Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Filled Tomb

Jesus was buried.

All four of the gospel writers narrate his burial (Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:41). The very concise Apostle’s Creed mentions that Jesus “...was crucified, dead, and buried.” The apostle Paul said that Jesus’ burial was a part of the gospel of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

During this season, we Christians love to talk about “The Empty Tomb” because our Lord is risen. But before he could rise, he had to be buried.

Before there was an empty tomb, there had to be a filled tomb.

In re-reading the gospel accounts this Spring, I was struck by the fact that Jesus–not only died but–was buried.

Death seems final, but burial even more so.

Not only did his lungs stop breathing, his heart stop beating, and his brain go flat-line, but Jesus’ vital signs stopped for so long, so persistently, that it was obvious that he was dead and gone. There was nothing left to do but bury him.

The synoptic gospels all say that Jesus’ body was buried. The pronouns shift from “he” to “it.” His body is now a corpse.

“Going to Pilate, [Joseph of Arimathea] asked for Jesus' body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid” (Luke 23:53). Jesus’ female followers tracked after Joseph and saw for themselves where Jesus’ body was placed.

There was no mistaking it. Jesus was buried. The tomb was filled.

I don’t know a fraction of the implications of the truth of Jesus’ burial, but as I meditated on it, I thought of three that seemed significant for Christians right now.

1. Salvation

It took the filled tomb to save us. Paul says, “by this gospel you are saved,” and that includes that Jesus “was buried” (1 Corinthians 15:4).

I’m not as sure how Jesus’ burial figures into our salvation as does the Cross or the Resurrection, but I am sure that it is significant. Perhaps it’s simply an extension of his death–he’s that dead. Perhaps it’s to fit into and then improve on the pattern set by his ancestor, King David, who was also buried but whose body decayed there (Acts 13:36). Certainly baptism is connected to burial; we were buried with Jesus in some mysterious and amazing way (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12).

However it works, it was necessary for Jesus to be buried for you and I to be saved from our sins.

Christ-followers celebrate the gospel because we encounter sin every day. We are sinners saved by grace who love other sinners in need of grace. We should give thanks that Jesus’ tomb was filled because it changes everything for us forever.

2. Sadness

Christ-followers also encounter suffering every day.

We look into the sad faces of depressed people. We walk with those who grieve the loss of someone they love. We talk people through bitter relational conflicts.

Life often hurts and feels like death. Dreams go into tombs.

I don’t think we can comprehend the bewildered sadness that the disciples must have felt on that silent Saturday, but it was the right emotion for the occasion.

The filled tomb allows us to be sad. It gives us permission to grieve over the places in life that are broken.

Previously, when Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, our Lord wept. In fact, Jesus– who is the Resurrection and the Life and who was going to raise Lazarus from the dead–was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). How much more were tears appropriate when it was our Lord himself who filled the tomb?

The filled tomb authorizes appropriate sorrowfulness.

3. Hope

Thankfully, Jesus did not stay dead and buried. He came back to life and came out of the tomb. He is risen indeed!

But to become an emptied tomb, it had to first be filled. You have to have death to have a resurrection. The filled tomb sets the stage for a miracle.

Christ-followers offer hope. We see and feel sad situations for which we properly empathize, sympathize, and grieve. But we also know that the overwhelmingly sad can give way to the surprisingly joyful (John 16:20-22). Jesus specializes in turnarounds.

As we live our worship of Jesus during this season, let’s hold out hope for true change in both hearts and situations because the tomb of Jesus was filled and is now empty.