Luke: On The Sabbath They Rested

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on November 27, 2011

Luke 23:50-56

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The Lord’s Day Morning

November 27, 2011

“On The Sabbath They Rested”

Luke 23:50-56

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke 23.
We’re going to be looking at verses 50 to 56 today, so we’ll come to the
end of the chapter as we continue our way through the gospel of Luke.
We’ve been looking at the crucifixion of Jesus and now Luke brings us to
the ultimate point of Jesus’ humiliation — His burial.
And he goes into much detail about facts surrounding Jesus’ death and
burial. He’s showing us the reality
of Jesus’ death in the details of His burial and there are important theological
reasons why he would go into so much detail about the burial of Jesus.

As we read this passage today, I want you to be especially mindful of two or
three things. First of all, notice
the description of this courageous, heretofore unmentioned, disciple in verses
50 to 53. It really is an amazing
thing, this man who comes forward to ask for the body of Jesus, so look for the
courageous disciple. Then I want us to concentrate in the whole passage,
especially from 50 to the first part of verse 56, on the buried Savior, because
that’s the focus of Luke’s record of this history.
And then finally, the Sabbath rest which is observed by the women
disciples who were caring for Jesus’ dead body as it is prepared for burial,
especially in verses 54 and at the end of verse 56.
Be on the lookout for these three things — the courageous disciple, the
buried Savior, and the Sabbath rest.

Well let’s pray before we hear God’s Word read.

Our heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we need it, we need it like we need
water and like we need food, for we do not live by bread alone but by every word
that proceeds from Your mouth. This
is Your word of life; this is Your word of sanctification; this is Your word of
salvation, Lord. Open our eyes, O
God, to respond to Your Gospel.
Build us up in Your grace, even as we attend to Your Word this day.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

This is God’s Word. Hear it:

“Now there was a man
named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea.
He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not
consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of
God. This man went to Pilate and
asked for the body of Jesus. Then he
took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in
stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.
It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.
The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb
and how His body was laid. Then they
returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they
rested according to the commandment.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

The death and burial of Jesus are necessary for our salvation.
When the apostle Paul is summarizing the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4,
remember he says that “Christ died and was buried and raised again for our
salvation, according to the Scriptures.”
And so the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of the death and burial
of Jesus as well as His resurrection.
Why? Because the wages of sin
is death and if Jesus is going to pay the wages of sin for us, for His people,
for all who believe in Him, He must die.
He must experience and absorb all that is entailed in the wages of sin
and the Scripture makes it clear from beginning to end that death, our death, is
a sanction of judgment by God against our sin.
And so Jesus, in order to be our substitute, in order to be our Savior,
must pay the full wages of sin, which is death.
And so it is very important for us to understand what Luke is teaching
here about the death and burial of Jesus Christ.
And as we do that, I want us to look at three things.
I want us to look at that courageous disciple in verses 50 to 53, I want
us to look at the buried Savior in the whole passage, and then I want us to look
at this Sabbath rest.

THE LORD HAS HIS PEOPLE IN MANY PLACES WE DON’T SUSPECT

Let’s begin with this courageous disciple.
You know, when you see this disciple described, you have to shake your
head and say, “Lord, You have people in places that we would never ever expect.
Lord, You are working by Your Spirit for the salvation of sinners in the
most unlikely places.” We’re told
here in this passage that Joseph of Aramathea is the one who buried Jesus and
Luke tells us at least five things about Joseph of Aramathea.
First of all, he tells us that he was a member of the council.
Notice the word. “There was a
man,” verse 50, “from the Jewish town of Aramathea.
He was a member of the council.”
You know what that means don’t you? He was a member of the Sanhedrin!
Now the Sanhedrin, throughout this passage, has been the key human
instrument working for the death of Jesus.
In fact, when the members of the Sanhedrin had gathered the night before,
all of those who were there were unanimously in favor of Jesus being crucified
because of their charge against Him of blasphemy.
And yet we are told here that a member of the Sanhedrin is the one who
buried Jesus. This is very
interesting.

Next, we’re told that he was a good and upright man.
Look at the end of verse 50.
“He was a member of the council, a good and a righteous man.”
In other words, Luke says he was a member of the Sanhedrin…but, but, but,
but, but! He was a good man; he was
an upright man. He wasn’t like the
hypocrites, so many of whom had been responsible for these trumped up charges
against Jesus and this exorbitant sentence against Him.
No, he was as good and an upright man.
That’s the second thing that Luke tells you.

