Our Lord’s Entrance Into The Grave
May 31st, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
OUR LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO THE GRAVE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-31-81 10:50 a.m.
And we no less thank the Lord for the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message, one in a series on the Great Doctrines of the Bible. We are now in a section on Christology, the doctrine of Christ. The title of the sermon this morning is The Entrance of Our Lord into Death, into the Grave. The title of the message next Sunday morning will be The Entrance of Our Lord into Resurrection Life, but today The Entrance of Our Lord into Death, into the Grave.
In the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the ninth verse, we see Jesus – Hebrews 2, verse 9, "We see Jesus who was made a man, a little lower than the angels." He was made a man for the suffering of death, He came into the world to die:
that He by the grace of God shall taste death for every man.
– verse 14 –
The children are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself also took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death – Satan, Lucifer, the Devil
And deliver us who, in the cringing fear of death, all our lifetime, are subject to its bondage.
The entrance of our Lord into death; there is no more common denominator to all mankind than the horror and the terror and the dread we fear before death. When he reaches forth his cold and clammy hands to lay them upon us, and when we view the immediate prospect of the decay and the corruption of our body, there are no centuries, there are no generations that have not felt the horror and the terror of death. In the ancient world, death was pictured as a pitiless divinity. In our modern day, death is pictured as a grim reaper with a scythe, or pictured in the likeness of a skeleton, or as a skull and a crossbones.
In the Old Testament Scriptures, in Job, death is called "the king of terrors" [Job 18:14]. In the Psalms, the Psalmist cries before the terrors of death that are beginning to fall upon him [Psalm 55:4]. In the New Testament, in the sixth chapter of the Apocalypse, the red horse of war and slaughter is followed by the black horse of famine and want. And finally, all are followed by the pale horse, whose rider is death and whose follower is the grave [Revelation 6:8]. In the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York, I saw a painting; it was entitled "The Race of Death." And on an oblong racetrack, there was a man riding a fleet animal but immediately back of him, and pursuing him and gaining on him, was a rider. And that rider on the horse was a skeleton: death.
All of the love in our hearts for anyone in our beloved circle of family – all of that love is not able to cover over or to hide the awesome visage of death. Abraham said to the sons of Heth: "Let me buy this sepulcher for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight" [Genesis 23:3-4]. Of whom was he speaking? Of his beloved Sarah.
Nor does all of the honor and the glory of the world hide the fearsome face of the specter of death. Military tribunals and citations and medals and plaudits and all of the accolades of human heart cannot change that terrible reality: death.
As many of you, I have stood in the Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac from our national capitol, and have watched the representatives of the armed forces of our nation march back and forth in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And he speaks and he says:
Listen, youngster, you who thrill so
To the sound of marching feet,
To the call of bugles blending
With the drum’s rhythmic beat
Listen to those bands a’playing
B’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 with 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 or make you beggars,
Legless on some city street
Men with tin cups in a doorway
Ask them, son, if death 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 duty in death’s plumage,
Only bones bleached bare and white.
Listen, youngster, you want glory?
I’ve had glory
Honor’s spread above my tomb
In countless numbers
But listen, youngster,
I am dead.
[published, Mexico Independence, Nov 7, 1935, author unknown]
All of the honor and the glory, all of the tributes and plaudits and accolades of human speech cannot hide the awesome visage of death. That dread and terror of death was doubly heightened in the life of our Lord. In the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John, when the Greeks came to see Him, His reply was: "Now is My soul troubled. O God, save Me from this hour, but for this hour came I into the world" [John 12:27].
In the Garden of Gethsemane, you have a poignant description of the dread of our Savior before death. In an agony, in which the pouring of the perspiration from His brow was like blood dropping to the ground, He asked: "O God, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me" [Matthew 26:39], the dread of our Lord for death.
Why? One reason: His death was voluntary. It was not coerced, He volunteered in heaven before the foundations of the world. In the tenth chapter of this Book of Hebrews, He is depicted standing before God and offering His life as an atonement for our sins: "In the roll of the book it is written: Of Me, though, I come to do Thy will, O God. A body hast Thou prepared for Me" [Hebrews 10:5, 7], a sacrifice on the altar of death. In the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, He says: "I give My life a ransom for many" [Matthew 20:28]. And in the tenth chapter of John, He says: "I lay down My life. No man taketh it from Me" [John 10:17-18]. It was a voluntary assignment, accepted on the part of our Savior.
