WHO CARES WHEN YOU’RE DEAD?
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 12, 2013
40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. 42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
-- Mark 15:40-47, ESV
The way in which people are buried says a lot about them, and the people who knew them.
Two graves made news this month, both of which are located in the great old state of Virginia. My great old friend, Kenneth Studdard, recently texted me a picture of one of them in Lexington, the one belonging to the beloved General T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Kenneth traveled there, on the 150th anniversary of Jackson’s death, to pay homage to the famous soldier and great Christian gentleman. The other grave will be not be visited in 150 years, nor 150 seconds for that matter. It belongs to Islamic terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shoot-out with police after he killed others in the Boston Marathon bombing. His own family refused to claim his body, which was finally taken by some faith-based group a laid unceremoniously in an infamous and anonymous grave. Who cares when you’re dead? Well, it all depends upon what you do while you are alive.
Before the resurrection of Jesus Christ, certain questions arose concerning His death and burial. Certain people really cared, and really care today. Did the Son of God really die? What would the Romans or Jews do with His body after His death? What kind of burial was the custom for a crucified criminal? Would anybody step up in the face of hostility and persecution and claim the body of Christ? Who would really care about Jesus after Jesus was dead?
The burial of Jesus reveals the reality of His death.
Unless it is Barnabas Collins, you do not bury someone unless he or she is dead. In the cases of crucifixion under the old Roman Empire, this was especially true. Part of the purpose of crucifixion was to proclaim death, death to anyone who opposed Caesar and Rome. So, nobody and no body was taken down from the cross until it could be verified that they were, in fact, beyond the dark shadow of a doubt, stone cold, graveyard dead.
Jesus’ death was verified by the thrusting of a spear deep into our Lord’s side. The blood and water of a broken heart, like “sorrow and love flowed mingled down.” No one with life in the body or breath in the lungs could have refrained from shouting in pain at such an act, unless they were, in fact, really dead. Therefore, the fact that the Romans consented to the burial of Jesus confirms the reality of His actual death.
This is a necessary part of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For, faith in the fact of Christ’s death is necessary for salvation and eternal life. Sacrificial death is the ultimate act of love. Atonement by blood is the holy requirement for forgiveness of sins. And, Christ experienced death so that all who believe in Him will never perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus Christ did not faint, Jesus Christ did not swoon, Jesus Christ’s body was not mixed up in a case of mistaken identity, and Jesus Christ is no myth. “Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture!”
The burial of Jesus reveals who really cares for Him.
What happened after Jesus died? Who took responsibility for His body? Who really cared for Jesus when Jesus was dead?
Those strange bedfellows, the Roman governor and the Jewish high priest, did not really care. The Romans would have let Him rot. The Jewish religious leaders only wanted Him buried because the Sabbath was about to begin at sundown. Ordinarily, deceased criminals’ bodies would be disposed of like refuse, thrown into some “potter’s field,” or dumped in an otherwise unmarked grave. But, in Jesus’ case, there were some people there who really cared for Him.
There were several Galilean women there who really cared for Jesus. Most Galileans had left late Thursday evening or early Friday morning after the Passover meal, oblivious of what had been done to Jesus. Christ’s closest twelve followers, also Galileans, were no where to be found, yet there is no reason to be too hard on eleven of the twelve. Judas, the traitor, was dead by his own hand. Peter, the denier, was busy with his own tears of repentance and ensuing restoration. John, the beloved, was busy taking care of Mary, Jesus’ mother, as the Lord has asked him from the cross. Perhaps the other nine were forming a baseball team, but more likely they were just sheepishly making their way back to Galilee, as Jesus had instructed. But there is something about these women that shows who really cares for Jesus.
We know some of them by what they were named (ref. vs. 42), but we know all of them by what they did, “they followed and ministered to Him” (ref. vs. 43). What you do always speaks louder than what you are called, and one has no right to call himself or herself a true Christian if he or she is not a true follower and minister of Christ.
And true followers and ministers can be found everywhere, even in religion and politics. “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the counsel” (ref. vs. 43; also, John’s Gospel identifies Nicodemus alongside Joseph) stepped up to take a stand for the Lord Jesus Christ. Accepting Christ’s body was tantamount to accepting Christ, and what the Jewish leaders and Romans did to Jesus could have been inflicted upon anyone who followed and ministered to Jesus. But Joseph did not care because he really cared about Jesus.
In summarizing these thoughts let us observe at least three things. First of all, Jesus’ ministry and the advent of the New Covenant church makes room for women ministers (the word “ministered” in vs. 41 is the same word translated “deacon” in other parts of Scripture). Secondly, the Lord calls and uses His followers in virtually every walk and vocation of life, even hypocritical organized religion and corrupt politics, so we should never judge a Christian book by its secular cover. And thirdly and most importantly, those who really care about Jesus do something about it.
The burial of Jesus reveals our own personal destiny.
Unless the Lord comes again in our lifetime, which in His sovereign pleasure He certainly could, every one of us must face the facts of our own death, burial, and legacy. Will we die? Certainly. Will we be buried, cremated, or otherwise laid to rest? Naturally. Who will care? Well, it all depends.
Very few of us will wind up like Stonewall Jackson, or John F. Kennedy, or Elvis, with people making pilgrimages to our graves. None of us, I hope, end our lives by ending others’ lives in terrorism and tragedy, leaving no one who wants to claim our body or provide a place of burial. Most of our lives will end in a time, place, and manner known only to God and a handful of family and friends. But when your life ends, will it really have mattered? Who will care when you are dead?
God will care, if you are His child. If by grace alone through faith alone you have trusted in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ alone for your salvation, you are a child of God and God will care when you are dead. God will care so much, that you really won’t even die at all.
Your children will care, your physical and spiritual children, if you were a good person, especially if you were a godly person. And if you were a good person but not a godly person, in the Christian sense, the care will give way to doubt and despair over the eternal destination of your soul. The very best thing any person can do for their family is to give their life to Christ, to truly live for the Lord, so that death will have no sting for all involved. And even if you have no physical children to call your own, in Heaven there will be blessing beyond measure in the fellowship with people, spiritual sons and daughters, whom you influenced to get there. Yes, there is a certain way of living, and dying, that ensures people will care about you when you’re dead.
Prepare for your own funeral now while you are living. While you are still alive, let people see you following Christ and ministering to others in His name. While you are still alive, strengthen the body of Christ, the church, and do not ignore or attack her like so many others. While you are still alive, invest in the things required to bring people to repentance and faith, things like praying and giving and witnessing and setting a sound spiritual example. While you are still alive, make sure you care what happens to people when they die. For if you care what happens to other people when they die, those same people will care about you, even when you are dead.