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Rev. Christopher MacRae
Kilmallie Free Church Manse
Fort William
PH33 7NG

Phone: 01397 704434
Email: christopher.macrae@kilmallie.freechurch.org
Registered Scottish Charity SC038140


Building Project

This project is being part-financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Highland Leader 2007 - 2013 programme


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Rev Malcolm Maclean

  • Sunday Thoughts - The Resurrection of Jesus 20 Apr 2014 | 3:26 am

    Today is Easter Day, the day on which many Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, we should celebrate his resurrection every day. Surprisingly, some Christians have made great mistakes concerning it. 

    Paul was aware that questions had been raised in Corinth with regard to the doctrine of the resurrection. The idea of resurrection was alien to the Greek mind as can be seen from the contemptuous response of the Athenians to Paul’s message to the Areopagus. Greek philosophy regarded matter as evil and the spirit as good, therefore the thought of spirit returning to matter was abhorrent to them. Greek ‘wisdom’ had affected the Corinthian church in several ways (see 1 Corinthians 1). So the apostle describes and explains the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15.

    First of all, Paul reminds the Corinthians that the resurrection of Christ is an essential aspect of the Christian gospel, and that an ongoing commitment to it as an article of faith is required in order for one to be a genuine believer: 'Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain' (vv. 1-2). In actuality, the resurrection of Christ is as necessary for salvation as is the death of Christ – they are matters of primary importance: 'For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures' (vv. 3-4). How can Paul say that the resurrection of Christ is as essential as his death? He gives three arguments.

    Firstly, Paul stresses that the resurrection, because it was predicted in the Old Testament, is biblical. This is Paul’s basic argument, more important than the other two he mentions (eyewitnesses and personal encounter). One reason for its priority is that the other two cannot give the meaning of the resurrection. Eyewitnesses observed but could not interpret; personal encounter is by nature subjective and open to misinterpretation. But the scriptures are the touchstone by which to understand everything, even the activities of God.

    Paul’s second argument is that the resurrection of Christ is an historical fact. The risen Christ was seen by many: 'and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles' (vv. 5-7). Paul can call on many witnesses. In other words, Christ rose from the dead.

    Paul’s third argument regarding the risen Christ is that he can be personally encountered, even although he is no longer on the earth. Paul himself had so met Jesus: 'and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed' (vv. 8-11). 

    May we have an encounter with the risen Saviour today.

  • Sunday Thoughts - Description of God's People 13 Apr 2014 | 2:42 am

    What does it mean to be a Christian? In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter reminds his readers that they belong to a community – a community that he describes in four ways. They are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [and] a people for his own possession’. Each of these descriptions says something different about God’s people, but each of them also stresses that a Christian is someone who lives in a community. This is a powerful reminder to us because we live in a society that stresses individuality.  

    A second answer to the question, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’, is that they belong to a community who are the fulfilment of what the Israelites were a picture or a sample. The four features that Peter mentions initially described the nation of Israel after it was rescued by God from its bondage in Egypt.  

    The first feature that Peter highlights is that his readers are a chosen race. There are many races in the world, but which one of them has been especially blessed by God? In Old Testament days, the race of Israel was the chosen race. Things changed in the New Testament and the chosen race is now the church of Jesus Christ. All the members of this chosen race were once members of other races, and were so by birth. Membership of the new race depends on the choice of God. He has chosen them to live together and he is in the process of completing the members of his race so that he can bestow upon them the place in which they will dwell – the new heavens and new earth. 

    Second, they are a royal priesthood. It goes without saying that we are not to read this reference through modern ideas and practices connected to priests. Instead we are to look back to what happened in Israel. The function of priests was to participate in worship and there was a general sense in which all Israelites functioned as priests whenever they worshipped God. In particular, the tribe of Levi was given the important role of priesthood and wherever they went their purpose in life was to teach about God in such a way that others would worship him. Obviously they would have connected his worship to the sacrificial system of the temple and would have explained the need of sacrifices in approaching God. In addition to teaching others, the priests also led the praise of the people. It is not difficult to see how this terminology applies to believers today. Their role is to instruct others about God in such a way that they too will worship him. 

    Further, Christians are described as a royal priesthood. They are royal because they are united to the King, to Jesus who is their Elder Brother, the Heir of all things with whom they are joint-heirs. Because believers are royal priests, it means that they function with power given to them by their King. Their calling is to function as the praise leaders of the world, evangelising the nations so that others will come and join the priestly choir that celebrates the works of God. 

