Empty Tomb

0111. The Tomb Is Empty

The term “unbelievable” is used quite often today. It can be used to describe a fantastic ending to a ball game, or something that catches us off guard. But in reality, those events are merely unlikely or improbable outcomes given the data we have access to. For example, the odds of flipping a coin and having it come up heads is 50-50. Yet the chances of flipping a coin fifty times in a row, and having it come up heads fifty times is extremely rare. So the word unbelievable is tossed around somewhat inaccurately, as the event is believable and possible, just very improbable.

The thing is that in our culture, extremes matter. Ordinary doesn’t cut it when you are trying to reach the general public nowadays. You need to be extreme. It is what gets media ratings. It is what makes a social media post go viral. It is what sells. Let’s face it, if you are not extreme enough, which is most people, then chances are the spotlight will never shine on you in this culture.

One thing that is not extreme and is common is death. You see it in the news all the time: war, disease, and natural disasters.  According to population experts, the number of people who have lived on this earth is approximately 120 billion. There are currently close to 8 billion living on this planet. This means that over 110 billion people have died.  No matter how far we have come in science and technology, no matter how many drugs and treatments we have developed to extend the human lifespan, we have yet to conquer death. As the old saying goes: “There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.” Yet for all the certainty about death, there is something truly unbelievable that needs to be told.

In the history of humanity, there are only two people who have never died: Enoch from the book of Genesis, and Elijah from the book of 2 Kings. Both were taken up to Heaven by God before they died. We will talk about them at a later date. However, there is even a rarer feat when it comes to death. There is only one person who has conquered death and returned triumphant. And that would be Jesus Christ.

Jesus was crucified by the Romans at the request of the Jewish religious leaders at the time. He died on a Friday, and was buried quickly before sundown when Sabbath began. Since no one was allowed to do anything on the Sabbath, none of his followers were allowed to give him proper burial rites until Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene and other women went to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint Jesus with spices, and complete the burial rites. However, they arrived to find the tombstone rolled away, and an empty tomb. Fearful that someone had taken the body of Jesus away, angels appeared to explain the situation in Luke 24:5-8 (CSB): “So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. ‘Why are you looking for the living among the dead?’ asked the men. ‘He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying, “It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day”?’ And they remembered his words.”

Now prior to the crucifixion, Jewish leaders were fearful that this might happen, given some of the prophecies and messages that Jesus had taught his followers. They believed that his disciples might try to take the body, and claim he had risen from the dead. So when he died, they asked the Romans to place soldiers in front of the tomb as guards, and their request was granted. On the morning of the resurrection of Jesus, the guards were nowhere to be found, and the stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty save for Jesus’ burial cloth. Still, Jewish leaders tried to play this off as a grave robbery by Jesus’ followers.

This excuse has many holes in it though. The two most powerful entities in the Judean province were the Romans and the Jewish religious leaders. If you crossed either of these two governing bodies, then you would be dealt with swiftly, and made an example for others. Jesus found this out first hand. Therefore, Jesus and his followers had no power against them. In addition, following the arrest of Jesus, most of his followers went into hiding, fearing for their own lives. Peter, who adamantly told Jesus he would never betray him, denied he was a follower of Jesus to avoid being arrested or stoned himself. In fact, only John, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus’ mother Mary had the courage to stand at the foot of the cross during Jesus’ crucifixion. Everybody else had disappeared. The fact that Mary Magdalene had to search for Peter to let him know about the resurrection meant that the followers were still afraid of the repercussions. So what are the odds that a bunch of scared, scattered individuals, with no authority in the region, would suddenly take on trained Roman soldiers, roll away a gigantic tombstone, and steal a corpse without the burial cloth in the middle of the night? All in order to fulfill something that they themselves did not believe when Jesus told them about it? It actually sounds more like the plot to the Hollywood movie Ocean’s Eleven than a biblical story.

What is left that lies before us is truly unbelievable: one person’s victory over death 2000 years ago to fulfill a promise made from God to humanity. The sacrifice Jesus made is one made from love, and serves as a bridge for humanity to come closer to God and know his heart. However, Jesus rising from the dead also gives us the power to overcome death. Not the physical death we have been discussing, but a second spiritual death. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10-11 (CSB): “My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” By accepting Jesus as our savior, we will have the opportunity to overcome death as he once did.

So if this one event is so singular and extreme, why isn’t it viral across the internet and the country, like the other extreme events we observe? Why does our culture no longer carry Easter with the same reverence that it once did? The answer lies with the fact that we live in a God-omitted culture. The resurrection, once recognized and celebrated, now takes second fiddle on Easter to egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and marshmallow chicks. Much like those ancient Jewish religious leaders, many question whether the resurrection occurred at all, or whether it was some elaborate hoax. And overcoming death? Culture has many ways to appeal to the masses, usually in dark fashion, such as magic, vampires, and zombies. For culture to acknowledge the empty tomb, is for it to acknowledge the power of God, and the enemy will do anything to suppress it.

Despite this, the fact remains that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the most extreme singular event in human history. And by acknowledging it, we will come to know a joy in our hearts like none we have experienced before, for we will join him in conquering death. So spread the word: the tomb is empty. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Happy Easter to you!

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