By J.R. Miller
The important question in all that refers to Christianity is, "did Jesus truly rise again?" Paul says that if He did not rise, our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins, and we have no Redeemer (see 1 Corinthians 15:14). Until that morning Death had been an unchallenged conqueror. All the generations of men had been taken captive by him, and not one person had ever returned. True, a few people had been recalled from his power--but only for a little time, to be reclaimed again after a brief respite. Death never had been really overcome.
Someone has said, "No philosophy will ever satisfy men--which cannot throw a plank across a grave." To our natural eyes, the grave is a dark chasm over which we cannot pass. Has Christ bridged this chasm for us?
He came to be the world's Redeemer and Deliverer. He conquered every form of evil--sickness, human infirmities, and demons. Now He had met the last enemy and apparently had been defeated by him. Death had carried Him down into the prison of darkness and had shut the door upon Him. If He had not risen, that would have been the end. If He were not able to overcome death, He would not be the world's Redeemer. All our hopes, all the hopes of the world, waited outside that sealed door--to see if Jesus would come again. Did He rise?
It was the first day of the week, very early. A little company of women were hurrying toward the tomb where their Master had been buried three days before. Worthy of notice, is the beautiful and loyal devotion of the women friends of Jesus. Woman's ministry gave Jesus much comfort during His sorrowing years, and now, when He is dead, women are the first to come to His grave. The women friends of Jesus are as brave and tender in their loyalty to Him today as they were when He was on the earth.
What brought these women friends to the tomb that morning? They had no thought that Jesus had risen, or would rise again. They supposed that His body still lay in the grave, and they wished to honor it. It was a beautiful sentiment which sought thus to show love's tender regard for the departed. It was fitting to pile fragrant spices in the sepulcher, filling the place with sweet odors. In like manner friends lay flowers on the coffins of their beloved dead in our own time. It is one of love's tender ways of expressing itself. It is fitting and beautiful. But let us not forget to put flowers also upon the pathways of our friends while they live. That is better. It is a poor compensation to allow hearts to starve for acts of kindness along all the years--and then to send elaborate floral designs to be laid on their coffins or graves! Let us be kind to our friends while they are living, and then honor them in death.
As the women hurried on through the dim dawn, they were perplexed about the stone which had been rolled to the door. It was too heavy for their feeble strength to roll back, and they asked each other, "Who shall roll us away the stone?" Apparently they did not know that the stone had been sealed with the Roman seal, and that, also, a guard of soldiers had been set to watch the grave. If they had known this, their anxiety would have been still greater. But when they came near enough to see the grave, they found that the stone was already rolled back. An angel had been there before them.
We may get a lesson here about the needlessness of anxiety over difficulties in our way. Wherever God wants us to go, He will open the way for us. It is ours only to go straight on, in confidence and faithfulness, doing our simple duty, and leaving to divine love and wisdom the opening of the path, the rolling away of the stones. Impossibilities become easy possibilities, when God is leading.
Fearlessly the women entered in and found that the body was not there. This greatly perplexed them. But suppose they had found the body in the grave--what then would have been the conclusion? That would have meant no resurrection, Jesus still held in the clasp of death. The women were disappointed in not finding the body--but in this disappointment lay the glorious hope out of which all our Christian joy comes today!
We should get here a lesson of comfort for our own hearts--when we stand by the graves of our Christian dead. The body of our beloved one may be in the grave--but the friend we knew and loved is not there--he is with his Lord. Speaking of believers who are departed, Paul says they are "absent from the body." "At home with the Lord" (see 2 Corinthians 5:8). You go to an old house where your friend used to live. You knock--but get no answer. The house is empty. Then you find that your friend has moved to a new house, a larger and better one, on the hill. You stand by the form of your dead and speak--but get now answer. The house of clay is empty. Your friend is not there--he is absent, he has gone away. Where is he? He has moved out of the old house--and is now "at home with the Lord." That is the story of Christian death. It is life--not death!
In their disappointment the women had a vision which brought great comfort to them. They saw two forms in dazzling apparel keeping watch over Christ's tomb. One of the evangelists speaks of them as young men. All heavenly life is young. In heaven, all of life is toward youth. In this world we grow ever toward feebleness and decay. But in the immortal life--all this is reversed. The angels were young men, although they were created before the human race began.
As we look into this empty tomb, there are several lessons we should learn. We are assured by it, first, that Jesus actually died. Certainly He was buried there. His head lay there, and His feet lay there. He was surely dead, for Pilate had official inquiry made, and received assurance of the fact before he would give leave for the removal of the body. If any doubt had existed concerning His death, there certainly could be none after the soldier had thrust the spear into His side. Here are the grave cloths, the pieces of fine linen which gentle hands had wound about His limbs. Here is the napkin that covered His face, lying neatly folded by itself. Look closely at the place, for He was here--He was actually dead.
But He is not now in the grave. There is no dead form lying there where He lay yesterday. The grave is empty! But are we sure that He is risen? May not His body have been stolen away? No! for a great stone was rolled to the door and by Pilate's order sealed, so that it could not be removed without breaking the seal. Further, at the request of the rulers, a guard of Roman soldiers was stationed by the tomb to watch it. These precautions of Christ's enemies, taken in order that His body might not be disturbed and a story of resurrection started, form important links in the evidence of His resurrection.
Carelessness about sealing or watching the grave would have left room for uncertainty as to the fact of resurrection. But now we can say, without a shadow of doubt, "He is risen!" His enemies helped to make the testimony infallible and invincible. Thus the empty tomb declares the resurrection of Christ. Death could not hold Him!
The empty tomb proclaims another precious truth to the Christians. Jesus rose--and so shall all who sleep in Him, arise. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so also those who sleep in Jesus, will God bring with Him" (1Thess. 4:14).
The angel called the attention of the women to words which Jesus had spoken during His lifetime. They reminded them that He had said He would rise again. The women remembered the words now. It seems strange to us that the disciples should have forgotten the promises of Jesus about His resurrection. If only they had remembered these words they would have been spared their sorrow when they saw Him led to His cross. All the uncomforted sorrow of the disciples during those dark days and nights, came from not remembering what Jesus had said to them.
Often it is because we forget what Christ has said to us in His Word--that we are in sorrow and in darkness. He has revealed to us the infinite love of His Father; if only we remembered this love, we would not be overwhelmed by the strange things of providence which appear to us to be evil and destructive. He has told us that death for a believer--is only going to his Father's house; if only we remembered this word, we should not dread to die, nor should we grieve immoderately when our loved ones go from us.