The Lord's Day Morning
November 27, 2011
“On The Sabbath They Rested”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 23. We’re going to be looking at verses 50 to 56 today, so we’ll come to the end of the chapter as we continue our way through the gospel of Luke. We've been looking at the crucifixion of Jesus and now Luke brings us to the ultimate point of Jesus’ humiliation — His burial. And he goes into much detail about facts surrounding Jesus’ death and burial. He's showing us the reality of Jesus’ death in the details of His burial and there are important theological reasons why he would go into so much detail about the burial of Jesus.
As we read this passage today, I want you to be especially mindful of two or three things. First of all, notice the description of this courageous, heretofore unmentioned, disciple in verses 50 to 53. It really is an amazing thing, this man who comes forward to ask for the body of Jesus, so look for the courageous disciple. Then I want us to concentrate in the whole passage, especially from 50 to the first part of verse 56, on the buried Savior, because that's the focus of Luke's record of this history. And then finally, the Sabbath rest which is observed by the women disciples who were caring for Jesus’ dead body as it is prepared for burial, especially in verses 54 and at the end of verse 56. Be on the lookout for these three things — the courageous disciple, the buried Savior, and the Sabbath rest.
Well let's pray before we hear God's Word read.
Our heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we need it, we need it like we need water and like we need food, for we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth. This is Your word of life; this is Your word of sanctification; this is Your word of salvation, Lord. Open our eyes, O God, to respond to Your Gospel. Build us up in Your grace, even as we attend to Your Word this day. In Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it:
“Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The death and burial of Jesus are necessary for our salvation. When the apostle Paul is summarizing the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, remember he says that “Christ died and was buried and raised again for our salvation, according to the Scriptures.” And so the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of the death and burial of Jesus as well as His resurrection. Why? Because the wages of sin is death and if Jesus is going to pay the wages of sin for us, for His people, for all who believe in Him, He must die. He must experience and absorb all that is entailed in the wages of sin and the Scripture makes it clear from beginning to end that death, our death, is a sanction of judgment by God against our sin. And so Jesus, in order to be our substitute, in order to be our Savior, must pay the full wages of sin, which is death. And so it is very important for us to understand what Luke is teaching here about the death and burial of Jesus Christ. And as we do that, I want us to look at three things. I want us to look at that courageous disciple in verses 50 to 53, I want us to look at the buried Savior in the whole passage, and then I want us to look at this Sabbath rest.
THE LORD HAS HIS PEOPLE IN MANY PLACES WE DON’T SUSPECT
Let's begin with this courageous disciple. You know, when you see this disciple described, you have to shake your head and say, “Lord, You have people in places that we would never ever expect. Lord, You are working by Your Spirit for the salvation of sinners in the most unlikely places.” We’re told here in this passage that Joseph of Aramathea is the one who buried Jesus and Luke tells us at least five things about Joseph of Aramathea. First of all, he tells us that he was a member of the council. Notice the word. “There was a man,” verse 50, “from the Jewish town of Aramathea. He was a member of the council.” You know what that means don't you? He was a member of the Sanhedrin! Now the Sanhedrin, throughout this passage, has been the key human instrument working for the death of Jesus. In fact, when the members of the Sanhedrin had gathered the night before, all of those who were there were unanimously in favor of Jesus being crucified because of their charge against Him of blasphemy. And yet we are told here that a member of the Sanhedrin is the one who buried Jesus. This is very interesting.
Next, we're told that he was a good and upright man. Look at the end of verse 50. “He was a member of the council, a good and a righteous man.” In other words, Luke says he was a member of the Sanhedrin…but, but, but, but, but! He was a good man; he was an upright man. He wasn't like the hypocrites, so many of whom had been responsible for these trumped up charges against Jesus and this exorbitant sentence against Him. No, he was as good and an upright man. That's the second thing that Luke tells you.
