Jesus’ Empty Tomb

April 11, 2004 / No. 3197

Dear Radio Friends,

            Jesus Christ is risen today!  Intentionally, personally, and lovingly.  This is the message that the risen Lord brings to His church, to us, this very day.

            This means victory for the church.  This means life out of death for all who belong to Him by a true and living faith.  This is pardon for sin, newness of life, and the promise of resurrection.

            Are you anxious today over the impossibilities of tomorrow?  Do you look down the road and do you ask the question:  How, why, who is able to help me?  Jesus Christ is risen as the victorious Lord.  And we have the victory in Him.

            Are you hiding today because of your sin?  You dare not look up to heaven.  You believe that your sin is too much and too great.  You have denied Him before men.  You must confess that you are guilty of being ashamed of your Lord.  You believe that He will never call you His own.

            The message of the gospel is:  Jesus Christ is risen.  The payment for sin has been made.

            Are you depressed today?  Are you alone?  Do you say that nobody cares for you, nobody understands?  Are you tempted, are you hounded by sins that will not let you alone?  Jesus Christ is risen today.  He lives.  And because He lives, we also shall live!  And, as the risen living Savior He brings, by His Holy Spirit, the life of His cross and the life of His resurrection into our hearts.

            The empty tomb of Jesus Christ means that the way to our Father is forever open.  And now we are “more than conquerors through Him who hath loved us.”  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is victory for the church.

            Jesus’ empty tomb means that now our salvation in Him is secure and that, as the Savior lives, we shall live also.

            Believe this word.  Believe this word as it is declared to you in the holy gospel.  Believe this word by the grace of the Holy Spirit in your hearts.  Embrace this word, for this is the word that shall never make you ashamed.   This is the word of eternal life and victory:  Jesus Christ is risen today.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ

is victory for the church.

            As we turn to the history of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we learn that there were at least three women who rose early on that Sunday morning, while it was yet dark, and made their way in the pre-dawn hours in order that they might time their arrival at the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea when it would just be getting light.  We read, for instance, in Mark 16:6 that Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, very early in the morning came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.

            The women referred to (and there must have been others as well) were those women who had followed the Lord throughout His earthly ministry and were especially from Galilee.  Mary Magdalene is notable among them.  She is the one out of whom the Lord had cast seven demons.  There is also Mary, the mother of James and John.  And there are other women with them.  They were part of that group of women who had followed our Lord throughout Galilee ministering to His temporal or earthly needs.  They were the last ones also, we are told, who were at the foot of the cross.  And they are the first ones at the tomb on that Sunday morning.

            They had been at the cross.  They had watched all of Jesus’ agony.  And they had also watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take down Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial and place it into Joseph’s tomb.

            These women loved Jesus.  They were bound to Him in cords of love and faith from God the Father.  It may be, indeed it is true, that they were mistaken in their sorrow.  It is true that their faith was weak.  It is true that they had not listened to His words, for the Lord had made very plain to them that He would rise again on the third day and would meet them in Galilee and that they were to go there where they would meet Him.  And it is true that they needed, on this day, a word of admonition and correction.

            But, for all of that, by the grace of God, they loved the Lord Jesus Christ.  Do you?  And their love of Him was a love of courage — they came to the tomb.  Their love was a love of longing, they longed for Him, and they loved Him because Christ had first loved them.

            Now we think of Proverbs 8:17, “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.”  Because the Lord had set His love upon them, His grace had produced in them love for Him — a devoted, tender love.

            This certainly shows us that the idea that the Bible degrades women is a slander against the Bible.  It shows us that God bestows a unique honor upon women and that in women of the church, by the grace of God, there is that single-minded, tender devotion to Jesus Christ.  Jesus was “everything” to them.

            Why did they come so early on that morning?  The answer was that they came to complete the embalming of the body of the Lord.  We read in the gospel narratives that they brought sweet spices that they might come and anoint Him.  The spices that they brought were aromatic ointments or creams.  They were very expensive.  Joseph of Arimathea had worked in haste to complete the burial of the Lord before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, which started at 6 P.M. on Friday, and ended on 6 P.M. on Saturday.  We learn that the women had gone out already on Friday night before the Sabbath began and had attended the few shops that would be open and had purchased these creams and ointments and had kept them throughout the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday and now desired to come early on Sunday morning (to waste no time) to bring these creams and ointments and to anoint His body, as the decay of the body would be very rapid, especially in that warm climate.  They wanted to perform a last act of love and devotion to one who, they believed, was dead.

