Come and See – the Empty Tomb
It had been the longest three days of their lives. On Friday, they had watched in horror as their beloved teacher and rabbi, a completely innocent man, was brutally executed before a blood thirsty crowd. How could it be, they wondered, that the Promised One, the Messiah, could be taken away from them? Now what would become of them? They had devoted their entire lives to this man, and he was gone forever. This pain was too much, this grief too unbearable, if only this were just a bad dream, no, a nightmare, from which they could wake up and find everything just as it had been only a week before, when he had ridden victoriously into town on the colt of a donkey.
Instead, now, early in the morning, the first day of the week, while it was still dark, the women walked the lonely and desolate path to the tomb carrying the fragrant spices they had gathered to give Jesus the proper burial that he deserved but never received due to the late hour of his death on the eve of the Sabbath day.
Four different authors all record what happened next : As the women drew closer, they saw that the stone which had covered the tomb of their friend, which required multiple professional soldiers to set in place, was gone. Not only was it moved out of the way, but the heavy stone was actually lifted up and out of the groove which held it securely in place, completely cast aside, laying on the ground.
Who, or what, could have done this? The Roman sentinels, directed by the Temple rulers to guard the tomb, stood paralyzed, literally frozen in fear, as if they had seen a ghost. But the women didn’t notice the guards, instead they saw the same thing that stopped the soldiers dead in their tracks – two men dressed in lightning, clothes white as snow.
As the women trembled in fear, one of the men called out, “Don’t be afraid, I know that you came to find Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come, see the place where he lay.” They entered into the tomb that was now completely empty except for the cloth he had been buried in. Unable to comprehend what was happening, the women, terrified and bewildered, were now even more more upset than before.
The other women hurried at once to go find the disciples. But as Mary turned to leave, she noticed a man they hadn’t seen on their way in. The man approached and spoke to her in a compassionate, yet somehow familiar, voice, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you seeking?” Thinking that surely this property caretaker must know what happened to the body of Jesus she said, “If you took his body, please tell me where you put him, so that we can take him away?”
Then, with a single word, the entire world changed forever. “Mary,” the voice spoke again, there was no mistaking him now. Was it even possible? Could this really be happening? Her heart on fire, all of the fear immediately melted away like frost thrust into a blazing furnace, Mary turned and beheld her teacher: Jesus was alive.
This same wondrous story, first told to the disciples that very morning, has been passed down from generation to generation, century to century, ever since. The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen. He is alive.
The angels said to Mary and the other women that day: Come, see. The word here “see”, in the original language, implies much more than a momentary glance or sneak peek. It means to perceive, examine with the eyes, or to know. The angels were telling the women to come inside the empty tomb, examine the evidence up close, and know, truly know, that He has risen.
Come — see. That is our offer today… behold the empty tomb.
In the annals of history – the fact of the tomb of Jesus being empty is indisputable. After all, it would have been the easiest thing to disprove. All that had to have been done was to produce the body of Jesus.
While the fact of the grave being empty has never been in doubt, there have been all sorts of explanations as to why the grave is was so. So instead of proving that the tomb was really empty – as it most certainly was – let’s look at some of the possible explanations of why it was empty.
First, the Pharisees claimed from the beginning, the disciples came and stole the body and then invented the lie that Jesus rose again. Chuck Colson – an instrumental figure in the Nixon/Watergate scandal – famously said that Watergate proved the resurrection is a fact – there is no way a lie could live that long – it is impossible that 12 men would go to their own graves defending a story they knew to be false. What did they possibly have to gain?
Another explanation is that the women were simply mistaken, they went to the wrong grave. If this were the case, the early Christian church would have been dead in its tracks, before it even got started. All the Jews had to do was lead them to the right one. To borrow from Jerry Maguire: Show them the body.
A final explanation, and most far-fetched, is that somehow Jesus never really died all the way, it just looked like he did. So after a few days in a coma he woke up, good as new, rolled away the gigantic hunk of a stone which took several men to move, overpowered the highly-trained Roman soldiers, and left.
The problem with this is the fact that the Romans were exceptional and professional killers. Jesus wasn’t just executed. Before that he was beaten, whipped, and scourged. The crucifixion itself was a climax of pain, the cruelest of deaths, held up by nails driven through hands and feet, invented to exact as much pain and torture as humanly possible. Before removing his lifeless body, a spear was thrust through his side and lungs – draining what remained of his bodily fluids.
We can see clearly that these alternative explanations for the empty grave require just as much faith, perhaps even more, than believing that Jesus truly did rise again. But there is more evidence of the resurrection of Jesus than the empty tomb.
The bumbling gang of cowardly disciples, who scattered at his arrest and dared not show their faces at His crucifixion, too afraid to be with their best friend in His hour of need, were practically overnight transformed into courageous and powerful public figures, preaching in the streets and leading thousands to faith in Jesus.
Then there is the inexplicable rise of the early church. To publicly declare “Jesus is Lord” was seen as a verbal assault to both Judaism and the Roman Imperial cult. It could cost you your standing in the temple, your social status, your friends, your family, your business, and often even your own life. There was no “good” reason to become a Christian…what could explain its explosion from a minuscule marginalized cult to major world religion in a mere three centuries, all the while enduring intense persecution, except if it the message were true?
Come, see – that there is not a single credible or even plausible explanation for the empty tomb.
Come and see. Don’t just give it a passing glance. Dare to venture in, to behold this beautiful mystery. Examine it up close. Consider the evidence. See and know that not only is the tomb empty, but that Jesus is risen.
Psalm 66:5 echos the invitation of the angels:
“Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.”
For all who come to the grave, who see and know that the tomb is empty, must believe the words of Jesus, that he is who e said He was, the Son of God, the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ.
This morning, we come to the empty tomb. The stone was not rolled away so that He could go out, of course Jesus could get out. That was never the question. But the stone is cast aside so that we could gaze inside in awestruck wonder. That we could come and see this awesome deed that God has done. Death could not hold him, it never had a chance.
We know the tomb was empty. So today, it all boils down to this one question:
What do we do with Jesus? Do we believe he really rose from the dead?
To borrow from author and pastor Tim Keller – If he didn’t raise, then we don’t have to worry about any of what he said. But if he did, then we must accept everything He said as the very words of God. And what did Jesus say about himself? In John 11:25-26 “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?
Regardless of how bad or good we think ourselves to be, each of us is host to an invisible, fatal disease called sin, which has permanently separated us from God. The Bible says that each of us, left to ourselves, is dead in our sins. There is no action we can perform that can heal this terrible sickness. But Jesus says the way to life is not through performance; it is acceptance. Accepting the free gift that was given for you – the gift of his blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins.
“Come and see” – enter and know – know that Jesus is alive and He can be known.
Take just a moment and consider the question from Jesus today: Do you believe this?
If you do, he can do for you what you could never do – roll away your stone, heal your sickness and bring you to life. Jesus has power over death. He can raise you from the dead. He comes to bring life, true life, because he is THE Resurrection and THE Life.
If he is alive, then he can be known. Today, just as he spoke to Mary, those many years ago, he calls our name in a most familiar and comforting way. With just a single word, he can turn everything we know right-side up, make everything sad come untrue, put everything broken back together. To know Jesus is to know life as it was always meant to be. Do you believe this? Come and see.