It was over! Three empty crosses stood in silhouette against the rising sun. In the city of Jerusalem, man and beast alike began to stir in anticipation of another day.
In the barracks of the Temple guard, the soldiers who had stood watch during the crucifixion were still sleeping off their wine. It was not pleasant to see huge spikes driven through human flesh, so the guards always got as drunk as they could. One soldier tossed fitfully in his bunk—his head pillowed on the seamless robe of the Nazarene Prophet named Jesus that he had won in a game of dice. The centurion in charge of the crucifixion detail lay awake. He had not slept since that Friday on Skull Hill. He had to figure it out. What kind of Man was that Man on the middle cross?
Caiaphas and his underlings were still arguing in the Temple. Why had the curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies torn on the Passover? More importantly—should the curtain be repaired or replaced? They had been arguing about it ever since that young troublemaker, Jesus, had died on the cross.
As the people in the city stirred, their memories stirred, too. As they remembered, many of them wondered aloud: “Do you remember that darkness when the Nazarene died?” “What did He mean—‘Forgive them’?” “How about that earthquake?” “What did all of it mean anyway?”
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea had their own memories—memories made bittersweet by the events of the past forty-eight hours. Nicodemus recalled going to see the Teacher by night. How he had marveled at Jesus’ teachings! He, a learned man in the Jewish law, had felt like a schoolboy again as he listened to the wisdom that poured from the lips of this uneducated Carpenter from Galilee.
Joseph, too, had heard Him teach. He also marveled at the power and authority that the young Prophet seemed to possess. But at the trial came, Joseph kept his silence lest some of his fellow Council members think him a follower of this radical new Teacher.
Now that it was over, Nicodemus and Joseph regretted their secrecy—their unwillingness to oppose the rest of the Council. They did what they could. They took the body of Jesus from the cross, wrapped it and laid it in Joseph’s own garden tomb. It was the least they could do to atone for their sin of silence.
In another part of the city, in an upper room, sat an odd assortment of red-dyed, sleepless people—the followers of Jesus.
Mary, His mother, carried the sorrow only a mother can know when her first-born is dead. Peter suffered the anguish of one who had denied his best friend. Worse yet, only hours before his vehement, white-hot denial, he had just as loudly declared his allegiance—even to death. Now, it was over. He had denied ever knowing the One he had called Lord and Master and Messiah. The others, too, recalled their vows of allegiance and their desertion when the Temple guard came. A sense of despair, hopelessness and guilt permeated the atmosphere.
The women in the upper room were the first to move. Because the Master had been buried in haste, just before the Sabbath began, they had to properly anoint His body for burial. Gathering the spices and ointments they had prepared, the women went with heavy hearts to the garden where Joseph’s tomb was.
It was over all right. No more teachings on the love of God would fall from the lips of the Master. Those lips had been silenced by the Roman cross. No longer would the sick, the lame, the blind, the demon-possessed be healed and freed by the calloused hands of the Carpenter. Those hands, pierced by iron spikes, now lay folded on the chest of the dead Master. The eyes that once laid their souls bare and yet communicated to them the greatest love they had ever known were now closed in that final sleep.
Slowly, the women passed under the brow of Skull Hill—the empty cross casting a shadow across their path. The shadow brought a new rush of tears. It wasn’t all a bad dream—it was true! The Master had been killed. He was dead.
Their hearts breaking, the women came to the tomb—and stopped in their tracks. The gospel of Mark tells us they had been questioning among themselves as they walked, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?”2 But now, they stood in front of the tomb and the stone was already rolled back!
Confused and frightened, they looked around. This was the right garden; it was Joseph’s tomb. Yet, where a huge stone had sealed the grave, there was only an empty door. The women became fearful. Grave robbers were not uncommon in the land. Hesitantly they entered the sepulcher, only to find their worst fears realized. The tomb was empty! The body of their Lord was gone!
Luke reported their experience in the Gospel reading.1
The women were perplexed. After running back to the upper room, they told the disciples what they had seen—and not seen: an empty cross, an empty tomb, two men in dazzling apparel. But, the disciples didn’t believe them. Peter went and checked it out for himself, and Luke says, “He went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
It made sense that the cross should be empty. Jesus was dead. The broken, bruised and battered body of the Nazarene had been taken from the cross and laid in the borrowed tomb of a rich man. The cross was empty—it towered over Golgotha in mute testimony to the sin and wickedness of man. On that cross, the Son of God was murdered by a handful of jealous religious leaders with the consent of the silent majority.
