What Happened at the Empty Tomb?

In a previous post (6/18/2021), we explored what happened at the tomb – or, to say it better, while the body of Jesus was still in the tomb. As we already know, it did not stay there very long.  Let’s take a fresh look at the story of the empty tomb. 

         Shortly before dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, “the other Mary,” Joanna, Salome, and some other women returned to the tomb.  They came with the sweet spices they had prepared to finish the embalming process that had been started by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea three days before. As they travelled, they were discussing how they were going to move the large stone that had closed the tomb.

         That question was answered by a great earthquake that happened shortly before they reached the sepulcher. When they arrived, they saw the stone was already rolled away and the Roman soldiers – sent by Pilate to guard the tomb – had fainted and were trembling on the ground in shock.  The reason for their fear was clear.  They had witnessed what few had witnessed and survived – the arrival of the angel of the Lord.  With his face like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow, he had just descended from heaven to roll the stone away from the tomb. 

         When the women arrived, the mighty angel was sitting on the rolled-back stone, waiting for them and keeping an eye on the Roman guards. He assured the women not to be afraid.  He knew who they were looking for. He had even rolled the stone away to show them where Jesus was not. The angel announced, “He is not here, just as He said,” and then he, like a good host, invited the women (perhaps with a knowing grin on that stern, brilliant face) to “Come and see where He was laid.” 

John’s gospel tells us that, at this time, Mary ran back to tell the disciples that the body of Jesus was gone. When Peter and John heard this, they ran to the tomb, with Mary following.  When they got there the two men entered and found it empty.  John did not record that they saw any angels.  Peter and John returned to where they were staying, probably quite puzzled. After Peter and John left, the women entered the empty tomb together.

They soon saw the tomb was not completely empty. Oh, the body of Jesus was not there, but there were two other “men” with shining garments standing in the tomb (Mark speaks of possibly a third, sitting on the right side with a white garment). At that sight, the women fell to their knees, faces to the ground, asking them where they had taken Jesus’ body. The men answered with another question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen!” “Do you remember what He said to you while He was still in Galilee – that He had to be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise again on the third day?”

         Then Mary, the “other Mary,” Salome, Joanna, and the other women remembered what Jesus had told them many times before.  The angels commanded them to go quickly and tell the disciples, and Peter, that He had risen from the dead. They also told the women that Jesus had gone ahead to Galilee and will see them there. To emphasize the importance of the message, the angel said “I have told you.”

         As the women turned to leave, they met another man who they thought was the gardener.  He asked Mary Magdalene, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”  Mary, still distressed and confused answered, “Sir, if you have taken Him away, please tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away” and turned to leave.

“Mary” was all the gardener said.  It was the way He said her name that gave Him away. 

“Rabboni!” she gasped as she turned in amazement.  She reached out to embrace Him, but Jesus pulled back and explained that the embrace was not possible yet because He had not yet ascended to His Father.  He then repeated what the angels had said – not to be afraid, to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, they will see Him there.  When the other women saw Him, they fell at his feet and worshipped Him. 

That’s all the women needed to hear.  They ran to tell the disciples – with minds thoroughly confused but also with hearts gushing with joy. The disciples did not believe them and dismissed the news as an incredible story from some hysterical women.  Later, He did meet them at Galilee and, during the 40 days before He ascended, He met many disciples in many places – even up to 500 at a time (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

That is what happened at the empty tomb about 2,000 years ago. But what does that mean for us today?

It is a fulfillment of a promise made to the fathers of the Jewish people (Acts 13:30-38; Psalm 2:7; 16:9-11).  David wrote in Psalm 16 that God would not allow His Holy One to see corruption. When Paul was in a synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, he told his hearers that this Scripture could not have applied to David because David eventually died, and his corpse eventually decomposed.  On the other hand, Christ – the Holy One – also died but His body never decomposed, because He rose from the dead on the third day. 

Christ’s resurrection assures us that our sins are really forgiven (Acts 13:30-38; 1 Corinthians 15:16-19). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter alone into the Holy of Holies – the innermost sanctum of the Tabernacle and later in history, the Temple. He carried with him the blood of the sin offering for the nation. When he came out alive, Israel knew the sin offering was accepted.   Paul alluded to this when he told the Corinthians, “If Christ is not risen from the dead, your faith is useless and you are still in your sins.” 

His resurrection makes it possible for us to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4, 9-11). When we are baptized, it is a public announcement that we have been born again.  When we go down into the water we are, in a figure, burying the old life with Christ.  When we come up – just as Christ was raised up to the glory of the Father –   it should be the beginning of a new walk in accordance with the new life His Spirit has birthed within us.  This is the same Spirit, by the way,  that also raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8: 11).

His resurrection assures us that Christ will be the One who will righteously judge the world at the end of time (Acts 17:30-31).  Paul had the ear of the philosophers on Mars’ Hill until he got to the subject of the resurrection.  He had told them that they should repent because God has already appointed a day when He will judge the world righteously by Christ – and he knew that was true because God had raised Him from the dead.  

We can only be ready for that judgment by believing in our heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 4:23-25; 10:9).  In his letter, Paul told the Romans that as Abraham believed God and God reckoned him as righteous, the same was true for them if they would believe on him who raised Jesus from the dead.  When Jesus died on the cross, He won the forgiveness of our sin.  When He arose from the dead he won our justification – a clean bill of moral health in the sight of a perfect and holy God. This is why Paul told the Romans later in the letter that if we confess the Lord Jesus with our mouth and believe in our hearts that God had raised him from the dead, we shall be saved.

         Everything in the “What Happened?” series is just that – events that have really happened. We can read the eye-witness testimonies of these occurrences in a document whose authenticity has been repeatedly, relentlessly, and rigorously verified – by both friends (intentionally) and foes (unintentionally) – over two millennia.  We know that document today as the New Testament.  If you haven’t already – find a good version in a language you can understand and read it for yourself.

         The main point is, everything that did happen – happened for you!  Jesus was born for you. Jesus died for you, He was buried for you and, He rose again on the third day – all done to reconcile you to God.  The next move lies with you. Will everything that Jesus did just remain on the pages of the Bible or will they become a reality in your life?  The choice is yours.

To explore further: Matthew 27: 57 – 61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23: 50-56; John 19: 38 – 42

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