John 19:31

Studying the work that Jesus did for you is one of the most beneficial things you can do. The more you learn about Jesus and His work—the stronger your faith should be. It’s not automatic—but if you use the means of grace and pray that God would help you apply your knowledge—knowing what Jesus has done for you should make your faith much stronger. Indeed, if you want to grow spiritually, if you want to be strong in the faith—you should study and meditate on the work of Jesus.

What did Jesus do for you? If you’re a Christian perhaps the greatest answer is that He died for you. A lesser answer is that He came to this earth for you. Another would be that He became a true human being for you. The incarnation is a great doctrine. Jesus became a man in order to live for us. He kept the law perfectly. He died for us, to bring us to God.

In our text we have a little glimpse into one of the things that Jesus did for us that doesn’t get much attention—yet it is something that is absolutely incredible, something that shows His great love for us. It is this: immediately after He died on the cross

Jesus’ body became a curse.

We know a lot about what happened to Jesus’ body after He died. Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for permission to bury Jesus. When he obtained permission he went and took the body of Jesus down from the cross. (Mark 15:46) It was unlikely that Joseph could have done this alone. We know from Mark’s gospel that Nicodemus accompanied Joseph. At that point Jesus’ body was treated with great respect. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, 75 pounds worth and he and Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body, with the spices in strips of linen. There was a garden nearby and because it was late in the day, they buried Jesus in a tomb there. We know that Jesus’ body didn’t see decay. In Acts 2:31, in his Day of Pentecost sermon, Peter said,

"he was not abandoned to the grave,
nor did his body see decay."

Peter was quoting for Psalm 16 where David wrote those words about the coming Messiah. Indeed, on the third day Jesus rose from the grave. On and off for approximately 40 days He spent time with His disciples. Then He ascended into heaven.

But between the time when Jesus died on the cross and when His body was taken down from the cross by Joseph and (possibly Nicodemus)—for that time Jesus' body became a curse. Verse 31 of our text says,

"Now it was the day of Preparation,
and the next day was
to be a special Sabbath.
Because the Jews did not want
the bodies left on the crosses
during the Sabbath,
they asked Pilate to have
the legs broken and
the bodies taken down."

The Jews didn't want to Jesus body to be left on the cross because Deuteronomy 21:23 tells us that if a man was guilty of a capital offense and was put to death and his body was hung on a tree,

"you must not leave his body
on the tree overnight.
Be sure to bury him that same day,
because anyone who is hung on a tree
is under God's curse.
You must not desecrate the land
the Lord your God
is giving you as an inheritance."

Anyone who was hung on a tree was under God's curse. Galatians 3:13 relates this to the work of Jesus. It says,

"Christ redeemed us from
the curse of the law
by becoming a curse for us,
for it is written:
'Cursed is everyone
who is hung on a tree.' "

A body that was left on a tree overnight would desecrate the land. Douglas Moo writes, (Galatians, BECNT; p. 214)

"The body that was hung on a pole was under a curse because of the manner in which the person had died: executed for a heinous sin against the law of God."

The following day was 'a high day'. It was a 'great sabbath', the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod. 12:16). It was imperative that Jesus body not be allowed to hang on an cross overnight, especially on such a sabbath.

Consider how astounding this is—the incredible irony of this.

Think about what it would have been like to witness Jesus' death on the cross. After He breathed His last, when His body was lifeless on the cross—can you imagine what it must have been like?

To at least one of the non-believers there—it was remarkable. Remember the reaction of the centurion? He had probably witnessed many executions by crucifixation. Mark 15:39 says,

"And when the centurion,
who stood there in front of Jesus,
heard his cry and saw how he died,
he said,
'Surely this man was the Son of God!"

He knew that there was something incredible there.

But to you as a Christian, knowing what you know, it would have been a scene unlike any other in the history of the world—a scene of awe, reverence and incredible wonder.

Author of Life

For example, you know that Jesus is the Author of life. In Acts 3:14-15 Peter said to the Jews,

"You disowned the Holy
and Righteous One and asked
that a murderer be released to you.
You killed the author of life,"

Jesus, the "Author of Life", was hanging lifeless on the cross. The One who created all things and gives all things life—He Himself was without life. His body was dead. That must have been one of the most incredible and most incongruous things that has ever been seen. How could the Author of life, the One who gives life to all—be dead? How could He experience death? But the Author of Life was dead? Incredible. Astounding.

The Holy One

Furthermore, the One who was dead hanging on the cross was 'the Holy One'. Peter referred to Jesus as 'the Holy and Righteous One'. You'll remember the angel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was going to have a baby, that He would be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, that He would be given the throne of His father David and that His kingdom would never end. Mary asked how it could be since she was a virgin. The angel replied, (Luke 1:35)

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High
will overshadow you.
So the holy one to be born
will be called the Son of God."

Jesus was the 'Holy One". He had been born the holy One and continued to be so throughout His life. He never committed any sin. He, of all the human beings who ever lived, didn't do anything wrong. He was perfect, perfectly righteous, perfectly holy. He was the Holy One of God. John Calvin says of Jesus being the Holy One, who is called the Son of God,

"in holiness and glory he may be high above all creatures, and may not hold an ordinary rank among men."

