Death, Burial, and the Not Yet

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Devotional Word for Wednesday, December 16, 2020

As we have been thinking about the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, I think it is worth considering why Jesus had to die.  This actually is question forty in the Heidelberg Catechism.  It asks, “Why did Christ have to suffer ‘death’?”  The logic behind the question is quite clear.  We understand that we have all fallen in the sin of Adam.  We understand that we have all sinned ourselves.  We recognize that we owe a debt of righteousness to God that we could never pay.  We understand that another has to pay it.  We might then well consider Jesus as the perfectly righteous God man.  Couldn’t He do righteous deeds and grant them to us.  Why exactly does He have to die?

The answer states, “Because the righteousness and truth of God are such that nothing else could make payment for our sins except the death of the son of God.” To some degree, this answer harkens back to earlier questions and answers in the catechism.  Genesis 2:16-17 says, “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.’”  Here the Lord is speaking to Adam and we know how this plays out.  Adam and Eve both disobey God’s commands.  From that point forward for all of humanity there must endure death to pay for that sin in order for the Word of God to be true.  As we have already seen in the catechism, you and I are not able to make this payment.  We see that the Lord Jesus does.  This means that the payment must result in His death.  He cannot pay for our sin and live.  We also note that it had to be the Son of God who is God because no one but God can forgive sins.  

You may then wonder why in the world Jesus was buried.  Isn’t it enough that He died for our sins? Question 41 asks and answers that very question.  The answer simply says, “To confirm the fact that He was really dead.”  We understand that Jesus was buried to confirm that He was really and truly dead.  Every now and again I hear people suggest that because folks in Jesus’ day didn’t have modern medicine, it would have been conceivable for Jesus to have been alive but badly hurt from His time on the cross.  My response is to acknowledge that did not have doctors in the same fashion as ours, but they did have professional soldiers whose job was to kill the enemy.  As such, they would have been sure that Jesus was dead.  By putting His body into a sealed tomb, all would know that He was really and truly dead.  

At this point the catechism asks a wonderful follow up question.  Question 42 asks, “Since, then, Christ died for us, why must we also die?” The logic is perfectly clear.  If death is a penalty for sin(which it is) and Jesus died to pay that penalty(which He did), then why do Christians die?  This is all the more a question when we read Galatians 2:20. There Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  Paul is stating that Christians have joined with Christ in His death and resurrection.  Why should they die?  Answer 42 says, “Our death is not a payment for our sins, but only a dying to sin and an entering into eternal life.” We can think of our lives now as Christians as part of the already and not yet.  It is already in the sense that the Lord Jesus has died for us and our sins are completely forgiven.  It is part of the not yet in the sense that we continue to struggle against sin and will do so until the Lord calls us to Himself or returns.  This then means that death for a Christian is not feared in the same way as those who do not know the gospel of the Lord Jesus.  For Christians, death is when we finally say “NO” to sin once and for all and enter into eternity with our blessed Savior apart from the brokenness of sin.