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The Tomb Wasn’t Empty
“The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.” (John 20:1-18)
We who believe in the risen Christ have entered into His rest, because He is resting at the right hand of the Father. We rest in Christ, the risen Redeemer, because His work is finished. His resurrection is the pledge that He has perfected forever them that are sanctified. He has finished all the salvation of His people; and we are complete in Him. It is my hope that God the Holy Spirit will enable me to set before you some restful thoughts, as we make a pilgrimage to the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and see the place where the Lord lay.
The very first thing that must be remembered is this: — Christ Jesus once died. — “For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God” (Romans 6:10). So, as we gather around the place where the Lord Jesus slept “with the rich in his death,” seeing the stone rolled from the mouth of the tomb, we know he is not there. Yet, he assuredly was once there. — “He was crucified, dead, and buried.” He was as dead as the dead whose bodies are buried in the cemetery down the road. Though he could see no corruption, though he could not be held by the bands of death beyond the predestined time, yet he was once dead. There was a time when there was no light in his eye, no sound in his ear, no thought in his mind, and no word in his mouth, because there was no pulse of life in his heart. Christ died for our sins. He did not merely appear to be dead. He died unto sin once, because he was made sin for us. He was, therefore, buried in the sepulcher. A dead man is a fit occupant of the silent tomb. But, blessed be his name, he is not there now! He is risen from the dead. We look to the risen Christ as our only Savior and our only salvation (Romans 4:25-5:11). As we take another look at this portion of Holy Scripture, I want to call your attention to some memorials of the fact that our blessed Savior was once in the tomb, memorials that he has left for us in the tomb
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
What memorials of this fact can be found in the tomb? How are they to be used by us? First, the Lord Jesus left sweet spices in the tomb. When he arose, he did not take those costly spices in which his body was wrapped with him. He left them behind. Joseph had brought about one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, and the sweet aroma of those spices remained in the tomb. That tomb must have smelled like a perfume store, when Peter and John stepped into it.
What a blessed thought that is, when taken in a spiritual sense! Our Lord Jesus has filled the grave with sweet fragrances. It no longer smells of corruption and foul decay, but we can sing…
“Why should we tremble to convey
These bodies to the tomb?
There the dear flesh of Jesus lay,
And left a long perfume.
The graves of all the saints He blessed
And softened every bed.
Where should the dying members rest
But with their dying Head?
Thence He arose, ascending high,
And showed our feet the way.
Up to the Lord we, too, shall fly
At that great rising-day.”
That bed awaiting our bodies beneath the earth is now perfumed with costly spices and decked with sweet flowers. There the truest Friend we have once laid his holy head. The angel’s first word to the women who came to the tomb was, “Fear not ye” (Matthew 28:5). We should never draw back with fear from the grave. Our Lord was once there; and where he goes no terror can remain. — “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Next, we see here that our Savior left his grave clothes behind him in the tomb. When John stooped down and looked into the sepulcher, he saw the grave clothes carefully folded by themselves, laying to one side. Our Lord Jesus did not leave behind him a moldy shroud, but, as John tells us in verse 5, “linen clothes.”
He left those grave clothes for us to look upon as tokens of his fellowship with us in our low estate, as reminders that as he has cast aside the garments of death, so shall we. When he arose from his chamber, he left his bedclothes behind. And when we drop these bodies in death, as we ascend up to heaven, we will leave these garments of death behind (Psalms 17:5; 27:13; Isaiah 57:1-2; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9).
Look at it another way. We have seen old tattered flags hung up in places as the memorials of victory, memorials of defeated enemies and battles won. So in the tomb where the Savior vanquished death, his grave clothes are hung up as the trophies of his victory over death and assurances to us that we have been made more than conquerors through him that loved us. — “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
Take one more look at those linen grave clothes in the fragrant tomb. Do they not lay before your eye of faith as emblems of his righteousness, that righteousness by which he merits heavenly glory as our Surety, that righteousness he has made ours, by which we are made “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light”? Nothing makes the grave more comfortable than the blessed assurance that we are the very righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. The garments of salvation we wear before our God are the blessed linen garments of perfect righteousness (Psalms 132:7-9; Revelation 14:4-5; 19:6-9)
Then, John tells us that Peter saw “the napkin that was about his head” carefully folded up and laid by itself. — “Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.’