    Third, believers are ‘a holy nation’. If chosen generation speaks of privilege and royal priesthood speaks of praise, holy nation speaks of purity. Israel was separated from the other nations of the world and this separation was not merely a division, it was also a distinction. We can imagine how one group can be separated from others and yet remain the same as they had been. All that would mark them was that they were divided. God’s intentions for Israel were far higher than that – he wanted them to be distinctive, living together in a manner that revealed a higher level of lifestyle. It is easy for us to describe the level of difference between the wealthy lifestyle of a person in the affluent West and the poor lifestyle of a person in a deprived part of the world. We can easily describe the difference because it is obvious. The lifestyle of the Christian community should be so far above the best that the rest can offer that it will be easily observed.

    A nation has government, laws, benefits and defences upon which all its activities are based. The rulers govern according to regulations designed to make life for their subjects fulfilling, enjoyable and secure. Those who belong to the nation experience its resources when they live according to its rules. In a far higher sense, this is also the case in the church. Holiness is heart obedience to the laws of Christ. When they are obeyed, the lifestyle of his nation is seen to be above all other possible ways of life. The nation that belongs to Jesus is scattered throughout the countries of the world, but they are still one nation obeying his requirements. When that happens, others see a society that is superior and blessed. 

    The fourth feature that marks believers is that they belong to God, they are his special treasure. There is a sense in which God values every person that he has created because each has been made in his image. Nevertheless he does not give to each person special expressions of his love. But he does provide such benefits to those he regards as his in a special manner – for example, he forgives them when they do wrong and he restores them when they confess their faults to him. He is determined to do them good. 

  • Sunday Thoughts – The permanence of God’s Word 6 Apr 2014 | 12:22 am

    In 1 Peter 1:24 and 25, Peter contrasts the important messages of humans with the message of the Word of God. Peter lived in a time when many ideas were circulating about life, and the vast majority of people would have been very surprised at his assessment of such ideas. The apostle did not expect them to last long – in fact, these messages would have the same influence as temporary flowers and grass. In contrast, the message that was preached to them, which was based on the Scriptures and is included in the Scriptures, would last forever. 

    No matter how surprised Peter’s contemporaries would have been at his assessment, the verdict of history is on his side. How many people today know anything of what the famous thinkers and orators of Peter’s day thought and said? Tourists visit the places where such lived and taught, and have little idea of the influence they once held. Yet the message preached by Peter and others is adhered to strenuously and lovingly by millions of people all over the world today. 

    Since Peter’s time, many other notions have been suggested for improving the state of humanity, and they too have disappeared despite once having great influence. Yet the Word of God remains and has greater impact today than it ever did as can be seen in the large number of people who live their lives by it. All this means is that we should have the same confidence that Peter had in God’s Word and we should have the same assessment as he had of other ideas that are advocated in our contemporary world.  

    Of course, the primary reason why God’s Word is permanent is because he has made it so. This is the obvious difference between other messages and God’s Word – the other messages were the compositions of weak, limited humans whereas God’s Word is the product of the wise and almighty God. Because he is full of all wisdom, the Lord knew what to put in his Word, and because he is almighty he always has the power to ensure its effects are fulfilled. 

    Peter reminds his listeners that they had experienced the effects of this word when it was preached to them. The content of the preaching is described as good news, which raises the question, ‘What were the various features of the message that allow it to be called good news?’ Obviously, he is referring to the gospel about Jesus, in which his person and work are explained. We are familiar with the gospel, but we should remember that it as a gospel that came to us (and them) through the Word of God. As we here the gospel today, let us be thankful for the permanence of God’s Word.

  • Sunday Thoughts - What is the Old Testament About? 30 Mar 2014 | 2:11 am

    Distortions of the message of the Old Testament
    I suppose if we were to take a sample poll and ask the question, ‘What is the Old Testament about?’, several answers could be given. For example, some might say that the Old Testament describes the past and future of the Israelites, and that answer would be a common view today. What would the apostles have made of that answer? Of course, they would have accepted that the Old Testament mentions important historical details of Israel’s past, but I suspect they would have disagreed that the Old Testament, in its prophetic passages, is mainly concerned with the future of the Israelites. We can read what Peter thought about this in 1 Peter 1:10-12 – he makes it very clear that the prophecies of the Old Testament are concerned with Peter’s readers. Imagine how his readers would have responded when they heard his words. I think they would have searched the Old Testament with great desire.

