The Tomb Is Important Because The Tomb Is Not Important
Revelation 1:4-8, 22:12-13
If you were to visit the city of Jerusalem today, you would be shown two tombs both of which claim to be the tomb of Jesus. First, you would be shown what is called “The Garden Tomb.” It is located behind St. George’s Cathedral, immediately and improbably, adjacent to the incessant hubbub of the Jerusalem bus station. It is a beautiful tomb in a shaded garden where flowers bloom in a profusion of colors. It is a lovely spot. I have had the privilege of preaching at the Garden Tomb, and believe me, to be able to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with hundreds upon hundreds of people gathered together in that magnificent place is an experience which is unforgettable. If the Garden Tomb is not actually the tomb of Jesus, it is most certainly what the tomb of Jesus must have looked like. The other tomb, which you would be shown, is located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The tomb is covered over with marble, silver, and gold almost to the point of gaudiness, and the constant burning of incense over the years has covered the place in smudge. Now, while to my way of thinking at least, it is not particularly lovely, the fact is that the best archeological evidence supports it as the authentic site of the burial of Jesus. I have visited both of those tombs, and having done that, I have come to believe that the location of the tomb doesn’t really matter. The only reason the tomb is important in Christianity is that the tomb is not important. Jesus left it! The tomb is empty.
Of course, that is the central, cardinal belief of the Christian faith. It is that belief which sets the Christian faith apart from every other faith system in the world. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely critical to the existence of the church of Jesus Christ. To put it bluntly, if you don’t believe in the resurrection, if you doubt the resurrection, if you question the resurrection, then you have sacrificed the right to call yourself “Christian.” For we declare that God, in Jesus Christ, brought all of creation out of absolutely nothing; that He brought Christmas out of a manger in a cave stable in Bethlehem; that He brought the Son of God out of a humble carpenter’s home in a dusty Palestinian town called Nazareth; that He brought Christianity marching forth out of a tomb in Jerusalem of Judea; and that in the end He will bring the fulfillment of His plan and His purpose for the world and for us all in the new Jerusalem of the Kingdom of Heaven. That is the heart and soul of the Christian faith. That is what Jesus meant when He made a sweeping claim for himself in the Book of Revelation. He said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Actually He said it twice — once in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation and once in the last chapter of that Book. That, in itself, is both significant and symbolic. You see the alpha and the omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. What Jesus was saying is this, “I am the ‘a’ and the ‘z.’ l am the first and the last. I am the beginning and the end.” In other words, everything in life starts with Jesus, everything in life ends with Jesus, and everything in between is His, as well. Let’s play out that theme together today…
When Jesus said, “I am the Alpha,” He was validating the power of the Christian life.
Wrap your mind around this, please: For us as Christians, there are actually four resurrections, not one. There is of course the resurrection of Jesus which occurred on the first Easter. After His crucifixion, He was raised from the dead and appeared to many—a fact well documented and unchallenged by the people of that day. The second resurrection occurred when the disconsolate disciples, who had fled in fear after Calvary, came back, were empowered to a whole new life by the Holy Spirit, and, against all odds, founded the Church of Jesus Christ. The third resurrection occurs when you and I, in our own spiritual journeys, forswear the stranglehold of sin and guilt and discover the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord and our Hope for years to come. The final resurrection will take place on that great day when we shall be reunited with the risen Christ in Heaven; and we shall experience the fulfillment of all our dreams; and we shall receive the gift of life that is eternal. Well that’s the melody which runs like a recurring theme all the way through the pages of the Bible. The same Christ, who set history in motion, will complete it, and we shall be the finished product of that process.
Do you see what that means? It means that we don’t have to think of the resurrection only as something in the distant past or as something that will happen in the far-off future. There is a resurrection reality in our lives right now. We can become brand new people in Jesus Christ. Frequently these days, I hear people talking about reincarnation but let me tell you that that is just worthless chatter. Incidentally, did you know that April 3 was Buddha’s birthday? My guess is that you didn’t know it because it is not well publicized. Think about this: the whole world stops on Jesus’ birthday, but the whole world ignores Buddha’s birthday. That should tell you something. My point is that people are waiting for the vain hope of things like Nirvana and reincarnation when, in fact by the power of Jesus Christ, they could be resurrected in their minds and hearts as brand new people right now. By the power of Christ, we can heal broken relationships; we can have our hearts changed and purified; we can have a new mind put within us so that we are not driven about by every wind of fad, folly, or fashion; we can be born again right now. We don’t have to wait.
Jesus said, “I am the Alpha. I am the first. I am the beginning. Life begins with me, and your life begins with me.” That means that we are in this world for the cause, the purpose, the pleasure of Jesus Christ. Do you know what I want to be? Well, let me tell you. I want to be a “fossarian.” Bet you don’t know that word. It’s one of the lost words of the English language. It used to refer to a minister who sidelined as a grave digger. Well, that’s exactly what I want to be—a minister who digs people out of their graves, people who’ve been buried alive in despair, heartache, hardship, bitterness, or resignation. I want to be a fossarian. I want you to know that our life begins in Jesus Christ, that we belong to Him, and for His cause we came into this world. You see it’s absolutely true that there is great power and great joy in the Christian life. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the Alpha.”
And then when Jesus said, “I am the Omega.” He was authenticating the power of Christian hope.
Some day, the Bible tells us, the kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ. That is the promised hope of Scripture. Therefore, you and I need not fear the journey which will take us from this life to the next, for there we shall be with those who have proceeded us in death, and there we shall be with the Lord forever. That is the promise of the Bible, and that is our greatest hope.
There is a painting which I find rather intriguing. It is sometimes reproduced on Christmas cards. The painting is called “Repose in Egypt,” by the French painter, Luc Olivier Merson. The artist portrays the holy family in Egypt trying to escape the murderous wrath of King Herod. The painting is set at night. Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus are resting at the base of the sphinx, that strange creature that is part woman, part lion, part bird. Joseph, in the painting, is stretched out on his robe asleep. Mary is leaning against the knee of the sphinx, cradling the sleeping Christ Child in her arms. The sphinx stares grimly out over the silent sands of the Egyptian desert. Every time I see that painting, it speaks to me of life and death. You see in ancient mythology, the sphinx was the symbol of death. The sphinx was that creature, who stood beside the road, and as each person approached, the sphinx would ask that person a riddle, and anyone unable to answer that riddle would die. That’s why the great Egyptian sphinx, the symbol of death, was built in front of the pyramids, the burial places of the Egyptian pharaohs. So here in this painting of the sphinx and the holy family, we have testimony to the fact that for generations before Christ the sphinx of death had stood by the roadside of everyone who had ever lived. All kinds of people passed that sphinx—philosophers and pharaohs, patriarchs and prophets, poets and apostles, and no one could answer the riddle. All of them went down to death . . . until the Christ Child became a man. What that painting says to me is that here is death and here is life—but in Christ, life overcomes death; here is darkness and here is light—but in Christ, light prevails over the darkness; here is defeat and here is victory—but in Christ, victory is assured; here is the grave and here is eternity—but in Christ, eternity is ours. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the Omega.” Everything in life is finished, completed, and fulfilled in Him. That means that Jesus Christ, raised from the dead and living now, is our best hope, our greatest hope, our only hope.
I counted them up this week. This sermon is number 136 which I have preached from this pulpit, and what struck me was that the message of the first of those 136 sermons, and the message of the last of those 136 sermons is exactly the same: Give your heart and your life to Jesus Christ so that He may give you life now and life forever.
Soli Deo Gloria
To God Alone Be the Glory
Amen and Amen