More than just an empty tomb

When those first-century disciples became convinced beyond all doubt of the resurrection, their focus was not on an empty tomb, but on the Christ who lived both in heaven and in their hearts.

B. Russell Holt is the executive editor of Ministry.

As the sun rises around the world on April 3, hundreds, probably thousands, of special services will celebrate the grand theme of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Later in the day pulpits every where will sound forth the wonderful news as sermons by the thousands attempt to display the riches of God's grace revealed by an empty tomb. And rightly so, for within the triumvirate of foundational verities that undergird the Christian's faith—Jesus' incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection—the cap stone is the resurrection. The apostle Paul phrases it like this: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . Your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:14-17).* The empty tomb demonstrates the truthfulness of Jesus' claim to be the Son of God; it seals His promise to raise us to newness of life; it validates all that He came to accomplish.

But Jesus' resurrection involves more than just an empty tomb—as awesome and glorious as that fact alone undoubtedly is. His tomb had been empty since early that resurrection morning, yet His closest disciples spent the day in mourning, unable to believe that the One they loved actually lived again. That night they were still locked inside the confines of the upper room, anxious for their safety and discussing the strangely troubling rumors concerning their Lord's disappearance. The two who walked toward Emmaus could sadly say in the very presence of the Lord Himself, " 'We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel'" (Luke 24:21).

The point is this: To know that the tomb is empty is not enough; we must know that Jesus lives! And even more, we must understand why He lives.

When the first-century disciples at last became convinced beyond all doubt of the resurrection, their focus was not on the empty tomb, but on the Christ who lived—in heaven and in their hearts. The conviction that the very same Jesus they had known and touched and loved and remembered still lived and still loved them as intimately as before impelled them to carry the wonderful news everywhere.

It is this conviction that the celebration of Easter must reaffirm in us, their spiritual descendants. But for too many, the resurrection of Jesus marks His disappearance into the clouds of heaven, where we lose sight of Him. We under stand that He has taken His place beside the Father's throne, but we aren't sure just what that means. Why does Jesus live today? What work engages His attention? What has He been doing ever since the resurrection?

The events of that final week in Jesus' life on earth were foreshadowed in the ritual God had given His Old Testament people. When Jesus cried out on the cross, " 'It is finished,'" He was referring to the ceremonial system of sacrifices as given to Israel. He died at the moment the Passover lamb was to be killed; He rose on the day of the presentation before God of the first sheaf of ripe grain— Himself "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20) in Him.

Likewise, as the apostle makes clear in the book of Hebrews, the post-resurrection events in the life of Jesus have also been foreshadowed in the sanctuary ritual of the Old Testament. At the moment of His death an unseen hand tore the curtain separating the two rooms of the Jerusalem Temple from top to bottom, thus exposing to open gaze the place hitherto reserved for the high priest alone. The meaning is clear: Christ's sacrifice completed and fulfilled the purpose for which the object lesson existed. Says the apostle: "Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord" (chap. 8:1, 2).

Since His resurrection Jesus has lived to minister as high priest of the sanctuary in heaven, the reality that the sanctuary on earth foreshadowed. On the cross He died as the sacrificial victim died; He rose to serve as priest, applying the merits of His own shed blood. "Consequently," says the apostle, "he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (chap. 7:25).

Jesus has not risen from the dead to spend His time in majestic inactivity until the promised return. He is as actively engaged in our salvation today as when He healed and preached and died. This the disciples understood at last, and what power it gave their preaching of the gospel!

The individual sinner in the Old Testament system could not enter the sacred precincts of the Temple itself. The court was as far as he might come. Even the priests could go no farther than the first room, the holy place. Into the second, the Most Holy, where the symbol of God's presence dwelt, the high priest alone could enter, and he but once a year. But this side of the resurrection a different order prevails. "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (chap. 4:14-16).

We dare not minimize the empty tomb; it is central to our faith. But resurrection means far more.—B.R.H.

* Scripture quotations are from the Revised
Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946,
1952 © 1971, 1973.

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B. Russell Holt is the executive editor of Ministry.

March 1983

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