            Mark writes, in chapter 16, in what we may call the historic present, that is, in a tense calling us to picture in our own minds what is taking place before our eyes.  We are then to picture them arising early in the morning and going courageously through a city that had regarded Jesus as a criminal.  Luke tells us that the disciples remain behind in the upper room for fear of the Jews.  But the women planned their arrival at the crack of dawn.  And they knew where to go, as they knew the location of Joseph’s tomb.

            The Bible tells us that, as they make their journey to the tomb, their minds are filled with a problem that they are talking over among themselves.  “And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?”  It was a large stone.  Joseph of Arimathea, whose tomb it was, was a rich man, meaning that the entrance was probably of a man’s height and therefore would require a great slab of stone to cover it.  Still more, unknown to the women, the Jews had asked Pilate on the Sabbath day to seal the tomb with mortar and to set a watch.  Their minds, then, are dwelling on a question, Since no men are going to be around, who is going to roll away that mammoth stone for us?  We have brought spices and ointments, but a tremendous impediment is in our way — that great stone.

            So they approach the tomb.  They are bound in love for the Lord, but they are worried about how they are ever going to open that tomb and perform this last act of love.

            And then they see that the stone was rolled away.  The Scriptures emphasize that they experienced the resurrection of Jesus Christ in terms of what they saw.  We read, “And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away:  for it was very great.”  They looked up.  That is, they were engrossed in their problem trying to figure out how in the world they were going to roll away this stone, and they looked up and they saw that the stone was rolled away.  You can read that this way:  hurled backwards, not just moved away a few inches but pushed back some distance, with evidence of great force — not simply a little crack open that they could squeeze through, but this stone had been thrown aside.

            Still more, we are told that God had sent an angel to break the seal of mortar and to roll that stone away.  And the keepers who were there did shake and they ran back to Jerusalem.  Then, we are told, the women saw an angel in the tomb itself, Mark 16:5:  “And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.”

            Often angels are described in human terms.  Here he is described as a young man.  It was an angel of God.  He was clothed in a long white garment of supernatural brilliance.  Some of the glory of God was shining about them in that tomb.  The women reacted as any normal human being would.  They were, we read, frightened.  You approach a burial vault with ointments and spices for the dead and you find that that tomb is opened and inside sits an angel of God.  They were frightened!  They were amazed, they were awestruck, they were dumbfounded.  And they began to be in terror and in fear.

            So, first of all, that is what they saw.  Then, secondly, the Bible tells us of what they heard.  They heard a message that was absolutely tremendous.  There was, first of all, the angel’s word of assurance.  “And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted.”  How wonderful.  The very first words that the angel spoke to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus Christ were, “Fear not.”  Now the very first words that the angel brings to these women at the resurrection is, “Fear not, don’t be afraid.  You must not be afraid.”

            Then the angel followed it up with a glorious explanation:  “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified:  he is risen; he is not here.”  That is why you must not be afraid.  You must not be afraid because He is risen.  You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the One who was despised, the One whom you saw crucified.  You were with Him in Galilee.  You stood at His cross.  You gazed at Him in all of the love of your heart and in the brokenness of your soul.  But He is not here.  Why are you seeking the living One among the dead?  He is risen.

            And, you must understand, the angel was saying to them, “He is risen, not as Lazarus was raised by Jesus Christ so that Lazarus could return to this present life and yet die again.  No, He is the risen One.  No death has power over Him.  He is the One who has obtained the pardon of sin.  And the power of sin is death.  And because sin is paid for, death now has no power over Him.

            Then the angel went on with a comforting invitation:  “Behold the place where they laid him.”  You saw Him carried into this tomb.  He is not here.  You noticed the linen grave clothes that had been wrapped around His body.  You see now that they are undisturbed, they are still in the same form in which they were placed around His body.  He has gone through those clothes.  He is risen.  Death could not hold Him.  He has overcome the curse.  He has obtained eternal life in His body.

