When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Empty Tomb

The disciples of the dead prophet had one consolation. Nothing could rob them of the memory of their friend. All day Saturday they thought of him. It was the sabbath, but it is not likely that they went to church. How could they worship in the temple with Sadducees, or in the synagogue with Pharisees, who had brought their Master to the death upon the cross? Somewhere, no doubt, they met; perhaps in the upper room where they had sat with him at the last supper. There they prayed that God would give them comfort and understanding; there they remembered Him.

These men had had an experience such as nobody else has had since the world began: they had known a Perfect Man. It is true that the Pharisees and Sadducees did not think that he was perfect. They criticised him, as we have seen, and found such faults in him that they desired to kill him. But what seemed faults to them, seemed virtues to the disciples, and all men since have agreed with the disciples. Jesus was the one Perfect Man of all time. In him our human nature came to its highest excellence. He lived our common life, and was tempted in all things like as we are, yet he sinned not. The best men that ever lived have tried and prayed to be like him, and none of them have succeeded.

The Perfect Man died because in order to live he must submit to the Pharisees and Sadducees: and he could not do that. The most important thing in the world is true religion, because that means the good health of the soul. God had appointed the Jews to be the teachers of true religion, but they had fallen into error. The Pharisees and Sadducees were teaching that which was not true concerning God and concerning man. Our Lord came that he might establish the kingdom of the truth; that is, that he might show us how to live aright. He came to save our souls. But the Pharisees and Sadducees were so sure that they themselves were right that they put him to death. Thus he died in the endeavor to give us true religion. He laid down his life for our sake.

But that was not all. Other men have died for love of God and man. He was not like other men. He was the Christ, the Son of God. He said mysterious words about himself—words which are still mysterious—declaring that he came from heaven, and would come again, and that whoever had seen him had seen the Father. God was in him, he said, and he in God. In him was fulfilled the saying: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Men had asked, "Does God care?" He who made us, and put us in this world where sin and pain abound, is he truly concerned about us? does it matter to him that we suffer? does it matter to him whether we do right or wrong? does God care?" There was no answer to this question in nature. So God sent his Son to answer it. The Son of God came to tell us of the love of God. He said that God cares for every one of us. He said that sin is a very dreadful thing, and endangers our souls as disease endangers our bodies, and grieves God. He said that God feels towards sinners as the father felt towards the prodigal son, and that every sinner who is truly sorry for his sin will be forgiven. And all this he showed by his life and by his death. He by whom God spoke to man went about healing the sick and comforting the sad, and at last for our sake died upon the cross. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Jesus in the name of God laid down his life even for his enemies. Then he said that his body would be broken and his blood shed for our sake, to save us from our sins, and that he came to give his life a ransom for the world, and in those words are great meanings of his death such as even now the wisest men do but dimly understand. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.

But was that true? Was God in Christ? was it indeed the most high God who spoke by him? Of course, the Perfect Man will tell the truth. We may believe what he says, because his life shows that he is in God and God in him. But even the perfect Man may not know it all; he may guess at some of it. We want to be absolutely sure. We want to know with certain knowledge, that this which the Perfect Man says of the love of God is no guess, but is the truth. We are not satisfied with the word even of the Perfect Man; we would have the word of God. But he who said that he was the Son of God died like a man. Could he be the Son of God and die like that?

Even the men who had been his nearest friends could not give a good answer to that question. They lay awake all night Friday and Saturday thinking about it, and talked of it all day. They had seen him die. They had seen the nails in his hands and feet, and the wound of the spear in his side. He was as dead as the two thieves. Where were all his great words now?

At the time when our Lord was buried, certain women had stood by to see where he was laid. Two of them were mothers of apostles,—Salome, the mother of James and John, and Mary, the mother of James the Little; two had been grievously sick and our Lord had healed them, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward. There had been no time on Friday to embalm the body. It had been wrapped in linen, and myrrh and aloes had been placed about it; but then the sabbath had come. The women, accordingly, had gone away weeping, and had agreed to meet very early on the first day of the week,—as we say, on Sunday,—to finish the embalming. So on the sabbath, which we call Saturday, they sat still, thinking and talking and crying; and on Sunday morning, as the day began to dawn, they started from the city to go to the garden where the Lord was buried.

It was a day in spring, and the shadows of the night still lay upon the world. The women could but dimly see the way before them. There were deeper shadows in their hearts. As they came near to the garden, one of them said, "The stone! the great stone which Joseph and Nicodemus rolled before the mouth of the cave: how shall we roll it away?" They were all much troubled about it. But as they entered the garden and came in sight of the place, behold, the stone was rolled away. They knew not what to think. Who had done this thing? There was the mouth of the cave, black and open in the dim light. They came near, trembling and afraid, and looked in; and the tomb was empty. They said one to another, "They have taken away our Lord." But who had taken the body away, or where they had laid it, they could not imagine. The tomb was empty; that was plain. They said, "We must go at once and tell the disciples." But as they turned to go, they became aware of two men in long, white, shining garments; and the women, when they saw them, fell down upon their faces in great fear. But the men said, "Why seek ye the living among the dead. He is not here; but is risen. Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.' " And they remembered his words. He had told them that he would rise again, but they had not understood. They had not thought of such a rising as this. "The Lord is risen," said the man in white, "he is alive for evermore." With this wonderful news the women hurried back to the city. The shadows were gone, the sun was shining, the sky was bright, and all the birds were singing. The women ran along the road in fear, and joy, and great amazement.

Thus they came to the apostles' lodging and knocked upon the door. "The tomb," they cried, "is empty. The great stone is rolled away and the body is not there. And we saw a vision of angels which told us that he who was dead is now alive." But the apostles did not believe it. It might, indeed, be true that the tomb was empty: they believed that. But they paid no attention to what the women said about the angels. "You imagined it," they said: "there were no angels. That is an idle tale."

Nevertheless, they saw that the story of the women called them at once to examine the tomb, and two of them, Peter and John, started together for the garden. They ran both together, but John, probably because he was the younger, left Peter far behind, and came first to the sepulchre. He stooped down and looked in. The tomb was empty indeed: nothing was to be seen except the linen which had been wrapped about the body. Then came Peter, breathing hard from running, and went into the sepulchre. Perhaps the body had been laid in some deeper recess of the cave. No, the tomb was empty. There on the ground lay the linen clothes, but the napkin which had been about his head was not lying with the linen clothes, but was wrapped together in a place by itself. There was no sign of violence or of haste. It did not look as if the grave had been robbed. But the grave was empty. John went in, and was as perplexed as Peter. So they went back to their own home, walking slowly, with their eyes upon the ground, thinking and wondering.