“That He Was Buried”: The First Importance of the Body in the Tomb

Jesus being wrapped for burialRightly so, believers emphasize the death and resurrection of Jesus. The death of Jesus was an atoning work on behalf of sinners, and his resurrection was the firstfruits of new creation. Furthermore, his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of Holy Scripture. Paul told the Corinthians that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3) and that “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:4).

But Paul mentions something else that is of “first importance” (1 Cor 15:3a). Between Jesus’ death and resurrection, “he was buried” (15:4). Does that seem like an unnecessary detail? Why mention what could just be implied? Ponder why it matters that Jesus was buried.

The burial confirms Jesus’ death. Burial is for what’s dead, and Roman soldiers knew how to crucify people. Carrying a cross to the place of crucifixion was a one-way trip. His body in the tomb confirmed the success of the cross.

The burial prepares us for the empty tomb. The detail of the burial was significant because of a different detail soon to be proclaimed about the tomb. Two days later, the empty tomb required explanation because a body once lay there.

The burial reminds us of Jesus’ humanity. Burial is for bodies, and the Word had become flesh. The physical body of Jesus had been born and wrapped in swaddling cloths, and decades later it was wrapped in burial linens. The Son of God was truly, fully, wonderfully human.

The burial informs baptism and union with Christ. Paul wrote that believers died with Christ (Rom. 6:8) and were raised with him to new life (6:4, 11). But he also says “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death . . .” (6:4).

The Cup at the Last Supper: The Words of Jesus and Old Testament Allusions

After Jesus interpreted bread as his body (Matt. 26:26), he spoke of a cup as his blood: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (26:27-28). His words alluded to at least three places in the Old Testament.

“blood of the covenant”–This alludes to Exodus 24:8. Moses threw blood on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The context was the sealing of the Mosaic covenant, and the blood he threw was from animals.

When Jesus appropriates Exodus 24, like Moses he is also speaking in a covenant context, only not about that old covenant. He is making a new covenant (see Luke 22:20, which adds the word “new”). This new covenant didn’t involve animal blood. Jesus said the cup was “my” blood.

“which is poured out for many”–This alludes to Isaiah 53:12. The prophet Isaiah said, “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

When Jesus appropriates Isaiah 53, he is taking on the Suffering Servant role described by that ancient prophet. The words of Isaiah 53 painted a graphic picture of the suffering and death of Jesus who would pour out his life unto death. The language also shows that his death is substitutionary.

“for the forgiveness of sins”–This alludes to Isaiah 53:4-6. The prophet Isaiah said, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Again alluding to Isaiah 53, Jesus teaches that his upcoming death would achieve the reconciliation with God that sinners so desperately needed. The Son’s substitutionary death had a design, a purpose. The Father would crush him in the place of sinners in order that forgiveness for sinners could justly and permanently applied.

In Matthew 26:27-28, as Jesus spoke about the cup, we learn how he would live up to his name that the angel proclaimed in 1:21: “. . . you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus would bring salvation, saving sinners from their sins.
How will such a feat be achieved?
Through death, his own blood poured out.
His own blood? But the covenant with Moses already prescribes sacrifices.
Yes, but animal sacrifices cannot atone for sin. This will be a new covenant.
How will his death atone for sin?
It will be substitutionary. He will be crushed in our place, bearing our iniquities.
Forgiveness of sins! For how long will this last?
Forgiveness is full and forever. If anyone be in Christ, he is not condemned.

“Biblical Theology and Discipleship”

Today I’m over at the Boyce College blog discussing “Biblical Theology and Discipleship.

An excerpt:

The Bible calls you to a different kind of seeing. The biblical authors, across sixty-six books, give you a set of lenses through which to view the world. The Bible’s worldview allows us to see why we’re here, what went wrong in the world, what God has done to rescue us, and what will happen when Jesus returns. We need biblical theology because we need to live faithfully before God, walking in a manner worthy of the gospel and understanding that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. To be a disciple on this narrow road, we need to see the world and our lives as the Bible does.