    Another answer that is sometimes given with regard to the Old Testament is that it is about law whereas the New Testament is about grace. Would Peter have accepted such a distinction? He would have accepted that some parts of the Old Testament were concerned with legal matters, such as various details of the Mosaic ceremonial and civil laws. But he would not have accepted that the Old Testament had a legalistic message, and he states very clearly in verse 10 that its message was concerned with the grace that was going to come to his readers.

    What is grace? It is God’s merciful attitude to the undeserving. Peter’s readers would have agreed that they were unworthy of the salvation they had received. They knew that only a few years prior to Peter sending them his letter they were living in pagan darkness, worshipping the non-existent deities in the temples connected to their names. They would indeed confess, ‘We are so unworthy. We know that we had not heard the gospel. Still we could look up to the heavens and recognise the handiwork of a great Creator. But instead of worshipping him as the Creator we chose to give the credit to an image that we created. In doing so, we demeaned in our estimation the greatness of God and revealed that we were so unworthy of his blessings. Nevertheless, the great Creator sent the gospel to us. That is real grace.’

    A third answer as to what is the message of the Old Testament is that it is about a God of judgement as against the claim that the New Testament is about the God of love. Often those who argue this suggestion depict the prophets as fierce ranters who delighted in describing a God determined to punish. Of course, such a summary is a gross distortion. We only have to read some of the plaintive words spoken by God through these prophets to realise that their message was marked by compassion.

    Peter would have also said that the message of the Old Testament is not only about judgement. He would have admitted that divine judgement was part of its message, but he would have also pointed out that there was much more, and he summarises that much more in verse 11 when he says that the message was about ‘the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories’. We can easily see from that phrase  that there is more to the Old Testament than judgement.

    A fourth answer that is sometimes given is that there was little of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Now it is true that a great change occurred in the church’s experience when the Day of Pentecost occurred. The Spirit came in a manner that was unknown previously. But his coming in that way should not make us conclude that he was not present with the messengers of the Old Testament. Peter reminds us that the Spirit was in the Old Testament prophets and that he spoke through them about Jesus.

    What effect did the presence of the Spirit have on these Old Testament prophets? It had the same effect as it had on the New Testament apostles, which was that they wanted to know more about Jesus. Look at how Peter describes the response of these prophets: they ‘searched and inquired carefully’ about the promised Saviour. I suppose the searching refers to how they used the Old Testament portions they had, and inquiring refers to the way they prayed for understanding. True, they did not discover as much as can be known through the apostles, but the inability was not in their messages. The messages of the Old Testament prophets were full of Christ.

    So the Old Testament is far from being unsuitable for us. Peter makes it obvious that the Old Testament is actually God’s provision for his people, prepared for them long before they were born. How thankful they should be to God for thinking so kindly about them when their forefathers were living in spiritual darkness. Peter tells his readers that Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles join hands in providing God’s people with the gospel.

  • Michael J. Kruger - The Question of Canon 29 Mar 2014 | 3:12 pm

    Review in the Record of the Free Church of Scotland (April 2014)

    This volume by the Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, is sub-titled ‘Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate’. The status quo roughly is that the canon of the New Testament was a creation of the church in the fourth century, or a short time before then, and that certain writings from the first century or thereabouts were selected for inclusion while other valid writings were omitted.

    The author discusses some evidences that show the first-century church could have known about the canon as we have it. This involves (1) a consideration of the possible expectations of Second Temple Judaism for further divine revelation, (2) of indications in the Old Testament that additional divine words would be given, (3) the new covenant relationship with God included specific written texts from him, and (4) the role of Christ’s chosen apostles in providing or endorsing written scripture.  

    The question of a canon of written scripture has also to face the claim that the main means of communication in the early church was oral, which has led some scholars to assume that it would have opposed written texts, especially since some of them have decided that the canon is composed of inferior writings in contrast to the classic works of the period. Moreover, most early Christians, it is said, were unlettered, preferred the direct encounter with a spoken word, and expected Jesus to return imminently, so why would they have wanted a canon?

