Many years ago I was asked to perform a graveside service for a man I barely knew. I was young and inexperienced and wanted to say a few words of comfort. I fumbled my way through the ceremony and came to the closing prayer. When I got to the part about the resurrection of the dead, the words stuck in my throat. I could barely finish my prayer. I went back home frustrated and embarrassed. What had gone wrong? Then it hit me. I wasn’t sure I believed in the resurrection of the dead. Up until then, it had all been theoretical. But now I had come face-to-face with death, and all my brave words seemed so hollow.
Out of that experience I began to pray, and it seemed as if God said to me, “Son, you’re looking in the wrong place. There is indeed a grave that’s empty, but it’s over on the other side of the world, outside Jerusalem, carved into a mountainside. That tomb is empty, and it’s been empty for two thousand years.”
Several years ago I visited the Holy Land for the first time. During our visit to Jerusalem, we spent an hour at the Garden Tomb. To your left as you enter the garden is a typical first-century tomb dug into the hillside. A trench in front of the opening was apparently designed for the massive stone that once covered the entrance.
Because the opening is very small, I had to duck to go inside. For a few seconds, you see nothing until your eyes adjust to the darkness. Then you can easily make out the two chambers. Visitors stand in the mourners’ chamber. A wrought-iron fence protects the chamber where the body was laid. You soon notice that the burial chamber was originally designed for two bodies. However, one ledge was never finished for some reason. The other one was. It appears to be designed for a person slightly less than six feet tall. As I looked around the burial chamber, I could see faint markings left by Christian pilgrims from earlier centuries. After a few seconds another thought enters the mind. There is no body to be found in this tomb. Whoever was buried here evidently left a longtime ago. The Garden Tomb is empty!
As you exit into the sunlight, your eyes fasten upon a wooden sign: “He is not here, for He is risen.”
We look at our loved ones dying and wonder if the resurrection can be true. But that’s backwards. God says, “Look what I did for my Son. Will I do any less for those who put their trust in him? Put simply: We do not believe in the resurrection of the dead because of anything we can see with our eyes; everything we see argues against it. People die all the time. There hasn’t been a resurrection in a long, long time. No, we believe in the resurrection of the saints because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
When Jesus rose from the dead, he left the door to the tomb wide open. That means we won’t have to fight our way out of the grave. He left the door open 2000 years ago. That is God’s guarantee that even though we die, we won’t stay dead forever.
People of God, rejoice. Easter has come again, death has been defeated, and someday will be destroyed completely. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. The day is coming when God will wipe all our tears away. Until then, let this thought fill you with hope. There is a light shining from the tomb, a light that leads us from the darkness to the Glorious Day that shall never end.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Heavenly Father, We thank you for the wonderful message of Easter that Jesus who died now lives again. The birds this morning join the chorus. The sunlight shouts the message. All creation proclaims, “Jesus is alive.”
Living Lord, be born anew in our hearts today. Lead us to the empty tomb. Let faith rise to banish our fears. Fill our hearts with Easter joy because Jesus lives today. Through him, and to him who is the Resurrection and the Life, even Jesus our Lord, Amen.