It is in a garden that mankind first meets God and chooses sin, and it is in a garden outside an empty tomb that mankind meets God re-infleshed and has the opportunity to choose perfection.
If you read the gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb and you get caught up in trying to determine how many women or men or angels were there and when and where, you miss the simple fact which is not, in any way, related differently among the four individual writers:
Jesus of Nazareth, beaten and crucified and run through with a spear, is not only no longer in the tomb, but He is no longer dead!
It is the single most astounding fact in the history of mankind.
Other people have died and have been raised from the dead by God’s agents in the flesh, and scripture is not shy about relating those accounts.
But this is the first time God has directly intervened and raised a man from the dead; restored life to three-days-lifeless flesh and bone; breathed breath and spirit back into His lungs and set Him on His feet and sent Him walking on the earth never to die again.
Can it mean anything but that the man is God’s own Son?
I believe that. I would believe it even if I were convinced that the accounts in the gospels contradicted each other on every other fact they relate about the event.
They each tell it differently.
There was a time when I felt like I had to know all the right answers in order to believe. It wasn’t that long ago. Now I’m persuaded that I’m probably never going to know all the right answers, any more than Job did. He didn’t know them before he spoke with God. He didn’t know them after. But at no point did he stop believing.
So, in the interest of those who (as I originally described myself as the author of this blog years ago) “question reality and won’t settle for an evasive answer,” may I offer my personal harmony of the four-fold gospel witnesses in this instance?
On the first day of the week, while it was still dark, there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
Very early in the morning just after sunrise, the women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna and Salome – took the spices they had bought and prepared and went to the tomb so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. They asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” They found the stone – which was very large – rolled away from the tomb already.
While they were wondering about this, and entering the tomb, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. One looked like a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed because they saw him but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. Why do you look for the living among the dead? He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ Now I have told you.”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. At first, they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Then they remembered His words. So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples – to Simon Peter and the other disciple John (the one Jesus loved) and the rest of the apostles. Mary Magdalene came running and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” And they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
Peter and John, however, got up and ran to the tomb, the women following not too far behind them. Bending over, Peter saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally John, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. And they went away back to their homes, wondering to themselves what had happened, because they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons, stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and again saw the two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Suddenly Jesus met them all. “Greetings,” he said. They also came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. – But do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me before I go.”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told those who had been with Him and who were mourning and weeping that He had said these things to her.
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
I haven’t added much beyond an “also” or an “and” or a “but” or a “because” to this narrative, and those only for clarity. The rest you’ll find in the histories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All I did was try to put them in the right order. What I wanted to point out was that John saw and believed … even though he and Peter still did not understand. John himself wrote those words (20:8-9) – an admission of his own growing faith, unsupported by knowing all of the right answers. He just believed.
He believed in the most preposterous, unthinkable, ridiculous, impossible truth ever: that God raised His Son Jesus from the dead.
Because He did, all of the other puzzles pieces of life were beginning to fall into place, and all of life’s questions were beginning to be answered.
Why God allows evil – so that good can stand in contrast and be freely chosen. Why God lets man sin – so that He can fill the guilty emptiness it causes with forgiveness. Why God allows suffering and death – so that He can end it once and for all.
Through this One. This Son. This life. This death.
I still can’t understand it.
I just believe.