John 20:1-8 “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.”
We ended our stay in Jerusalem with a visit to the Garden Tomb. David Tau, our tour guide, has been talking to us about A sites, B sites, and C sites. Based on archeological study, the Bible, and tradition, he ranks the Biblical sites for probable authenticity. We can’t be absolutely certain about any of the places but the degree of certainty can change based on study, history, and a comparison to the Word of God.
The Southern Steps of the Temple Platform, for example, is a very high A+ site, like we talked about a few days ago. The Garden of Gethemane at the Church of the Nations is a very high A or B+ site based on the ancient olive trees, the proximity to the Temple, and 2000 years of tradition. The Garden Tomb may very well be a low B or even C site. It doesn’t have the history or tradition. It requires a stretch to make it fit the logical path of Jesus after His arrest, death, and burial. It is one of several suggested sites, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher being the most famous.
But let me tell you, when you visit the Garden Tomb you just feel like, this is the place. The beauty, the privacy, the protection of the site makes you sure, when you enter the gates that something special happened here. Our wonderful Christian Brothers guide, with his great Irish accent, talked us through the 125 year history of the Garden Tomb. He described the nearby archeological finds, the tradition and Scripture that contribute to this spot. And the work of the Holy Spirit to use this site to impact thousands over the years. As he said, “However, the question as to whether this is the same tomb in which the Messiah was buried is ultimately unimportant. What is important is that visitors to this garden have an encounter with the living Messiah today. This is our prayer and ministry.”
In other words, the Tomb is not important for what is there. It is important for what is NOT THERE. John believed, not because of what was there but because of what wasn’t. We celebrate today, not the place where Jesus was buried, but the fact that He rose again. We have a faith firmly grounded on what is missing, the body of a crucified Jew. He is NOT here. He is RISEN.
So what else isn’t there in our Jesus story? Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our current problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Maybe we need to look at some other things that are left out of the story of the earthly Jesus and compare them to our own stories.
1. The need to be exalted. All through the earthly ministry of Jesus, what is missing is a desire on His part, to be put on a pedastel or a throne. In John 5:19 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, I can do nothing of myself. I only do what the Father shows me.“ Remember John 1:1? John says, “The Word (Jesus) was with God and was God.” But now Jesus chooses to not be exalted. Paul says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in his very nature God did not deem it necessary to be equal with God but instead EMPTIED himself and took on the form of a servant.“
Jon-Mical, my grandson loves the Golden State Warriors, one of the most amazing teams in NBA history. They have Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, four or five legitimate, “greatest” in the NBA right now, maybe ever. And yet they win night after night, not because of their superstars, but because they all seem willing to lay aside their ego, and NOT be exalted. Harry Truman said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.” I wonder how much more I could accomplish for the Kingdom if I could get rid of my desire to be exalted?
2. The need to win. That seems to be big-time absent in the Jesus story. Jesus could have stopped this deal a hundred different places. When they wanted to make Him king, He could have let them. When Judas dipped the cup, Jesus could have said, “Not so fast Judy baby.” When Peter drew the sword, Jesus could have said, “Take em’ Boys.” Remember 2 Kings 6, Elisha’s servant. The hills were full of chariots and soldiers.. Jesus could have done that and opened the eyes of the guards to let them know they were surrounded. But He didn’t.
Instead, He doesn’t have to win. he lets them take Him, let’s them arrest Him, let’s them try Him, beat Him, crucify Him. Remember Him saying, “No one takes My life from Me. I freely give it?” Matthew 538-40 Is a hard saying, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you…Turn the other cheek.“
I’m just saying, what if we used this empty tomb to allow us to think differently? What if we didn’t always have to prove ourselves right? What if we didn’t have to win every argument? Or every election? What if we trusted God and His ability to take care of business?
3. Which leads me to another thing that is not there, the need to be in control. Maybe this is the biggest missing piece of all. Jesus was there when God flung the stars into space. It was Jesus who said to the sun, “Come up early every morning and go to bed each evening.” It was Jesus who said to the tides, “You can come this high but no higher.” Jesus is in control of EVERYTHING. But in the Garden He prays, “Not my will.” What is noticeably missing in the earthly Jesus story is His need to be in control. He lets Judas betray Him. he lets Caiaphas try Him. he lets Pilate condemn Him. He refuses to take control.
I used to sing, “All to Jesus, I surrender. All to Him I freely give.” I never really meant it. I want you to like me. I want Branches to be famous. I want to be large and in charge. I want to be in control. But what if I didn’t? What if I really let go? What if I quit trying to control every situation and trusted God to do that instead?
Listen, we don’t have to figure it all out. We don’t have to know all the answers and make it all work just the way we think it should. Whether we are trying to build a church, win our kids to Christ, protect our borders, or live well with our spouses, we don’t have to be the big cheese. In fact, we probably would do do much better if we were absent some of these th8ngs. We just have to love like Jesus and let it go. Trust Him. Let Him be exalted. Let Him win. Let Him be large and In charge. Let Him really be in control. I don’t know, but it may be that that situation, that relationship, that diagnosis, that your are trying so hard to fix right now would be so much better if you were, well, not there (in the middle of trying to handle it) and just looking in from the outside, BELIEVING, for the first time that God will take care of it.
So, I may grow up to be an A site, or a B site, or a lowly C- site. It doesn’t matter. Shoot, I’m just happy to be in the tour…?
See you tomorrow in Tiberias.