An Easter Message: The Empty Tomb Spells Hope
“He is not here, but is risen” (Luke 24: 6), said two angels “dressed in shinning garments” to the women who came early Sunday morning to the tomb where Jesus was laid.
The women had observed the tomb and how His body was laid then they returned after they rested on the Sabbath, they returned to complete the burial ritual. But upon returning, the women never expected to see an empty tomb and so they were in shock. Even though Jesus had told them what was to happen, how he would be crucified and the third day rise again (24: 8- 10).
The women soon juggled their memory and recalled Jesus teaching on the resurrection and how it was pivotal in the apostolic teaching as well as in the faith of the early church. Then they became animated and infused as firsthand eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. They were ablaze to share the good news to others but no one believed them. Even though many regard their story as mere utter nonsense “idle tales” (Luke 24: 11).
The apostles had dismissed the greatest story ever told, God’s historic redemptive act in addressing the sin problem. The empty tomb, “He is risen.” Christ gave his life to save lost humanity. Only in Christ’s resurrection do we find hope. Paul says that “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Cor 15: 14).
Let’s not forget that from the very beginning from his birth (Matt 2: 21)—Jesus’ mission to the world was; He came in response to the sin problem: “and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1: 21). Jesus willing to take up the challenge, the horrific consequences of sin on our behalf—bearing in Himself the divine judgment against sin that should have been ours.
As the Savior of the world, Jesus was focused on his mission. In carrying out the will of His father, he healed, taught, and served with an unwavering commitment to the will of His father. He was aware of the inevitability of the cross (Luke 24: 25, 26, 46). Nothing would deter Him and amidst the anticipated horror and outcry, suffering, even if it means being forsaken by the Father, His father remained strong with a focus on the cross and His resurrection.
With his mission focus, Jesus endured it all. As He slumped dead from the cross the priests made sure that he was really dead. They commanded a soldier to thrust a spear into his side. Streams of blood and water out flowed.
This was indicative of his mental anguish, the pain of the cross, slain by the weight of the sins of the world even though he had not sinned. The priests had heard Christ’s outcry from the cross, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” (John 19:30; Luke 23:46) and the testimony of Centurion, a Roman soldier: “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).
The scene was indescribable even to the many onlookers who flocked to the crucifixion for mere curiosity but soon realized that the charges of the priests were false. The sky was covered with thick darkness and as the crowd dispersed, many left accused by their own consciences and stood condemned.
By then Jesus’ disciples had scattered in hiding for fear but Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus came boldly to the rescue. They became Jesus’ disciple at his death and secured a safe resting place for him in the comfort of Joseph’s own new tomb.
At the same time, in spite of the utmost indignity and inhumanity of the priests and rulers toward Jesus even in death, now that he was buried, the chief priest and Pharisees, as it were, sought mandate from Pilate to further lock down and secure Jesus’ body in the tomb: “they commanded the tomb to be made secure until the third day; less His disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead . . .” (Matthew 27: 62-66).
That which is clear is that the priests and rulers took every precaution and went to the extreme to keep Jesus forever imprisoned in his narrow tomb. They closed the door of the rock tomb, sealed it and kept it under surveillance guarding against any form of tampering. They then tap off the security with a type of wax on which is affixed Roman seal, on the big stone at the tomb’s entrance.
According to Matthew, just before the dawn of day, suddenly there was a great earthquake: for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it (Matthew 28:2). By now the guards of the tomb were all shaken and scattered in bewilderment.
The angel delivered a message of hope to the women: “He is not here: for he has been raised, as he has said. Come, see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:6).
And they saw the empty tomb and soon encountered the risen Christ. This was good news in the ears of all believers. It provided assurance and hope in His coming.
Peter drove the hope of the Risen Lord home to his hearers resulted in 3,000 converted to the good news of the resurrection in one day (Acts 2: 41). Five thousands converted on another day (Acts 4:4); and a large number of priests (Acts 6: 7).
In fact, the very foundation of Christianity rests on the bodily, historical resurrection of Jesus on the third day. Because of this reality, believers can build their faith on the only demonstrably true foundation of Christian faith and constitutes the destiny and hope of the coming King. Jesus’ death was a reality and a divine act. He was buried, he rose from the dead and was seen (1 Cor. 15:3- 9).
There were eyewitnesses (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; and 1 Cor. 15), who saw the empty tomb—“we saw Him,” “He appeared to us,” (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:34, 39-46; John 20, 14, 18, 20; 1 Cor. 15:5-8); “we talked with Him (Matthew 28:9, 18-20) and “we ate with him (Acts 1:4); he performed signs (John 20:30); given a blessing with His hands (Luke 24: 50); he has been touched (Matthew 28:9) and had shown His hands and His side (John 20:20). Paul affirmed to King Agrippa (Acts 26:3, 26) that the death and resurrection of Jesus were not “done in a corner” or in secret.
The writer of Hebrews states it succinctly: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9: 28).
Yes, we have seen the crushing defeat of the enemy on the cross and the empty tomb—Christ is risen and is the conqueror. The devil stood defeated and condemned in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30) and victory is assured and becomes a reality in the lives of the believers.
This victory of Christ now extends to believers here and now—a life empowered by the Holy Spirit though faith in his sacrifice.
For all who are tempted to give up, hope is in the midst of hardship and despair. For those who cannot make ends meet and who see nothing but a bleak tomorrow, hope is assured in the present and in the future.
We cannot afford to give up. Victory is already a reality within our grasp by the power of the resurrection.
And during the Easter season we can all in full assurance of faith say with Paul, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14), the Risen Lord and Savior.