Then, notice what else he says. He had not consented to the decision and the action of the Sanhedrin against Jesus. He says that in verse 51. So he was not party to the unjust action of the Sanhedrin. Then, fourth, notice what he says. He has been waiting for the kingdom of God; he's been looking for the kingdom of God — end of verse 51. Now, that's Luke's way of telling you that Joseph actually believed Jesus’ teaching. John just comes right out and says it doesn't he? In John 19:38, John tells you that Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus. He secretly followed Jesus because he feared the consequences of the Sanhedrin finding out that he was a disciple of Jesus. And so Luke tells you that there is a disciple of Jesus on the Sanhedrin and of course Luke's account indicates that he was a very brave man. Mark just comes right out and tells you in Mark chapter 15 verse 43 that Joseph was a brave man and he did a brave thing.
But think about how brave this was. First of all, under Roman law, someone who was condemned to death had no right for burial. Very often, Romans would just leave a corpse on the cross to rot and to be picked at by the birds of the air. And it was a brave thing for Joseph to come to Pilate and say, “Now I know that this man has no right of burial under Roman law but I'd like to bury Him anyway. Secondly, it was a brave thing for him to come to Pilate because Pilate didn't like the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had asked a number of things of Pilate that he either denied them or reluctantly granted to them. He didn't want, for instance, to put Jesus to death, and he went out of his way to make it hard for them to get what they wanted. They had even come to him and asked him to change the inscription that had been tacked above Jesus’ head on the cross and he denied that request. You remember that? That's in John 19 as well. And yet here's Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, standing before Pilate saying, “Sir, I would like to take His body down and give Him a proper burial.” It was a very brave thing because Pilate didn't like the Sanhedrin. But of course the bravest thing of all was when Joseph took that body he was openly identifying himself with Jesus and he was no longer a secret disciple. You know, we never hear about Joseph again. He's not in the letters, he's not in the book of Acts, and you have to wonder, “Did the Sanhedrin get him?” I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know it was a very dangerous thing for him to identify with Jesus and yet he did.
Now Luke is telling you all this, and as he's telling you this, do you realize what we're learning? That God had done a saving work in the heart of a man who sat on the supreme Jewish council, the Sanhedrin. Isn't that glorious? And of course in John 19:39, who else does John say was with Joseph of Aramathea when they took Jesus’ body down? Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin. Do you see what Luke is telling you? That even in the midst of the supreme body of spiritual leadership in Israel that had taken action to see Jesus crucified and dead, God had changed hearts. God has disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isn't that an amazing thing? The Lord gets disciples from the most unlikely places and I love what J.C. Ryle says about this passage:
“We know nothing of Joseph excepting what is here told of us. In no part of the Acts or the epistles do we find any mention of his name. At no former period of our Lord's ministry does he ever come forward. His reason for not openly joining the disciples before, we cannot explain. But here at the eleventh hour this man is not afraid to show himself one of our Lord's friends. At the very time when the apostles had forsaken Jesus, Joseph is not ashamed to show his love and respect. Others had confessed Him while He was living and doing miracles. It was reserved for Joseph to confess Him when He was dead. The history of Joseph is full of instruction and encouragement. It shows us that Christ has friends of whom the church knows little or nothing, friends who profess less than some do, but friends who, in real love and affection, are second to none. It shows us above all that events may bring out grace in quarters where at present we do not expect it, and that the cause of Christ may prove one day to have many supporters of whose existence we are at present not aware. Let us learn from the case of Joseph of Aramathea to be charitable and hopeful in our judgments. All is not barren in this world when our eyes perhaps see nothing. There may be some latent sparks of light where all appears dark. Grains of true faith may be lying hid in some neglected congregation which have been placed there by God. There were seven thousand true worshipers in Israel about whom Elijah knew nothing. The day of judgment will bring forward men and women who seemed last and place them among the first.”
