“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
~John 24: 1-12
I know what you’re thinking. Easter is still a week away. Why am I talking about the empty tomb today?
Well, I’ll tell you.
On the first day of this week (yesterday), very early in the morning, my family received some devastating news. My older sister Christine, who recently relapsed with leukemia, was told that her treatment is not working. Since this is her third time fighting this horrible disease, there are basically no other options. From a medical standpoint, the situation is hopeless.
Where do you go when you hear such news?
Well, I don’t know where you go, but I can certainly tell you where I go.
I go to the empty tomb.
I run to the place where hope is resurrected.
Like my sister, Jesus was handed a death sentence. By no fault of his own, he was condemned to die. Despite Pilot’s efforts, the people could not be persuaded of Jesus’s innocence. The Roman governor washed his hands of the situation, releasing Jesus to a fate he did not deserve. Jesus died on the cross an innocent man.
Yesterday, the doctors essentially washed their hands of my sister’s situation. Despite their efforts, they cannot save her from this awful disease. They have released her to an unjust fate.
But, thankfully, neither her story nor Jesus’s story, ends here.
As John reminds us, three days after Jesus’s death, some of his female followers went to the tomb where his body was laid to give him a proper burial. They were grief-stricken. Someone they loved had died. They had watched it happen with their own eyes. Jesus was dead.
Or so they thought.
Until they reached the empty tomb.
It’s important to note that the women did not immediately believe that Jesus was alive. They did not remember his words, even though he had spoken to them about his death many times before it actually happened. Like many people in the world today, they doubted the possibility of his resurrection.
It took angels to convince them otherwise. Flashes of light to cut through the darkness of their grief and confusion. Only then did they remember.
Understandably, given the situation, they were pretty excited. They ran to Jesus’s disciples to tell them the good news. Jesus had risen, just as he said he would! They had seen the empty tomb! Angels had appeared!
Pretty convincing, right? I mean, if a visitation from angels is not enough to verify your story, what can?
Well, it wasn’t enough to convince Jesus’s disciples.
The very men who had walked with Jesus throughout his ministry, who had seen him perform numerous miracles, including the resurrection of the dead, doubted his ability to perform his own resurrection. They doubted the words of the women who spoke to them. It all sounded like nonsense.
Because they had seen Jesus die with their own eyes.
It didn’t matter what he had said.
The physical proof was too strong.
Just to make sure, however, Peter decided to check things out for himself. Arriving at the tomb, he found it empty. There were grave clothes, but no body. He walked away confused. John tells us that Peter “…went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
He still did not believe the women.
In fact, the resurrection story is a story full of doubt, and not just the doubt of people who did not know Jesus. No. The resurrection is a story full of the doubts of the people who were closest to him. The people who stood by him but had trouble believing in him, even after he had proven himself capable of performing great miracles. They lacked faith.
You see, God knows we have doubts about His existence. He knows that we have trouble believing He is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. Even when we want to, believing in what we can’t fully understand is too much for us.
So what does God do?
He meets us where we’re at. He gives us physical proof.
What did it take for the disciples to believe?
It took Jesus standing before them. They had to see him with their own eyes and touch the holes in his hands before they could believe that he had risen.
And do you know why that story is believable?
Because it is relatable.
The fact that it took physical evidence to convince Jesus’s own disciples that He was who He says He was, gives me the courage to believe that my faith in Jesus’s resurrection is justified. He knew that we would have just as much trouble believing in Him today as people did back then.
Out of fear, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. And yet, like the other apostles, he was willing to die for the sake of spreading the Good News of the resurrection. The news that Jesus defeated death on the cross and that anyone who believes in Him will never die but have eternal life in Heaven.
What changes a coward into a martyr?
What gave Peter confidence?
The physical proof that Jesus is alive.
The proof that, as nonsensical as it may appear to some people, makes complete sense to me.
Thanks to the empty tomb, my sister has not been released to an unjust fate. She has been released into the hands of Jesus. And He is the ultimate Healer.
The bigger miracle has already been performed. Whatever happens, Christine has the assurance of eternal life in Heaven.
And that’s one awesome timeline.
We may come to the tomb with heavy hearts, but, if we have the faith to receive the miracle it offers us, we leave it lighter than ever before. We can visit it every minute, every day, and every year.
Easter may be coming, but Jesus is already here.
The tomb remains empty.
Heaven, on the other hand, is getting fuller day by day.