Then, notice what else he says. He
had not consented to the decision and the action of the Sanhedrin against Jesus.
He says that in verse 51. So
he was not party to the unjust action of the Sanhedrin.
Then, fourth, notice what he says.
He has been waiting for the kingdom of God; he’s been looking for the
kingdom of God — end of verse 51.
Now, that’s Luke’s way of telling you that Joseph actually believed Jesus’
teaching. John just comes right out
and says it doesn’t he? In John
19:38, John tells you that Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus.
He secretly followed Jesus because he feared the consequences of the
Sanhedrin finding out that he was a disciple of Jesus.
And so Luke tells you that there is a disciple of Jesus on the Sanhedrin
and of course Luke’s account indicates that he was a very brave man.
Mark just comes right out and tells you in Mark chapter 15 verse 43 that
Joseph was a brave man and he did a brave thing.

But think about how brave this was.
First of all, under Roman law, someone who was condemned to death had no right
for burial. Very often, Romans would
just leave a corpse on the cross to rot and to be picked at by the birds of the
air. And it was a brave thing for
Joseph to come to Pilate and say, “Now I know that this man has no right of
burial under Roman law but I’d like to bury Him anyway.
Secondly, it was a brave thing for him to come to Pilate because Pilate
didn’t like the Sanhedrin. The
Sanhedrin had asked a number of things of Pilate that he either denied them or
reluctantly granted to them. He
didn’t want, for instance, to put Jesus to death, and he went out of his way to
make it hard for them to get what they wanted.
They had even come to him and asked him to change the inscription that
had been tacked above Jesus’ head on the cross and he denied that request.
You remember that? That’s in
John 19 as well. And yet here’s Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, standing
before Pilate saying, “Sir, I would like to take His body down and give Him a
proper burial.” It was a very brave
thing because Pilate didn’t like the Sanhedrin.
But of course the bravest thing of all was when Joseph took that body he
was openly identifying himself with Jesus and he was no longer a secret
disciple. You know, we never hear
about Joseph again. He’s not in the
letters, he’s not in the book of Acts, and you have to wonder, “Did the
Sanhedrin get him?” I don’t know the
answer to that question, but I do know it was a very dangerous thing for him to
identify with Jesus and yet he did.

Now Luke is telling you all this, and as he’s telling you this, do you realize
what we’re learning? That God had
done a saving work in the heart of a man who sat on the supreme Jewish council,
the Sanhedrin. Isn’t that glorious?
And of course in John 19:39, who else does John say was with Joseph of
Aramathea when they took Jesus’ body down?
Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin.
Do you see what Luke is telling you?
That even in the midst of the supreme body of spiritual leadership in
Israel that had taken action to see Jesus crucified and dead, God had changed
hearts. God has disciples of the
Lord Jesus Christ. Isn’t that an
amazing thing? The Lord gets disciples from the most unlikely places and I love
what J.C. Ryle says about this passage:

“We know nothing of
Joseph excepting what is here told of us.
In no part of the Acts or the epistles do we find any mention of his
name. At no former period of our
Lord’s ministry does he ever come forward.
His reason for not openly joining the disciples before, we cannot
explain. But here at the eleventh
hour this man is not afraid to show himself one of our Lord’s friends.
At the very time when the apostles had forsaken Jesus, Joseph is not
ashamed to show his love and respect.
Others had confessed Him while He was living and doing miracles.
It was reserved for Joseph to confess Him when He was dead.
The history of Joseph is full of instruction and encouragement.
It shows us that Christ has friends of whom the church knows little or
nothing, friends who profess less than some do, but friends who, in real love
and affection, are second to none.
It shows us above all that events may bring out grace in quarters where at
present we do not expect it, and that the cause of Christ may prove one day to
have many supporters of whose existence we are at present not aware.
Let us learn from the case of Joseph of Aramathea to be charitable and
hopeful in our judgments. All is not
barren in this world when our eyes perhaps see nothing.
There may be some latent sparks of light
where all appears dark. Grains of
true faith may be lying hid in some neglected congregation which have been
placed there by God. There were
seven thousand true worshipers in Israel about whom Elijah knew nothing.
The day of judgment will bring forward men and women who seemed last and
place them among the first.”

