Dr. RB McFee
“57 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.”
Matthew 27:57 – 61 NKJV
At Jesus’ death His body will be placed in a newly created tomb, one commissioned by a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish religious elite, the Sanhedrin. He was also a follower of Jesus; secretly until Jesus’ death, when Joseph emerges with boldness, petitioning Pilate for Jesus’ body.
But Joseph isn’t alone. Enter Nicodemus. Like Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus was also an influential man, a Pharisee – the Jewish ruling elite. And he, too, was a secret follower of Jesus. That is, until Jesus’ death, when, like Joseph, Nicodemus went public with his devotion, by caring for the body of Jesus.
So what happened at the tomb that transformed these Jewish leaders from secret followers of Jesus, to public devotees?
Was it the stark reality of death, a poignant reminder that time is fleeting and they should make their lives matter? Perhaps. Or could it be something happened as they looked upon Jesus from afar, as many in Jerusalem would have done. Crucifixions were public, and they drew a crowd, not unlike the brutal games in the Coliseum of Rome, or the extreme cage fights going around the country today.
Which brings me to the point of Part 3 in our Easter conversation – The Tomb, were you there, are you there? Because the Tomb is a place of transformation in the events of Easter.
If you have ever been to a funeral – whether friend, loved one, or paying respects for a colleague, there is a sense of finality, even failure…. the unrealized potential, now gone forever. And we wonder, are we squandering what time we have left? Are we honoring our God and our gifts from the Holy Spirit? Are we reflecting the Jesus we profess to follow?
No one knows the expiration date the Almighty stamped on everyone’s bottom. As if knowing would matter; as the old tomb stone has written –
“Weep not for me, as I am, you too shall be!”
Put differently, the moment we are born the clock is ticking, and in the time it has taken you to read this, you are about 30 seconds closer to the grave, the tomb. A cheery thought or a sobering reminder that God, you and me are in the present, and this is what we have to work with, the now.
Often the tomb is thought of as the final resting place, or the end of the journey. When Jesus was crucified there must have been many who thought the dream, their dream of a Messiah was over.
In fact one wonders, was there anyone who truly got it, got what Jesus was saying all along, and knew that on the 3rd day He would in fact rise from the dead, emerging from the tomb?
For some like Joseph of Aramathia and Nicodemus it was their meet Jesus moment – the time when seeing the full range of love and lessons, sacrifice and suffering Jesus underwent, the fulfillment of scriptures they had long ago memorized – this is where both men went public with their faith. No more in the shadows fearing the other leaders of the Jewish religious authorities, they emerged and from hence forth served Jesus – first with caring for His body, and then …. We can only imagine!
Point is, Jesus’ courage and death was the powerful reminder that they need not fear the Tomb, or life’s dangers. They truly were believers in Who Jesus was – to them and the world. At the tomb they were confronted with mortality, cowardice, courage, and conviction. They were there, and it transformed them to live their destiny.
Of course no story of the tomb is complete without the women in Jesus’ life – most notably His mother Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Both of them are a study in faith, love, and courage. Entire books could and have been written about these remarkable women.
Mary Magdalene was at the Tomb multiple times – at Jesus’ death, and on Easter morning. She was determined to be with Him as much as possible, and to honor her Lord. And she, too, was transformed. Not the least of which was her reward to be the first person to share the Good News that Jesus is alive, did return from the dead, was resurrected – awakened.
And history tells us Mary Magdalene remained a steadfast Disciple – spreading the story of Jesus until her death, as Jesus intended for her.
How about the other Disciples and the Tomb; were they there?
Peter mourned – Jesus’ death, the loss of mentor, friend, and his own cowardice and betrayal of Christ. Perhaps then it was at the tomb he was transformed because he emerged as the leader Jesus intended him to become.
John stood by Jesus. His transformation would emerge throughout Pentecost, at the final earthly teachings of Jesus, and throughout his life with Jesus’ mother, through her likely inspiration. And like so many other early followers, John would face challenges, even imprisonment. But John became one of the key scribes spreading the Word, as Jesus intended.
We don’t know much about the remaining nine Disciples on Good Friday. Judas hanged himself. The Tomb was too much for him to carry; his shame too great. As for Thomas and Andrew, James and the others – did they go home? We know they remained in hiding. Did they stealthily go near the Tomb, trying to find closure, or faith, or courage or hope?
What about you and me?
Many people consider the tomb the end of the road, the end of the story, the end of their story. As Christians we know better. Notwithstanding, our lives are filled with ‘at the tomb moments‘ – loss, grief, sorrow, broken dreams, disappointments, betrayal, isolation, and the list goes on and on and on….
2000 years ago the Disciples, the Chosen, the inner circle, and the loyal followers who did not call out Barabbas but who stayed true to our Savior Jesus – did the Cross, the tomb spell the end or their transformative beginning in the power of Christ?
You cannot have an Easter moment without first coming to the tomb – the dark night of your soul. The tomb is a mirror to where we are and what we truly belief. It is where we are tested to either succumb to our worst, or emerge as our best through Christ.
The Tomb reminds that even the most important journey of faith – Jesus’ or ours with Him – have challenges. But Jesus promises to be with us, to guide us, to get us through these difficulties; moments when we think all is lost, only to show us nothing could be farther from the truth.
No one escapes the Tomb – whether metaphorically or in actuality. Even our Savior, Jesus the Christ had to face the Tomb, and experience it. We can expect nothing less. But it is how we handle the journey to it and through it that we are transformed. Easier said than done? Of course. But if it was easy, where would faith come in? Would there be room for our Savior if we could do it on our own?
But joy does indeed come in the morning (Psalm 30) – whether it is tomorrow, or the Easter of our soul, or our own resurrection, awakening.
The Tomb is the bridge between the Cross and Easter. It was the only way.
The Tomb was where Peter buried his denial of Jesus, his failures, his fears, and became reborn into the Cephas Jesus saw in and assigned to a fisherman so many miles and several years earlier. It is where Nicodemus and Joseph were transformed. It is where we can be transformed, too.
The Tomb reminds us that even Jesus faced the darkness, and emerged in the light. So can we, in Him and through Him. The Tomb is our place of transformation – where we leave behind the dark, and despair, and pick up the Light and the joy.
The Tomb – it is a place where Christ can transform us.