    Kruger points out that the barrier between unlettered Christians and a written text is drawn from modern situations in which educated people find it hard to imagine that a merely oral society could appreciate written texts. This was not the case in the first century in which it was common for many illiterate persons to become familiar with written texts that they heard read in public gatherings – these texts could be government decrees, philosophical opinions, as well as other forms. And the New Testament itself contains several references to the public reading of scripture. Indeed it can be argued that they were written in order that they could be read orally to Christian gatherings. And to this can be added that the early church insisted on retaining the Old Testament scriptures, which would be a strange thing to do if they were averse to writings.

    Did the early church expect Jesus to return within its lifetime, and did that expectation affect their ideas about written scripture? If it did, then since he did not come, surely it would assume that he was not telling the truth about his return. Yet there is no evidence that such a possibility caused a crisis of faith, which indicates that the apostolic church did not believe that he must return during that period, merely that he could. The fact is that New Testament books were written during the first century, and were accepted as truthful by subsequent generations of believers even although Jesus did not return in the first century, which indicates that neither the first century church nor subsequent generations believed that he taught he would definitely return at such an early date.

    Another issue dealt with by the author is whether or not the New Testament authors were aware that they were writing scripture. He shows that they were conscious that they were writing with divine authority and that they regarded their writings as divine provisions for those to whom they wrote, which is the same as saying they were on the level of scripture. So while they would not have known how many books would be in the New Testament they did know that their writings were authoritative in the church.

    Kruger gives a chapter to discussing whether or not the canon was only closed by the end of the second century. He looks at the writings of Irenaeus who around that time refers to most New Testament books as recognised scripture. Of course, if he recognised them, the assumption is that others before him also recognised them because he does not indicate that he was the first to do so. Kruger then notices the way that Theophilus of Antioch argues in a work dated around the year 177 that the Gospels were as inspired as the Old Testament. Kruger also works back through the writings of Justin Martyr, Papias, Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement and others to show that they were aware to a degree of some of the books that make up the New Testament canon. More importantly, the New Testament itself refers to Paul’s writings as scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). This survey, according to Kruger, points to the real possibility that the church by the end of the first century already recognised which books were scripture and which were not.

    Of course, many Christians accept the New Testament as Holy Scripture intuitively, an evidence of the divine illumination given to them by the Holy Spirit. Such may not want to read a scholarly book like this, although I do not see why not.  In some places I felt I was in the company of a master detective as he analysed and dismissed the alleged evidence against the existence of an early canon. While this book did not add to my already-existing recognition of and delight in the New Testament canon it did strengthen my conviction that God not only inspired its production but supervised its acceptance throughout the early church. I would recommend it to any who have been troubled by the claim that the canon is merely a creation of the church a long time after the apostles left this world.

  • Sunday thoughts - The love of Jesus 23 Mar 2014 | 3:54 am

    As Christians learn more about Jesus, they discover many things about his love. In what ways had he shown love for them?

    His love for them was a receiving love in the sense that he gladly accepted them before time as a gift from his Father. The Father and the Son entered into an eternal agreement which involved the Son acting in various ways on behalf of an innumerable number of sinners that the Father gave to him. Before he did anything for them, the Son loved them as the Father’s gift to him. So they love him because he received them lovingly in this way.

    His love for them was a representative love in the sense that from then on he did everything as their agent. This is a profound mystery and very difficult to understand, nevertheless it is the case that his people were in his mind as Jesus, with the Father and the Spirit, engaged in the works of creation and providence. Each Christian can say that Jesus worked to prepare that individual’s personality and situation. Their genetic make-up is the outcome of generations of development, but Jesus has been in charge of it, all the time having his eye on each of them. The situations in which they found themselves when they met him through the gospel were arranged by him just as certainly as was the character and situation of Levi when Jesus recruited him into his group of disciples. The universe was created by Jesus for them as the location in which he would meet with them.

    Of course, his representation of them is more particular in the sense that he came to earth in order to live a perfect life on their behalf and then take their place when he paid the penalty of their sins as he suffered on the cross. Think of the details in the Gospels in which Jesus interacts perfectly with sinners. Then imagine how you would have reacted when you have met similar persons. At one level, Jesus is dealing with them personally, at another level he is keeping the law on behalf of his sinful people, and as they read about how he did so, they love him, even although they have not seen him.

    When we turn to the cross, we see that his love was a redeeming love that rescued them from slavery to sin. What matters is not that they never saw him on the cross – after all, many people saw the crucifixion and received no benefit. Instead what matters is that they have received the benefits of the cross, and they include deliverance from sin’s bondage, pardon for their rebellion, cleansing from defilement, and promise of a rich inheritance. As they realise such blessing that came from the one who loved them, they love him in return.

