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THE PARADOX OF CHRIST’S BURIAL

(SERMON NUMBER 10 ON ISAIAH 53)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, April 7, 2013

“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).


How many sermons have you heard on the burial of Christ? I have never heard even one, though I have been preaching for 55 years and in church for 59 years. I can’t remember even reading a sermon on Christ’s burial! We should have heard far more. After all, His burial is not unimportant. In fact it is the second point of the Gospel!

“Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3).

That is the first point of the Gospel.

“And that he was buried” (I Corinthians 15:4).

That is the second point of the Gospel.

How can we say we preach the Gospel if we never even mention the second point of it? But, then, today there are few whole sermons focused on the first or third points either! That is one of the great weaknesses of modern preaching. We must make the Gospel central. We must treat Christ with more respect, and give Him and His atoning work greater prominence in our preaching.

Many lament the fact that there is scarcely any great preaching today. I fully agree. There is very little good preaching today, very little indeed! But why is this true? It is largely because there is so little Gospel preaching. Pastors “teach the Christians” instead of preaching the Gospel to the lost, even though their churches are literally teeming with lost people! “Moral teachings” to so-called “Christians” can never be considered great preaching! When Christ is not central, preaching can never be truly great!

Knowledge of the Gospel is far more than knowing facts about Christ. True knowledge of the Gospel is the knowledge of Christ Himself. Jesus said,

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

George Ricker Berry said that the word translated “know” in that verse means “to know…by experience” (Greek-English New Testament Lexicon). To be a true Christian you must know Christ by experience. A mere knowledge of the facts will not save you. You must know His death for our sins by experience. You must know His burial by experience. You must know His resurrection by experience. That is the way to salvation. That is the way to eternal life.

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

If you have not had these experiences, I hope I have made you feel uneasy. For there can be no question that you are not a true Christian, because you have not experienced real conversion. You are going to have to be troubled and upset until you change your mind, fall at the feet of Jesus and find true salvation in Him alone.

To know Christ, you must go to the Cross, and look by faith upon Him who was crucified to atone for our sins. You must also go down into the tomb of Christ by faith and be

“buried with him by baptism unto death” (Romans 6:4a),

for it is in dying with Him that we rise to “walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4b).

Therefore we come to our text to learn of His burial, so that we can experience it with Him.

“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

We find in this verse the paradox of Christ’s burial, the apparent contradiction, the riddle of it. And then we find the answer to the riddle.

I. First, the paradox of His burial.

“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…” (Isaiah 53:9).

In the time of Christ, the “wicked” were the criminals. The “rich” were considered honorable. How then could His grave be with the wicked and at the same time be “with the rich in his death”? This confused the ancient Jewish commentators. It was a paradox, a seeming contradiction, in their minds.

But this puzzle is solved in the Gospel of John. Jesus died on a cross between two thieves, one on His right hand and one on His left. They are referred to in our text as “the wicked.” Jesus died first, while the two thieves remained alive for a time.

“The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation [for the Passover], that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day…besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away” (John 19:31).

The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves. This was done so that they could not push themselves up to breathe and, so, would die quickly. But when they came to Jesus, hanging on the center cross, He was already dead. One of them pierced His side with a spear to make His death certain. Water and Blood gushed out, showing that He had died from cardiac arrest.

He did not reign upon a throne of ivory,
   He died upon the cross of Calvary;
For sinners there He counted all He owned but loss,
   And He surveyed His kingdom from a cross.
A rugged cross became His throne,
   His kingdom was in hearts alone;
He wrote His love in crimson red,
   And wore the thorns upon His head.
(“A Crown of Thorns” by Ira F. Stanphill, 1914-1993).

But then something unexpected happened. Two very prominent men came forward to claim the body of Jesus. They were Joseph of Arimathaea, a rich man, and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and Nicodemus the ruler of the Jews, who had earlier come to Jesus by night (cf. John 3:1-2). They had both been secret disciples, but now they came out in the open for the first time. They actually risked their lives to do so. Dr. McGee said,

Let’s not be too critical of these men. They had stayed in the background but, now that the Lord’s disciples have all scattered like sheep and gone undercover, these two men come out in the open (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1983, volume IV, p. 494).

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus took the body of Jesus. Joseph was a rich man and he put the body of Jesus in his new tomb,

“Which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed” (Matthew 27:60).

Thus the paradox of Christ’s burial was explained. Yes, He made His grave with the wicked, by His death on the Cross between two thieves. But He was buried “with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9), in a rich man’s tomb. Christ had experienced the death of a villain, but He was given an honorable burial with the rich. This shows that our Lord’s humiliation was ending. His body had not been tossed into a common grave with the two thieves. It was laid to rest with the respect and honor He deserved, in the tomb of a wealthy and honorable man. And by this the paradox, which often puzzled the old rabbis who studied it, our text was made plain.

“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9).

But there is another reason why Christ made his grave with the wicked and with the rich. As I said, the Jewish people thought of criminals and lawbreakers as “the wicked,” and they thought of “the rich” as respectable people. The fact that Jesus “made his grave” with both of these groups shows that the ancient rabbis were wrong in separating “the wicked” and “the rich.” They were not two groups at all. Both groups were sinners.

