mary to console her sister, so she's not here at this point. But the other two women are there to witness. Notice what verse 47 says: "where He was laid." That is, they witnessed the exact location and tomb in which Jesus' body was placed. Luke puts it this way: "The women who had come [out with Him from] Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and [they even saw] how His body was laid." Three of the gospels mention that these two women witnessed the burial of Jesus Christ. Now, why was that so important? Because the legal standard for evidence according to the Mosaic Law was what? A fact is confirmed by two or three witnesses.

Now in the hurry to get Jesus buried, one traditional part of the Jewish burial process had been neglected; that is, the body would normally have been anointed. So, the ladies realize that hasn't happened, they decide that they're going to buy anointing oil, and at the first opportunity they're going to come and finish the preparation of the body of Jesus with that anointing oil. The first opportunity they'll have, since it's almost sunset, Sabbath's beginning, will be after Sabbath ends on Saturday night. They'll go on Saturday night after the Sabbath is over, purchase what they need, and the first opportunity they'll have to actually come to the grave will then be Sunday morning in God's providence. They'll finish Sunday morning, to finish by anointing the body. So that's Jesus' burial.

But I want to ask the question as we finish our time together, why? Why do all four gospels record Jesus' burial? What's the significance? Let me give you several important points.

First of all, it proves Jesus' credentials as Israel's promised Messiah. Because what does Isaiah, in Isaiah 53, verse 9, say will happen with the Messiah? "His grave was assigned with wicked men, [He died with two criminals and thieves.] yet He was with a rich man in His death." The fact that Jesus ends up buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb serves as part of His credential to be qualified to be the Messiah.

Secondly, it proves His innocence from God's perspective. Again, listen to Isiah 53, verse 9: "Yet He was with a rich man in His death." Why? Why did God arrange for Jesus to be buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his tomb? Here's the reason: "Because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth." This was God's vindication of the innocence of His Son. He wasn't going to be thrown in a mass grave with executed criminals, because He was not one. "He was with a rich man in His death, [Isaiah says] because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth." God said, "I will show you My Son's innocence."

Thirdly, it shows that He had to die for our sins. He couldn't simply suffer for our sins, some amount of human suffering. He couldn't merely bleed some for our sins. He had to shed His blood in violent death in our place. Again, Isaiah puts it this way in Isaiah 53:8: "By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, [Listen to this] who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due." Jesus had to be buried because He had to die for your sin and for mine. The justice of God demanded death in the place of sinners, and Jesus fulfilled it.

Number four: it shows that He willingly submitted to death, so that He might conquer it for us. If Jesus delays His coming, everybody you love will be buried. If He delays His coming, someday you will be buried. But the amazing thing about Jesus' burial is that in His burial He tasted death and conquered it. Look at Hebrews chapter 2. Hebrews chapter 2, verse 9: "But we do see [Jesus], who [is] made for a little while lower than the angels, . . . because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone." Verse 14:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through [His] death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and [He] might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Listen, you don't have to be afraid of death. The fact that Jesus was buried means it's beaten. He conquered it, He tasted it, and He defeated it.

Number five: Jesus' burial certifies the historical fact of His death. There were plenty of witnesses to Jesus' death: the crowd watched Him die and then left and went to their homes, according to Luke; the women witnessed His death; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus both handled His body in preparing it for burial and could testify to His death; the centurion and three other soldiers along with Pilate gave the official certification of Jesus' death; all of the Sanhedrin, because they said, He's dead and buried, we want to make sure He doesn't rise again, so let's guard the tomb. His dead corpse was placed in a grave, because that was evidence of His genuine, physical death. Jesus really died. The soldier guaranteed it by that thrust of the spear up into His chest cavity destroying His heart. Jesus was certifiably dead. No swoon theory here. He was dead, just like the people that you have known have died.

Number six and finally, His burial, His witnessed burial, identifies the specific tomb where He was buried and thereby certifies one of the greatest evidences of the resurrection—the empty tomb. Jesus' body was placed in a tomb near where He was crucified. Everybody knew where it was, not only Jesus' disciples, but even His enemies. And even though they sealed it and they put a guard at it, on Sunday the tomb was empty. And folks, it still is. You know, there were a lot of explanations given for Jesus' resurrection. But nobody ever said, "Oh, He's-He's still in the tomb," because it was clear where He was buried, and it was clear there was no body there. They never produced the body. That's the reason Jesus' burial, Paul says, is one of the essential parts of the gospel.

Look at that list. We ought to praise our Lord for what He did for us, not only in His death, but in His burial. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for our time together tonight. We are amazed at Your grace and mercy to us in Christ. We thank You that in Christ and in Him alone we have victory over sin and death and hell, because in His death and in His burial, He defeated them all. We thank You and we bless You in Jesus' name, Amen.

The Memoirs of Peter