Six Reflections on John 3:16

John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Clear, concise, powerful. Gospel. News worth shouting and celebrating! Here are six reflections that I hope will help us love it more.

(1) John 3:16 explains a previous statement. The verse doesn’t begin with “God” but with “for.” John 3:16 doesn’t stand alone but explains 3:14-15, where Jesus said, “And 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.” If someone asks why looking with faith to Jesus will bring life, John 3:16 gives the answer: for God loved the world by giving his Son so that sinners might believe and live. John 3:16 is part of a chapter, part of an unfolding scene where Jesus had spoken to Nicodemus about being born again and entering the kingdom of God. So when we read John 3:16, it is helpful to keep in mind what comes before it.

(2) God is God the Father. The verse talks about “God” at the beginning and “the Son” later on. This separation doesn’t deny the deity of the Son. Rather, in the New Testament, whenever Jesus is distinguished from God in a verse, God should be understood as God the Father. This understanding of “God” in John 3:16 is confirmed by the later use of “Son,” for a son has a father. Most accurately, then, God the Father loved the world and gave his Son. This truth prevents any absurd notion of a sympathetic Savior who rescues sinners from an unloving Father. The Father loved the world.

(3) The “so” is about manner not degree. When I gush over something I love, I might say, “I love it soooooo much!” And when readers see that “God so loved the world,” they might imagine God’s gushing love. But “so” doesn’t mean that here. It means something like “thus” or “in this manner.” People use “so” this way too, like when they’re instructing someone to do a craft: “Take these strings and tie them like so.” The glorious news of John 3:16 is telling us how God loved the world. He loved the world like so, or in this manner, or thus: he gave his only Son. Paul wrote about the same idea: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

(4) The Son must have preexisted the incarnation. The Father can’t give what he doesn’t have. If the Father sent the Son into the world (see John 3:17), then the Son already was. The Son, like the Father and Spirit, is eternal. The incarnation was not the beginning of the Son but was when the eternal Word became flesh. God the Father loved the world and gave his Son, the Son who existed before there ever was a world.

(5) The phrase “his only Son” may recall Genesis 22. In John 3:16, the Father “gave his only Son,” which may allude to Genesis 22:2, where God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Yet Isaac was spared from being sacrificed (22:11-13). His near-death experience and deliverance foreshadowed the one who would truly be sacrificed and resurrected. Jesus is the true and greater Isaac. He’s the Father’s Son who would not be spared.

(6) John 3:16 answers who, what, how, and why. One way to think about this famous verse is in four parts that each ask a question. Who? God. What? Loved the world. How? He gave his only Son. Why? That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

In his new book Gospel Formed, Jeff Medders wrote this about John 3:16: “However many times you’ve read, heard, or said that verse, it’s safe for you to hear it again and again. Familiarity shouldn’t breed apathy: this verse sparks fire! Let your heart hang on each word; there is enough to chew on for fours, years, a lifetime–even eternity” (p. 66).

Praise be to God for the merciful gift of his Son, his only Son, that sinners might live forever.

The Gospel for the Weary

Over on Mike Leake’s blog “Borrowed Light,” I’ve written a guest post about how the weary need the gospel.

Excerpt:

As you run, you will notice footprints along the way. This direction is one which Abel, Enoch, and Noah traveled (Heb 11:4-7). Abraham and Sarah walked it (11:8-19). It was the route Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph took (11:20-22). Moses and Rahab preferred it, no matter the cost (11:23-31). Countless others staked their lives on this promised road, leaving their example of faith and devotion (11:32-40). Their stories are their footprints. Their lives comprise a cloud, and you are surrounded by it.

Logical Importance of the Virginal Conception of Jesus

Al Mohler has a great article reflecting on A. T. Robertson’s arguments for the virginal conception of Jesus. According to Robertson, “The virgin birth is the only intelligible explanation of the Incarnation ever offered.”