The Lord has disciples in some of the most unlikely and unsuspecting places and
the converting power of God works even in those unlikely people and places.
That’s the first thing that I want us to see as we consider this
courageous disciple.

JESUS TRULY DIED AND WAS BURIED, FOR US

But the main thing Luke wants us to learn is about our very Savior.
He’s telling us this because it is vital for us to understand that Jesus
truly died and was truly buried for us.
This is necessary for our salvation.
And so notice, Luke tells us six specific things detailing the burial of
Jesus. First, Luke tells us who
buried him — not only his name, not only the town that he came from, but he
tells us that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and Mark, by the way, adds that
he was a highly respected member of the Sanhedrin.
So he tells us who buried Jesus — Joseph of Aramathea.

And then he tells us how Jesus was buried, how it came about, and actually how
they did it. He tells us that Joseph
went to Pilate and that Pilate granted permission for Joseph to take the body of
Jesus and to bury it. We’re even
told how it was wrapped. He wrapped
the body in linens and put it in his own tomb, a tomb that has never been used
before.

Third, Luke tells us where He was buried.
He was buried in Joseph’s tomb.

Fourth, he tells us when He was buried.
He was buried on the day of Preparation before the Sabbath day began.

Fifth, he tells us who attended the burial.
Joseph was there; some other helpers were there to help him transport the
body. Nicodemus, John tells us, was
among them. And of course the women,
a part of Jesus’ circle of disciples who had followed Him from Galilee, they
were there as well.

And sixth, he tells us what was done about embalming the body.
There were some immediate preparations and spices and ointments readied
there for His burial and then they went back to gather more and to come back
after the Sabbath day was over in order to continue the anointment and treatment
of the body. So Luke tells us these
six things about the burial of Jesus.

Why? To emphasize the reality of His
death and burial on our behalf; to emphasize that Jesus has fulfilled the due
penalty of God against sin on our behalf.
Take out your hymnals and turn to the very back on page 871 and look at
the bottom of the page and at the top of the next column at question
twenty-seven of The Shorter Catechism because Luke is recounting for us
the facts which lie behind the culmination of question twenty-seven of The
Shorter Catechism
. Question
twenty-seven of The Shorter Catechism reads, “Wherein did Christ’s
humiliation consist?” And it says
this: “Christ’s humiliation
consisted in His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law,
undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of
the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.”
Luke is recounting for us, in intricate detail, the culminating
humiliation of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
And by the way, that’s exactly what the Apostle’s Creed does:
“Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified,
dead, and buried. He descended into
Hell” – or He descended into Hades; He came under the power of death for a time.
The creed is emphasizing the same thing.

Now you say, “Why? Why is the creed
doing that? Why is Luke doing that?”
Well we know that not long after this gospel was written, there arose
people that denied the humanity of Jesus and they denied the crucifixion of
Jesus because they denied the humanity of Jesus.
They said that Jesus only appeared to be human and therefore He had not
actually been crucified because He only appeared to have a human body and so the
crucifixion was an apparition, it wasn’t a reality.
But Luke, long before those errors began to circulate, gives you a
detailed description of what actually happened.
Interestingly, 550 years after Luke wrote these words, Mohammad, in the
Qu’ran, would deny that Jesus had been crucified and dead and buried.
In sura 4:157-158, Mohammad writes:
“The Jews says, ‘We killed the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of Mary, the
messenger of Allah,’ but they did not kill Him, nor did they crucify Him, but it
was made to appear so to them and they did not kill Him for certain.
Rather, Allah raised Him to himself and ever is Allah exalted in might
and wise.”

Now I don’t know whether Mohammad had come across some kind of docetic
Christianity and gotten it wrong or I don’t know whether that was some kind of a
frontal assault against Christian doctrine, but whatever is was, it’s wrong.
By the way, you can prove that Islam is wrong from that one sura because
he gets wrong one of the central things about Christianity — the death and
burial of Jesus. All of Islam falls
apart on that sura. It’s wrong, but
550 years before Mohammad spread that falsehood, Luke had, in excruciating
detail, recounted the historical matters surrounding the death and burial of
Jesus. Why?
Because the death and burial of Jesus was necessary for your salvation
and for mine. If He is not truly
dead and buried for us, then our sins have not been dealt with because that is
what our sins deserve. But praise
God, as Luke records for us, He has indeed been dead and buried on our behalf.