We have to die. There is no choice with us. "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23], and "the soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4]. And we have sinned and we face the inevitable judgment of God. The curse of death is written in every member of our physical frame, but not our Lord. He was sinless and death had no hold upon Him. He was free above, untouched by sin and the judgment and penalty that it entails.
Our Lord accepted the assignment of death in our behalf, for our cause. He gave himself willingly. There were 72,000 angels – twelve legions, who were straining to deliver Him and He refused their presence. When He faced the Cross, kind people gave to our Lord a mixture of sour wine and myrrh, a narcotic to deaden His senses. He refused to drink it. Our Lord faced death in clarity of mind and full, unabated consciousness. It was a voluntary act on His part. He accepted the assignment and died.
A second reason for the dread of our Lord facing death: there has never been invented by man a death so cruel as crucifixion. In an encyclopedia article that I read on crucifixion, there’s one sentence in it that stayed in my mind. Crucifixion by death, the article said, is not to die one time, but a thousand times. So vile and so terrible was death by crucifixion that the Roman government prohibited that it ever be used against a Roman citizen. Crucifixion by death and death by crucifixion was reserved for slaves and for criminals in an alien country, speaking an alien tongue. No Roman could ever be crucified.
A third reason for the dread of our Lord before death lies in an area of the mystery of God. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah says, "God shall make His soul an offering for sin." And the next verse, "And God shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied."
I cannot enter into that. So deep is the mystery of the agony of our Lord in His death, that the sun refused to shine and darkness hid it away from our sight. And from twelve o’clock high noon, until three o’clock in the afternoon, the whole earth was darkened, as Jesus suffered and died, bearing the curse and the penalty and the judgment of sin for all humanity. I cannot enter into it. Even God shut it out.
Well might the Son in darkness hide
And shut His glories in,
When the Christ the mighty maker died
For man, the creature’s sin.
[Isaac Watts, "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed"]
It is just that in the presentation of the death of our Lord in this passage in Hebrews. There are some words that describe the agony and the travail of that atonement. The first is this: The author says in Hebrews 2 and 9 that by the grace of God, our Lord suffered that He might taste death for every man. In English, in the translation, that is last, "for every man," in the Greek text, it is first. This is the emphatic word in the clause: huper, "in behalf of," instead of, for the sake of, "in place of" each one of us. He died in our stead, for our sake.
That the Lord was crucified was not a unique event in the history of the Roman Empire. The Romans crucified hundreds of thousands of their enemies. In the rebellion of Spartacus the gladiator, he gathered around him 100,000 slaves and gladiatorial combatants. And it is an amazing thing to me to read in the history that they fought the Roman legions for three years. The Roman legions finally won that bitter and awesome confrontation. And when they did, one thing they did: on the Appian Way, right next to the city, they crucified 6,000 of those gladiators and hung them on crosses on either side of the Appian Way. Our Lord was not unique in that He was crucified.
The uniqueness of the death of our Lord is that He died huper, "instead of," in the place of every one of us. No other man ever did, ever shall do that, but Jesus. In Him was the sin, ours. Upon Him was the curse, ours. And all of the judgment of God upon us was heaped upon Him. He died in our stead. He paid the penalty for our sin: huper, in behalf of every one of us.
Do you notice another thing by which the author describes the death of Christ? "By the grace of God, He should taste death huper each one of us." He should taste death; that is a Hebraism. It is a way that the Hebrews spoke, "He should taste death." Geuomai means "to taste," but when you place it with thanatos, "death," it refers to the deep experience of all that death contains. "He should taste death," not a brief, temporary experience but in the cup was all that death means. And He drank it to the last dregs; He emptied the cup, that He should taste death for every one of us.
Then, that other phrase: that "by the grace of God He should taste death" [Galatians 6:14]. What a remarkable thing is the cross! No wonder Paul says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." And no wonder they place it on the top of our churches: it is a sign, a symbol, an aegis of the Christian faith. In hoc signo vinces, "in this sign conquer," the sign of the Cross.
The cross is an exhibition of the depravity of the human race. If you want to see what mankind is like, look at the crucifixion of Jesus. But it is also a sign of the mercy and the grace of God that, by the grace of God, He was crucified. He died in our behalf. God so loved us that He gave His son to the cruel cross. And that is an unbelievable mercy of God, for out of the cross flows all of the grace and hope and salvation from our sins. Christ did on the cross what we could never do, namely, to bring, out of suffering and death, salvation and victory over sin.
When a man dies, he dies for himself. A George Washington, there are no streams of grace and forgiveness that flow out of the death of a George Washington, or of a Zoroaster, or of a Mahavira, or of a Gautama – of the Buddha, or out of an Islamic Mohammed.. These men die, they die for themselves. We die, and we also die for ourselves.