This last Sunday morning at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I preached from Matthew 1:18-25, and I opened the message with a string of seven points that show the logic of the virginal conception. In a series of “if” statements, we can see how the virginal conception is not expendable. It is connected to the primary doctrines of christology and soteriology.

  1. If Jesus had a human biological father in addition to his human mother, then Jesus would be merely human.
  2. If Jesus was merely human, then there was no deity joined to humanity and thus no incarnation.
  3. If Jesus was the product of two humans, then he had a sin nature because his biological parents would be sinners.
  4. If Jesus was a mere human with a sin nature, he could not bear the sins of others on the cross as their Savior–he himself would need a Savior!
  5. If Jesus was not an effective substitute for sinners, then there is no forgiveness granted when people believe in him.
  6. If there is no forgiveness for sinners when they bank their hope on Jesus, then the “Gospel about Jesus” is not Gospel at all, because Gospel means “good news,” and there would be no good news to share.
  7. If the essence of Christianity is the Gospel, then the insistence that Jesus had two biological parents guts the Christian faith.

Do you see the importance of the virginal conception? If there was no virginal conception, then there was no incarnation. And if you lose the incarnation, you lose it all.

Review of Owen Strachan’s “Risky Gospel”

The good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen is a liberating message, and author Owen Strachan wants that news to embolden and fortify every area of your life. His new book is Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome. The already good title is followed by a subtitle that clarifies the book’s focus. Owen writes with a loaded laptop, and his aim is precise. God has not called us to fear but to lay it all on the line for the glory of His name.

Owen isn’t saying the “Gospel=What We Do.” The work of Christ flows in the veins of each chapter, for Owen knows that the good news is not about us. But when we embrace this good news, we are not left unchanged. We have a new identity, for the Last Adam has raised us from deadness in sin, and we are called to a new life, to follow Jesus–and to live faithfully for the glory of Jesus is a radical life.

Owen talks about this radical life with the right nuances. Each chapter beckons the reader to see another component of our lives in the gospel’s light. We need risky faith, risky identity, risky spirituality, risky families, risky work, risky church, risky evangelism, risky citizenship, and risky failure. In the opening pages, Owen speaks frankly about our tendencies to play it safe, to not make waves, to buckle under cultural pressure. Owen calls it like he sees it: “This is decaf faith. And that means the people around us, those we should lead and influence to live on mission for the living Messiah, who reigns in heaven, live decaf lives” (17).

Risky Gospel is a summons to courageous living, and the timing of its message couldn’t be any better. The impetus for Christian faithfulness cannot be the applause of the world. “God’s awesomeness should propel our faithfulness” (29). In Christ we have “empowered dependence” (63). Apart from Jesus we’re left with vain ambitions, but the gospel is a theology of hope! What is “gospel risk”? Simply this: “trading in small things that produce a shallow, defeated life for the life shaped by the gospel, one devoted to God and his glory” (66). From the beginning of the Bible, God has called His people to exercise dominion, and Owen unpacks how we consciously apply gospel-dominion to all areas of life. Hence his subtitle: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome.

God is the ultimate Builder; so as people made in His image, we build (66-67). And for God-honoring dominion, we need discipline, not the low-bar pursuit of comfort and selfishness. “You could think of our selfish pursuits in this way: they are false gospels” (75). The true gospel reorients our lives, reminds us of what matters, and blows our minds with the reality that God’s glory and fame must be paramount for the worshiper. What should our lives be characterized by? Gospel-driven discipline (77). We need discipline to grow in holiness and to fight the battle against sin. Does this mean a life of legalism? No! “Here’s the difference between soul-crushing legalism and gospel-driven discipline: legalism tricks you into thinking that certain actions will justify you, or give you righteous standing with God, while gospel-driven discipline makes no such error. It’s grounded in the gospel, in the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection. It’s motivated not by fear or pride, but by the joy set before us that comes from honoring the Lord and doing his will” (88).