  • Sunday Thoughts - Brotherly Love 15 Mar 2014 | 11:09 pm

    Brotherly love has many benefits. In Psalm 133 it is likened to oil and to dew. Like the oil, it is refreshing, and like the oil it spreads. Further, like the dew’s effect on vegetation, brotherly love through the Spirit’s blessing becomes a means of daily growth so that all the flowers that should be in the garden of our hearts will appear; these flowers are described in Galatians 5:22-23: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’  In what ways will there be refreshing growth? There are several features of such growth that could be mentioned, but let me mention five.

    The first feature of a united group of Christians is forgiveness. This is such an important outlook for Christians that Jesus teaches, in the Lords Prayer, that God withholds a sense of forgiveness from us if we refuse to forgive others. A Christian church is the community of the forgiven. Of course, each believer forgives because God has previously forgiven him and her.

    A second feature of a united group of Christians is faithfulness or loyalty to one another. This loyalty is displayed in a number of ways, such as committed prayer for one another or resolving to help one another over the long haul. It is easy to begin a process, but only faithfulness will continue it.

    A third feature of a united group is fellowshipor sharing together. This can happen in practical ways, but there is more than that to Christian fellowship. We should share with one another what Jesus means to us, what discoveries we have made of him; we can share encouraging promises that we have discovered in the Bible. Our aim is to be like those described in Malachi 3:16: ‘Then they that feared the Lordspake often one to another: and the Lordhearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.’

    A fourth benefit of a united group is stronger faith or strengthened assurance. Sharing together in the things of Christ stimulates one another. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that even their words should minister grace to one another (Ephesians 4:29: ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear’). A united church possesses a great basis for mutual upbuilding.

    The fifth feature of a united group of believers is that their togetherness is a foretaste of heaven. One of the joys of heaven is the reunion that will occur, of the meeting together of all Gods people down the ages. When a group of diverse ethnic, economic and age backgrounds meet together now in the church, it enjoys the blessing of God in an increased manner because these blessings are foretastes of the heavenly experience.

  • Sunday Thoughts - Listening with delight to God's Word 9 Mar 2014 | 4:37 am

    I was thinking this morning of a hymn that I heard many years ago in which the author was expressing his joy to God. The words he used are very basic but they speak volumes. They are, ‘I am so glad that our Father in heaven tells of his love in the Book he has given.’ I realise that my memory might not be accurate with regard to every detail in that line. For example, I cannot recall if the personal pronoun should be ‘our’ or ‘my’. But since both would be true, my memory slip does not matter.

    Why are we going to be in church today? One reason is to listen to God’s Word. As we do so, we can listen to him as a Ruler giving instructions or as a Guide giving directions. Maybe we want something personal from the reading and will feel disappointed if we don’t notice anything unusual.

    The words of that hymn remind us of a very important aspect of our church gathering. We meet as a family to hear again what our Father thinks of us, has done for us and has planned for us. No doubt, some of those details will be emphasised in the praise items and the sermon. But as we listen to the Bible being read, may we be ‘so glad that our Father in heaven tells of his love in the Book he has given’.

  • Sunday thoughts - Jesus only - in his love 2 Mar 2014 | 10:41 am

    Paul was very disappointed to discover that the Galatian churches had turned away from the gospel he had preached to them. Their turning away was caused by false teachers who argued that the new converts should also practise the ceremonial law. In effect, their message was 'Jesus plus something' whereas Paul's message was 'Jesus only'.

    We too can be affected by 'Jesus plus .....'. It might be a new technique that promises a lot or a new practice that seems beneficial. Often such suggestions are subtle (like the Galatians, it can be given from a Bible verse), frequently they are selfish (it usually fits in with a person's competence or preference), and always they are sinful (because 'Jesus plus' only leaves us with the 'plus').

    In Galatians 2:20 Paul reminds the Galatians of three ways in which they should think of 'Jesus only'. The first concerns his love for them, the second his sacrifice for them, and the third is their union with him by faith.

