Death comes to everyone. When it comes, will you have a place to lay your body? The story of Sarah’s death is just such a story. After 127 years on this earth Sarah’s body wore out. She had lived long, received a promised son in her old age and now the Scripture tells us she died in Canaan as a stranger and without a burial plot.
Abraham too, is part of this story, for he is 136 now and while receiving the promised son, he hasn’t received the promised land yet. He is a stranger in a strange land without a place to call home and so he negotiates for some property to call his own. The transaction concludes and Abraham owns a piece of land, some trees and a cave in which to bury his wife.
So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre – both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field – was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. (Genesis 23:18)
Upon death Sarah and Abraham received their second deposit in the promises of God. In Genesis 17:8 the Lord had promised that the whole land of Canaan would be Abraham’s and his descendants but not until this point in their life did they own a single part of the land, but now upon death, their first piece of real estate is secured and the promises of God continue to be fulfilled.
Why was the tomb so important? For a people without an understanding of eternity, a tomb is the final resting place for the body. It is the last point of connection the living world has to the dead. Abraham needed a tomb because without a tomb, Sarah would be lost forever.
No let’s fast forward a few thousand years. Like Sarah, Jesus died and had no place to be buried. He owned no land, he had no home. He himself said, “The Son of Man has no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). And we are told by all four evangelists that Jesus was laid in a new tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, but it is Matthew who alone tells us whose tomb it was.
Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. (Matthew 27:59-60)
Jesus was a stranger in a strange land. Why did Jesus live this way? The answer lies in his own words,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” John 18:36
Jesus understood where his residence lay. He understood where he belonged and therefore, unlike Sarah, he didn’t need a tomb for the tomb was not his final resting place. A short-term rental on a 3 day cave was plenty, for Jesus would not be lost eternally to the world, but rather he would redefine its very concept of life and death forever.
In death, Jesus received his part of the promises of God – wrath poured out, but in death, he also received the right to rise and conquer this nemesis. All the promises ever made to Abraham, David, Moses, and the Israelites entered into human history when Jesus died and rose from the grave. In his death, the curse was reversed and the promise of life came once again to the third rock from the sun. So while Abraham needed a grave, Jesus simply borrowed one from a friend, then quickly shed it when it was no longer useful.
And then he ascended to heaven where he took up permanent residence in the real estate that is perpetually his – at the right hand of God. Praise the Lord that for each and every believer, death is but a passing from one land unto the next where we truly have a part in an earth that is imperishable.
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body….” Philippians 3:20