April 3, 2021

The Day Jesus Was Dead

I don’t think there is a day in Biblical history more perplexing than that the day Jesus lay in the grave. He died late Friday afternoon. He was still dead as Sunday began. His followers spent an entire Saturday perplexed. 

Noah’s flood was perplexing, but not like this. The promise of a son to aged Abram was perplexing, but not like this. Four hundred and thirty years of slavery in Egypt was perplexing, but not like this. Forty years in the wilderness was perplexing, but not like this. Captivity in Babylon was perplexing, but not like this. The Messiah was dead.

Utter Confusion. Discouragement. Disillusionment.

Join me on an imaginative journey with Jesus’ followers that Saturday. You have found the person you believe to be the Messiah. As a matter of fact, He found you. You have sat with Him. You have listened to him. You love him.

All signs—Biblically, theologically, morally––point to the fact that this man has the power to save God’s people from their sin and make the world right. You have left your career to follow him. You have used your wealth to support His ministry. You have embraced every word He’s taught. Not even a week ago, you joined a chorus of praise as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

“This is it”, You had said. “The coronation of the king! The Messiah will be lifted up in glory.” Five days later, He is lifted up on a Roman cross. Betrayed by an insider; denied by His friends. And now He is buried.

Don’t Forget: Jesus Was Buried.

Jesus died and rose again. Those two historical, factual events roll off my tongue with ease. But what happened in between? The ancient creeds tell us. The Apostles Creed reads: Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” The Nicene Creed says, “He suffered and was buried.” You don’t hear much on the burial of Christ. Yet it’s an incredibly important fact for the Biblical writers. All four Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—include the burial with detail.

Certainly, God could have immediately raised Jesus to new life. Jesus had the power to get up the moment after death. Yet, God sovereignly planned for a burial. This perplexing day was God’s will. In the burial of Jesus, we see God’s providence at work and a call to trust God while perplexed.

What does Jesus’ burial display?

1. God’s plan will prevail.

God’s providence is all over it. It is first seen as he raises up a man to carry out his plan. His name is Joseph of Arimathea. Matthew 27:57 tells us Joseph is a “rich man” who asks Pilate for the body of Jesus. According to Isaiah 53:9: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.” His body wouldn’t be thrown into a ditch with other crucified victims, but it would be laid in a tomb fit for a king.

From the vantage point of His disciples, nothing looks good. Nothing looks right. Nothing makes sense. There is no hope. No silver lining. Yet from heaven’s point of view, the angels are in awe as they are watching the redemptive plan of God unfold.

God’s plan continues to unfold through specific acts of providence:

  • Pilate agrees to give the body to Joseph.
  • Jesus dies before sundown on Friday, allowing for three days in the grave, with the resurrection on the first day of the week (Hos. 6:2, John 2:19).
  • The women witness where Jesus is laid (Luke 23:55). One of the charges against the resurrection was that the women were mistaken. God planned for this.
  • Jesus is buried in time for Sabbath rest (Ex. 20:8). How phenomenal is it that in God’s sovereign plan, when He gave that law some 1,300 years earlier, He knew. He knew that the Messiah would come and finish the work on Friday just before Sabbath. Jesus’ body would rest in the grave the entire Sabbath—that great day of waiting on God.

The details in the drama declare that God is still in control. In our own confusion, God is at work. No matter how perplexing life gets, God’s plan will prevail. A preacher once said, “If you can trust a puzzle company to make sure every piece is in the box to complete the puzzle, then why can’t you trust God that every piece of your life is there for a reason?”

This perplexing life is a billion-piece puzzle. The good news is that it is not my puzzle to put together. It is God’s. God has never made a mistake. Not one piece of this puzzle is to be discarded. Every piece exists for its purpose—even the burial of our Messiah. “All things work together for good to them who love God” (Rom. 8:28).

2. God’s people will persevere.

Joseph was a rich man and member of the Sanhedrin. Yet, he was a closet believer in Jesus Christ. While initially fearful of publicly aligning himself with Jesus, he could no longer hold back his allegiance. He took the body, washed it, anointed in with 100 pounds of spices, and laid it in a tomb. A burial fit for a king. The women too followed Jesus to His burial. They prepared spices and ointments for His body. They sought to honor Jesus’ dead body. Then, “according to the commandment” they rested on the Sabbath (Luke 23:56).

In the Dark of Night, Rest in Christ

How can Jesus’ people rest while perplexed? Though the night was dark, His followers were called to trust Him and remain faithfully obedient. There was never a day in human history more confusing and discouraging than this one. Yet the confusion offered no green light to forget God. The dark night gave no one the blessing to breach God’s law. This disappointment gave no permission for permissiveness. This seemingly hopeless situation offered no reason to rebel. His followers did not know Sunday was coming, but they glorified Him anyway. If these initial followers glorified Jesus and obeyed God on the day He was dead, how much more should we knowing that Jesus is alive!

Perplexing times will come. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:8: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair.” Why? Paul goes on in verse 14: “because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.”

In the confusion and perplexity of life, the burial of Jesus Christ is a call to trust God no matter the situation. No matter what life brings, we glorify Him. No matter what losses we suffer, we obey Him. As Horatio Spafford wrote after the death of His children: No matter my lot, you have taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

It is well because the grave has been defeated.