Our Lord’s Entrance Into the Grave
May 31st, 1981 @ 8:15 AM
THE ENTRANCE OF OUR LORD INTO DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-31-81 8:15 a.m.
No less do we thank God for the great throngs of you who listen to this hour with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas on radio. This is the pastor bringing again one of the long series of doctrinal messages on the being and the atonement and the ministering work of Christ our Lord. The title of the message this morning is The Entrance of Our Lord into Death, into the Grave. Next Sunday it will be, The Entrance of Our Lord into Resurrection Life.
In the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews, in the ninth verse, the author wrote, “We see Jesus, who was made a man, a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, now crowned with honor and glory; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man, for everyone” [Hebrews 2:9]. He was made a man for the suffering of death, for the purpose of dying, that He should by the grace of God taste death for every man.
There is a dread and a horror of death that is common to all mankind; that he should reach out his cold and clammy hands for us. And that our bodies, this house in which we live, should turn into corruption and decay. There is a dread and a horror to it that is inescapable. We hide our faces from it. And that it should happen to us is almost unthinkable.
The ancients pictured death as a pitiless divinity. And in our modern day death is pictured as a grim reaper with a scythe or a sickle. He’s pictured as a skeleton. He is pictured as a skull and crossbones. In the [Old] Testament in the Book of Job, he is called “the king of terrors” [Job 18:14]. The psalmist cries that, “The terrors of death are fallen upon me” [Psalm 55:4]. In the Old Testament, in the sixth chapter of the Apocalypse, the red horse of war is followed by the black horse of famine, and that by the pale horse on whose back rides Death, and Grave follows in his wake [Revelation 6:4-8]. There is no way to hide the awesome, fearful, terrible presence of death.
However much love may be poured out to someone dear to your heart, death hides it away. Abraham said, “Let me buy from you, the children of Heth, a place of burying, in order that I might bury my dead out of my sight” [Genesis 23:4]. Of whom was he speaking? Of his beloved Sarah [Genesis 23:1-3]. And all of the accolades and honors in the world cannot hide the presence of the awesomeness of the specter of death. All the military glory in the earth cannot change its terrible visage.
Like you, I have several times stood at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River from our national capitol. And I have watched a representative of the Armed Forces of America by day and by night walk up and down in front of that sepulcher. The Unknown Soldier speaks:
Listen, youngster, you who thrill so
To the sound of marching feet,
To the call of bugles blending
With the drum’s rhythmatic beat;
Listen to those bands a-playing
‘Neath your country’s flag a-flying,
But listen, youngster, I am praying,
There’s no glory in your dying.
Listen, youngster, you who love so
All the glamour of parade.
Buttons do not shine so brightly
When you are standing sick, afraid.
In the thick of war’s inferno,
When your flag is drenched in blood—
Blood of comrades, swaying, praying,
Knee-deep in a trench of mud.
Listen, youngster, bands cease playing
In the hell-fire of the fight;
Screaming shells will be your music,
Singing hymns of death and fright.
Shells that kill and make you beggars,
Legless on some city street,
Men with tin cups in a doorway—
Ask them, son, if war is sweet.
Here I lie, the Unknown Soldier,
Wreaths of nations line my bed.
Honors have been heaped upon me,
But, listen, youngster, I AM DEAD.
Somewhere in this land you love so,
Someone’s waiting for me still,
Wonders could I be their loved one,
Forever wonders, ever will.
Listen, youngster, you who thrill so
When plumes and bayonets sparkle bright.
There is no beauty in death’s plumage,
Only bones, bleached bare and white.
Listen, youngster, you want glory,
I have had glory-honors spread
Above my tomb, in countless numbers,
But, listen, youngster; I AM DEAD.
[“The Unknown Soldier Speaks,” quoted by Clare Hazelwood
in the Fulton Patriot, May 31, 1934]
Even the glory of the nation cannot hide the awesome face of death.
And that dread of death was heightened in our Lord. What a strange thing in His life. In the twelfth chapter of John, when the Greeks from afar came to visit Him, His reply was this; “Now is My soul troubled. Now is Mine hour come. And what shall I do?” [John 12:27]. In Gethsemane He prayed in an agony that brought sweat drops of blood that fell to the ground, asking God to remove the cup from Him; the dread of our Savior as He faced death [Luke 22:42-44].
Why did our Lord so cringe before that awesome assignment? One reason; He voluntarily gave His life to crucifixion. He volunteered in heaven before the foundation of the world: “A body hast Thou prepared for Me: Lo, I come, in the roll of the book it is written of Me to do Thy will, O God” [Hebrews 10:5, 7]. And in the tenth chapter of John, He says, “I lay down My life; no man taketh it from Me” [John 10:17-18].
You and I are subject to death because of the penalty and the curse of sin. “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4]. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And we face death as an inevitable judgment of God upon our sins, but not He. Death had no claim and no hold upon Him. He was free from the penalty and the curse of transgression.
