The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death
(1 Corinthians 15:26)
There’s a place near my house that I take a drive to when I need to get away for a while. I’m not going to tell you where because the best part about it is that for miles, there isn’t another house or another human being to be seen. I like it because, other than the gravel path, it is relatively untouched by anything but the hand of God. Similarly, I love to drive through the mountains, but not where thousands of million-dollar condos have been built. I like to go where it looks like a place that hasn’t been discovered yet. No billboards, gas stations, or dollar stores, only the beauty of the creation of God.
When God instructed Moses about the building of an altar in the wilderness where the blood of the lamb would be offered, He required that the stones that were used were to be untouched by human hands.
And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. (Exodus 20:25).
The fire that the priests kept continually burning in the tabernacle was not started by man, it was kindled by God himself.
And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people.
And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:23-24).
We are made in the image of God, and like our Creator, we like to make things; we delight in the works of our own hands. However, we are sinful, fallen, and broken, and much of our work and many of our best efforts result in the destruction of beauty. Honestly, humanity wrecks most of what it touches. God wanted it to be known from the start that when sacrifices were to be offered for sin, they would not be accepted if any of them were the result of man’s effort. The lamb was made by God. The stones of the altar were made by God. The sacrifice came from outside of man, and the atonement came through nothing that we could produce. The most sacred places, the most beautiful miracles, and the most meaningful moments are untouched, unpolluted, and unchanging. They are gifts to mankind from their loving heavenly Father, and the pinnacle, the ultimate, the unmatched wonder of the world, is an empty tomb.
The pinnacle, the ultimate, the unmatched wonder of the world, is an empty tomb.
When I think of the empty tomb, I am undone by the power of God and the abundance of his love. It was noted in the gospels that this tomb was new. Jesus was its first occupant. It was built to put death away from mankind, a barrier between the living and the dead, a place to house decay. Human beings shroud the unspeakable terror of death in beautiful tombs and flowered monuments in churchyards, but the curse and ugliness of sin are impossible to ignore. Christ’s tomb, the conquered grave, shouts the victory won at Calvary; it echoes with the hope of eternal life, and it is a place where mankind can bring nothing but adoration, thanks, and devotion because Christ alone is able to produce the unmatched beauty of the empty tomb.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26)
The empty tomb defines and differentiates Christianity from all of the other religions. The question every individual must answer individually is the same question Jesus asked Martha and Mary.
Believest thou this?
Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
It had been a long week. It started with a crowd celebrating Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem.
And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.(Mark 11:8-10)
This particular week, however, ended much differently than it began. Far from coming in as a warrior to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression, which many of His followers desired him to do, His words were a condemnation of the Jewish religious establishment. He cleansed the temple, He symbolically rebuked the fig tree, and He cried for Jerusalem, prophesying its fall. He spent the rest of His time preparing those He held the closest for what was to come, although they admittedly did not understand until later. Then He prayed, spending time yielding His will to the will of His Father. He was judged innocent and then beaten, shamefully mocked, and scourged. The frustrated crowds violently screamed, crucify Him! The blinded mob chose to release a criminal rather than the Son of God. At least they could predict Barabas’ behavior. He was shamefully nailed to a cross between two thieves.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11:2).
Lowly shepherds had announced His birth. Women, out very early to perform the only kindness they could offer to the crucified Savior whom they loved, planned to prepare His mutilated body for burial; but would instead have the honor of announcing His triumph! You see, it’s required of a steward that he (she) be found faithful.
And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
Can you feel their confusion? This was not what they expected to see. After all, they were experiencing, in real-time, the greatest moment in the history of the created universe. They were “much perplexed.” God, in his kindness, sent his messengers to help them make sense of what they were seeing.
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words,
Remember. Christ's words were to be trusted. He is not among the dead… He is risen! He is not here. Perhaps they thought that Christ intended to do what He said but that He had been overpowered. Could they have felt that all was lost because He had been defeated? If so, they couldn’t have been more wrong. The cross of calvary and the empty tomb was the plan hatched by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit before the world began. This was the day that Adam and Eve desperately awaited. It was the promise given to Abraham, It was the establishment of the throne of David. It was the rock that Daniel saw, destroying all the kingdoms and strongholds of mankind. This is also the rock Moses hid in, and the fulfillment of Joseph’s dream,
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Genesis 50:20).
Remember how the blood of the firstborn saved every soul from the plague in Egypt? Remember how manna fed God’s people in the wilderness and how when they struck the rock in the desert, life-sustaining water poured out that satisfied the thirst of millions? All of those were a pale portrait of the greatest of all the works of God, the Resurrected Christ, the first fruits of the plan of salvation.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (I Corinthians 15:20-23).
Could they recall His voice calling Lazarus out of the tomb? Could they picture His gentle hand bringing life to the widow of Nain’s son? Below are just a few more things that could have come to mind:
For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40).
And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. (Matthew 17:9).
And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry. (Matthew 17:22).
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again. (Matthew 20:18-19).
And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31).
And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. (Mark 9:9-10).
For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him. (Mark 9:31-32).
Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again. (Mark 10: 33-34).
Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. (Luke 9:22).
Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying. (Luke 9:44-45).
Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. (Luke 18: 31-34).
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:17-18).
His words are gracious and true. Nothing is said without a purpose. Until that early Sunday morning, death had always had the final word - No longer! Because He lives, we can live also.
After His resurrection and appearing to his disciples, Jesus met with them to address a doubter. Jesus mentions those who have yet to believe.
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20: 27-31).
Now back to the faithful women at the empty tomb.
And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.
Peter and I have something in common, I come to the empty tomb, not physically but in my spirit, and leave in wonder. It is the place I can go when my heart is overwhelmed. It is the place unmarred by my clumsy hands and my misguided works. It is a place of awe that I can’t fully explain, but I have come to fully embrace. It is the defining story of my life, just as Peter would come to understand. It’s where all that is dead in me has been swallowed up in the life of Jesus. Peter remembered what Jesus said, perhaps with much fear and heartbreak when he remembered how he had betrayed Him, but later with the power of the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed the grace of God on the day of Pentecost, his pain redeemed.
Let us be careful to not let the words of God become to us as idle tales. In our flaws and weaknesses, let us never forget that the gospel is the power of God. The empty tomb says everything. It ties together the promise of the Old Testament to the fulfillment of the New Testament.
Believest thou this?
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15).
Thank you for studying with us! God bless!