The Central Focus
March 30, 2021
Maybe this will sound a little bit like heresy to you, but take a minute and think about it. Maybe we need to focus a little more on the empty tomb than on the cross. If you read the New Testament, the eyewitness accounts and letters of the witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you will see that their gratitude for and amazement for the work done by Jesus Christ on the cross was overflowing. They knew what a horrific death it was. They had seen plenty. They knew that it was undeserved and a total setup by the religious authorities. They knew that Jesus said He would give His life for them, for the whole world. They knew that He said His death was intended to pay the price for the sins of all the world and be the final, all-sufficient sacrifice. So the cross was clearly central to their message. But it never stood alone.
In fact, when you read their focus on the cross, they never just landed the plane there. They moved on to say that the tomb after His death turned up empty in three days, “just like He said.” Their focus was on the empty tomb, the resurrected Jesus! Why?
It’s easy for us to miss it because the Roman crucifixion is something so beyond our imagination, it seems as though it was only designed for the Savior. But they knew that was not so. There were thousands of people who died on the cross before Jesus, some of whom were probably also innocent of the crimes of which they were accused. The cross of Jesus was different because He went willingly on behalf of others. He chose to be an innocent death. But even that is not enough for Him to be the Savior. As I said, many had died on a cross. What distinguished Him was that He rose from the grave. The distinguishing factor is that He proved He was God with the power to forgive sins and provide eternal life by predicting His own resurrection and pulling it off!
If Jesus had not risen from the dead, despite His willing and sacrificial death, in the bottom line He would have been just another would-be Messiah and exceptionally loving but misguided rabbi. As great as the cross is, with only the cross there would be no Christianity. Without the resurrection and the empty tomb we would all be Jewish or another religion. The empty tomb changed everything!
It was the empty tomb that caused the cowardly and fearful disciples to run away in the garden and only weeks later preach fearlessly that Jesus was God and the only hope of salvation. It is what gave them the power to endure beatings, torture, and even death for His name’s sake. They conquered anxiety and fear because they knew He was alive, He was with them, and He said because He lived, they would live also. The empty tomb validated and gave credibility to the work on the cross.
Could it be that we do not focus enough on the empty tomb? Could it be that is why we struggle so much in life with fear and anxiety? Is it possible that is why we have so little power to persevere and stand against obstacles we face?
When Paul shared the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, he says he shared what was most important:
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.
…But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
Could it be any clearer? As wonderful and essential as the cross is, it’s a sentimental story without the empty tomb.
Thank God for the cross that held our Savior’s body. Thank God for the tomb that Jesus emptied as He walked out on His own power. You can’t have one without the other.