A Death, a Burial, a Resurrection
Josiah was one of the greater kings of Judah who initiated reform and called the people back to God. Sadly, his reforms did not last and the people soon reverted to evil after his death. While Josiah himself would not live to see Judah taken into captivity, his children, who did not follow the Lord as he did, would see the devastation. Jeremiah prophesied during the final days of Judah. One of Josiah’s sons, Jehoiakim, was so wicked that he cut up and burned the scroll on which God’s word was written (Jer 36). Here is what was read from Jeremiah in a prophecy against him: Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:
“They shall not lament for him, saying,
‘Ah, my brother!’ or ‘Ah, sister!’
They shall not lament for him, saying,
‘Ah, lord!’ or ‘Ah, his majesty!’
With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried,
dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem” (Jer 22:18-19).
Jehoiakim would be buried like a donkey, dragged from the city and dumped without any mourning or second thought. That’s the tragic end of a wicked king. Yet that is basically the end of all people if there is no God. People may mourn for a time, but a few years down the road no one will know or care. Life is gone and none will know the difference. There is no hope, for a universe without a God cannot care for anyone or anything. “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity” (Eccl 3:19).
Let’s contrast this with another death and burial. Jesus died by crucifixion, which was a particularly cruel and ugly death. To be crucified was to be cursed, a criminal, and a bane of society. A crucified man would be mocked and looked upon with horror, and Jesus was even dishonored by those who hung next to him. It was ugly, vicious, and humiliating. The cross was scandalous, worse than the death of a beast. No wonder Jesus despised the shame (Heb 12:2). Jesus’ death was worse than the most wicked of the kings. If that were the end of the story, we would all be most pitiable.
Jesus’ burial, however, was different. The King of kings suffered the worst of deaths, but was then treated with respect and honor by those who buried Him. The women who followed Jesus cared for His body while Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man, offered his tomb (Matt 27:55-61). This fulfilled the prophecy: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death…” (Isa 53:9). But even this was not the end, for the mourning was followed by great joy! As one writer notes, “In shame, ignominy, and powerlessness he died in suffering and agony and rose in power to become the risen temple of God, the living meeting place between God and his people” (D. A. Carson, Scandalous, 25).
While Jesus’ death was the worst shame imaginable and His burial treated with honor, what happened next is the reason any are or can be Christians. His death alone does not suffice, and His burial does not provide the hope. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). There had to be more, and the preaching of the gospel entails the full message: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared… (1 Cor 15:1-5a).
The resurrection is the basis for our hope and knowing that the end of life here is not the end of life altogether. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:3-4). We live because He lived. His death was indeed necessary for His blood to remit our sins, but His resurrection is the capstone of all that He came to accomplish, and through this we have life: “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15).