Those who followed Jesus and hung on His every word, the people that had been touched by His strong compassionate hands. and who had been freed from the spiritual torment of satanic bondage all watched in horror as He died—and said NOTHING!
Judas, the treasurer of the inner circle of twelve, unable to live with the fact that he had betrayed an innocent Man for a paltry $2.40, went out and hung himself. Peter, broken by his vehement denial of the One he called Lord, was determined to just go back to his boat and nets and try to forget it all.
The middle cross stood empty on the garbage heap outside of Jerusalem—it was OVER! The jealousy, betrayal, denial and desertion were all over. The cross was empty. And on that empty cross had hung all the hopes and dreams of the disciples. Jesus was dead. And all of their hopes and dreams were dead, too.
Then came Easter—and an empty tomb! The disciples could handle the empty cross. It made sense. Jesus died on it. They had seen it with their own eyes. He was buried. The cross was empty.
But the empty tomb made NO sense to their sorrow-filled spirits. Their broken hearts could only comprehend a dead Jesus whose missing body HAD to have been stolen. Their crushed dreams would not allow them to entertain thought that Jesus could have actually been raised from the dead.
Although He had told them that He would rise again, they seemed to have forgotten about the raising of the widow’s son and didn’t remember Jairus’ daughter. Even Lazarus’ resurrection, a fairly recent event, was forgotten in the darkness. The miracles they had seen Jesus do were history. For some reason the disciples could not accept the fact of an empty tomb.
Then—they saw Jesus! Each of the Gospel writers records a different scene, but the end result was the same—faith, hope, love, holy boldness. The empty cross symbolized their sin, shame, and guilt. The empty tomb showed what God had done—triumphed over evil, sin and death.
Fear and betrayal and denial all died on that middle cross. They were buried in that garden tomb with the broken body of Jesus. But when Jesus rose from the dead—when God’s power raised Him from that cold slab of stone and rolled back the stone sealing the crypt—sin was forever defeated.im from that cold slab of stone and rolled back the stone sealing the crypt—sin was forever defeated.
That’s why Paul could so confidently declare, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me 3…We know that our old self was crucified with Him.”4
Easter, for the Christian, is more than the recognition of the death and resurrection of a Nazarene Prophet named Jesus. It is a celebration of OUR death and OUR resurrection. Easter is a time we can look at the empty cross and KNOW that our sins and failures died there with Jesus. It is a time for us to look at the empty tomb and rejoice—not just because Jesus is alive, but because we, too, are alive.
The disciples had given up. It was over—the Master was dead. He cross stood empty—mute testimony to their sins, fears and failings. But then came Easter—an empty tomb—the fulfilled promise—He is not here. He is risen as He said.5
“Easter is to be experienced, more than to be explained. It is not the turning loose of a dead person, but a bringing together of despairing people. The day of crucifixion was the day the disciples were scattered. The day of resurrection was the day they were drawn back together. Therefore, Easter is: Celebration and singing; Praising and laughter; Shouting and rejoicing; Worship and wonder; Music and life. Why? Because God, in raising Jesus from the grave, has announced in large, bold letters THE VICTIM is the VICTOR. Him whom men could not tolerate, God has caused to triumph. DEATH is DESTROYED. That which seems to be the end, in reality, is controlled by God and THAT turns despair to deliverance…changes doubt to delight…causes sadness to break out into song…transforms fear into faith. In such an experience, CONFUSION BECOMES A CELEBRATION. No longer do the disciples and followers hide; they gather to celebrate. A PRONOUNCEMENT OF DEATH BECOMES A PROCLAMATION OF LIFE. We have been liberated from our past which seeks defeat, and set free for a future which offers fulfillment. Easter is not something that WAS, but IS—not that which is done over and over, but that which is happening again and again. When hope is born, love restored, life renewed and joy set forth in a faith experience of a living Christ—EASTER IS PRESENT! Easter is an experience of being made alive again by God and reconciled to Him whom we have often rejected. It is coupled with a bringing together in relationship of our brothers and sister from whom we have often been separated. Easter is a fellowship of the Resurrection.” (Rev. Robt. Horton, MXnAdvocate, 1977)
Empty Cross—Empty Tomb
Look at the empty cross—Jesus died there for us—for you and me.
Look at the empty tomb—Jesus rose there for us—for you and me.
We, too, can rise in newness of life and celebrate Easter when we accept the empty cross and the empty tomb.