The Empty Tomb: It’s All How You Look At It!

The tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead, as he promised. It all starts there.

Léonard Limousin, “The Resurrection”, 1553
Léonard Limousin, “The Resurrection”, 1553 (photo: Public Domain)

As someone who has a tendency to anticipate problems, I often struggle with discouragement. Remaining positive in the face of adversity is not something that comes naturally to me.

To give you an idea, I’m not the kind of person who automatically looks at the rain pouring down and gives thanks to God for allowing the crops to grow. Although I’d rather not admit it, my first reaction to rainy days is often one of sadness. I am very good at focusing on the clouds and ignoring the sun that shines above the clouds.

This ability served me well when I worked for 30 years as a software developer (where it’s important to anticipate potential problems), but has made it difficult to find peace in the storms of life. Can you relate? The good news is that, with the help of God’s grace, I have learned to respond differently to the unpleasant circumstances of life and you can too. It all starts with the empty tomb.


The Empty Tomb

Because we’re looking back with two thousand years of hindsight, it’s sometimes difficult for us to appreciate the greatness of the Lord’s Resurrection. From the time I was a young child, I knew that Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead on the third day. It was a historical fact, plain and simple. George Washington was the first president of the United States, Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941 and Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Case closed. But consider for a minute what it must have been like for the first disciples. Even though Jesus prophesied that He “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 15:21), many of His followers were filled with grief and hopelessness when faced with the empty tomb. For them, it was a sign of failure and disappointment. Contemplating His lifeless body and an empty tomb brought about feelings of hopelessness. The Savior of the world was dead and all hope was gone.


Mary Magdalene

According to the Bible (John 20:1-10), Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early on the first day of the week (while it was still dark) and saw that the stone had been rolled away. She ran and got Peter and John and reported that, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” After confirming that the Lord’s body was indeed missing, the disciples went back to their homes. What about Mary?

But Mary stood weeping outside of the tomb, and as she wept she stopped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:11-13)

Before I ruin the suspense and tell you that Jesus is about to appear to the grieving woman, let’s examine some facts. Mary was at the tomb because she desired to anoint the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1) who, in her mind, was dead. Upon finding the tomb empty, she began to weep because she assumed that someone had taken the body. She felt extremely sad and hopeless. Not only was Jesus dead, but his body was missing.


Feelings Are Not Facts!

Just like Mary Magdalene, we often get into trouble by looking at a negative situation and assuming the worst. If we’re not careful, our emotions can overtake us and lead to hopelessness. Just because you feel that you are doomed or that a situation is hopeless doesn’t make it true. Simply put, feelings are not facts. Understanding this concept is the secret to living in peace. Failing to grasp it is guaranteed to make you miserable. I wasted many years walking around filled with sadness and on the verge of despair, all because I treated my feelings as the gospel truth. They are not. The tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead, as he promised. In her grief, Mary Magdalene somehow missed the point.


He Lives!

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and the Apostles hiding in fear (John 20:19) provide additional examples of individuals who were sad and afraid because they couldn’t believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. They couldn’t get past the horror of the crucifixion and the empty tomb. Very much like you and me, these followers of Christ ignored the one piece of evidence that should never be ignored. No matter how many “impossible” problems and obstacles are staring you in the face, don’t believe your feelings when they try to tell you that there is no hope. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and all of the feelings of fear, sadness and hopelessness experienced by Mary Magdalene, the disciples and you and me don’t change a thing. Think about the empty tomb. It is empty and the body of Jesus is missing, but that is because the greatest event imaginable has taken place. Jesus Christ has conquered death and rose from the dead. If he can do that, anything is possible!

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise?” (Luke 24:5-7)