In the tiny Swiss village of Dono d’Ossala there is a mimic Calvary. The shrine consists of a series of chapels in memory of various scenes in our Lord’s passion. The first depicts Christ before Herod; the second, Christ receiving the cross; the third, Christ taking the cross on Himself; the fourth, Christ bearing the cross. The climax of the scenes is in the church itself, where there is a great picture of the cross raised, with Christ upon it, and in the skies astonished angels gazing down at the tragedy of human sin and divine love. Up to this point the path was well worn by the feet of devout pilgrims. For years they had come to witness anew the sufferings of their Savior. But there they stopped. Their Christ was dead.
Beyond the church there was another shrine, but the path became grass covered. Evidently nobody went any further. But when you go through the long grass to the summit, there is a chapel of the resurrection! The testimony of the grass-grown path is a witness that the worshippers never got beyond Calvary.
We must look backward to the death of Christ, but not to the neglect of looking in retrospect, and view it through the resurrection. For beyond death is life. Beyond sacrifice is glorious victory. Beyond the cross is the risen Christ. Beyond Calvary is the central fact of human history: He “is risen indeed” (Luke 24:34, NKJV).
But did Jesus leave anything behind in the empty tomb? The question is important because it is a fearful thing to believe that one day our life will end. When Mohammed died, Omar rushed from his tent, sword in hand, and declared that he would kill anyone who said that the Prophet had died.
In the Bible, while death is viewed as something completely unnatural—an alien, a horror, an enemy—death has been decisively defeated in the atoning death of the Savior (2 Tim 1:10). Further, whoever believes has everlasting life right now. Christ has abolished death. Not only has Christ risen, but we have risen in Him (1 Pet 1:3). Though we sleep, we fall at death into the gracious hand of God and will rise as surely as Jesus rose. So we look with expectant hope beyond Calvary. We see this hope clearly from four things left behind in the tomb.
I. CHRIST LEFT FRAGRANT SPICES IN THE TOMB (JOHN 12:2–7)
Six days before Good Friday, Mary of Magdala poured costly perfume from a broken alabaster box to anoint the feet of Jesus. From Mary’s “broken and contrite spirit” came this other broken thing in dim prefigurement of His death. At His birth, the wise men brought myrrh for His death and burial; now, at the close of His earthly life, Mary did the same. She was making an offering to Him as the victim for the sins of the world. The effusion of ointment was an anticipation of the embalming of His body. This woman saw, at last, the reason of His coming—not to live, but to die and live again.
Mary broke the precious alabaster box of His resurrection so that its perfume would go beyond the empty tomb to fill the world. He said to her, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father’” (John 20:17). This was the first time He ever called His apostles “My brothers.” Before we could be adopted by the Son of God, Jesus had to die. Read John 12:24; it shows that it took the crucifixion to multiply His Sonship into other sons of God. But there would be a vast difference between Himself as the natural Son and human beings. Hence, as always, He made a rigid distinction between “My Father” and “Your Father.” Only by grace and adoption, then, are we the sons of God (Heb 2:11).
II. CHRIST LEFT LINEN CLOTHES IN THE TOMB (JOHN 20:6)
He also left His linen clothes. Now, in that fine white linen of our Lord’s righteousness we are clothed by faith. You can see battered, threadbare flags hanging in British cathedrals—memorials captured from the enemy in wartime; memorials of great victories. The clothes that Christ left behind were like those the high priest left behind in the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement when he changed into his robes of glory. Those glorious robes are symbols of a great victory: the tomb has been conquered. When Jesus rolled away the sin of the world, just as that stone outside the tomb was rolled away, we were all delivered. When we are with Him in faith, His victory is ours. Our challenge is to live in the conscious appropriation of Christ’s resurrection power that stands available to us. The marvel of the resurrection is that Christ has taken up His abode in us—the Shekinah Glory of the ages alive in us (John 1:14; Col 1:18–19, 27). What genuine godliness and holy living that should bring to our lives (Col 3:1–4).
III. CHRIST LEFT THE BURIAL FACECLOTH (JOHN 20:7)
The burial facecloth was left there as a promise that He will dry our tears. The certitude of that promise is clear, for Jesus said, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev 1:18). “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25–26; cf. 1 Cor 15:52).
Therefore the tomb is just a moment in the care of God. It is not a blind alley. The night is not forever. Life closes with the twilight, but for the believer it will open with the dawn, and then “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev 21:4).
IV. CHRIST LEFT THE ANGELS AT THE TOMB (JOHN 20:10–12)
The angel was one keeper more than the enemies had placed about the Savior’s grave—one soldier more than Pilate had appointed. The angel’s words were the first gospel preached after the resurrection. The angel’s words—“See the place where they laid him”—confirmed the reality of His death. Tombstones bear the inscription Hic jacet, or “Here lies,” followed by the name of the dead. But here, in contrast, the angel did not write, but expressed a different epitaph: “He is not here.”
Today, when we lose a loved one, the angels are there. They mark the spot. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants” (Ps 116:15). The angels are there, and what is more, the door is open.
The resurrection to which the Scriptures bear witness, first revealed in the soft light of that early Easter morn, points to another resurrection that may be very near as we look for the coming of our Lord. Until then, may we let that one “who loved us and gave himself for us,” live out His life through us, for His glory and our good. May the Lord bless you so you can see what was left behind in the empty tomb and accept and live for the wonderful Savior of the empty tomb! Let’s pray.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.