The Lord has disciples in some of the most unlikely and unsuspecting places and the converting power of God works even in those unlikely people and places. That's the first thing that I want us to see as we consider this courageous disciple.
JESUS TRULY DIED AND WAS BURIED, FOR US
But the main thing Luke wants us to learn is about our very Savior. He's telling us this because it is vital for us to understand that Jesus truly died and was truly buried for us. This is necessary for our salvation. And so notice, Luke tells us six specific things detailing the burial of Jesus. First, Luke tells us who buried him — not only his name, not only the town that he came from, but he tells us that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and Mark, by the way, adds that he was a highly respected member of the Sanhedrin. So he tells us who buried Jesus — Joseph of Aramathea.
And then he tells us how Jesus was buried, how it came about, and actually how they did it. He tells us that Joseph went to Pilate and that Pilate granted permission for Joseph to take the body of Jesus and to bury it. We’re even told how it was wrapped. He wrapped the body in linens and put it in his own tomb, a tomb that has never been used before.
Third, Luke tells us where He was buried. He was buried in Joseph's tomb.
Fourth, he tells us when He was buried. He was buried on the day of Preparation before the Sabbath day began.
Fifth, he tells us who attended the burial. Joseph was there; some other helpers were there to help him transport the body. Nicodemus, John tells us, was among them. And of course the women, a part of Jesus’ circle of disciples who had followed Him from Galilee, they were there as well.
And sixth, he tells us what was done about embalming the body. There were some immediate preparations and spices and ointments readied there for His burial and then they went back to gather more and to come back after the Sabbath day was over in order to continue the anointment and treatment of the body. So Luke tells us these six things about the burial of Jesus.
Why? To emphasize the reality of His death and burial on our behalf; to emphasize that Jesus has fulfilled the due penalty of God against sin on our behalf. Take out your hymnals and turn to the very back on page 871 and look at the bottom of the page and at the top of the next column at question twenty-seven of The Shorter Catechism because Luke is recounting for us the facts which lie behind the culmination of question twenty-seven of The Shorter Catechism. Question twenty-seven of The Shorter Catechism reads, “Wherein did Christ's humiliation consist?” And it says this: “Christ's humiliation consisted in His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.” Luke is recounting for us, in intricate detail, the culminating humiliation of Jesus Christ on our behalf. And by the way, that's exactly what the Apostle's Creed does: “Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into Hell” – or He descended into Hades; He came under the power of death for a time. The creed is emphasizing the same thing.
Now you say, “Why? Why is the creed doing that? Why is Luke doing that?” Well we know that not long after this gospel was written, there arose people that denied the humanity of Jesus and they denied the crucifixion of Jesus because they denied the humanity of Jesus. They said that Jesus only appeared to be human and therefore He had not actually been crucified because He only appeared to have a human body and so the crucifixion was an apparition, it wasn't a reality. But Luke, long before those errors began to circulate, gives you a detailed description of what actually happened. Interestingly, 550 years after Luke wrote these words, Mohammad, in the Qu’ran, would deny that Jesus had been crucified and dead and buried. In sura 4:157-158, Mohammad writes: “The Jews says, ‘We killed the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of Mary, the messenger of Allah,’ but they did not kill Him, nor did they crucify Him, but it was made to appear so to them and they did not kill Him for certain. Rather, Allah raised Him to himself and ever is Allah exalted in might and wise.”
Now I don't know whether Mohammad had come across some kind of docetic Christianity and gotten it wrong or I don't know whether that was some kind of a frontal assault against Christian doctrine, but whatever is was, it's wrong. By the way, you can prove that Islam is wrong from that one sura because he gets wrong one of the central things about Christianity — the death and burial of Jesus. All of Islam falls apart on that sura. It's wrong, but 550 years before Mohammad spread that falsehood, Luke had, in excruciating detail, recounted the historical matters surrounding the death and burial of Jesus. Why? Because the death and burial of Jesus was necessary for your salvation and for mine. If He is not truly dead and buried for us, then our sins have not been dealt with because that is what our sins deserve. But praise God, as Luke records for us, He has indeed been dead and buried on our behalf.
