The Tomb Wasn’t Empty
“Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.” (Luke 24:1-12)
We often speak of “the empty tomb” as proof of our Savior’s resurrection from the dead, but that really is not accurate. The tomb really wasn’t empty. 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. 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, receiving the atonement from him (Romans 4:25-5:11).
We rejoice to know 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.” And when he rose again the third day, our blessed Savior left some things in his tomb for us. What things did he leave? 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 a sweet fragrance. 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 the 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. Let us, therefore, say with David, “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” (Psalms 23:4).
Next, our Savior left his grave clothes behind him in the tomb. When Peter went into the sepulcher, he saw the grave clothes carefully folded by themselves, laying to one side. He did not leave behind him a moldy shroud, but, as Luke tells us in verse 12, “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 (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 5:1-9; Psalms 27:13; 17:15; Isaiah 57:1-2). “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.”
Look at it another way. When visting battlefields and museums of war, we see flags hung up in such places as the memorials of victory, memorials of defeated enemies and battles won. So it is in the tomb where the Savior vanquished death. There his grave clothes were laid as the trophies of his victory over death, and assurances to us that we have been made more than conquerors through him that hath 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”? (See Psalm 132:7-9, Revelation 14:4-5 and 19:6-9.)
Then, John adds, Peter saw “the napkin that was about his head” carefully folded up and laid by itself ((John 20:6-7). I see that napkin in our Savior’s tomb still. It is the handkerchief with which the Lord God wipes every tear from our eyes. Let 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 (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 lay. 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 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. — A Way Out. He left an open passage from the tomb. The stone was rolled away. 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. By his resurrection from the dead, we have been raised from spiritual death. God has “quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5).
“From darkest night to brilliant light,
O praise His name, He lifted me!”
Our Savior’s resurrection is the pledge of our resurrection. It is that by which we have been forever saved from the second death. We were raised from the dead with him representatively. We have been raised from the dead by him spiritually in the first resurrection, the new birth. And we shall be raised from the dead physically in the last day, when our bodies are raised in his likeness.
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 before him of their own accord, so shall the saints find ready escape at the resurrection morning. Yes, we shall sleep a while, 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 great stone; 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 Jesus Christ went 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.
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming…But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15: 20-23, 35-58).
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