An Empty Tomb

An Empty Tomb

Last Sunday we remembered the crucifixion of Jesus. We noted the highlights of the 24-hour period that spanned from the Passover meal on Thursday evening until the body of Jesus was placed in the tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea.

Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15:43-46 NASB)

Who was this man, Joseph? All the Bible tells us is that he was from Arimathea, thought to be a small town on a hill near Jerusalem, and he was a member of the Sanhedrin. There are many rumors and stories that cropped up in later years that he may have been an uncle to Jesus, he may have been one of the soldiers for Pilate, he may have been given the chalice use during the initial Lord’s supper. All of these are speculations and there is no collaborating scripture to support any of these claims.

It is obvious that he cared for Jesus. He was a wealthy man and a follower of Jesus. He wrapped Jesus in linen and placed Him in a tomb that had been cut into stone. He then rolled a stone over the opening of that tomb. This is the end of that horrific Friday when Jesus was crucified.

The next mention of anything pertaining to Jesus does not occur until Sunday, the first day of the week. Remember they (the women) rested on Saturday the Sabbath.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So, she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” (John 20:1-2 NASB)

I realize that we all know what happened. We have read this before or we have heard this before so there is no element of surprise left when we read it again. I ask that you pause for a moment and reflect on what your reaction would be to go to the cemetery where you had just interred someone you loved only to find the grave has been opened and the body removed. We are accustomed to things being as we expect them to be. Dead bodies stay where they are placed. Most especially when they are placed in a tomb and sealed with a heavy stone. It is not normal to return to the place where you saw the body placed and find is empty.

Mary Magdalene finds an empty tomb and runs immediately to find Peter and John. Surely, someone has stolen the body of Jesus. If we pause here, we will read other passages from the gospels that mention other women in addition to Mary Magdalene. The fact that John only mentions Mary Magdalene does not exclude the others. On that note, let’s look at the other women mentioned. First, Mary Magdalene is mentioned in all four gospels (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10, and John 20:1). Second, Mary the mother of James (Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10) she may also be the “Other Mary” mentioned in Matthew 28:1. Third, Salome (Mark 16:1). Fourth, Joanna (Luke 24:10). Luke then includes “other women” in his account. So, we really don’t know how many or exactly who were the first women to arrive at the empty tomb. They were going to perform a task and the fact that several went to do this is not out of the realm of possibility.

Peter and the other disciple are told and now they must come to grips with this information. Jesus was placed in a tomb and now the tomb is empty.

For those who don’t already know, in John’s gospel, he often refers to himself in the third person as “the other disciple” or “the disciple whom Jesus loved” so, as we continue to read, the two disciples in this passage are Peter and John.

So, Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so, Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So, the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So, the disciples went away again to their own homes. (John 20:3-10 NASB)

Marry Magdalene shared the news of the empty tomb and Peter and John race to the tomb. John out runs Peter and stooped to look in the tomb but Peter walks on in to examine the empty tomb more closely. Peter is speechless as he surveys the tomb and the linen wraps rolled up but no body.

Many of us have heard or read about the “folded napkin” and the suggested meaning. I hate to cast cold water on that myth but the Jews did not use cloth napkins at their meals so that custom is from a more modern European society. The cloth from the head was more like a towel used to wipe sweat or perspiration from the face and head of a person.

The scene Peter saw was puzzling because the body, if simply moved, would still have the linens wrapped around it. Here, Peter sees the linens and no body. John, finally joins Peter inside the empty tomb and understand the significance of the linens without the body. John understands that Jesus has risen from the dead. Peter and John leave the tomb and return to their home.

Mary Magdalene either followed Peter and John or returned later and she studies the scene. Her grief is intensified. Not only had Jesus been killed in such a public and horrific manner, now his body has been stolen so she cannot attend to the final details of preparation. Her grief is uncontrolled.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (Which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:11-18 NASB)

She stoops to look into the empty tomb and sees two angels sitting inside. Now, let’s pause here to help get a visual of this empty tomb. Earlier, we read about Peter and John being in the tomb and now two angels are in the tomb.

The typical tomb was a horizontal chamber cut through the soft limestone rock on which Jerusalem was built. Usually, such tombs had a small antechamber into which the low entrance opened and from which the burial chambers radiated. Think of a small mausoleum. This tomb seems to have been large enough to accommodate several living persons in addition to the burial cells.

So, the angels asked her why she was weeping and she tells them they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him. At this point, Jesus is standing behind her and speaks. She does not immediately recognize Him. There may be reasons why she failed to know that Jesus was the man asking her questions. She assumes that he is the gardener and that he might be able to help her find the missing body of Jesus.

Then, Jesus calls her by name. This passage does not state however, Matthew speaks of her falling to His feet and worshipping Him. Jesus tells her not to cling to Him. He has a message for her to take to the disciples. Within this message, we see that there is a relationship shift now that Jesus has completed His mission. Let’s re-read His words and take note of that shift.

‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’

These are the words that Mary is to take to the other disciples. Nowhere in the Gospels did Jesus personally address God as "our Father" or "our God." The reason for the distinction in his words to Mary was not, of course, that there were two gods, but that her relationship with God was different from his. He is the eternal Son of the Father; she, as well as all the disciples, had become a member of the family by receiving him. Remember how John started his gospel? But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12 NASB)

Because of Jesus, because of that empty tomb, we have the right to become children of God through Jesus. That empty tomb changed everything.




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