Ques. Why was it necessary for Christ to humble Himself even unto death?
Ans. Because with respect to the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made no otherwise, than by the death of the Son of God.
Ques. Why was He also “buried”?
Ans. Thereby to prove that He was really dead.
Ques. Since then Christ died for us, why must we also die?
Ans. Our death is not a satisfaction for our sins, but only an abolishing of sin, and a passage in to eternal life.
Ques. What further benefit do we receive from the sacrifice and death of Christ on the cross?
Ans. That by virtue thereof, our old man is crucified, dead and buried with Him; that so the corrupt inclinations of the flesh may no more reign in us, but that we may offer ourselves unto Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Questions 40-43 Heidelberg Catechism.
“It is finished!”
The loud, triumphant cry of God’s obedient Servant rent the awesome silence of Calvary, penetrated into the troubled soul of every one present at the cross, and reached out to heaven into the heart of God.
The Scriptures were fulfilled. The whole divine plan of redemption was carried out in its minutest detail.
Satisfaction had been made for the guilt of those given to Christ of the Father. The great Highpriest had completely atoned for our sins and merited for us eternal life.
The bitter cup of hellish agonies had been drained to its dregs. Jesus could well breathe the prayer into the receptive ear of God, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” Heaven responded in full agreement. The earth quaked, the rocks rent, graves were opened, the finger of God tore the temple veil from the top to the bottom. Let priests and worshippers take note, let the stunned crowd at Calvary tremble, by bowing His head Jesus died, awaiting other hands to commit His body to the grave.
Even this aspect of Christ’s humiliation is as unpleasant to us as it must have been to our Lord’s disciples at that time. Why must God in the Son enter our physical death and lie in the grave among the dead of all ages? Why was it necessary for Christ to be humbled even to the extent that He died and was buried? Seeing that He had finished His atoning suffering on the cross, why could He not be snatched away like Enoch, or be taken to heaven by a whirlwind in a chariot of fire, as Elijah was? Why must He die? Why must He make “His grave with the wicked”? Isaiah 53:9
Our fathers answer these questions by saying that God’s justice and truth require this shameful humiliation as a necessary part of the divine satisfaction for sin.
God’s justice demanded it. When we fell into sin in paradise God’s verdict against us was, “Thou shalt surely die.” God’s justice demands that the sinner must die physically and spiritually. God’s holy wrath casts the sinner far from Him, both now and forever. Jesus had to bear that wrath in complete self-surrender, both in body and soul, to save us from our sins.
God’s truth demanded it. The Old Testament Scriptures had spoken of the suffering Servant of God, Who by way of suffering would lead many sons into glory. Our Lord Himself had challenged the rulers in Jerusalem, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” On another occasion Jesus reminded them of Jonah who was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, as prophecy of His death and burial. Repeatedly Jesus had forewarned His disciples that the Son of Man had to be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and arise again on the third day.
It all comes down to this, Christ’s physical death and burial were an integral part of His atoning suffering, without which we could not be saved. In other words, this was a necessary part of Jesus’ triumphant march through death and hell into glory.
In a certain sense, Jesus’ death and burial were exactly like that of the guilty sinner under the wrath of God. It is appointed unto all men to die. At birth we enter this present valley of death to wend our way through it during the time appointed for us. Even as our birth is the only entrance into this valley, so death is the only exit. Dying we die, for we lie in the midst of death. With Paul we are forced to confess, “I die every day.” In our natural state the fear of death holds us in bondage as long as we live, for death surrounds us, death works in our members.
Death is separation. It is the separation of soul and body. The heart stops. Breath ceases with a final gasp. The mind no longer functions, the eye does not see, the ear does not hear, the mouth is silenced. The body has died, and the soul goes into eternity.
Death is separation from all earthly relationships. Someone’s husband or wife, son or daughter, brother or sister, or friend is no more. The earthly bond is so completely broken that it can never be restored. That person’s place is gone, life goes on without him or her.
Death is also separation from God. Already now the sinner is confronted with the opposition of an angry God. Even in his imagined success, prosperity, and pleasures God’s holy wrath condemns him at every turn of the way. He may banish God from his thoughts, drown the voice of conscience in wicked revelry and defiant rebellion, but God’s hand rests heavily upon him every moment of the day or night. Already now he experiences the bitter fruits of his sins in himself and in all his relationships. Death and the grave are for him the passageway to hell, there to experience to the full that condemning word, “Depart from Me, thou worker of iniquity.” Dives in hell pleads for a drop of water to cool the tip of his tongue for a passing second, but even that is refused him. In the judgment day the bodies of the wicked are raised as fit instruments for further agony in torment.
