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Loved By Jesus

The Buried

Rev. Philip Miller | July 18, 2021

Scripture Reference: Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, Psalms 34:20, Isaiah 53:9, Zechariah 12:10, Zechariah 13:1, Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:51, John 3:14—16, John 12:24, John 12:32, John 19:31—42, John 20:15, Romans 6:3—5, Romans 6:8, Romans 6:11, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 2 Corinthians 4:10—11, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:6, Philippians 3:10—11, Colossians 2:12

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Scripture Reference: Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, Psalms 34:20, Isaiah 53:9, Zechariah 12:10, Zechariah 13:1, Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:51, John 3:14—16, John 12:24, John 12:32, John 19:31—42, John 20:15, Romans 6:3—5, Romans 6:8, Romans 6:11, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 2 Corinthians 4:10—11, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:6, Philippians 3:10—11, Colossians 2:12

Selected highlights from this sermon

Everyone enjoys a good plot twist—that moment when everything you thought you knew is suddenly undone, and realization dawns with just a bit of disbelief. Those are the best endings.

In many ways, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the greatest plot twist of them all. Nobody saw that coming. And no doubt after the resurrection, the disciples thought: “Are you kidding me? How did we miss the clues?”

Pastor Miller indicates that in John’s Gospel, the apostle is careful to point out the clues and the signs that were there all along. With the benefit of hindsight, John helps us see the things he missed the first time around, the hints of the twist ending that was to come.

The Buried

I love a good twist ending, whether in a novel or a film, that moment when everything you thought you knew is suddenly undone, and the realization dawns and it’s mingled with disbelief and you’re like, “No way. I can’t believe it. Are you kidding me? It was that guy all along? I can’t believe I missed all the clues. I’ve got to go watch that again.” Right? The twist ending is the best.

And in many ways, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate twist ending. Talk about a plot twist, right? Nobody, nobody saw this one coming. And no doubt, after the resurrection, the disciples were like, “No way. Are you kidding me? How did I not see that? How did I miss the clues along the way? I’ve got to go back and do this all over again.”

And in the Gospels, especially here in the Gospel of John, what John is doing is he’s pointing out the clues, the little moments, the signs that were there all along. But he has the benefit of hindsight now. He’s showing us the things he missed the very first time around, the twist ending that he now sees. He looks back and he sees all the clues along the way. And even in the burial account of Jesus Christ, there are clues of what is coming. And I want to show them to you this morning.

Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in John, chapter 19, verses 31 down to 42. You’ll find that on page 906 in the blue Bible that’s there in the rack by your knees. And I want to show you this morning three clues of what’s coming in the burial account of Jesus. They are, first clue is The Piercing Distinction, the second clue is The Perplexing Loyalties, and the third clue is The Paradoxical Tomb. (chuckles)

So let’s see what this is all about.

Would you bow your head? Let’s pray together and then we’ll jump in to God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, we come to you this morning at the very low point in the story of Jesus Christ, and yet in many ways it’s the very beginning of the highest point ever. Help us to see that, in the burial of Jesus Christ is the very beginning of the unstoppable life of Jesus. We pray this in Jesus’ beautiful name, Amen. Amen.

So, first we have here, the first clue is The Piercing Distinction. John 19:31: “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.”

Crucifixion was a slow and torturous method of death that often lasted days. The bodies’ survival instincts actually prolonged the torture to the point of utter exhaustion when the victim finally died. After the death finally occurred, Roman protocol was to leave the bodies on the crosses for days in order that the vultures might come and heap further shame upon these criminals and serve as a further cautionary warning to everyone who would pass by.

And that’s what would have happened to Jesus had it not been the day before the Sabbath day. The Jewish Law said that bodies could not be left out overnight. They would defile the land, and that was particularly unwelcome on a Sabbath day, and this is not just any Sabbath day. This is the Sabbath that falls within Passover week. It is a high and holy day. And so the Jewish leaders ask Pilate to break the legs of those who are crucified to expedite their death so that the land might be holy for the Sabbath. The legs were essential for respiration, and so the loss of leg support rapidly hastened the onset of death.

Verse 32: “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”

You’ll recall from last time in chapter 19, verse 30 that Jesus said, “It is finished,” and then John records He bowed His head and gave up his spirit. So when the soldiers come to break His legs, they find Him already dead. But to make doubly sure that He is, in fact, dead (Verse 34), “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’”

So, as you can imagine, this sudden flow of blood and water flowing from the side of Jesus, pierced here, has drawn the attention of medical experts down through the years, trying to figure out what exactly happened physiologically.

