On this Saturday of the week remembering in a special way our Lord’s passion, we are at that point between Jesus’ death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday. On Saturday – all day – Jesus lay in the grave in which he was buried on Friday night before sundown. This too belonged to his humiliation and to his experience of the full reality of the consequences of our sin.
For the grave is the place of the dead, the place where the corruption of sin and death work to ravage even our bodies and return us to the dust from which we were originally taken. But worse, the grave (apart from Christ) is also a doorway into eternal death, the place where the sinner is destined to rise unto everlasting separation from God and the suffering of unending torment in the restless “home” of hell. The grave is a fearful place – apart from Christ!
But for Christ, the Victor over death at the cross, the grave is a place not only of humiliation and suffering but also of exaltation and blessedness. Jesus’ tomb is a place of transition, when he – because of His perfect sacrifice for sin on Calvary and His defeat of sin’s penalty (death) at Golgatha – moves from lowliness to exaltedness, from suffering to reward, and from death to life.
O, He is dead and buried alright! He is in the grave, the place of death and corruption! But only for the bare minimum of time according to the Scriptures (three days, only one being a full day)! And even then, death cannot touch Him, for His body experienced no corruption, no breakdown of tissue and decay (Psalm 16:9-11 and Acts 2:29ff.). If we may put it that way, surrounded by death and lying in death, Jesus is alive even in the grave (because He has the victory over death in hand), though on Saturday He has not yet burst forth out of the tomb of Joseph!
And so we, like Jesus did, eagerly await the dawning of the first day of the week. We know what’s coming – like our Lord did – and we cannot wait for Resurrection Sunday!
While we wait and ponder this time of transition for our Lord, we post once more from the book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross. Today we quote from chapter 18, which contains an excerpt from J.I.Packer’s Growing in Christ book (Crossway, 1994), where he is treating two phrases from the Apostles’ Creed, under the heading “He Descended Into Hell and Ascended Into Heaven”. I quote from the beginning of Guthrie’s selection of material:
Death has been called ‘the new obscenity’, the nasty thing that no polite person nowadays will talk about in public. But death, even when unmentionable remains inescapable. The one sure fact of life is that one day, with or without warning, quietly or painfully, it is going to stop. How will I, then, cope with death when my turn comes?
Christians hold that the Jesus of the Scriptures is alive, and that those who know him as Savior, Lord, and Friend find in this knowledge a way through all life’s problems, dying included. For ‘Christ leads me through no darker rooms than he went through before.’ Having tasted death himself, he can support us while we taste it, and carry us through the great change to share the life beyond death into which he himself has passed. Death without Christ is ‘the king of terrors,’ but death with Christ loses the ‘sting,’ the power to hurt, which it otherwise would have.
John Preston, the Puritan, knew this. When he lay dying, they asked him if he feared death, now that it was so close. “No,’ whispered Preston; ‘I shall change my place, but I shall not change my company.’ As if to say: I shall leave my friends, but not my Friend, for he will never leave me.
This is victory – victory over death, and the fear it brings (pp.105-06).
And then a little later Packer writes:
Suppose that Jesus, having died on the cross, had stayed dead. Suppose that, like Socrates or Confucius, he was now no more than a beautiful memory. Would it matter? We should still have his example and teaching; wouldn’t they be enough?
Had Jesus not risen, but stayed dead, the bottom would drop out of Christianity, for four things would then be true.
First, to quote Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:17: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.’
Second, there is then no hope of our rising either; we must expect to stay dead, too.
Third, if Jesus Christ is not risen, then he is not reigning and will not return, and every single item in the Creed after ‘suffered and was buried’ will have to be struck out.
Fourth, Christianity cannot be what the first Christians thought it was – fellowship with a living Lord who is identical with the Jesus of the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels can still be your hero, but he cannot be your Savior (pp.107-08).
All good food for thought as we got through this “transition” day between Good Friday and Easter.