JESUS’ DISCIPLES WERE OBEDIENT TO GOD’S LAW GIVEN THROUGH MOSES
Third, in this passage, if you look at verse 54 and 56, we're told that Jesus is buried on the day of Preparation right before the Sabbath begins and then we're told that the women who were attending to Him, preparing spices and ointments and preparing to anoint His body for burial, rested, look at the end of verse 56, “rested according to the commandment.” Now why does Luke include this particular historical detail? Well first of all, because it happened. He records is because that's the way it happened. But there is a specific reason. Luke is showing us that Jesus’ disciples were obedient to God's law as it had been given through Moses. Now the Jewish people differed on whether you could prepare the body of a loved one for burial on the Sabbath day. Some Jewish authorities said, “Look, that's a deed of necessity and mercy and it's allowable under the law. It's the ox in the ditch. Sure you can do those preparations.” But there were many Jewish authorities who were much stricter and said, “No, you must not violate the Sabbath day by preparing a loved one for burial on the Sabbath day.” And what Luke is showing you here is that Jesus’ disciples observed the Sabbath day, even with regards to abstaining from preparing His body for death. In other words, Luke is saying – and you can imagine in the world in which he was writing, in the world in which the gospel of Luke was first heard, there would have been many Jewish people who would have heard that gospel read – and what is Luke saying to them? That the followers of Jesus were pious and obedient to the law.
Why is that so important? Because over and over, Jesus and His disciples had been depicted by the Jewish leaders as being what? Disobedient to God's law. They were lawbreakers. In fact, specifically, Jesus has been accused of being a Sabbath-breaker. And His disciples have been accused of breaking the Sabbath. And what is Luke saying? No, these folks lived according to the Word of God. They really cared about the authority of God; they really cared about God's Word. They were pious people.
Now what's important about that for you and me? It's simply this — this is a testimony that obedience to God's Word is a part of the Christian life and is not in contradiction to or opposition against the saving grace of God in the Gospel. Grace and obedience are not enemies. Yes, there have been some who have wrongly tried to come up with the formulation that God's grace plus our obedience equals salvation or our faith plus our good works equals justification. And the Bible teaches none of that. But the Bibles does teach that God's grace always flourishes in us, not only in faith, but in our obedience. Those things are not enemies. So the apostle Paul will say, “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast.” We’re saved by grace. And then he goes on to say, “And we're created in Christ Jesus for good works.” So we're not saved by good works but we're saved for good works. We’re not saved by our works but we're saved to good works. We’re not saved by obedience but by grace through faith we are saved to obedience.
And here again we have an example of Jesus’ disciples, before the first Resurrection Day, before the Sunday on which Jesus was raised from the dead, they’re still faithfully obeying the old covenant law. Now I would argue that this is the last Sabbath day. After this day, the Sabbath, the seventh day Sabbath is gone. The Lord's Day will be the day of worship for God's people when Jesus is raised from the dead. But to the very end, what are they doing? They’re obeying God's Word. They’re obedient to the Scriptures. And so we see something of a testimony to us that the obedience of the believer to God's Word is part and parcel of the Christian life. It's not opposed to God's grace. It's not opposed to realizing that salvation is all of grace, all of Christ, all of what God has done for us in the Gospel, but what God has done for us in the Gospel has meant not only that we would be declared righteous, but that we would be transformed to be like the Savior. And so in this passage Luke not only shows us this courageous disciple, and our buried Savior, but he shows us the Sabbath rest was carried out by these pious women disciples, even in the preparation of Jesus’ body for death and for His burial — they were faithful to God's Word. What a testimony to us. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for this passage. We pray that You would work its truth into our hearts. In Jesus' name, amen.
Well let's sing about the death of Christ once again using number 254.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.