Now, I have no medical experience to speak of, but the people that I have read tell me, tell us, that in tests that have been performed on cadavers it’s been shown that where there’s a chest that has been severely injured, but not penetrated, up to two liters of hemorrhagic fluid will gather between the pleura lining of the rib cage and the lining of the lung. This fluid separates into a clear serum that rises to the top, and a deeper red layer at the bottom. And if that chest cavity were to be pierced from the bottom, both layers would flow out exactly as John has described for us here.

Now, John wants us to know that he was there, that he saw this with his own eyes. He is a bona fide witness to the fact that Jesus really died. These events are in fulfillment of Scripture, John tells us, because Jesus is the true and greater Passover Lamb, right? Both Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12 explicitly say that none of the Passover Lamb’s bones are to be broken. And furthermore, in Psalm 34:20 it says the Lord protects his righteous servant as “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.”

And then there’s Zechariah 12:10 where it says this: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

This is a fascinating prophecy in Zechariah. It links, you’ll notice, the restoration of Israel with repentance and mourning over “the one they have pierced,” and that that mourning over the pierced one precedes a flood of grace and mercy that will flow out for the people.

Now, if you read to the end of the paragraph here in Zechariah, this is how it closes. This is Zechariah 13:1, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”

Friends, what was the fountain that was opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness? What was it? It was the fountain that flowed from the pierced side of Jesus. “This is the cup of the New Covenant which is in my blood—” On that day “I will pour out,” the prophecy said, “a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy when they look upon the one they have pierced.”

Friends, isn’t this amazing how all of this just “happened” to work out? The standard protocol would have had Jesus suffering for days, devoured by vultures and crows. That was standard procedure. Standard procedure, if they needed to speed things up, was to smash the legs, to break them, but John wants us to see the clues, that through these seemingly random breaks in protocol, the Father is distinguishing the uniqueness of His Son.

All of these deviations serve one purpose: to single out Jesus is unique, is different. He is not like the other ones. This One in the middle, this One is fulfilling Scripture. This One is special. It’s like the Father is saying, “Listen, you may want to keep your eye on this One because He’s just getting started.” It’s a Piercing Distinction.

Secondly, we see the next clue: The Perplexing Loyalties. The Perplexing Loyalties.

Verse 38: “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”

So Jesus’ body here is entrusted to two men: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. We don’t know a whole lot about Joseph of Arimathea, although Mark (in chapter 15, verse 43) and Luke (in Luke 23:51) identify him as a respected member of the council of the Sanhedrin, who had not supported the efforts to condemn Jesus, and who were secretly seekers of the kingdom of God. He’s a secret seeker of the kingdom of God. John calls him here a “secret” disciple of Jesus, but he’s kept that on the down-low because of his fear of the Jews.

Nicodemus we immediately recognize as a member of the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin) who came to Jesus secretly at night in John, chapter 3. You’ll remember that they had a conversation about the kingdom of God and the necessity of being born again. And then Jesus made, at the end of that conversation, a very cryptic statement, at least it must have been at the moment. John, chapter 3, verses 14 and 15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Please put a pin in that for a moment.

So here we have two members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the ruling, elite class, both with secret sympathies toward Jesus, but who now come out into the light in order to give Jesus an honorable, albeit rapid, burial. Joseph here uses his clout with Pilate in order to secure the body. Pilate would not have released the body to just anybody. And while Nicodemus is off, he’s apparently shopping and getting the necessary supplies and spices for the actual burial. Myrrh, which is the main ingredient here, was a fragrant resin. We know it very well because it was used in Egypt for embalming their mummies and things like that.

The Jews were slightly different in the way they used it. They powderized it and mixed it with aloes of aromatic sandalwood, and so Nicodemus secures some 75 pounds of this stuff, of these spices, to pack around the corpse as it has been wrapped in cloth to provide a bit of preservation, but mainly to stifle the stench.

This burial is done in rapid haste. It had to be completed before sundown which was the marking of the beginning of the Sabbath day. Matthew 27:60 tells us that Joseph laid him in his very own newly quarried tomb which was in a nearby garden.

Now, I’m not sure we fully appreciate or realize what they have done here. Criminals who died on a cross were considered cursed forever, irretrievable, and they were never buried with honor. They were flung unceremoniously into a common grave for criminals and the condemned. That’s what would have happened to the other two that were crucified on either side of Jesus. It’s what would have happened to Jesus as well had it not been for the intervention of Joseph and Nicodemus here. But they ensure Jesus is given an honorable burial in this family tomb.