But out of the death of our Lord flow those streams of mercy and grace that bring to us forgiveness of sin and a new hope and a new life. It is a mystery of God that, by the grace of the great mighty God, He should taste death, experience death, for every one of us; that He dies in our stead. It’s a wonder. But that’s not all: in the death of our Lord, He identified himself with us and became our great, compassionate Savior.
Look at the consummation of the age. At the end of human history, all the nations of the world are to be gathered before the great and mighty Lord who sits upon the throne of His glory. And in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, there is our Lord, seated, the judge of all the earth, and we and all humanity are gathered before Him – all of us.
And when that day comes, there is a solemn bitterness expressed on the part of all of these who are being judged. And they shake their fists at the omnipotent, almighty Judge, and they say: "How can you judge us? You live in heaven where all is sweetness and light and glory and happiness and bliss. But we live in this darkened world of tears and sorrow and heartache and death. How can you judge us? What do you know about us?"
And as they declaim against the Lord on His throne, a woman, a brunette woman with dark hair and dark eyes and olive skin, she pulls back her sleeve and she says to the Judge of all the earth: "Do you see this? A number tattooed on my arm. I was raped and I was beat and I was tortured and I was killed in a Nazi concentration camp. What do You know about that – You judge us?"
And another, a black man, rolls down his collar and says to the Judge of all the earth: "Do you see that? I was lynched just because I was black. Do You see that?" And another stands before the Judge of all the earth and says, "I was exiled in a Siberian slave camp. And I knew hunger and thirst all the days of my life. Do You see that?" And another one comes before the judge of all the earth and says, "I was executed. Though innocent, I’m dead. The cruel hands of the law seized me. And I was innocent. Do You know that?"
And as that great throng, before the Judge of all the earth, as they speak, they say, "Whoever judges us ought to be one of us, ought to understand us, ought to know us, ought to live our lives. Whoever judges us ought to be born a Jew in a hated and despised country like Nazi Germany. He ought to be born a Jew. He ought to be born an illegitimate, where they say, ‘We don’t even know the name of his father.’ Whoever judges us ought to be somebody who was born poor and knew nothing but want and hunger all of his life. Whoever judges us ought to be one who is denied by his own people and rejected by his own nation. Whoever judges us ought to be one who is the despised and rejected of men and who is betrayed by his own friends. Whoever judges us ought to be one who was executed and that between thieves and felons and criminals."
And while they were speaking, a great silence, a great hush, fell over the vast throng before the King of Glory. Unwittingly, unknowingly, they had described Him. They were speaking of Him, the great Judge of all the earth: Born in a hated and outcast family, born poor, born to suffer, born to be rejected, born in grief and sorrow, born in execution, like a criminal.
And that’s why the author of the Hebrews says we are flesh and blood; He Himself took part of the same:
Therefore, it behooved Him to be made like unto us
that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest.
For in that He Himself hath suffered, He is able to succor all of us who suffer.
And that’s why the beautiful invitation in the Book:
wherefore having so sympathetic a great mediator and intercessor and high priest,
let us come boldly, boldly to the throne of grace,
that we may find the help in time of need.
He knows all about us. There is no one who has suffered and He hasn’t suffered, no one who has cried and He hasn’t wept bitter tears, no one who feels alone and forsaken that He was not alone and forsaken, no one who died and He did not die. "Come boldly to the throne of grace!" Oh, what a Savior! What a friend! What a great intercessor! What a mediator! What a representative. What a great God: Our blessed Lord Jesus! May we stand?
Our Lord, never in my life I have felt that I needed to be on my face and on my knees as I feel right now. What Jesus has done for us! O, Thou, Savior of men, thou lover of our souls, our mighty intercessor and mediator, our faithful high priest. Lord, Lord, how is it that a man can refuse to bow in Thy presence and express to Thee, maybe in broken syllables, the heart’s overflowing gratitude, what Jesus has done for me? And our Lord, we pray that today there will be men and women who in triumph and faith and commitment of life will say to Jesus, "Lord, Lord, thank You for what You did for me."
And in this moment that we pray, that we are silent before God, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, "This day I am answering God’s call for my life, and here I stand." If you are in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, today I have decided for God, and I’m coming." A thousand times welcome! May the Lord speed you in the way as you come.
And thank Thee, precious wonderful Savior, for the harvest You give us, for these God adds to His redeemed family and to the household of faith; to the glory of Thy wonderful name, amen.
While we sing our song, come.