JESUS’ DISCIPLES WERE OBEDIENT TO GOD’S LAW GIVEN THROUGH MOSES

Third, in this passage, if you look at verse 54 and 56, we’re told that Jesus is
buried on the day of Preparation right before the Sabbath begins and then we’re
told that the women who were attending to Him, preparing spices and ointments
and preparing to anoint His body for burial, rested, look at the end of verse
56, “rested according to the commandment.”
Now why does Luke include this particular historical detail?
Well first of all, because it happened.
He records is because that’s the way it happened.
But there is a specific reason.
Luke is showing us that Jesus’ disciples were obedient to God’s law as it
had been given through Moses. Now
the Jewish people differed on whether you could prepare the body of a loved one
for burial on the Sabbath day. Some
Jewish authorities said, “Look, that’s a deed of necessity and mercy and it’s
allowable under the law. It’s the ox
in the ditch. Sure you can do those
preparations.” But there were many
Jewish authorities who were much stricter and said, “No, you must not violate
the Sabbath day by preparing a loved one for burial on the Sabbath day.”
And what Luke is showing you here is that Jesus’ disciples observed the
Sabbath day, even with regards to abstaining from preparing His body for death.
In other words, Luke is saying – and you can imagine in the world in
which he was writing, in the world in which the gospel of Luke was first heard,
there would have been many Jewish people who would have heard that gospel read –
and what is Luke saying to them?
That the followers of Jesus were pious and obedient to the law.

Why is that so important? Because
over and over, Jesus and His disciples had been depicted by the Jewish leaders
as being what? Disobedient to God’s
law. They were lawbreakers.
In fact, specifically, Jesus has been accused of being a Sabbath-breaker.
And His disciples have been accused of breaking the Sabbath.
And what is Luke saying? No,
these folks lived according to the Word of God.
They really cared about the authority of God; they really cared about
God’s Word. They were pious people.

Now what’s important about that for you and me?
It’s simply this — this is a testimony that obedience to God’s Word is a
part of the Christian life and is not in contradiction to or opposition against
the saving grace of God in the Gospel.
Grace and obedience are not enemies.
Yes, there have been some who have wrongly tried to come up with the
formulation that God’s grace plus our obedience equals salvation or our faith
plus our good works equals justification.
And the Bible teaches none of that.
But the Bibles does teach that God’s grace always flourishes in us, not
only in faith, but in our obedience.
Those things are not enemies. So the
apostle Paul will say, “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not
of yourselves; it is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast.”
We’re saved by grace. And
then he goes on to say, “And we’re created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
So we’re not saved by good works but we’re saved for good works.
We’re not saved by our works but we’re saved to good works.
We’re not saved by obedience but by grace through faith we are saved to
obedience.

And here again we have an example of Jesus’ disciples, before the first
Resurrection Day, before the Sunday on which Jesus was raised from the dead,
they’re still faithfully obeying the old covenant law.
Now I would argue that this is the last Sabbath day.
After this day, the Sabbath, the seventh day Sabbath is gone.
The Lord’s Day will be the day of worship for God’s people when Jesus is
raised from the dead. But to the
very end, what are they doing?
They’re obeying God’s Word. They’re
obedient to the Scriptures. And so
we see something of a testimony to us that the obedience of the believer to
God’s Word is part and parcel of the Christian life.
It’s not opposed to God’s grace.
It’s not opposed to realizing that salvation is all of grace, all of
Christ, all of what God has done for us in the Gospel, but what God has done for
us in the Gospel has meant not only that we would be declared righteous, but
that we would be transformed to be like the Savior.
And so in this passage Luke not only shows us this courageous disciple,
and our buried Savior, but he shows us the Sabbath rest was carried out by these
pious women disciples, even in the preparation of Jesus’ body for death and for
His burial — they were faithful to God’s Word.
What a testimony to us. Let’s
pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word.
We thank You for this passage.
We pray that You would work its truth into our hearts.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

Well let’s sing about the death of Christ once again using number 254.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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