And according to Jewish law, after handling a corpse you were considered unclean for seven days, so you realize what this means. It means these two men, these religious leaders prominent in Israel were unable to celebrate the Sabbath or the rest of the Passover week with their families because they were unclean because they did this for Jesus. And not only that, in coming out into the light and displaying their fidelity to Jesus who had just been condemned by the broader council, it’s no longer a secret. You see, they are in the light. They are in the light of day. They would have paid dearly for this loyalty to Jesus. The council would not have forgiven them for doing this. And John wants us to realize there are clues here. Something happened that made both of these secret followers of Jesus tip. Something happened that brought them into the light. What was it? What shifted? The day before everything was quiet and secret, but now on this day they are bold and they are in the light, and they are in the open. What happened for their faith to be made public like this? Well, I think it was what Jesus predicted would happen in John 12:32 when Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

And friends, as Jesus is lifted up, He draws all people to Himself, including these two whose faith now comes to light. Joseph and Nicodemus saw something in the death of Jesus when He was lifted up, like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. They saw the One who was pierced, and they mourned Him and they believed in Him. And on that day, friends, a fountain opened up for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a cleansing flow that would forgive them of sin and uncleanness. They received mercy and grace from God right then and there as they believed in Jesus on their behalf. And if you think about it, they must have believed at some level that this story wasn’t over. They had to. Why else would they throw everything in for Jesus at this point? Why would they throw their careers away, throw their honor in the community? Why would they distance themselves from positions of power and authority in the land? Why would they do that for Jesus if they believed He was dead and gone? No, at some level they must have believed that this story wasn’t over yet.

I wonder— I suspect that they, of all people, began to think God must have a trick up His sleeve. It’s perplexing, their loyalties, isn’t it?

Thirdly we see “The Paradoxical Tomb,” the Paradoxical Tomb, verse 41: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

Now, at first glance these verses seem to merely be conveying logistical stuff. Right? Near Golgotha was this garden, a freshly quarried family tomb. It’s available. We know it belongs to Joseph of Arimathea, to his house, and given the limited amount of time left in the day, they decided to lay Jesus there. It’s just logistics, right? And yet, in these seemingly haphazard events, the Scriptures are being fulfilled. You’ll remember from Isaiah 53, verse 9, that they foretold that Jesus, the suffering servant, would be assigned a grave with the rich. This is where He’s buried, but I think John is drawing our attention even deeper, in a deeper direction. He wants us to see the clues here.

Twice...Listen. This is amazing. Twice in verse 41 he goes out of his way to mention that there was a garden, a garden. There was a garden near the cross, and there was a garden with the tomb. In the next chapter when Mary sees Jesus she’s going to mistake Him for a gardener (20:15). Why? Why this emphasis on a garden? Garden, garden, gardener. What is with him? (chuckles)

Think with me. Gardens are where things grow and flourish and come to life. Yes, and they bear fruit. Right? And how does that happen? How does that happen?

John 12:24: Jesus’ words! “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Friends, a garden is where a seed goes to die. In order that it might burst into life and fruitfulness and abound, Jesus is placed in the ground in a garden because this is the end, and it’s just the beginning. And I think the imagery goes even deeper than that. Remember the very first garden at the very dawn of creation where Adam was fashioned from the dust of the ground and God breathed the breath of life into his body, and animated him anew in a creative act? Remember this? And now, friends, Jesus is laid in the dust of a garden, awaiting the breath of life, which will signify the dawn of a new creation.

The first Adam was laid in the dust of the first garden, awaiting the breath of God in creation. And now the second Adam is laid in the dust of another garden, and when God breathes His resurrection life into Jesus’ body, it will mean not the resuscitation of the old order of things, but the re-creation of a whole new era, a new humanity, a new order of things, a new creation! (applause)

Isn’t this interesting? In the beginning you have a garden. In the end you have the new heavens, the new Earth with garden imagery, the new city garden of God which will be the end. You have a garden in the beginning. You have a garden in the end. And right here at the hinge point of history you have a garden where Jesus is laid. Jesus’ death and resurrection, friends, is the hinge-point of history. As He dies, He is bringing the old order, the old creation to an end, and as He rises, He is ushering in the dawn of a new creation. As He rises in the garden, He is a new Adam, for a new humanity and a new creation.

First Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (applause)

So the garden, friends, is a paradox. It is both the tomb of the old humanity in Adam, and it is the cradle of a new humanity in Jesus Christ. And that humanity, that new humanity, includes you and me, who by grace through faith are “in Christ.” (applause) As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come. He is a new creation.”

