Shrug Not at the Burial of Jesus

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The seemingly small, the particular, the previously overlooked, magnifies in importance.

When we are children, small as we are, almost everything in life seems big. Our father, who walks with us astraddle his shoulders, is a giant. Our home, with its rooms dwarfing us in size, feels like a castle. I think of my backyard as a child. Through my young eyes, it was an immense space, with an outbuilding, dog pen, stacks of firewood, my clubhouse that my father built me, and a stretch of green grass.

From a child’s perspective, that is how life is. As an adult, I know better. My backyard was small. Our home was modest. My father, not even six feet tall, was hardly a colossal figure.

Aging alters our perspective. As we get bigger, the world grows smaller.

The opposite happens, too, though, doesn’t it? Small things—or, at least, that which previously was thought by us to be small—expand in significance. When I was five years old, I daydreamed of starring in a Superbowl as an NFL quarterback; at fifty-three years old, I am far happier throwing a football with my grandsons on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The seemingly small, the particular, the previously overlooked, magnifies in importance.

Today is illustrative of this “small-become-big” tendency. At least it is for me, and perhaps for you, too, especially if your heart bears the scars that inevitably come from life in a wounded world.

He Was Buried

On this Saturday, the church remembers this singular fact: Jesus was buried. During all my childhood years in the pew, I am certain that this event from our Lord’s life meant little if anything to me. That Jesus was crucified? That was a huge deal. I was “washed in the blood.” That Jesus was resurrected? I heard sermons aplenty on that. These twin facts, Jesus died and Jesus rose, were big news.

But that brief line which Paul includes in 1 Corinthians 15:4, “he was buried,” would have occasioned from me not much more than a shrug.

A shrug. 

Stand with me, however, after my childhood was over, beside the grave of a dear friend who, in a depressed state, took his own life. See his body buried beneath that earth. I see it, even now, all these years later. Back then, I was learning, slowly but surely, that we do not shrug when we remember that Jesus, too, was buried.

Or stand alongside me, as a young pastor, on frozen Oklahoma soil, right after Christmas, as we lower a coffin into the earth. That coffin holds the body of a young man who, late one night, fell asleep at the wheel. There are his mom, his dad, his brother, and sister. Do we think they would shrug when told that their Savior, too, had his own day of burial, and that he knew the way into—and out of—the grave?

This supposedly small fact, “Jesus was buried,” turns out to be not so small after all.

Sabbath Rest for Jesus

It was no triviality for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee. When it was time to bury Jesus, they did not roll up his body in an old blanket and place him in a rapidly dug hole in the ground, as happened to many who were crucified by the Romans. Though time was short and Jesus had to be buried hastily, before sunset, these two men still took great pains to care for his corpse and to bury him as a king.

The body of Jesus, battered and torn, Joseph removed from the cross (Luke 23:53). Think of how demanding that task would have been. Nails still affixing the limp and lifeless body to the cross. Blood everywhere. Yet see the hands of Joseph at work, tenderly, lovingly, doing what must be done.

There is the clean linen shroud. Joseph wraps it around the body, along with the mixture of myrrh and aloes, seventy-five pounds worth, which Nicodemus provided (John 19:39). One scholar notes that this was enough spice for a royal burial. Nicodemus would have known that. After all, this initially skeptical Pharisee now knew that he was burying not just a rabbi, but the Messiah, the King of the Jews.

His body, now ready, is laid to rest in a new tomb, cut in the rock, where no corpse had yet been laid (John 19:41). This would have been the family tomb of Joseph, newly hewn, ready for that first father, mother, sibling, or child who died. As it turned out, the first occupant would be the head of the human family, the last Adam, who would forever fundamentally alter the significance of every family grave, rendering each one the temporary holding place of the dead, not the “final” resting place.

The sun sets. The Sabbath begins. The day of rest comes. Having finished his own work of being conceived, born, living, teaching, healing, suffering, and dying for us, Jesus then enjoys his Sabbath rest in the tomb. As at the end of that first week of creation, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). So also Jesus sees everything that he has done for us, and behold, it is very good. So he says, “It is finished” (John 19:30), bows his head, gives up his spirit, is buried, and rests.


Christ entered that place where, perhaps decades from now or perhaps (for some of us) within a week’s time, we too shall enter. But because Jesus has been there before us, completed his Sabbath rest, and vacated the premises in resurrection triumph, the grave is for us just a subterranean bed in which our body shall sleep in death as it awaits the return of Jesus.

I like to think of it this way: My body will be placed in a “used coffin” and lowered into a “preowned grave.” I am borrowing what Jesus has already purchased, used, and then passed on to me. With a wink and a nod, my Lord says, “You can use mine. I am done with them, and soon you will be, too.”

The resurrection of Jesus turns every funeral home into a Rent-a-Coffin business.

Paul puts it even better when he says “we were buried with [Jesus] by baptism into death” (Rom. 6:4). In Greek, “buried with” is one word (συνθάπτω); we are “co-buried” with Jesus. That means, for the Christian, we can stare down into our future graves, smile, and say, “Been there, done that.” On the day we were baptized, we were co-crucified, co-died, and were co-buried with Jesus (Rom. 6:4-8). Now alive in him, we also know that, at the end, we shall be co-resurrected with him. That is our firm and certain hope.

Let me close on a personal note.

In about two months, my family and I will visit, once more, the grave of our son, Luke, at the United States Naval Academy. His class of 2024 will be graduating. I will stand on that green grass, on that lawn full of gravestones, including one with the years 2000-2022. But I will not be at my son’s final resting place; I will be at his body’s temporary, subterranean bed. As with every Christian who leaves this life, Luke is with Jesus even as his body awaits its resurrection.

Through the inevitable tears, I will smile, for what once was small to me, that Jesus was buried, now towers in significance. Our Lord has changed everything. His rest in the tomb, short-lived though it was, has transformed every grave of every believer into nothing more than a provisional stop on the ultimate journey to bodily resurrection.

“Jesus was buried.” Far from a shrug, those three words now elicit shouts of Hope and Hallelujah.