Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jesus In The Tomb

Jesus In The Tomb

When we left off yesterday our Lord hung dead on the cross, His body broken for us, His blood poured out for us. The loved ones of Jesus were still standing on the hill, their hopes and dreams shattered. Their shock was so great they don't know what to do next but a follower of Jesus comes now and ministers to them. He comes to perform an act of kindness and comfort to show them he cares, which is really all we can do for those who are bereaved: show them we care.

"Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he 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. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin." (Luke 23:50-54) Matthew and John both say that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the religious leaders. Joseph was a member of the Council that delivered Jesus to Pilate but he had not agreed with them. Some scholars think this means he voiced his dissenting opinion during the trial, while other scholars think he wasn't invited to the trial at all. It's possible the Sanhedrin only called together those who could be counted on to vote for the death penalty. Either way, the faith of Joseph is out in the open now when he asks Pilate for custody of the body. There is no hiding of his devotion to our Lord when he places the Lord in his own tomb that was intended for his own family.

"The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment." (Luke 23:55-56) The women follow Joseph to the tomb so they will know where to return after the Sabbath with the burial spices. Also I think they wanted to go with Jesus as far as they could go. This is what we do in our own times. We go to the graveside as our loved ones are placed in the ground or we hold a ceremony to scatter their ashes. We feel a sense of incompleteness if we don't follow that earthly body as far as we can. I picture the mother of Jesus keeping her eyes on His face until the linen cloth finally covers it, believing it will be the last time she sees Him on earth. Some of my readers may have had to leave one of your own children at a grave and you know how Mary felt. We have all had to leave a loved one at a cemetery and go home without them. Nothing more can be done for Jesus at this point except follow Him to the tomb and prepare to anoint the body after the Sabbath.

I once heard it said that after Jesus took His last breath, only the hands that loved Him ever touched Him. And only the hands that love Him ever will touch Him from now on. The hour of darkness will be defeated when Jesus takes up His life again on Sunday morning. Never again must He submit to cruel hands of hate. The temporary triumph of Satan will be crushed underfoot when Jesus rises from that garden tomb. Sin, death, hell, and the grave must admit defeat. The sting of death will be taken away. The power of the grave will be broken. And from that moment on, only the hands of those who love the Lord will ever touch Him.

But between His burial on Friday evening and His resurrection on Sunday morning, the mother of Jesus, the disciples, and the other followers will mourn in a way that I think nobody has ever mourned. It's not just the grief of losing a loved one, though that's painful enough. It's not just the shock of the travesty of justice that took place, though the unfairness of it cuts them to their souls. It's the loss of the thing they hoped for most, that Jesus would take His place in Israel as Messiah and King to rule from David's throne forever. He was the One they believed would deliver them from the oppression of Rome and make Israel a free nation again. He was the One they thought would reign in righteousness. He was the One they expected to turn the hearts of the people back to their God. Instead, Rome beat Him to a pulp and hung Him on a tree until His life drained away. Instead of crowning Him king, the people shouted at His trial before Pilate, "We have no king but Caesar!" Instead of worshiping Him as the Messiah and the holy Son of God, the religious leaders condemned Him to death for blasphemy because He claimed to be God.

Only a few days before, Jesus rode victoriously into Jerusalem on a donkey to make a public declaration that He was the king of Zechariah's Messianic prophecy, "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of My blood covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and make you like a warrior's sword. Then the Lord will appear over them; His arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign Lord will sound the trumpet; He will march in the storms of the south, and the Lord Almighty will shield them. They will destroy and overcome with slingstones. They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar. The Lord their God will save His people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in His hand like jewels in a crown." (Zechariah 9:9-16)