I see that napkin in my Savior’s tomb still. It is the handkerchief with which the Lord God wipes every tear from my eyes. The widow and the orphan, the widower and the broken-hearted father, mourning brothers, and sisters, and friends, take this handkerchief and wipe their tears away forever. — “Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy” (Jeremiah 31:16). — “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19).
And with this same handkerchief, he wipes away all other tears from our eyes. Tears of repentance, tears of trouble, tears of fear, and tears of bereavement, all our tears our heavenly Father sweetly dries with this handkerchief of grace (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).
Our Lord Jesus left something else in his tomb. He left angels behind him and made the grave…
“A cell which angels use
To come and go with heavenly news.”
Angels were not in the tomb before, but, at his resurrection, they descended. One rolled away the stone; and others sat where the Savior’s body once laid. I have never read that our Master has recalled the angels from the sepulchers of his saints. And we are assured that when his Lazaruses die, the angels of God carry their souls into the bosom of their Lord; and their bodies, too, shall be watched by guardian spirits, as surely as Michael kept the body of Moses until the resurrection.
A Way Out
Another thing was left behind in the tomb by our blessed Redeemer as a way out. He left an open passage from the tomb. The stone was rolled away. Why? Does he not by this remind us that Death is, for God’s elect, a prison without bars or doors? The open tomb tells me there is a Door open in Heaven. The risen Christ is the Way out of death for us. Blessed be his name, he is the Way, the Way of Life, the Way out of spiritual death!
From darkest night to brilliant light,
O praise His name, He lifted me!
And he who is the Way of Life, the Way out of spiritual death, is also for his ransomed ones, the Way out of physical death and the Way out of the second death (Revelation 20:1-6). Our mighty Samson has pulled up the posts and carried away the gates of the grave with all their bars. The key is taken from the girdle of death and is held in the hand of the Prince of Life. As Peter, when he was visited by the angel, found that his chains fell off, while iron gates opened to him of their own accord, so shall the saints find ready escape at the resurrection morning. Yes, we shall sleep awhile, each one in his resting-place; but we shall rise again in the morning, for the stone is rolled away. A mighty Angel rolled away the stone, for it was very great, and when He had done the deed, He sat down upon the stone. His garment was white as snow, and His face like lightning, and as He sat on the stone, He seemed to say to death and hell, “Roll it back again if you can.” — That mighty Angel who rolled away the stone from the tomb for us is Christ Himself!
Our risen Savior left one more thing behind in his tomb for us. Tombs are places of utter darkness. But our Lord Jesus left in his tomb the brilliant light of life and immortality. — God “hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel: whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” (2 Timothy 1:9-11)
Our Lord has gone into the tomb and illuminated it with his presence, “the lamp of his love is our guide through the gloom.” He has brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel; and now in every cemetery there is a light which shall burn through the watches of earth’s night till the day break and the shadows flee away, and the resurrection morn shall dawn.
When I have breathed my final breath
And dropped this robe of flesh in death,
When my appointed work is done
And my allotted time is gone,
Don't stand around my grave and cry.
I'll not be there. I did not die.
My Savior came to call me home,
And I with Him to heav'n have gone!
Now I am free from sin and pain;
And with the glorified I reign!
Don't stand around my grave and cry.
I'm glorified! I did not die!
Seated with Jesus on His throne,
Glorified by what He has done,
I am a trophy of His grace.
Rejoicing, I behold His face:
Don't stand around my grave and cry.
I am with Christ! I did not die!
My body lies beneath the clay
Until the resurrection day.
In that day when Christ comes again,
Body and soul unite again!
Don't stand around my grave and cry.
Rejoice with me! I did not die!