The reality of death is inescapable. From the moment we are born we begin to die, and death comes all too quickly no matter how long one lives. Every one of us has lost, or will lose, someone dear to us, and every one of us will one day suffer death. In cemeteries all over the world the living pay tribute to and remember those who have passed on. Death is the great equalizer because the rich and famous, the powerful and prominent, lie alongside the poor and unknown, the weak and insignificant.
On the outside graves can be very different. Some are very simple, others are ornate and ostentatious. Some lie in poorly maintained grounds that seem as forgotten as the dead interred there. Others lie in carefully tended, garden-like surroundings. Yet, from one end of the spectrum to the other, all graves are the same on the inside. They all contain the mortal remains of someone who once lived on the earth. All except one, that is.
That grave is the one we read about in the gospels. It is the tomb into which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus placed the body of Jesus after He died on the cross. In Jn. 19:38-42 the scripture says they wrapped the Lord’s body in strips of cloth according to the burial custom of the Jews. They then placed the body in a tomb in which no one had ever been laid. These were the same actions that would have been done for anyone who died in this era.
Mt. 27:62-66 tells us that the leaders of the Jews persuaded the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to place a guard at the tomb, and to seal it with his seal. This was to ensure that no one could steal the body and claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead. On the first day of the week, however, Jesus came forth from the tomb, just as He had promised He would. In Mt. 28:1-7 the scripture says an earthquake occurred, an angel of God rolled away the stone covering the tomb entrance, and the Roman guards became like dead men. Jesus left the tomb, and when Peter and John looked inside a little while later, they saw the grave cloths lying where the body had been (Jn. 20:1-10).
Jesus was alive, never to die again (Rom. 6:9), and this was the message the apostles proclaimed on the first Pentecost after His resurrection. As they apostles preached that day they declared that God had raised Jesus from the dead and asserted that they were all eyewitnesses of this truth (Acts 2:32). This proclamation could have been thwarted that very day by producing the dead body of Jesus. Yet, the leaders of the Jews did not do so, because they knew the truth. His body was not in the tomb!
Someone once said that the Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection. As Paul told the church in Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). He then said, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Our faith in the Lord stands because Christ was raised from the dead, never to die again. Because He lives, we believe that we, too, will live again after death.
We have hope for eternal life in the place being prepared in the Father’s house (Jn. 14:1-3). We have this hope because of the greatest event in human history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have hope to live for Him in preparation for eternity because He rose the third day after His crucifixion. We commemorate His death, but we do not mourn Him. Instead, we rejoice, because we have an empty tomb!