And that is also true today. Respectable people are sinners equal to those they would call “the wicked.” As I sat down to write this part of the sermon a telemarketer phoned me, asking for a donation for a “conservative” ministry. The phoner said, “Which of the following do you think is the most important issue facing America – abortion, failure to support Israel, or same sex marriage?” I said, “None of those. The most important issue facing America is the fact that our pastors don’t preach on the sin of their church members.” What did I mean? I meant that abortion, same sex marriage and failure to support Israel are symptoms, not the actual sickness, but only symptoms of the sickness. You can work on curing symptoms, but it won’t do any lasting good unless you deal with the underlying disease. And the disease is sin – sin that is killing both the liberal and the conservative; sin that is destroying both the Democrat and the Republican; sin that is damning both “the wicked” and “the rich.”

Sin lies in the heart. The heart of man is wrong, not just his outward actions. Sin controls his innermost thoughts and desires. Your sinful heart tells you to think about things that are wrong. Then your sinful nature moves you to rebel against God and commit the sin you were thinking about. Sin dominates your inner life and leads you to rebel against authority, to rebel against God. The rebellion of your heart against God is so strong that nothing you do can change it, or break its control over you. You must be brought to the place where you say with the Apostle, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). Only then will you understand the importance of Jesus making His grave with “the wicked” and with “the rich” – “in his death.” Whatever background you have, Christ died and was buried so that your sin could be both pardoned, and removed. As Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman put it in one of his hymns, “Buried, He carried my sin far away” (“One Day” by Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, 1859-1918). Only Christ can pardon your sin! Only Christ can change your rebellious heart of sin!

“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9).

II. Second, the paradox explained.

The second half of our text shows why Christ, though dying dishonorably with thieves, was buried in honor and respect. Please stand and read the second half, beginning with the words, “because he had done no violence…” (Isaiah 53:9).

“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

You may be seated.

This gives the reason for Christ’s honorable burial. This honor was afforded Him because he had done no violence; or injury to anyone. He had not been guilty of oppression or theft, murder or cruelty of any kind. He had never stirred up any mob, or started any riots against the government of either the Jews or the Romans. Neither was any deceit in his mouth. He never taught false doctrine. He never deceived the people, as He was charged. That was a bald-faced lie. He did not attempt to draw anyone from the true worship of God. He constantly upheld and respected the law of Moses, and the prophets. He was not an enemy of their religion or their state. Indeed, He was not guilty of any sin. The Apostle Peter said that Christ,

“did no sin, neither was guile [deceit] found in his mouth” (I Peter 2:22).

Dr. Young said, “[Christ] was given an honorable burial after his dishonorable death because of his perfect innocence. [Since] he had not acted like his criminal enemies, he would not receive [a] disgraceful burial with them, but an honorable burial with the rich.”

That reminds me of Sir Winston Churchill, who chose an honorable burial beside his father in a country churchyard, rather than what he considered a less than honorable burial among his father’s enemies, and his own enemies, among the men who betrayed England, yet were buried with great pomp and ceremony in Westminster Abbey, despite their acts of treacherous appeasement in the face of Hitler and his Nazi regime. Though Churchill was not a born again Christian, he was a man of honor.

Jesus, of course, was the greatest man who ever lived. Yes, He was and is a man, “The man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5). His greatness lay in the fact that He gave His life willingly to pay for our sins in the sight of God the Father. A short time before He was crucified, Jesus said,

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

A rugged cross became His throne,
   His kingdom was in hearts alone;
He wrote His love in crimson red,
   And wore the thorns upon His head.

And now, my friend, what will you do with Jesus who is called the Christ? As C. S. Lewis put it, there are two possible responses – “You can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.” Which will it be for you? The only third choice is to ignore Him completely, and go on with your life as though His pain and suffering mean nothing. I feel the most sorrow for those who treat the Saviour with such dishonor. I pray you will not be one of them. They are those whom T. S. Eliot called “The Hollow Men” – men who live only for the pleasures of the moment. Yes, I pray that you will not be one of them, for they will have a very deep place in Hell.

Lest I forget Gethsemane;
   Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
   Lead me to Calvary.
(“Lead Me to Calvary” by Jennie E. Hussey, 1874-1958).

I pray that you will come to Jesus, trust Him with all your heart, and pass from death to life in true Christian conversion.

Let us stand together. If you would like to speak to us about being cleansed from your sin by Jesus, please step to the back of the auditorium now. Dr. Cagan will take you to a quiet place where we can talk. Mr. Lee, please come and pray for those who have responded.

(END OF SERMON)
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write to him at P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Or phone him at (818)352-0452.

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Isaiah 53:1-9.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“A Crown of Thorns” (by Ira F. Stanphill, 1914-1993)/
“Lead Me to Calvary” (by Jennie E. Hussey, 1874-1958).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE PARADOX OF CHRIST’S BURIAL

(SERMON NUMBER 10 ON ISAIAH 53)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

(I Corinthians 15:3-4; John 17:3; Romans 6:4)

I.   First, the paradox of His burial, Isaiah 53:9a; John 19:31;
Matthew 27:60; Romans 7:24.

II.  Second, the paradox explained, Isaiah 53:9b; I Peter 2:22;
I Timothy 2:5; John 15:13.