When Jesus rode into town on the donkey, an animal used by kings not in wartime but in peacetime, His followers believed He had come to vanquish Rome and bring them peace. As the people placed palm fronds and even their own cloaks in His path they were declaring their belief that He was Israel's Messiah and King when they shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" This is why the Pharisees urged Jesus to make the people be quiet, because the religious leaders clearly understood the statement He was making and they clearly understood the statement the crowd was making. By deliberately fulfilling the Messianic prophecy spoken by Zechariah, Jesus was calling Himself both Messiah and King of Israel. By calling Jesus "Son of David" the people were bestowing upon Him a Messianic title and a kingly title. But all prophecies of Scripture must be fulfilled and that is why Jesus refused to rebuke the people but said instead to the Pharisees, "'I tell you,' he replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'" (Luke 19:40) The prophecy stated that the Messiah and King would come to His people amid rejoicing and shouting. If the people had refused to do Him honor, the stones would have given Him honor.

The disciples and other followers of Jesus no doubt believed the next happening would be the overthrow of Rome and that the kingdom would come, the eternal kingdom of the Messiah. And indeed the kingdom would have come if Jesus had not ended up rejected and crucified. As He approached Jerusalem's overlook on the donkey, He looked down on the city, began to weep with a broken heart, and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace---but now it is hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:42) He then went on to predict the fall of Jerusalem as He looked down on her from the very spot where the Roman general Titus would later sit on his horse plotting how to best attack the city.

But hope is not lost, not for the followers of Jesus and not for the people of Israel. Zechariah's prophecy is twofold just like most Biblical prophecies. The King of Daughter Zion did indeed come to her on a donkey amid the shouts of her praises. But the bringing of national peace, the breaking of the bow, and the freeing of the prisoners is for a later time. Had Israel accepted her Messiah and King at His triumphal entry, the kingdom would have come, but because she did not, the rest of Zechariah's prophecy is for another day. The peace Jesus brought at His first advent was the peace of being made right with God, not peace among the nations. Man must be at peace with God before he can be at peace with his fellow man. Man must be right with his God before he can be right with his neighbors.

I love the way Zechariah refers to the "prisoners of hope". The word "prisoner" is a negative word in all cultures but Zechariah intends it as a positive word. We are held fast by our hope in Christ, enclosed on all sides by our hope in Christ. By faith, we have placed ourselves in His custody and are kept by Him, captivated by His love, willingly shackled to Him at the soul.

On a grief-stricken Saturday in the first century AD, all the faithful followers of Jesus feel their hope is lost. The One they hoped would sit on David's throne lies cold and dead in a dark tomb. The One they hoped would overthrow the oppressors and give Israel peace on every side was unable to save Himself from His own enemies. But in their pain they have forgotten the remainder of Zechariah's prophecy. They have forgotten Jesus' prophecies of Himself. They have forgotten the prophecies of Isaiah who said their Messiah would suffer. He came not to bring military peace but to make peace between man and God, "The punishment that brought us peace was on Him." (Isaiah 53:5) Isaiah also spoke words of hope, that their suffering Messiah would live again, "After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied." (Isaiah 53:5) And Isaiah also promised Messiah would someday reign as a conqueror, "Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong." (Isaiah 53:12)

As Mary the mother of Jesus and the other women sit weeping, they can't understand why their Lord is in a tomb and not on the throne. As the disciples hide in a locked room for fear of the authorities, they believe their dreams of peace are shattered. On this Saturday after the crucifixion, it looks like all hope is lost. But no Scriptural word of prophecy will ever fail. No word spoken by Jesus will ever fail. Messiah will see the light of life and be satisfied with His work. His sacrifice will make peace between man and God. He will step out of the tomb Sunday morning and prove that no one who trusts in Him trusts in vain. No one who hopes in Him hopes in vain. And someday, a day we "prisoners of hope" eagerly look forward to, He will return for His own and take us to heaven to be with Him until the final days of earth as we know it are completed. Then we will return in victory with Him as the kingdom comes and we will behold our Messiah and King seated on the throne of David to rule the earth in peace forevermore.

Take heart, prisoners of hope. Our King is coming.

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