Because sin is paid for,

death now has no power over Him.

            And then the angel went on to say, “But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee:  there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”  That is, don’t linger.  Go tell His disciples.  Go tell Peter, who has so terribly denied Him.  Tell him these wonderful words, that He is risen from the dead.  Tell them to go to Galilee and there they are going to see Him.  He will appear to them there, even as He said to you.  Remember, He had said all of these words to you.  He had spoken His word to you of His cross, for sure, but also of the promise of His resurrection on the third day.  And everything that He has said to you has now come to pass.  The word of the Savior is now an accomplished reality.  He has died upon the cross and He has risen from the dead.  And He lives forever as the head of the church.

            We read then that the women “went out quickly and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed:  neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.”  They were still, then, in a state of fear and shock.  Still there was much that needed to settle down into their souls.  They hurry away at quite a clip.  They trembled and were amazed.  They said nothing to anyone.  They went straight back.  And we are told that they do go back and tell the disciples every word that the angel said to them.  They go to Peter and they go to the disciples.

            Still more.  We learn that on the way to the city Jesus Himself meets them.  And when they see Him they fall down and they cling to His feet.  These women were the first ones to hear and to see the marvel of the risen Lord and to gaze upon the fulfillment of all the promises of God.  And they could not take it all in at once.  It took a while for all of this to sink down into the depths of their souls.

            What does this say to us?  It says to us, His church, that Jesus Christ is risen.  It is a word of blessing.  His resurrection is a proof of our justification.  It is the proof that upon the cross He did indeed bear away all the penalty and all the guilt of our sin.  The risen Lord is the testimony to us today that the sin of God’s people is gone, even as He said, “It is finished!”  For the Lord of the church is raised.  And He is raised as the living One.  It is the word of blessing that we are justified.

His resurrection is a proof of our justification.

It is the proof that upon the cross

He did indeed bear away all the penalty

and all the guilt of our sin.

            But it is more.  It is the power unto a new and holy life.  For we are risen with Christ.  He rises as the head of the church, as the living One who possesses all life in Himself, and that life He has earned for the church in order that now He might implant that life in us by faith.  And by His wondrous grace through faith, with that life within us, we shall never die.  Because He lives, we live also.

            Still more.  His resurrection is the pledge of our bodily resurrection.  Our bodies now are no longer going to be kept in the power of the grave.  But in Christ we have the victory, a victory over sin and over death and over the grave.  In one word, the resurrection means that victory to God’s cause has now been brought.  All the blessings of salvation are accomplished and now belong to us.  In Jesus we are justified, and in Jesus we shall be sanctified and glorified.  He lives today, and therefore we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

            That word of victory is a word also of admonition against all indifference to Him.  As the women, by grace, were devoted to the crucified Savior; so must we, as the church of Jesus Christ, be devoted to the crucified and risen Savior.  Do you love the Savior?  Do you live in devotion?  Do you desire to be nourished only by this Savior?  Do you know your own wretchedness and sinfulness?  Do you see your great need more and more to live out of Him and unto Him?  His resurrection means to admonish us against all sinful indifference to the Christ of our salvation.

            But it is also a word of admonition against all hopelessness and despair and desperation.  We see the tender love and the compassion of our risen Savior.  Our sins are forgiven.  “Tell My disciples that I am risen.  Tell Peter that I am risen.  Tell My brethren that I am risen.  Tell them that now they are indeed My brethren, for I did all of this out of grace for My church.  Therefore, the salvation of the church is attained.”

            Oh, the wonderful, never failing mercy of God to us His children.

            This is our comfort today.  Our crucified Savior is our risen Lord.  And, by grace, belonging to Him, we have the victory over sin and death and the grave.  Because He lives, we shall live also.  And to God, to God alone, be the praise and the glory now and forever, Amen.

             Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word.  We thank Thee for the glorious victory of the risen Lord.  And we pray that this glorious gospel may live in our hearts.  To Thee be praise and honor both now and ever, Amen.