Whatever people may say about death, they know deep down in their hearts that death doesn’t end it all! But on Easter we celebrate the end of that fear! We celebrate an empty tomb!
I know this all seems illogical. Others call this insanity.
You are probably saying, “Come on, anyone can see that the earth is just one huge graveyard. Just look around! We see trees die – sometimes after holding their heads high for hundreds of years – they finally fall to the ground. Animals die after only a few years. If not buried, we see their dry bones under the heat of the sun. Insects die by the billions – often only a few days or hours after they’ve come into being. Death is here with us to stay!”
Are we not different? People die too! We’re born into this world and for most of us we’re gone in less than ten decades. I live close to a cemetery and sometimes I take the morning walk looking at the tombstones. We mark each other’s graves – try to preserve the graves, but even the graves eventually disappear. For most, I see the familiar dates: day of birth and day of death. In between the dates is nothing but a dash or a hyphen. It shudders me when I realize that a person’s life is shrunken by just a small insignificant hyphen (-). All those years growing up, going to school and work, living with family is all summed up by a punctuation mark. It’s a strong fact that death is here for everyone without exception!
This is where the story of the empty tomb comes in. Early one morning about two thousand years ago, something happened in Jerusalem that impacts the life of every human being who has ever lived.
Jesus, a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth, had been arrested, denounced, tortured and crucified. As he died he handed over himself to his heavenly Father and his Holy Spirit. Then, for three days his battered corpse had lain in a tomb carved out of solid rock, sealed by a heavy stone rolled across the entrance.
Even so, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, had placed a guard at the tomb. Jesus had prophesied that the grave would not hold him, and Pilate was afraid the followers of the dead man would try to steal the body.
The body of Jesus lay in the cold, dark tomb for three days. Then, sometime early in the morning of the third day, the shroud that held the mangled flesh stirred, and out of it stepped something that had never existed before—a resurrected and glorified human being. Jesus had been resurrected by his heavenly Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Not just in a way that restored his human existence, as he had done for those he brought back from the dead, but who would later die again—Jesus had become a new kind of creation, never to die again. He folded the burial shroud, and walked out of the tomb to continue his work. And nothing would ever be the same again.
When he was with us on earth, Jesus was one of us, a flesh-and-blood human being, subject to hunger, thirst, weariness and the limited dimensions of a mortal existence. He also lived in communion with God’s Holy Spirit, as one of us. Theologians call this “the incarnation.” But he was also one with God as the eternal Word (John 1:1) or Son of God.
What science is uncovering shows that just because something seems to defy explanation, that does not mean it isn’t true.
Well, perhaps not everything. Scientists working on the leading edge of physics have had to come to terms with phenomena that turn conventional logic on its head. At the quantum level, the rules that govern our everyday life break down, and rules that are so counterintuitive to logic as to seem preposterous take over. Light can act as both a wave and a particle. A particle can be in two places at the same time. Some subatomic quarks must spin twice before they have “gone around” once, while others need to make only half a revolution. And so on. The more we learn about the quantum world, the more unlikely it seems. But experiment after experiment demonstrate that quantum theory is right. But our ordinary experience gives us no clues that this would, or even could, be the case.
What science is uncovering shows that just because something seems to defy explanation, that does not mean it isn’t true. Likewise, we accept that even though we may not fully grasp how Jesus was God in the flesh, that was the way it was. We have the tools to investigate the physical world and are often surprised at its inner details. So why should it be a surprise that the spiritual world is also sometimes counterintuitive? We do not have tools to investigate divine and uncreated realities—we have to accept it the way God reveals it to us. The evidence we do have, from Scripture, from history and our own experience supports the belief that Jesus was both one in being with God and one with humanity.
Jesus told his disciple, John, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).
Read that again. Most of us have grown up knowing that “Jesus died for us.” Revelation 1:18 is a verse that needs to be unpacked carefully. So look again at what Jesus is saying. He was dead. He is now alive. As if that were not enough, he says he will stay alive forever. And he also has a key that opens up the way for others to also escape the grave. Even death isn’t what it used to be after Jesus’ resurrection.
My response to this verse is “Wow!” What this verse is saying is that Jesus has revolutionized what it means to be a human being. Not just for himself, but for everyone. That is the astonishing promise of another verse that has become a cliché: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus, resurrected to eternal life, has opened up the way for us to also live forever.
Look again at what Jesus prayed before he died: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). Jesus, having shared our mortal existence for about 30 years, says he wants us to be with him in his immortal environment forever.
Jesus was the first human to transcend mortal existence, but God never intended that he be the only one.
Although we cannot yet understand the full impact of this, our eternal future is in safe hands. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. [So don’t worry about it.] But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has shown us what it means to be a human being. He is the first to reach the full perfection that God had in mind for human beings from the beginning. But by no means is he the last. We can’t get there by ourselves. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus explained. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But he “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).
So when we read the scriptures carefully, an exciting preview of the future of the human race begins to unfold.
When the women came back to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial, they found the stone rolled back and the tomb empty except for the neatly folded body shroud and head covering. But that empty space was filled with promise—for them and the other disciples. And for every human being.
Jesus’ destiny is our destiny. His future is our future. The empty tomb demonstrates God’s willingness to irreversibly connect himself to all of us in an eternal relationship of love, lifting us up into the very life and communion of our Triune God. The empty tomb reveals a God who cares.
(If you have any comments, questions or wish to know more about the author’s ministry, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)