Christ died our death. He was buried. He laid among the dead of all ages as one of them in the universal cemetery of this world. His death and burial were so completely like that of sinful man.
Yet, in another sense, they were so entirely different. He is the Son of God, Who has power over sin, hell, death, and the grave. Our Lord Jesus Christ had the authority and the power to change the whole course of death and the tomb.
Christ’s death followed its own unique pattern. First He suffered the torments of hell, then He died our physical death, and only after that was He buried. He made His death a passageway to glory.
Christ had already crushed the head of the serpent and destroyed the power of sin when He raised His cry of victory on the cross. At that moment, at three o’clock of that memorable Friday afternoon, to be exact, Christ had passed through His nadir, through the lowest point of His suffering in the state of humiliation. Out of the depths of hell, as it were, He had raised the suppliant plea, “Lord, hear My voice, let thine ear be attentive to the voice of My supplication” (Psalm 130:2). God heard Him and drew Him to His bosom. The Son of God began His march of victory out of the state of humiliation toward the state of exaltation, which God had prepared for Him at His own right hand.
Christ dies triumphantly. As Lord over death He has power to command death to take Him, not as its prey, but as its Victor. With a loud voice Jesus bows the head and surrenders Himself to physical death, even as He gives His spirit into Father’s hand. That same day He enters paradise, even while His body is committed to the grave.
Meanwhile God had prepared for Him an honorable burial. While the malefactors who had been crucified with Jesus possibly were cast to the vultures or laid in a shallow grave, our Lord received a proper burial. As evidence of His perfect sacrifice, not a bone of His body had been broken. The blood and water flowing from His side had showed the cleansing power of His atoning suffering (John 19:34-37). Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were led by the Holy Spirit to prepare His body for burial and to lay it away in a new grave. Once more the Scriptures were fulfilled, which promised that He would be with the rich in His death.Isaiah 53:9
How wondrous are the ways of God, unfathomed and unknown! When night settled over the garden where Jesus lay, everything stood in readiness to proclaim the glorious resurrection gospel.
The stone that was rolled in front of the tomb bore the official order for everyone to “keep off.” Intruders would be duly prosecuted. A guard had been placed at the tomb to make doubly sure that no man would touch that body. This was intended to allay the fears of the chief priests and rulers, who heard Him speak of a resurrection from the dead. This also soothed the guilty conscience of Pilate, for Pilate had given the order to seal it as tight as possible. But God had His own purpose with all this. He had kept the women ignorant of the death watch. He had blotted out of their minds the fact that the tomb had been closed with a heavy stone. He had inclined their hearts to come to the grave early on Sunday morning with spices and ointments to perform a last ministry of love upon their departed Lord, no, to show them the wonder of the resurrection victory. The stage was set for the glad tidings, “The Lord is risen, is risen indeed!”
One more question, But why, then, must we still die, since Christ has completely conquered over death for us?
The answer is, that Christ has made death and the grave a passageway, not only for Himself, but also for all His redeemed.
Consider a moment, we were in Christ when He was crucified. As our Communion Form reminds us, we were in Him so completely, “as if (we) in His (our) own person had satisfied for all His (our) sins, and fulfilled all righteousness.” Therefore when Christ died, we died in Him; when He arose, we arose in Him; when He went to heaven, we were included in Him. Ephesians 2:5,6
Therefore already now we are partakers of Christ and of all His benefits. We are new creatures with the life of our resurrected Lord in our hearts. We see heaven as our future home. True, we still daily experience the struggle between the old man of sin and the new man in Christ, yet we have the assurance that we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us unto death and loves us still.
As we walk through this valley of the shadow of death we know that we do not live in vain. We are privileged to devote ourselves as living sacrifices in thanksgiving to our God. The light of the eternal day shining at the end of this dark valley beckons, calls, urges us to carry on even until we reach our goal. And when the time of our departure arrives, we leave this mortal body to be with the Lord. These bodies are sown like seed in the earth, ready to sprout into our resurrection bodies. In that day when the trumpet sounds, this corruption will put on incorruption, this mortal will put on immortality, and death will be swallowed up in victory by the power of Him Who subdues all things to himself. Hallelujah!