Joel B. Green says that Jesus is the One, who is, (Luke, NICNT; p. 91)

"set apart (i.e., 'holy') from birth to special service in God's redemptive purpose;"

Jesus is the One, who came from the Father, the One in whom the Father was well pleased, as was testified at His baptism and His transfiguration on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Yet, in a way, because our sins had been transferred to Him, His body, while still being the body of the Son of God, while still being holy, the most holy body that ever graced the face of the earth—His body was considered a defiled thing. Donald Macleod writes,, (Christ Crucified, p. 55)

"Now, hanging on the cross, the Torah declared that he defiled the land. His body was the body of the Son of God, but now it was an accursed thing, and its visible presence near the holy city on such a special sabbath intolerable."

This is incredible. After He died, Jesus on the cross—His body defiled the land. The One who was the Holy One of God, His lifeless body was an accursed thing. How could it be? Nothing like this had ever been seen. Donald Macleod says that this, (Christ Crucified, p. 55)

"fact carries its own poignancy."

Jesus' human body after He died, while it hung on the cross—was an accursed thing.

When Jesus died, when His lifeless body was there, hanging on the cross—it was a curse. One of the curses of sin as that our physical bodies die. This is the norm. Enoch, the seventh from Adam escaped this. So did the prophet Elijah. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 also tells us that those Christians who are alive when Christ returns will also escape physical death.

But for the rest, part of the curse of sin is physical death. Our bodies will decompose and return to dust. After Adam sinned God told him that he would eat his food by the sweat of his brow, to him, (Genesis 3:19)

"until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust
you will return."

Jesus endured physical death for us. Jesus body, for a time, while it hung on the cross, was a curse. His body never decayed, it never decomposed. But it was dead. It was lifeless. It was hanging on the cross—and as such it was an accursed thing.

It was for us. Herman Bavinck writes, (Sin and Salvation in Christ, Reformed Dogmatics 3; ed. John Bolt; p. 400)

"In saying these things, the apostle was not asserting that Christ was a sinner and an accursed person in himself but that he was regarded and treated by God as a person who was guilty of violating the law and had called the curse down upon himself."

John Owen writes, (Works, Vol. 5, p. 35)

"The curse of the law contained all that was due to sin. This belonged to us; but it was transferred to him. He was made a curse; which his hanging on a tree was the sign and token."

This means several things.

First of all

it shows how much Jesus loves us.

He didn't merely die for us and almost immediately have his body and spirit reunite. No. His body remained dead for three days. For part of that time, while it was on the cross, it was a curse, separated from God, from His people, from God's land. It was accursed. It would defile the land if it was left on the cross. What this means is that Jesus experienced this aspect of death for us. He became a curse for us. Herman Bavinck writes, (Sin and Salvation in Christ, Reformed Dogmatics 3; p. 389)

"Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24); there he became for us sin and a curse (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13) and thus took death on himself, the whole of it, in its true essence and character as the wages of sin."

Secondly, this shows that

no one can be saved by works.

Galatians 3:10 says,

"All who rely on observing the law
are under a curse,"

No matter how much you work, no matter how many good things you do—you can't remove the curse of sin—which is death. Works are the wrong currency. Sin requires death. The wages of sin is death. The curse of sin is death, death in all its fullness. Physical death is just part of that curse. Death in its fulness also includes the curse of sin against the dead bodies of sinners. Because our bodies are sinful, it means that anyone who is not in Christ, that even after physical death their bodies are under a curse. In John 5:28–29 Jesus said,

"Do not be amazed at this,
for a time is coming when all
who are in their graves
will hear his voice and come out—
those who have done good
will rise to live,
and those who have done evil
will rise to be condemned."

Douglas Moo writes, (Galatians, BECNT; p. 210)

"The curse in Scripture refers to God's judgment, a judgment that takes the form of exclusion from God's land and God's people."

After death there's a curse against sinful bodies, even dead ones. After the general resurrection, that curse remains against sinners. They will be excluded form God's presence, from God's people, from God's land, the new Jerusalem. Revelation 21:27 says of the New Jerusalm,

"Nothing impure will ever enter it,
nor will anyone who does
what is shameful or deceitful,
but only those whose names are
written in the Lamb's book of life."

Thirdly, this shows that

this aspect of death—our dead bodies being a curse, the curse remaining on us after death—has been eliminated by Jesus.

Question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks,

Q37: What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

A37: The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

When a believer dies—his body is still united to Christ. It is not cursed. It rests in Christ until He comes again and calls it from the dust. Then the whole curse of death will be removed. In essence, the whole of death has been defeated by Jesus. Revelation 22:3–5 describes the New Jerusalem. It says,

"No longer will there be any curse.
The throne of God and of the Lamb
will be in the city,
and his servants will serve him.
They will see his face, and
his name will be on their foreheads.
There will be no more night.
They will not need the light of a lamp
or the light of the sun,
for the Lord God will give them light.
And they will reign for ever and ever."

Jesus has thoroughly dealt with the curse of sin by Himself becoming a curse for us. The curse has been dealt with, in our future there will be no curse.

Fourthly, this shows us that

Jesus offers Himself to and can save the worst of sinners.

In dying the kind of death He did, in hanging on a tree like He did, in having His body become a curse, something that would defile the land if left hanging—Jesus identified with the very worst type of sinner. He endured the kind of death that the worst criminal deserved. He became a curse. His body was such that it would desecrate the land if it remained on the cross.

No one should think they're too bad for Jesus, that His love doesn't extend to them. No. Look at His death, the kind of death He endured, the curse that He endured. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15–16,

"Here is a trustworthy saying
that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
But for that very reason
I was shown mercy
so that in me, the worst of sinners,
Christ Jesus might display
his unlimited patience as an example
for those who would believe on him
and receive eternal life."

If you're a sinner—you're in the exact category of people that Jesus came to save. Go to Him today.