The Message of the Empty Tomb

Christianity is founded upon an empty tomb." So said Thomas Payne in derision. But that scornful remark is a tremendous truth. Were there no empty tomb there would be no Christian church.

CHRISTIANITY is founded upon an empty tomb." So said Thomas Payne in derision. But that scornful remark is a tremendous truth. Were there no empty tomb there would be no Christian church.

Step back and view this event through the eyes of that generation. The crucifixion of Jesus had affected people of all ranks. Some discussed it in a spirit of sardonic-glee, others -with passing regret, still

others with broken hearts. It. was the darkest hour, the hour just before daybreak. The body of Jesus had rested peacefully for two nights in Joseph's new tomb. The great stone which, according to one of the New Testa­ment manuscripts, Codex Bezae, would re­quire at least twenty men to remove, had been rolled into its place against the door and scaled with a Roman seal.

A military guard was keeping vigil. There were unseen watchers there too, for Satan and his angels were determined that this grave should never be opened. Loyal angels "that excel in strength" were also present, awaiting the moment when the Prince of life would step forth in resurrection power.

All was still, as still as death, except for the flickering flame of the soldiers' fire. "And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone. . . . His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and be­came as dead men" (Matt. 28:2-4). Then the One who had so recently been laid away emerged suddenly from the rock-hewn sep-ulcher alive!

The resurrection of our Lord was the greatest event of all time. Nothing has so powerfully affected human thought as this. While it occurred within the framework of history and is recorded in the terms of time yet. it cleft history asunder and gave new meaning to life. It was indeed the begin­ning of a new era for the universe.

Nothing could have appeared more hope­less than the cause of Christ the day that Jesus died. To His followers the crucifixion was a bitter irony, a tragic defeat. Dazed and bewildered, the disciples witnessed it all in silence. For them life itself seemed but a mockery.

What a dreary Sabbath they spent as they relived their experiences and asked themselves again and again, "Why did He permit Himself to be arrested and tried in court like a felon? Why did He remain on that ugly tree? Surely One who could walk upon the water, whose voice had calmed the raging sea could have come down from the cross. Why, oh why, did it have to hap­pen?" Confused in mind and broken in spirit they nursed their disappointment. The future had no meaning for them now.

Death Defeated

But notice these same men a few days later. No longer were they frightened and huddled together behind closed doors. In­stead, they were out on the streets and in the market places sharing the startling news with all who would listen. "Christ has-indeed risen from the dead;" they said, "and we have seen His glorified body." Nothing, absolutely nothing, could with­stand their testimony. What they said "turned the world upside down." When challenged they replied simply, "We can­not but speak the things which we'have seen;and. heard" (Acts 4 ,20).

The very One they in sorrow had buried in Joseph's tomb was living again and reigning in power at the right hand of God; Not only had Jesus risen from the dead but they themselves had risen from defeat and despair. Like flaming torches they hur­ried from city to city telling the good news. With certainty they declared that He who had suffered the pangs of death was now in sovereign power leading captivity cap­tive and conquering the world. Christ had broken the power of death. As Peter said, "It was not possible that he should be hoklen of it" (Acts 2:20).

In the resurrection of Jesus the early church saw not only omnipotent God in action but they recognized it as the pledge of the resurrection of the race. While some may ridicule the story declaring it an im­possibility and only a face-saving device on the part of visionary fanatics, yet, such ridi­cule does not explain the existence of the Christian church. Invented stories of that kind do not have the power to transform character, much less to inspire men and women and even boys and girls to suffer indescribable horrors of persecution and die martyrs' deaths. Nor would such decep­tion explain the radiant joy on the faces of the sufferers, much less the prayers upon their lips as they asked for the forgiveness of those who inflicted the pain. Theirs was no ghost story except that the Holy Ghost empowered them to proclaim the message of God's love. Yes, the greatest evidence of the truth of our Lord's resurrection is the existence of the Christian church itself.

History has produced no greater paradox than what. God Himself has done when He took the most dastardly corruption of justice—the crucifixion of Jesus—and made it the vehicle for His supreme self-revela­tion. The blackest event of the ages be­comes radiant with divine glory when viewed from the empty tomb. And that was the secret of success on the part of those first evangelists as they went forth into a demori-fiBed world proclaiming the-victory of their Lord. They were unafraid and their hearts were filled with joy because they knew that the enemy of God and man had been defeated and the myth of death's invincibility shattered.

Their exalted Lord at the Father's throne was sending forth His Spirit into the heart of every believer giving him power for. personal victory. They preached Christ and Him crucified, not just the crucifixion. Their emphasis was not on; the event, but rather,on the Person. The preaching was powerful because it communicated a living Man to dying man and made all who would believe members of the family of God. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God. they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14).

All Things Are Yours

Christianity is indeed founded upon an empty tomb. And the Lord says, "because I live, ye shall live also." Catching the full sweep of the Christian message the apostle exclaims in uiumph. "All things are yours: . . . things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:21-23).

The story is told of William the Con­queror whose historic landing from Nor­mandy in the year 1006 changed the course of English history. When his little boat came to Pevensey, Sussex, the intrepid war­rior leaped from the ship side to the shore but he missed his footing and fell full length on the sand. "An evil omen" cried his superstitious men, as they saw their leader clutching the sand. "No," he re­torted, "I have taken possession of this land with my two hands. All that is here is ours."

A greater Conqueror than William leaped as it were from the glory of heaven and has taken hold of fallen humanity claiming it for His own, and He says, "All that I have is yours."

In these confused times men need to hear anew the message of the conquest of Christ. Not just beautiful ideas of the brotherhood of man but a crucified Sav­iour—the risen Man Christ Jesus, our In­tercessor and coming King—this is God's message and the only message that has within it the power of salvation. Let us preach it with conviction and thus prepare a people to meet Him in peace when He returns in glory.


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April 1962

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