    As far as the love of Jesus is concerned we could think of many aspects. Here are six ways in which he showed his love for his people. First, his love for them is eternal - it has always existed. Second, his love was receptive in that he received them as a love gift from his Father in the eternal counsels. Third, his love was personal - although they are a number that cannot be counted he loves each as if he or she were the only one to love. Fourth, he loved them longingly, anticipating the time when he and they could be together. Fifth, he loved them creatively in the sense that he participated in their formation as individuals and provided uniqueness for each of them. Sixth, he loved them intelligently, fully aware of their sins and flaws.

    Much more could be said of his love. Those six details are good to meditate on. We will think about Paul's two other points in later readings.

  • Sunday Thoughts - Thinking About a Burial 23 Feb 2014 | 3:15 am

    Every Lord’s Day is a reminder of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. At the same time, it is also a reminder of the burial of Jesus. Perhaps we wonder why Paul includes the burial of Jesus in his summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Here are seven possible reasons.

    The first detail about his burial is that it reveals the accuracy of biblical prophecy. Isaiah 53:9 predicted that the Messiah will be buried in a rich man’s grave. If we were reading for the first time the accounts of the death of Jesus in the Four Gospels, we would not expect them to say that he would be buried in such a place. Yet we know that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and a ruler of the Jews, obtained permission from Pilate to take down the body of Jesus and bury it, which he did by putting it in his own tomb.

    A second detail of which the burial of Jesus reminds us is the authority of God over all earthly powers. The verse from Isaiah reveals that the human authorities who arranged for and supervised the death of Jesus intended to place the dead body of Jesus where they placed the dead bodies of executed criminals. Yet their intentions were overruled and his body was placed instead in a rich man’s grave.

    A third detail that we can see is that the burial of Jesus testifies to the actuality of his death. The Gospels tell us that the government, in order to prevent the disciples of Jesus stealing his body and pretending that he was alive, arranged for a seal and for a guard to be placed so that this would not occur. Government permission was only given after an accurate check was made to certify death. It was a dead body that was placed in a rich man’s grave.

    Fourthly, his burial reminds us of the anomaly of his death. The rest of the verse from Isaiah reminds us that Jesus was sinless in action and in speech, and we also know that he was sinless in thought as well. Death is in the world because of sin, and it is only sinners who die. Yet here a sinless man dies and is buried. The grave had an unexpected guest when Jesus of Nazareth was placed in the rich man’s tomb. Here was a victim who was sinless, and such a person had never been in the grave before. Everyone else who had been buried had been sinful.

    Fifthly, the burial of Jesus is another example of his willingness to associate himself with sinners. We know that he was numbered with the transgressors when he was baptised by John the Baptist, whose ministry was that of baptising persons who were willing to state publicly that they had repented of their sins. Jesus had no sins about which he could repent, yet he aligned himself with sinners when he was baptised. Further he was numbered with the transgressors when he was crucified at Calvary. It was criminals who were subjected to such an awful death, and in going through that experience Jesus identified himself with the worst of sinners. And here he is now being identified again with sinners as he is placed in a grave.

    Sixthly, the burial of Jesus in a rich man’s tomb was testimony to the admiration given to his Son by the heavenly Father. It is almost as if God said, once Jesus had stated that he had finished his work and placed himself into the care of his Father, ‘The first matter that I need to do is take care of his body. And therefore I will arrange for it to be placed in a rich man’s grave, but not only a rich person’s tomb, because it will be a tomb in which no other body has yet been placed. Although his death was worse physically than that of most other men, and his reputation sunk lower than that of other men, and his body more marred than that of other men, I will begin the process of his journey to the highest glory by ensuring that his body is placed in a unique grave.’

    Seventhly, the burial of Jesus in a rich man’s tomb is a source of challenge and of comfort for his people. Jesus shows the attitude with which we should face the last enemy: he died by placing himself into the hands of his Father, knowing that he would take care of the body. None of us knows how we will die – it may be suddenly in an accident, or through a prolonged disease, or through old age – but what we do have is a perfect example of how to approach our own demise. We can only do so by placing ourselves into the hands of God. That is the challenge.

    The comfort is to know beforehand that Jesus has been in the grave before us and for us. As one of the old divines put it, ‘In his burial Jesus warmed the bed of death for his people.’ He will take care of our bodies. The rich man’s tomb is for us a sign that Jesus was on the way to glory. Similarly, when we lay a believer in the grave, it is a sign that we believe he/she is already in glory with Jesus and will yet be raised from that grave by Jesus.

    So we should not be surprised that Paul regarded the burial of Jesus as one of the matters that were of chief importance as far as the gospel is concerned. 

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