Friends, Christ’s resurrection, His new creation, His everlasting and undying life is ours in Him. We are a new creation because Jesus is the new creation. And we are in Him, therefore we also are a new creation as well. Or to use the logic of Paul, the spostle, because Christ died, we died. And because Christ is raised to life, we are raised to life as well.

In fact, Paul will say that the Christian life is one of dying and rising with Christ. The whole of the Christian life is one of dying and rising with Christ.

Friends, do you realize this is who you are? In a sense, by faith we have been united with Christ, and as Christ died, we died with him, and as Christ rises we rise with him as well. We are united with Him, which is why Paul can write, for example, in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. Therefore, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Or Romans, chapter 6, verses 3 to 4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Or Colossians 2, verse 12, “You were buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Or Ephesians 2:6, “God raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

Do you realize what he’s saying? He’s saying that if the dying and rising of Christ has become our identity by grace through faith in Him, we are united with Christ dying and rising on our behalf. Everything He has done becomes ours by faith in who He is.

Baptism is a picture of this. Baptism means to be immersed. We are immersed into the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension and glory of Jesus becomes who we are. Baptism is a symbol and picture of this dynamic transformation that has occurred in Jesus Christ. Amen?

Dying and rising with Christ is not just our identity in who we are. It is where we are going. It’s where we are going to. It’s our future.

Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Friends, do you realize because Jesus died and rose again, one day you will die and rise again.

Romans 6:8, “If we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” That’s why Paul writes in Philippians 3, verses 10 and 11, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead.”

Friends, one day when we die in Christ, we are buried with Him in order that we may rise eternal with Him forever in glory. It is where we are headed. It’s not just who we are or where we are headed. It’s also how we live right now. The dying and rising of Jesus is the template for our lives right here, right now.

Romans 6, verse 4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Romans 6:11, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Or again, Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in this flesh, in this body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”

Or 2 Corinthians 4, verses 10 and 11, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”

Do you see this, friends? Our walk with Christ has a dying component of all that is being put to death and left behind, the old order of things, our sin, all of our selfishness, all of the pieces of us that will not move on to resurrection glory, and a new life by the Spirit that is coming alive in us at every moment, dying with Christ in the things of the old, and living now to the things of Christ. So dying and rising with Christ is our past. It’s our present, and it’s our future. You see this.

Friends, following Jesus means embracing this rhythm, the rhythm of dying and rising with Christ. We lose our lives to find them. We surrender to be free. We repent that we might rejoice. We die that we might live.

Isn’t that what the prophecies foretold? In weeping they would find grace. In mourning mercy would flow. Isn’t that what Joseph and Nicodemus discovered? They gave up their lives, everything, only to find them in Christ.

Isn’t that what Jesus died for, as He lays down His life only to to take it up again so that in His death we may have life? And friends, isn’t this what Jesus calls us to, you and me? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Wee, when it comes to life, friends, in the end, there’s a twist. It’s a twist. The way up is down. The way to fullness is through emptiness. The way to life is through death. And the death and resurrection of Jesus is the twist ending to the story. It’s the moment when everything we thought we knew turns out to be suddenly undone. And for the first time we see things as they really are. This is true not just for Jesus but for us, our lives as well a twist ending. The clues were there all along, friends.

When Jesus says this, it’s true not just for Him but for us. He’s describing the way life really is. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground, into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Friends, what is Jesus asking you to put to death today? What needs to die today? What is the life that Jesus wants to unleash in you today? The way up is down. The way to freedom is to let go. The way to live is to actually die. Jesus shows you it’s the only way the real world works. What needs to die today, friends? What needs to die? What needs to come to life?

Would you surrender to Jesus today, friends? All of who you are for all of Him. Life is just around the corner. It’s the twist ending you’ve been waiting for,

Would you pray with me?

Father, it’s a frightful thing to call my brothers and sisters to die to follow you. There is no resurrection without crucifixion. Everything that goes on into the next world must die in this world. And Father, there’s much in us that needs to die. Oh, we pretend it’s not hurting us. We pretend it’s just this little sin we’re babysitting in our lives, and you invite us to crucifixion that we might die to sin, that we might live to righteousness.

Father, take all of us, all that we are without exception, every little secret thing. Bring it into the light. Help us find repentance. Help us find confession. Help us weep and mourn to discover the mercy and grace, the fountain of life that flows for us. Jesus, you are our only help. Your life is everything to us and we bring it to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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