There were seventy-two thousand angels, twelve legions of angels, who strained to come to His rescue from heaven [Matthew 26:53]. When they gave Him a narcotic to deaden the pain, sour wine mixed with myrrh, He refused to drink it [Matthew 27:34]. He entered into death and into the grave with a full consciousness. He gave Himself for that suffering [1 Corinthians 15:3].
Why was our Lord so filled with dread as He faced death? Because of the awesomeness of the execution. It was the Romans who invented crucifixion. It is the most painful of all of the ways of execution that man has ever devised. In reading an encyclopedic article on crucifixion, one of the sentences is this: “To die by crucifixion one does not die one time, but he suffers a thousand deaths,” slow, horrible, days usually to bring about its purpose.
Why did our Lord dread the execution, the death to which He had given Himself? Because of an unknown mystery of suffering into which we cannot enter. The very sun veiled the sufferings of our Lord, and in that darkness He agonized in soul in our behalf [Matthew 27:45-50]. As Isaiah says, “God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” [Isaiah 53:11]. What that meant we cannot know.
But our text somehow, somewhat describes that unknown mystery of agony that was borne by our Lord when He died. In this verse it says that, “He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” [Hebrews 2:9]. In our English translation that’s last, “He did it for every one, huper pantos, for every one.” But the huper pantos is first; in the Greek it is emphatic. Huper is the word for “in behalf of, instead of, in the place of.” Our Lord suffered this in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21].
He wasn’t the only one to be crucified. In the current issue of the National Geographic magazine, there is a depiction of the Appian Way and the most impressive picture by an artist. In 71 AD Spartacus and his gladiators rebelled against the cruel Roman government. And with a hundred thousand slaves Spartacus fought the entire Roman army for over three years. The legionnaires prevailed. And on that beautiful Appian Way leading into Rome, they crucified six thousand of those gladiators.
Jesus was not the only one ever to be crucified. There were hundreds of thousands crucified by the Roman government. But Jesus is the only one, and the first one, and the last one, who was ever crucified for the sins of the world in our behalf.
Look at the text further as it describes the death of our Lord: “That He by the grace of God, in behalf of each one of us, should taste death” [Hebrews 2:9]. That is a Hebraism. It’s a Hebrew way of writing. But you’ll find it also in the Greek classics.
“Taste death for every one of us.” That doesn’t refer to a slight superficial experience that was briefly and quickly experienced. It refers to the drinking of the cup in which was concentrated all of the penalty and the curse of our lives. That He should taste death, that He should experience the judgment and the penalty of God that all of us, all of us, have incurred in our transgression from the law by our sins, that He should taste death for every man, and that is described as a grace of God, “That He by the grace of God should thus die in our stead” [Hebrews 2:9].
The cross is such a remarkable exhibition of everything that we experience in life, in death, in hope, in resurrection. For one thing, it is an exhibition of the curse of sin. If you want to know what sin does, look at the cross. If you want to know the depravity of humankind, look at the cross. It is a demonstration of the penalty and the curse of sin.
But it is also an exhibition of the grace and mercy of God. “That He by the grace of God” [Hebrews 2:9]; this is something that the love of God has brought to pass. God so loved us that He gave the Lord Jesus, a sufferer in our stead [John 3:16]. And by the grace of God, out of the crucifixion, the suffering and the death of Christ, has poured forth those streams of mercy and salvation that have reached us today, you and me [Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:8-9].
Any man who dies, dies for himself. There is no stream of grace that pours out of the life of the death of a George Washington, or a Socrates, or a Mahavira, or a Zoroaster; but out of the suffering and the death of Christ poured those marvelous streams of love and grace that saved our souls [Romans 6:4]. It is unique. It is separate. It is apart. It is a mystery of the love and grace of our dear Lord [John 3:16; Romans 6:23]. And in dying He thus became our great sympathizer and Savior.
The children are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also took part of the same; that through death He might deliver us who through fear of death all of our lives have been subject to the horror of it. Therefore it behooved Him to be made like unto us, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God; for in that He Himself hath suffered, He is able to succor them who face a like suffering.
In His entrance in to death and into the grave, He became one with us in sympathy, in understanding, and in our salvation.
At the end of time, at the consummation of the age, there shall be gathered before the great Judge of all the earth, all of us, the people of the world. When He comes He shall sit upon the throne of His judgment, and all of the peoples of the world will be gathered before Him [Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-13]. And those throngs that are gathered before the Lord God are sullen, and bitter, and filled with personal castigation.
There is a brunette. She is dark of hair and eyes and olive in skin. And she rolls back her arm, and shaking her fist at the Judge of all the earth, she points to a tattoo, a number tattooed on her arm. And she says: “This I received in a Nazi concentration camp when I was raped, and beat, and tortured, and killed. What do You know about that kind of a horror? You live in heaven where it is bright and sweet, and everything is perfect and good. What do You know about being a hated and despised Jew? What do You know?”
And another in that sullen crowd, standing before the Judge of all the earth, says, “You see this burn of a rope around my neck? I’m a black man and a slave. And just because I am black, they lynched me and took my life. What do You know about execution, and suffering, and death?” And another says, “I was a slave in a Siberian camp and daily knew hunger, and thirst, and weariness of bone and life. What do You know about hunger and thirst?” And another shaking his fist at the Judge of all the earth says, “So You judge me? I was executed innocent. What do You know about being executed, being innocent?”
