The Darkness in the Grave

The Darkness in the Grave

The very place where you see yourself as most undeserving is the very place at which Jesus’ cross says to you, “Come to me.” You say, “But when does his welcome end?” The cross says, “Never.” Jesus has the final word with us. His salvation is not temporary. His sacrifice is not for a limited time. This is a permanent deal.

In Mark’s account of the death of Jesus in Mark 15:33-47, he includes a bit about Jesus’s burial in verses 42-47. Why does he record the burial of Jesus? Throughout history, this has been a contested point of the story. Some say Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Maybe he passed out, was taken down, and recovered somewhere. Muslims say he was taken to heaven before he died on the cross. Others say dogs ate his body. But from the earliest of days, the burial of Jesus was an important and well-recorded point. All four gospels record his burial, and the earliest Christian creed, the Apostles’ Creed, includes it.

But why does his burial matter so much? Because only a dead Jesus saves. Only a dead and buried Jesus experienced the full wrath of God against our sin. Only a dead and buried Jesus can resurrect. If he wasn’t really dead and truly buried, the resurrection couldn’t have happened, it was only for show, and if the resurrection didn’t happen then, as Paul said, “our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain.”

The details Mark includes lead us to the conclusion that Jesus really did die, and he really was buried. Verses 42-43 tell us that by evening, because it was the day of Preparation, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin council, took courage and went to Pilate to ask for the body. Those details matter because of what comes next. Verse 44 says Pilate was surprised to hear Jesus was already dead. Crucifixion could take days. Jesus was dead in a few hours. So he called the centurion who oversaw the death. After confirming, Pilate gave Joseph his body. This wasn’t normal practice. Usually, to complete the humiliation of crucifixion, the body was thrown in the trash heap. So why did Pilate give the body to Joseph? Mark doesn’t say. All he says is that he did, and that’s important because it’s different from the normal way of things. It’s the kind of thing that is only written down if it’s true.

But it’s important for other reasons too. It’s a fulfillment of prophecy. The Old Testament prophesied this kind of burial for the Messiah. Joseph was a rich man—only a rich man had a tomb like this prepared. Isaiah said the Messiah would have his grave made with a rich man in his death (Isaiah 53:9) and that the tomb would be cut out of a rock (Isaiah 22:16). Even more amazing, John says in his account that this tomb was in a garden (John 19:41). Remember, that’s where the tragedy of this world’s darkness began. The Puritan commentator Matthew Henry puts it this way, “In the garden of Eden death and the grave first received their power, and now in a garden they are conquered, disarmed, and triumphed over. In a garden Christ began his passion, and from a garden he would rise, and begin his exaltation.”

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