The tomb was empty and the message of Easter is that God’s promises come to us through emptiness. I’m not talking about empty promises, that’s what the world gives us, I’m talking about promises of God that come to us through all the emptiness seen and experienced on that first Easter.
Did you ever think that as Mary made her way to the tomb early in the morning that she might have seen or maybe walked right by the empty cross? John 19:41-42. The place where Jesus was buried was not far from the cross, so it was maybe right by the cross that Mary and the disciples had to walk to get to the tomb. They may have tried hard not to look at the cross or even the place where the cross had stood, but it would have been almost impossible for them to not see it. The empty cross or at least the posts on which the cross beams had been placed were still standing.
At the top of the post would have been the blood which came from the crown of thorns which pressed into Jesus’ brow, maybe that crown was lying on the ground. The whole length of the post may have been smeared with blood from Jesus’ back, a back which had been torn to shreds as he was flogged and beaten before the crucifixion. At the bottom of the post would have been the blood that flowed from his feet, maybe the nails were still laying there. Even the ground around the cross would have been stained with blood, blood from his hands which fell to the ground, blood from his side as the soldier pierced his side to see if he was in fact dead. The blood stains would have still been visible on that first Easter morning. The cross stood empty and it was a clear reminder that Jesus really did die.
As Mary woke early that morning she would have had to remind herself that everything she had seen was not a dream, it was in fact a painful and cruel death. They wouldn’t have taken Jesus off the cross if he wasn’t dead. When they took him down, the soldiers knew he was dead, the bystanders knew he was dead, the religious leaders who wanted him dead knew he was dead, the disciples knew he was dead and Mary knew he was dead. The empty cross that Mary passed early Sunday morning reminded her that Jesus died. The empty cross reminds us that Jesus died but it also reminds us that we are forgiven, because that’s why Jesus died. It is through the death of Jesus that our sins are wiped away.
No one likes to talk about sin. None of us likes to admit that we are sinners, but sin is real, sin is universal and the consequences of sin are real too. Look at Romans 3:10-12, 23 and Romans 6:23a. Just like Adam and Eve, we have made our own decisions and followed our own desires and the consequence of those decisions and our sin is death – eternal separation from God. We are guilty, death, but because God loves us so much he was willing to send Jesus to die in our place. God was willing to take the punishment for our sin upon himself so that we might live. We are guilty of sin but over the guilty verdict of our lives God has written in the blood of Jesus over and over again – FORGIVEN.
The first promise we see in emptiness is the promise of forgiveness in the empty cross. God forgives us – not because we have earned it and not because we deserve it. God forgives us simply because he loves us. The empty cross is the sign of God’s promise to forgive.
The second empty promise of Easter is the empty grave. When the women got to the tomb the stone was rolled away – the tomb was empty. Jesus was gone. Now there are some who think the women went to the wrong tomb. Because of their grief, pain and confusion they just when to the wrong place, after all it was early in the morning and still dark. Of course the problem with that theory is that once word spread about the empty tomb the disciples raced there to check it out and they would have gone to the right tomb. Someone would have made sure they went to the right place and if the disciples all somehow got it wrong, as news of Jesus spread the Roman officials and religious leaders would have doubled checked to make sure. They wanted Jesus dead so they would have checked the tomb out for themselves and corrected any mistakes there may have been, but since no one stepped forward to correct the disciples – we know they all had the right tomb and the tomb was empty.
Some people thought the tomb was empty because the Romans took Jesus body for safe keeping, but again if that were true, if the Romans or the religious leaders had taken the body, then as the story of Jesus resurrection spread they would have produced the body to stop the story. There were still others that said the disciples took the body. Well, beside the fact that the tomb was sealed and guarded, why would the disciples steal the body and then be willing to die for something they knew to be a lie.
The disciples didn’t steal the body of Jesus, the Roman government didn’t steal the body, the Jewish leaders didn’t steal the body and it was the right tomb the women went to early that morning which all means one thing – the tomb was empty. Jesus is alive. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that death itself has been defeated and because Jesus is alive the we can live also. In book of Revelation Jesus says, do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last. I am the living One. I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever and I hold the keys of hell & death. The empty grave stands as the promise of eternal life for all of us. The empty grave is the lasting promise that death has lost its power. Death could not hold Jesus and the grave cannot hold those who trust in Jesus. Yes, the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. The empty cross reminds us of God’s promise to forgive – the empty tomb reminds us of God’s gift of eternal life for all who trust in Jesus.
The third promise found in emptiness is perhaps the most powerful of all. It’s the promise we find in the empty grave clothes. Look at John 20:6-7. When Jesus rose from the dead, the shroud or grave clothes that had held him remained in the tomb and all of them except the covering of his head were undisturbed. The empty grave clothes means that the body of Jesus is up and walking around. The resurrected Jesus was not a ghost, he was not a spirit, Jesus himself was alive and present with his friends. He was there to continue his relationship with them. Mary sees him, hears him and touches him. In time all the disciples will see him, hear him, walk with him and eat with him. The empty grave clothes promise us that an ongoing relationship with Jesus is possible.
It’s not just the knowledge of forgiveness or the hope of eternal life which we celebrate today, we also celebrate the truth that Jesus is alive here and now and calls us into a deeper relationship with him. One of the promises of Easter we don’t hear as much about is this promise of relationship. A relationship with God thru Jesus is possible if we will accept it.
The best of life is experienced in this relationship with God and the promise of the empty grave clothes is that through Jesus we can enter into that relationship. We can know God through Jesus. We can experience God and have a relationship with God thru Jesus. We can experience life in all its fullness, in all its purpose, it all its power when we are willing to walk with, listen to and open our lives up to Jesus. The empty grave clothes promise us that if we give our lives to God – God will enter into the fullness of life with us.
So in the emptiness of Easter we see three powerful promises, the promise of forgiveness, the promise of eternal life and the promise of a relationship with God right here and now. An empty cross tells us that Jesus did die and through his death we are forgiven, an empty tomb tells us that death has been defeated and we have the hope of eternal life, and the empty grave clothes tell us that Jesus is alive and here with us today. They are the promises we see in emptiness but they are not empty promises so let us claim them as ours today and everyday so that we may experience the joy of life.