Strong families don’t happen without risk. “The Christian family is all about the glory of God and the spiritual health of the family’s members. It is about togetherness and joy grounded in the Lord. It is pursuing something far greater than an impressive pedigree, major high school sports accomplishments, or wealth” (99). That, friends, is radical! Living in glad submission to the world’s true Lord is counter-cultural foolishness in the eyes of some. In a land where marriage is denigrated and children are aborted, disciples of Jesus should make it their task to build biblical manhood and womanhood into their lives.

Dominion also includes our vocation, Owen says, for we are gospel entrepreneurs! (120). Christians should steward their talents and earnings wisely and faithfully, avoiding the twin errors of prosperity theology and poverty theology. “Find work where you can, and do it to the best of your ability….Remember that all conscionable work is honorable to the Lord” (128). Your place of work, as taxing as it can be at times, must never subvert or replace the place of worship. Believers need the body of Christ. “God loves the local church. He made it, after all. It’s his brainstorm” (141). Dominion in our discipleship will include service to others. “This is a crucial point: if we say we want to serve the Lord, then we shouldn’t excuse ourselves from the church. We should see the local church as the first place we go when we want to honor him by service” (146).

Understanding the risky gospel will mean remembering that all of life is witness. Through your church and work, Owen calls us to be bold for Christ (172). We should live with a mind awakened to the global mission work of the gospel (174-75). As we think about the redeeming love of Christ, we will be empowered to love our neighbors near and far, those next door or across the world. Our love and actions should consist of “winsome courage” (193). This courage means we must prepare ahead of time to face suffering. The risky gospel is not a sedative to pain or an escape hatch from struggle. The “world-shaking power of Christ’s death and resurrection” means that in Him we are more than conquerors, and “that’s a transformative reality….It changes things for you and me–for every single Christian” (207).

Owen Strachan is a brilliant thinker and gifted writer. Risky Gospel is his effort to cast gospel-light on our “ordinary” lives. It’s his summons–or, more accurately, his highlighting of the Bible’s summons–to do all you do for the glory of God’s fame, to build and exercise dominion for the sake of His name. The lordship of Jesus should be the joy of every believer, and we should eagerly ask, “What should this area or that issue look like under Christ’s reign?” Owen interweaves his own experiences, the stories of others, and spot-on analogies along the way. His tone is winsome, yet he pulls no punches when it counts. His style is accessible, yet showcases the transcendent power of the gospel. The gospel is power, overcoming fear and shame and selfishness. When you finish this book, you’ll want to go build something awesome.

Check out Owen’s blog and his other books. He is a professor at Boyce College, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and elder at Kenwood Baptist Church. Follow him on Twitter at @ostrachan

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy of Risky Gospel, in exchange for an unbiased review.

“Eight”

What a delight marriage is! And what a joy these eight years of marriage to Stacie have been. This poem celebrates that.

“Eight”
July 30, 2013

Eight: the number of the years
Since face to face we spoke
The vows that made a covenant
That we will not revoke.

By the goodness of our God
The Two left One for life,
As I became the husband to
The woman now my wife.

For these eight the joy has been
A fountain overflowing,
Full of blessings undeserved,
With love and laughter growing.

The story we have lived for years
Is part of something greater:
A union of the Church and Christ,
The Bride and her Redeemer.

May our daily lives together
Show and tell this Story,
As we await the Wedding Feast
With Christ the Groom in glory.

Preach the Old Testament as if Jesus Is Risen

Over on The Gospel Coalition site, I’ve written an article on the importance of viewing and preaching the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

An excerpt:

Don’t read the Old Testament pretending Jesus didn’t happen. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, his disciples saw the ancient promises differently. Those promises were no longer suspended in mid-air but became yes in Jesus. The types had found their antitype, the arrows their target, the shadows their Light.

In light of the resurrection, people began to read the Old Testament through a Jesus lens. More precisely, Jesus taught the disciples how to see the Scriptures this way. The Law, Prophets, and Writings spoke about him, so “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). The disciples needed a resurrection hermeneutic, so Jesus gave them one. The opening of the tomb meant the opening of the Scriptures.