And all through that vast throng before the Judge of all the earth, they found bitterness in their hearts about Him who sits upon the throne, and who lives in heaven, and who knows nothing of our life here in this world of sin and violence and death. And as they moved and murmured and talked in the presence of the great Judge of all the earth, they said, “If He is going to judge us, let Him be one of us! Let Him be born a Jew in a hated and despised nation! And let Him suffer in a Nazi concentration camp! Let Him be born a Jew.”And another said, “If He is going to judge us, let Him be born an illegitimate and they say, ‘Who is His father?’ We don’t even know His name.” And another said, “If He is going to judge us, let Him be born poor! Let Him know what hunger and thirst are. Another said, “If He is going to be a judge of us, let Him be denied by His own people and rejected by His own nation, hated and despised!” And another said, “If He is going to be a judge of us, then let Him be delivered unto execution, yea, let Him die, counted with thieves, and murderers, and felons, and criminals!” And then there was a vast universal silence.
When they had said what they said, they suddenly realized that He was that! He was one of them. He was made in the likeness of men, and being made in the likeness of men, He was obedient unto death, and suffered as any of us has ever suffered [Philippians 2:8]. Who is poor, and He wasn’t poor? [Matthew 8:20]. Who has been hated, and He wasn’t hated? [John 15:24-25]. Who has been betrayed by His friend, and He wasn’t betrayed? [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. Who has died, and He hasn’t died? [Matthew 27:32-50]. He knows all about us [Hebrews 4:14-15]. And He is our Brother. What a remarkable and unbelievable and unthinkable revelation of the grace of God, that He who sits upon the throne of heaven [Hebrews 1:3], should be a man like us; that the great God who holds the omnipotence of the universe in His hands [Colossians 1:17], should be one who has experienced every terror, and every dread, and every hurt, and every sorrow, and every pang of death that we shall ever experience.
And as they looked at the Judge of all the earth, one of them said, “I didn’t notice, but there are scars in His hands, and in His feet, and in His side” [John 20:27]. And another says, “And there are the prints of the thorns on His brow” [Matthew 27:29; John 19:2, 5]. A merciful and faithful High Priest tried in all ways as we are, and then the invitation: “Wherefore my brethren, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that ye may find help, and forgiveness, and salvation in time of need” [Hebrews 4:14-16]. There is no path of the pilgrim way that He hasn’t followed. There is no suffering that He hasn’t known. In all ways, He is our brother. What a wonderful thing God has done for us.
And as we follow after into the grave, and into the tomb, and into death, we are to fear no evil for our Lord is with us [Psalm 23:4]. He has been there before us, and He is conqueror over hell, and the death, and the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. O wonderful, wonderful Savior! Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, precious Lord, never have we felt like bowing in Thy presence in our lives as we feel like it now. Thou art so worthy, suffering our sufferings, living our lives, dying our death, all for the love of our souls. And our Lord, to bow before Thee, and to own Thee, and to love Thee, and to give our lives to Thee, and to serve Thee, and some precious wonderful day to see Thee face to face [Revelation 22:3-5], O Lord, what a hope, what a blessedness!
In this moment that we stand before our living Lord, to give your heart to Him, to place your life in His hands, would you come and stand by me? A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “We’re putting our lives in the hands of God and here we stand.” “We are coming into the fellowship of the wonderful, wonderful church and here we come.” As the Spirit of Christ shall make the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy saving name, amen. While we sing our song, come and welcome.
LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO THE GRAVE
I. Fear of death common to all mankind
A. There are no
generations who have not felt the horror and terror of death
1. In the ancient
world, death was a pitiless divinity
2. In modern day,
death is a grim reaper with a scythe
Old Testamentcalls death “the king of terrors”(Job
18:14, Psalm 55:4)
4. In the
Apocalypse, the pale horse(Revelation 6:8)
love in our hearts cannot cover the visage of death(Genesis
Honor and glory of the world cannot hide the fearsome face of death
terror of death heightened in the life of our Lord(John
12:27, Matthew 26:39)
A. His death was
voluntary(Hebrews 10:5, 7, Matthew 20:28, John
have to die, and face inevitable judgment(Romans
6:23, Ezekiel 18:4)
He accepted the assignment of death in our behalf, for our cause
– Agony indescribable, slow, painful
cruel, prohibited to be used against a Roman citizen
with unknown agonies(Isaiah 53:10)
1. The curtain of
darkness for three hours to hide what transpired
III. The descriptive text
A. Huper – “in
behalf of, for the sake of, in place of”
was not the first to die by crucifixion; but the only to die in our place
– “to taste death”
deep experience of all that death contains
the grace of Godâ€¦”(Galatians 6:14)
cross an exhibition of the depravity of the human race
Also a sign of the mercy and love of God
Christ did what we could not do
IV. The great compassionate Savior
great judgment(Matthew 25)